|Tian Shan mountains|
Tien Shan is Chinese for Celestial mountains and it is an extremely mountainous region, with beautiful alpine sceneries, densely forested valleys, multicoloured lakes and pristine glaciers. Tien-Shan Mountains are home to many species of wildlife. There are excellent opportunities for leisurely walks as well as the most demanding treks and high altitude expeditions.
Tien-Shan is devided to Northern, Western, Central and Eastern part situated in China. Within the boundaries of the former Soviet Union, Tien Shan stretches in a huge arc of more than 1,200 km long and 300 km across. Presently Tien Shan occupies the whole territory of modern Kyrgyzstan, north and west regions of Kazakhstan and very south regions of Uzbekistan.
Tien Shan is one of the highest mountain kingdoms in the world. This mountainous area, a large part of which is located in Kyrgyzstan, is one of the most inaccessible areas in the world.
Tien-Shan mountains of Central Asia are, without doubt, the least visited mountain ranges in the world, yet one which offer some of the most magnificent landscapes, picturesque rural scenes, exhilarating trekking and genuine hospitality to be found anywhere on the planet.
Tien-Shan has played host to a series of illustrious travellers and explorers, notably the famous Buddhist pilgrim-explorer Hsuan Tsang (c.640 AD) and Marco Polo. Tien Shan lay astride the Silk Road, connecting China to what is now the Middle East, though the actual routeways meandered north and south of the Kyrgystan.
Two of five highest peaks in the former Soviet Union located in Tien Shan: Pobeda peak and Khan Tengri peak. There are more than 100 peaks over 5000- 6000 metres many of which are still unclimbed and could be ideal expedition objectives.
The highest at 7,439 m is Peak Pobeda. Further to the north, in the Tengri Tag Range, and facing Peak Pobedy on the other side of Inylchek glacier is the other mighty pyramid giant of Tien-Shan, Peak Khan Tengri 7010 m. These two giants overlook a large glacier, Inylchek at 4100 m, with a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains.
Though the highest peaks have been climbed for many years there are many mountains in the Tien-Shan which are yet unconquered. There is endless scope for exploratory climbing and many as-yet-unclimbed summits beckon the experienced mountaineer in search of a fresh challenge.
The Fantastic Asia travel company can assist with logistical arrangements for groups who are interested in climbing Peak Pobeda, Peak Khan Tengri or Peak Nansen as well as many other virgin peaks. We also arrange the exploratory climbing expeditions to the remote Tien Shan areas with the opportunity to attempt virgin summits. Please contact us if you are interested in being kept informed of developments.
When to go
July -September are the best months to trek in Tien Shan. July-August are the best season for high altitude expeditions and other climbing events. However, the most comfortable season for trekking is July-September. Deep snow prevents the crossing of the mountain passes until late June, while after October serious winter equipment is needed and the Kyrgyz shepherds, a glimpse into whose rugged lives is one of the highlights of any trip, have started to retreat from the high pastures.
In these summer months, diurnal temperature ranges can be dramatic with daytime temperatures of over 25 degrees, and frost registered every night above 4,000 m.
Beyond the final shepherds you will soon be into glacial moonscapes, where the river crossings are treacherous, and eventually the glaciers themselves. At this time of the year you can readily cross the high passes, most of which lie from 3500 to 5000 m, from one major valley to the next.
Autumn, running from September to November, affords the most picturesque landscapes as the skies are clearer, the rivers are running lower and turquoise blue, while the fields and orchards of the villages are in a blaze of colour and harvest activity. Lower night-time temperatures are no longer exceptional, but on the other hand the high passes are even freer of snow. Lower altitude trekking is truly sublime at this time of year.
