Aktau and Mangystau

Date walked: 20/03/2022

Time taken: 84 hours

Distance: 950km

First thing out of the way, most of the distance was covered in a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado. I am no ultra distance athlete :lol: However, there were sections of hiking and overnight camps and should be of interest to those who love the great outdoors.

The adventures below were during the Nauryz (Persian/Kazakh New Year) period from 20th to 23rd March 2022.



I had a day in Aktau. It was a chance to visit another city and take a look at the Caspian Sea. I had a slowly developing headache all day but managed to do some exploring and, of course, take a lot of photographs.

Much of it was spent walking along the "Rock Path", in both directions. I would imagine that the route between and over the boulders would be very difficult without this very well constructed route, which correct me if I am wrong, opened in 2019.



One notable thing about Aktau, in addition to its closed nuclear power plant, is its unusual lighthouse. The lighthouse is placed on top of a 10-floor residential building. From the video below, it seems that you cannot quite visit the light due to a locked metal door. [NOT MY VIDEO]


I had planned to photograph the sun setting over the Caspian Sea, but as temperatures dropped, a large bank of cloud developed, so it was not to be. Maybe better luck next time?

Nauryz flags

Yours truly and the Caspian Sea

Aktau Lighthouse

Rocky trail

This beautiful young couple were happy to have me take their photo.

The lighthouse again

Passed these two on the way back

Back along the "rocky path"

Kyzylkup (Tiramisu) - Coloured Mountains

I cannot find out much about this place. Much of the time, I did not really know what was coming up next; a sort of magical mystery tour. On leaving the cars, I followed the others up left. It gave great views of the colours in the chalky rocks. Sergey on the other hand, headed for a narrow ridge with his drone.

​The boys in the Polish family that I was travelling with made their way across to Sergey to join him. He was clearly not expecting this. While I was struggling up soft chalk to join the ridge, they skipped their way fearlessly along the ridge. Sergey was surprised to suddenly see them next to him and I think a little alarmed. You would probably survive a fall but you could be hurt and it would be difficult to get an air ambulance out to you, I am sure.

​Was it the job of the guide or the parents to keep them safe?

​Needless to say, I wanted to venture along the ridge too, but I was far more hesitant and needed a bit of encouragement from Sergey. My sense of balance does not seem to be what it used to be and I did not trust the soft rock. Despite my mountaineering background, if I was to be honest, I was more than a little scared. I definitely lacked the light-footed elegance of the boys. However, I made it and posed for a few photographs. The return seemed a lot easier. It is one of those things that seems difficult, but once done, one thinks "What was all the fuss about?"

I want to go back and try to repeat the feat with a bit more finesse, hopefully with Sergey doing one of his drone videos.
On our return, we passed a rock feature that looked like a man's face. Not quite so much as the Old Grey Man of the Merrick or the face of Queen Victoria on Barra.

Kyzylkup (Tiramisu)

Kyzylkup (Tiramisu)

Maybe I got the angle wrong?


This has to have been the highlight of the trip. It also included a bit of a hike to the top up quite a complex route. I am sure that there are many routes to the top, but Sergey had been there so many times before that he new the easiest way. After a few photos, Sergey sent me off on my own along the ridge toward the rock spires. As he got his drone out, I got the idea. I was reasonably OK about reaching the "end of the world" but looking through my viewfinder made be less sure. I could have gone a bit further towards the edge but I did not know if it was overhanging rock that might snap off!

Taken with a Sigma 70-200mm EX DG OS HSM lens at 158mm and f/4




Sub-zero camp in a tent I bought in 1996!

Throughout the trip, Sergey was keen to establish that he is the #1 guide in Mangystau. He certainly loves what he does. His wife did not like him going out onto the "steppe", something that many of us married men can associate with. So he said to his wife "What if I can make money going out into the steppe?". He used the word steppe even though that to me means grassland rather than semi-desert. Of course, she agreed!

He is an electrical engineer by training. He has made his own heated caravan with a "tent" mounted on the top, ideal for the family of six that I was travelling with. A kitchen is build into the back of the caravan, so he probably does more than anyone to ensure the comfort of his clients.

I was delighted to find that he had a two-pin power point in his car so I could recharge my camera battery. This is particularly useful if you do not carry a spare (I was carrying one) or if you do some long exposure astrophotography or star trails, something I still really need to explore. There is a total absence of light pollution out here so this would be an amazing place to explore the possibilities. I did have one go at about 4a.m. I did not realise how much the earth rotated in 30 seconds so the stars appears as short lines. I removed the brighter ones. I should have used the astrotracer on my camera. Next time, I'll know! If I had known about the opportunity to recharge the battery in the car and had it not been so cold, I would have tried some multi-shot star trails and merged the files.

