Gorges of Zailiiski Alatau: Aksay

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The river Aksay - about 70 km long – is situated westward of Almaty. It has its rise in the small Aksay glacier and in the plain it falls into another river – Kaskelen. In summer Aksay is quite a big and rapid mountain river, sometimes deeper than 1 m. But its waters hardly ever reach the city.

However, like in all rivers flowing down from Zailiiski Alatau to the north, here there are also cloudburst mud-and-stone flows – we know that one of such flows flooded “the entire foothills” in 1902. In 1921 and 1960 pretty large mud avalanches flashed through the river, too. The lower part of the gorge is gentrified by numerous summer cottages and equipped sites for the mass leisure, while the upper part is almost pristine.

As far as its name is concerned, it is clear with Aksay – it means white ravine or white gorge. Obviously, its colour has nothing to do with some range of colours, but is linked with the glacial origin of water, which is always traditionally called ‘white’. 

Aksay gorge became renowned in the whole scientific world because of its huge Akzhar landfall that happened due to Vernyi disaster of 1887. The earthquake that occurred on May 28 was so violent that it destroyed not only the city but mountains, too. The total volume of rocks shifted by landfalls, landslides and mud avalanches within a 30-km radius of Vernyi equaled to 440 million cubic meters. The number of mountain auls (villages) that were devastated by those landfalls back that year remained beyond the reach of official statistics.

But the most major landfall happened on Akzhar Mountain – the watershed of rivers Aksay and Kargalinka. The part of the mountain consisting of the hardest granites and diorites simply collapsed because of the underground impact, and the size of debris was as much as 50 tons! The photo of this grandiose geologic catastrophe (which we took from the famous Obruchev’s The basic principles of geology book) has become the essential attribute to any book on earthquakes. 

During hundred-and-twenty years that passed since then, the Akzhar landfall has withstood the ravages of time. Just a little bit blurred over by the omnipresent plantation and smoothed by rains and snowfalls, it still astonishes with the scale and power of those titanic forces, which once broke out here from under the earth and knocked down the part of the mountain. Anyway, this is quite a rare and impressive natural site that might be of interest to all those who study geology and futurology.

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