The first of the snowfalls usually hit the mountains in late October - early November, but the higher valleys will be under snow one month before then. While the winter-wonderland scenery is truly majestic, winter trekking in Tien Shan is a serious business, with all but the lowest passes impossible. Temperature can decrease as low as -25- 30 and if you are not adequately prepared you can expect frostbite. High-altitude sunshine is fierce, and the winds correspondingly so. Running water is hard to come by and you will need a stove not only for cooking food but also for melting snow. Perhaps the greatest impediment is not the cold temperatures, which can be mitigated, but the shortness of the days and the corresponding long nights. You will need to be in your 4-season sleeping bag from when the sun goes down at 17:00 to when it hits your tent at 09:00, and after several nights of this you will be all-too-familiar with the personal habits and histories of your companions.
Spring, running from late April to June, is the least rewarding time for trekking in Tien Shan. High valleys and passes are still clogged with snow, the mountains are frequently cloud covered, and the risk of avalanches and rockfalls is at its highest.
Maps adequate for trekking in Tien Shan can easily be found. Far and away the best maps are the Soviet "military" maps (1:100,000 and 1:200,000), available from us or maps shops. They give a good overview of details, although they contains place names and show the contours - but it requires knowledge of Cyrillic characters.
Guides and porters
It is well advised to arrange guide and porters prior your arrival, as concept of porters is unknown in Tien Shan and locals would not carry your belongings. Though you can hire horses in the villages and shepherds' camps. These depends on your bargain professionalism and could cost you between $10 and $25 per animal per day. Sometimes it can be difficult to obtain them at short notice -so it is best to book them well in advance. Hiring a horse with horseman do not really rely on him, as there were reports of people whose equipment had been stolen. Therefore do not allow the horseman to ride far in front or behind you. People will be bemused if you ask for a guide, but will enthusiastically point the way. This is also the thing not to rely on. Some of them might have no information about remote areas from the places where they live. It is certainly the case that most of the passes provided route ways in former generations, the construction of roads in Soviet times, linking the valleys at their lower ends, meant the abandonment of such routes, and the loss of knowledge of their passage. Occasional tumbledown cairns on passes indicate that someone came through here once upon a time, but for the most part you will feel like you are the first.
A note on hospitality
Generally people are hospitable, and you will undoubtedly meet with it along the way, whether in villages or shepherds' camps. Interaction with local communities is always one of the most rewarding and memorable experiences of a visit to any foreign culture. However it is well advised to keep aside of drunk parties. Staying in the family you will be offered the same food to eat - that means bread, tea, dairy products, meat which unless freshly slaughtered is likely to be somewhat dubious, and, either fresh or dried fruits (apricots, plum, nuts). If you accept the hospitality, you will be obliged to eat the food. If you produce your own food, you should be prepared to share it around, and it won't go very far in a household of over 10 people. If you are more than 2 people it is in any case unfair to accept the hospitality of food-deficit families. Gifts, preferably cash, will be refused at first but accepted eventually, and you should persevere. The amount is up to you, you soon learn to gauge it, but it would be suggested $10 per night. If you supplement this by taking photographs of the family, and honouring your promise to forward the prints, the host family will be delighted.
Planning the trip to Kyrgyz Tien Shan you will need a Kyrgyz visa and border zone access permission for some areas. Visas can be obtained from Kyrgyz Embassies or consulates where they exist or where Kyrgyzstan has no diplomatic representation in Kazakhstan embassy. You also can pick up visa at the international arrivals lounge at Bishkek Manas international airport. Border zone access permit can be obtained from us. Allow 2 weeks for border permit to be arranged. More detailed information about visa regulations and other formalities is on Visa&Formalities page.
Trekking and climbing suggestions
Trekking and climbing in the Tien Shan is about as difficult as it gets. You need to be well-equipped and fully independent in terms of supplies. The terrain is tough, and there are no tea-shops or lodges along the way. Once you are above the shepherds' camps you are on your own, and paths are often non-existent if you travel in some of the remote areas. Note the permissions required, as described above. On the other hand, all the treks outlined on this web site offer stunning scenery, are highly enjoyable and manageable with a minimum of technical equipment and expertise.
Remember that some areas should be avoided unless you are on organized tour with a local guide who knows the area.