Virgin Peaks Expedition 2018 - At-Bashi Range (Tien Shan 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: £2940*

* Fully inclusive price

 Course Dates

In 2018, ISM plans to return to the Western end of the At-Bashi range in the Tien Shan mountains, to explore and climb the high peaks in this unexplored area above the Kokaigir river and glacial system.

David Kennaway

The At-Bashi is a beautiful range of snowy summits and technical rocky peaks that runs parallel to the southern Chinese border at the western end of the Tien Shan mountains. These mountains stretch for over 2,500km from east to west along the border and together with the Tajik Pamir mountains make up over 90% of Kyrgyzstan.

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In 2017, ISM visited the At-Bashi range above the Kashkaratash glaciers, and climbed 11 summits above 4000m. One of these had been climbed by ISM on an earlier trip in 2014 and the other 10 were all unclimbed. At the end of the trip we recce'd a completly new area, climbing two central unclimbed 4000m peaks to view this unexplored area. From these summits what unfolded around us was a whole range of fantastic looking unclimbed peaks, most of which being above 4000m leaving the team in no doubt that this is where we would return in 2018.

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The plan for 2018

We fly into Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan (served by Turkish Airlines and Aeroflot). We will convene at the Alpinist Hotel and it's here that we meet Vladimir and his team from ITMC, who provide our transport and ground support. Arriving in the morning we enjoy the afternoon and evening taking in some of the ancient cultural and historical sites around the city as well as sorting out any final preparations before departing the following day. Bishkek has a very Soviet feel, which acts as a window into the 20th Century, but underneath the Soviet architecture, you'll find that the soul of the place remains very much as it was when it was fortified to control local caravan routes on the ancient Silk Road.

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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 or felt tents 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 west towards the Touragat Pass and spending a second night in Tash Rabat. Tash Rabat is one of the most important historical sites in Kyrgyzstan and provided a vital link to and from China, forming part of the ancient Silk Road. We'll stay in authentic yurts, at the head of the valley. Not only is this a place of great historical interest but also at 3200m it will help the team acclimatise before heading into the higher At-Bashi Range. The following day we plan to further explore the rock climbing in the valley, climbing unclimbed rock routes on the many limestone crags and ridges that make up this beautiful area. We'll then spend another night here before heading into the high mountains where our moutain adventure really begins!

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Once at Base Camp (BC) we'll continue our acclimatisation process by exploring the glaciers and climbing some lower peaks, as well as setting up an Advanced Base Camp (ABC) from which to attempt the higher peaks in the area. From information gained from our last expedition and carefully looking at the photographs taken, it's clear that there's a great variety of superb objectives. Above BC a glacial system links a high summit which looks to be around 4800m. To the south a north face ends at a fantastic-looking rocky summit and high on a subsidiary glacier, solid looking rocky towers like teeth, mark the skyline of another 4000m unclimbed peak. Summits and peaks to the west also mark an a joining valley offering again a whole range of routes and peaks to explore.

We have porter help to 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 people with more basic alpine skills and a good level of fitness.

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The expedition will spend most it’s time based in the At-Bashi range, but the plan towards the end of the trip is to travel back to Bishkek via the limestone canyons of Son Kul. Over the years ISM has been very instrumental in developing and documenting this fantastic rock climbing area and has enjoyed exploring and making many first ascents of both the rocky ridges, walls and faces that the limestone canyons have to offer. It’s a fantastic end to the trip and adds to the colour and diversity of our time in Kyrgyzstan. 

As a note, we also feel that an essential part of the expedition is to blend in many of the cultural aspects of Kyrgyzstan that is so rich and colourful during our stay. Everyone will get the chance to stay at least two nights  in a yurt 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. 

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

Read the full Tien Shan Expedition itinerary and details here.

Special thanks to David Kennaway for his lead image and Jason Sheldrake for all the other great images.

Course Dates

Week Start Finish Price  
34 19 Aug 2018 6 Sep 2018 £2940 Full