I hope to join Sergey again for a longer expedition, probably without the caravan. It is a luxury I personally do not need and it slowed us down considerably. I love my tent!

Sergey is #1!

Video courtesy of Sergey Khachatryan:


Camels, chalk arch and a cold night camping

After having lunch at a splendid spot looking out across Bozjyra, out off-road adventure continued. At times it was spitting with rain. A salt lake was on the itinerary but recent snow melt had made the going a little soft and Sergey did not want to risk it. We passed a pen containing camels (as well as other odd ones on the way), before reaching a chalk arch. This was a chance to stretch our legs before setting up camp. It was a very cold night, dropping down to -6°C. The next morning, the milk was frozen and the tomatoes were like cricket balls.

Feeding bread to the camels

Camelus dromedarius

Chalk arch

Bracing myself for another cold night - though I have a good sleeping bag. It is really, the evenings without a campfire that are difficult.

Airakty, Sherkala and Toryish - "Valley of Spheres"

There was a very hard frost in the morning. No milk for my coffee (frozen) and a big dollop of Tvorog (cottage cheese) for breakfast. I really needed a full Scottish/English breakfast, but it was not to be! On the way to Airakty, we had two punctures, both on the caravan. Airakty gave us another chance to stretch our legs and for Sergey to get out his drone.

Still getting some use out of the old tent after 26 years!

Who associates deserts with frosty mornings? The coldest since 1987!


Sherkala - Wikipedia says "A tunnel can be used to access the summit". Elsewhere says tha this has gone and special equipment is required. Does that mean axes and crampons Mick Fowler style?

Valley of the Spheres

My research came up with this: "The ball was formed according to the principle of a snowball: a small grain was overgrown with a thick layer of sand and clay. These processes occurred at a time when there were ponds on the place of the modern valley. Therefore, the core of the ball consists of the remains of small organisms that lived in the sea."

I thought Sergey new that I was flying back to Astana that evening, but it seemed to come as a surprise to him, so we did not hang about for long and I would like to get there a bit earlier next time to explore and do a bit more photography, either in better light or some astrophotography might be good. Maybe camp there next time?

I got back to the airport in reasonably good time and then the flight was delayed 30 minutes anyway!

I hope you enjoyed reading about my travels and liked some of the photos. Maybe it will inspire you to travel to Mangystau?! :)

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Comments: 5

Boxing Day Meall [or is it a Beinn?]

Attachment(s) Grahams: Meall Dubh
Date walked: 26/12/2021
Distance: 18km
Ascent: 933m
Views: 306

Sgùrr Chòinnich

Attachment(s) Munros: Sgùrr Chòinnich
Date walked: 22/12/2021
Distance: 19km
Ascent: 950m
Comments: 4
Views: 888

An Rhiabachan

Attachment(s) Munros: An Riabhachan
Date walked: 12/08/2021
Distance: 13km
Ascent: 1082m
Views: 323

Beinn na Muice (Graham) and Sgùrr Fhuar-thuill

Attachment(s) Munros: Sgùrr Fhuar-thuill
Grahams: Beinn na Muice
Date walked: 24/07/2021
Distance: 14km
Ascent: 1230m
Comments: 2
Views: 555

Meall Doire Faid Revisited

Attachment(s) Grahams: Meall Doire Faid
Date walked: 22/07/2021
Distance: 11km
Ascent: 800m
Comments: 2
Views: 540

Almaty Road Trip

Attachment(s) Date walked: 06/05/2021
Comments: 3
Views: 568

Yorjick's last Meall (of the year!)

Attachment(s) Grahams: Meall na Faochaig
Date walked: 31/12/2019
Distance: 7km
Ascent: 576m
Comments: 4
Views: 1276

Struie Ridge

Attachment(s) Sub 2000s: Struie
Date walked: 16/12/2019
Distance: 11km
Ascent: 446m
Comments: 1
Views: 1033

Gergeti Trinity Church

Attachment(s) Date walked: 23/10/2019
Distance: 4km
Ascent: 430m
Comments: 3
Views: 863


User avatar
Location: Dornoch
Occupation: Teacher
Interests: Outdoor activities and photography
Activity: Mountain Walker
Mountain: Slioch
Place: Guirdil
Gear: Simond Camaro ice axe
Member: Pint and Peak Mountaineering Club
Formerly Worcester Mountaineering Club and Leeds University Youth Hostelling and Hiking society.
Camera: FINEPIX F10/S200 EXR
Ideal day out: A Graham, Corbett and Munro in the same day, preferably followed by a night in a bothy!
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