Only since the collapse of the Soviet Union have western mountaineers been permitted to visit the vast mountain ranges of Central Asia.
In 2020, ISM celebrated 25 years of leading adventurous expeditions into Kyrgyzstan. ISM is proud to have been part of the climbing and mountaineering history during this time. Our trips have always been a mixture of exploration, virgin summits, and all very much centred around the cultural and traditional Kyrgyz way of life. 2021 will be no exception as we visit an unexplored limestone canyon and head into an unexplored part of the beautiful Fergana Range of mountains in the Tien Shan.
The Fergana Range also known as Ferganskiy Khrebet, stretch’s over 200km from north-west to south-east, separating the Fergana Valley and the inner Tian Shan. The south-east section of the range is home to the highest and most glaciated peaks, with the highest peaks being over 4800m, which is central to our 2021 expedition.
In 2018, ISM explored the western end of the At-Bashi Range (Trip Report) and climbed eleven four thousand metre peaks and also a number of rock climbing first ascents (FA's) in a beautiful limestone valley called Tash Rabat. On the way back from Basecamp, we drove around Chatyr Kol Lake and the western end of the At-Bashi Range and further west could see some fantastic looking glaciated peaks on the Kyrgyz/Chinese border. On further research, a number of expeditions have visited the very south-eastern end of the Fergana Range and also further south the Fergana Tua Range. Further south again, ISM visited the Torugarttoo close to the Tourogat Pass which links Kyrgyzstan to China, famous for the Silk Road and colourful stopping off city of Kashgar.
The research has confirmed the summits we saw and the potential of an area further North-West in the Fergana Range, leaving a large area of glaciated 4000m peaks unexplored and unclimbed. ISM have based the 2021 expedition centred on two valleys in the Fergana Range.
We fly into Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan which borders Central Asia's Tien Shan Range. The city still preserves it's former Soviet feel with Soviet period buildings, gardens and statues overlooking more modern shops, cafes and restaurants. Outside of the city's central hub it's the hustle and bustle of the one million people that live and work in the city from street sellers, markets, small roadside shops to horse auctions, and everything else imaginable!
Leaving Bishkek you very quickly find yourself in the mountains. The houses become yurts and cars are exchanged for horses. The Kyrgyz people owe their survival to their nomadic lifestyle which has been key for over 2,500 years. Yurts acted as temporary homes as their livestock roamed the mountains in search of food and water. The nomadic people of Kyrgyzstan say ‘a man should move, because the sun, animals, fish – everything moves and only the land and dead creatures stay where they are’. We'll pass through Naryn, picking up the last of our fresh provisions, before continuing our journey south towards the high mountains of the Tien Shan and Fergana Range .
Naryn was established as a fortress on the Silk Road route in 1868, situated on the banks of the River Naryn. Now a bustling market town and key stopping off point for those on their way through on the old caravan route to Tash Rabat and the Tourogat Pass into China.
From Naryn we'll to Char Canyon, which is our destination for the next few days. We plan to explore the Char Canyon with an eye on making some rock climbing first ascents. This unexplored limestone canyon looks like it has a massive range of rock climbing potential, both in single and muliti-pitch routes and levels of ability. The area also has many limestone summits for those that prefer to spend one of the days walking or scrambling. It's also an opportunity for us all to acclimatise before heading on to basecamp Fergana.
Once at BC we'll continue our acclimatisation process by exploring the glaciers and climbing some lower peaks, as well as setting up an ABC from which to attempt the higher peaks in the area. From information gained from our recent recci, carefully looking at maps the photographs taken, it's clear that there's a great number of superb looking unclimbed objectives. There are two possible valleys and BC options that we'll assess once there, but both look like they lead into the heart of some great looking unclimbed mountains. The higher mountains look glaciated with a year round snow pack, with many of the summits above 4000m and so plenty to explore and plenty unclimbed!
We have porters to help assist us throughout the trip and to keep our high camps supplied, giving us maximum time and energy for the climbing.
This region is of a similar latitude to the southern Pyrenees, so the peaks feel much higher than those of a comparable altitude in the Himalaya or Andes (where the level of glaciation is up to 1000m higher). Their remoteness and untapped mountaineering potential gives the mountains of Kyrgyzstan a unique attraction. We try to ensure that the areas we visit have a variety of objectives, including many less technical peaks which can be climbed by those with more basic alpine skills and a good level of fitness.
As a note, we feel that an essential part of the expedition is to experience many of the cultural aspects of Kyrgyzstan that are so rich and colourful during our stay. Everyone will get the chance to stay in a yurt at least once during the trip.
We will be using a 6WD off-road vehicle to reach Base Camp and when we are there we will make the camp as comfortable as possible, with one tent per person, a cook tent and a comfortable mess tent. We take fresh fruit, vegetables and meat with us (which usually walks in by itself!) but vegetarians are also very well catered for. The standard of Base Camp cooking is usually excellent. There is no need to bring any supplementary food but some people like to have a supply of muesli/energy bars in reserve or the odd treat of chocolate etc.
An important consideration for all our trips - it is a sad fact that today many of the world's finest mountain areas are conflict zones but thankfully Kyrgyzstan still remains a safe, democratic country with tourism as one of its main industries.
Kyrgyzstan is also a short and convenient flight from the UK (to Bishkek). This easy access and approach to the mountains makes the trip ideal for people who want to take part in an adventurous expedition to the greater ranges within the time span of a ‘normal’ holiday.
We climb in small teams, each with a guide, tackling peaks in lightweight, alpine-style (no fixed ropes - everyone climbs the ground for him/herself). We use porters help to set up and re-supply Advanced Base Camps, so that we are as fresh as possible for the climbing. Some peaks may be possible as day climbs from BC while the bigger peaks may require two- or three-day forays from Advanced Base Camps high in the mountains.
People wishing to join the expedition must have alpine climbing experience (either gained at ISM or elsewhere) and be conversant with the skills demanded by alpine climbing. As there is a great variety of objectives at different levels of difficulty in the area we plan to visit, the climbing grade of expedition members is less important than fitness/stamina, hardiness, enthusiasm, good humour and a strong taste for adventure. If you are keen to join the expedition but unsure whether your experience is adequate please call Adrian Nelhams (expedition leader) on +44 (0)1539 721561 (ISM office) or email email@example.com
As a Director of ISM, Adrian splits his time between guiding, the ISM office, family and climbing for himself. During his 25 year commitment to the team, Adrian has played a key role in the development of ISM.
Perhaps the most experienced British guide working in the Alps, Steve has lived in Switzerland for more than 30yrs. He is a member of the Swiss Guides association as well as the British Mountain Guides.
Summiting Mont Blanc was an important milestone for me which I am grateful to all at ISM. Particularly Terry, who is the ultimate professional never compromising on safety. Max is a pure gem with wonderful guidance and outstanding people skills in abundance.Altogether a brilliant week!
The classic alpinism course last week led by Swedish Daniel was excellent! The itinerary was really well planned taking into account the less than perfect weather and the abilities and aspirations of the group - we all learned loads.