Virgin Peaks Expedition 2019 - Western Zaalaisky (Pamir mountains)

Only since the collapse of the Soviet Union have western mountaineers been permitted to visit the vast mountain ranges of Central Asia.

Guiding & Coaching

19 days

Price: £2995*

* Fully inclusive price

 Course Dates

In 2019, ISM plans to return to the beautiful 'Pamirs' situated in the south western corner of Kyrgyzstan, on the border with Tajikistan and China, to explore an unclimbed range of mountains deep in the Western Zaalaisky.

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The Zaalaisky is one of the most famous ranges in Kyrgyzstan, boasting the high summit of Peak Lenin( 7134m). Both the Pamir Highway and the great Silk Road cut through this great juncture of high mountains, deep valleys and important towns and villages such as Murghab, Sary Tash and the city of Osh further north.

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In 2015 and 2016, ISM explored the Eastern end of the Zaalaisky Range, setting up a high Advanced Base Camp (ABC) and successfully climbing a number of virgin summits, many of which were over 5000 meters. Looking west from our highest summit in the Eastern Zaalaisky, Peak Lenin dominated the skyline of high glaciated summits and beyond this many more high glaciated summits and smaller ranges. Standing out was the Western Zaalaisky, a beautiful range of high summits and on further research little climbing and mountaineering has been documented over the years.

A more recent recci into the Western Zaalaisky has uncovered a fantastic looking area for our expedition in 2019.

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The plan for 2019

We fly into Osh, the second largest city in Kyrgyzstan. The city is located in the Fergana Valley and is often referred to as the ‘Capital of the South’. It dates back over 3000 years ago and is close to the borders of China, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, which explains its ethnically mixed population of over a quarter of a million people. Osh marks the midpoint on the historic ancient Silk Road, the overland trade route taken by caravans between Europe and Asia and is home to the sprawling Osh ‘Silk Road Bazaar’ which bears the hallmark of that bygone era and is the largest, most crowded outdoor market in Central Asia and a great place to hang out!

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After arriving in Osh we'll spend the rest of that day seeing some of the historical sites around the city while our ground support agents, ITMC, head to the markets to buy the final fresh food before we head off to Sary Tash and then into the mountains the following day.

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In the past when staying in Osch,we've headed to the only World Heritage Site in Kyrgyzstan, the Sulayman Mountain, which offers great views of Osh and the surrounding mountains. This mountain is thought by some to be the famous landmark of antiquity known as the “Stone Tower”, which Claudius Ptolemy wrote about in his famous work Geography. The National Historical and Archaeological Museum Complex Sulayman is carved into the mountain and contains a collection of archaeological, geological and historical finds. Then we'll hit the markets!

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Leaving Osh 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 Sary Tash, picking up the last of our fresh provisions, before continuing our journey south towards the high mountains of the Zaalaisky Range .

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On the way to Basecamp (BC) we intend to stop off and climb a lower summit to help with acclimatisation.

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, ranging from 4000m to a number that are a little over 5000m. 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. 

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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.

The expedition will spend most its time based in the Western Zaalaisky range, but the plan towards the end of the trip is to travel back to Osh, via Taldyk and the limestone cliffs and mountains or Urch Terbur to further explore the rock climbing in the area. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Kyrgyzstan is also a short and convenient flight from the UK (to Osh). 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.

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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

Read the full Tien Shan Expedition itinerary and details here.

Special thanks again to Jason Sheldrake for all these great images.

Course Dates

Week Start Finish Price  
34 18 Aug 2019 5 Sep 2019 £2995 Full