Alatajsky Pass is a high mountain pass at an elevation of 1.792 m (5,879 ft) above the sea level, located within the Katon-Karagaisky State National Nature Park, in East Kazakhstan. The pass is traversed by the Austrian Road.
The road over the pass, also known as AltaiPass, is terrible. It’s gravel, stony, and can be impassable after heavy rains or snowstorms. The Austrian Road was built from 1915 to 1917 by Austro-Hungarian WW1-prisoners captured on the Eastern Front. With the help of nothing more than shovels, saws, pickaxes and cables, they created a legendary track through a remote wilderness in the far northeast of Kazakhstan, under highly unfavorable climatic conditions.
Due its unique location and the climb in elevation over thousands of feet, and passing through remote areas, it is important when driving in these conditions to be prepared. The road is famous for its beauty. It’s 50 km (5 hours) long, from Markakol Lake to Burkhat pass. It’s a really difficult road, crossing 16 bridges and fords and never ending hairpin turns. The road is winding, in some places only wide enough for one vehicle, and in many places bordered by a drop of hundreds of meters (many hundreds of feet) unprotected by guardrails. Words can’t describe the road and pictures don’t do it justice.
Watch out for sudden loose-gravel breaks. And that pavement can ripple like a roller coaster track in places where “frost heaves” are caused by seasonal freezing and thawing of the ground. This road can be considered as a memorial to the heroic labor of the men who at that time managed to create this monument with the help of only simple tools: shovels and picks.