Ride 15.6 kilometers gaining 1,314 meters at 8.2% average grade (9% climb only)
Thank you to Mark Austin, Alexandria, Virginia, USA for his contribution to this page with text and photographs.
PJAMM note on Mark - Mark is an amateur competitive cyclist and former Virgina State Road Champion (Masters) who fell in love with cycling when his father bought him a Raleigh Racing Grand Prix in Idaho Falls, ID in 1982. He currently lives with his family in Alexandria, VA, USA, and works as a global health professional as a way to fund his passion—bordering on obsession—for cycling, and he races with the incredible group of fellow addicts on the Total Construction / Battley Harley-Davidson Masters team.
Shymbulak is Almaty’s “crown jewel” of ski resorts in the Alatau mountains and over the last decade has been the recipient of some serious money to upgrade its lifts and services. It’s now a premier ski resort that is now a fun hangout during the summer months, with access to great high-altitude trekking/mountaineering, ropes course, downhill mountain biking, live music, and restaurants. That translates to great road quality for the entire ride. Half-way between the city and the resort is Medeo, home of the world’s highest Olympic outdoor skating rink and a gondola station that you can use to access the resort year-round (the road to the resort is SERIOUSLY steep impossible if snow-covered).
The ride from Almaty to Medeo is a fantastic climb (9.3km and about 1000m vertical with an average 6% gradient) on great roads and is super easy to do if you’re looking for a quick 1-1.5 hour workout before heading into the office. It’s a wide road that is beautifully paved and is frequented by cyclists all week long. You’ll pass the gondola station on your left while you work up the left side of the main parking lot.
At the top of the parking lot and just beneath the skating stadium, the road cuts across to the right and begins the steeper climb up the right canyon wall. This section is about 3km and averages 8% with a couple of longer switchbacks and one long cut from right to left across the bottom of the dam before cresting the structure. It’s a beautiful view from here!
(pictures by Mark Austin (left) and Evert-Jan Fluit, Bussum the Netherlands (right)
Depending on your fitness, this will have taken around 1- 2 hours to reach the top of the dam. Now...If you have another 30-60 minutes—and if you’re a glutton for true punishment—then go for it and complete the full 1600m climb all the way up to Shymbulak. It’s less than 5km from here, and the first half of it is a merciful 2% gradient as you approach the ski road. Use this section to RECOVER!!! You will need every ounce of watts left in your legs (and the smallest gear ratio you can fit on your bike) to turn the cranks over once you hit the final 2km. In this short distance, you’ll climb nearly 350m and average a speed of...well...just try to go fast enough so you don’t fall over! :-)
The last steep 2.5km to Shymbulak (picture by Mark Austin)
Once you cross over the river, get ready, because it’s baptism by fire! The first switchback just takes you straight up. It’s 500m of pure discouragement at an average gradient of 20%. I was riding my gravel bike with a 34f/28r. I hit that climb and got no more than 100m before I realized there was no way I could go straight up that road...not with my current gearing. But determined to make it to the top, I resorted to zig-zagging up the steep sections (this first one and 2 other slightly shorter ones). Luckily, there is very little traffic, so it’s not a dangerous technique at this point in the climb. Zigging dropped the gradient to 15% here...still tough, but doable. When I could, I rode straight. When I couldn’t, I zigged and zagged. The last 1.6km has a few switchbacks which changes the format of the ‘wall’ a bit.
The last hairpins before Shymbulak (picture from http://komba.org.ua/travel/chimbulak )
But I made it...and it was well worth it. Next time, however, I’ll try to make sure I have my climbing bike and a 36 in the rear!!!
Thank you Mark!!