In 2017 ISM plans to return to the At-Bashi range in the Tien Shan mountains, to explore and climb the high peaks in this area above the Kashkaratash glaciers.
The At-Bashi is a beautiful range of snowy summits and technical rocky peaks that run parallel to the southern Chinese border at the western end of the Tien Shan mountains. These mountains known as the Tien Shan 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.
In 2014, ISM visited this area in the At-Bashi range above the Kashkaratash glaciers, but due to an unseasonally warm summer found difficult and icy conditions and we did not manage to climb any of the higher summits, including the marked high point on the map of PK47988.9m. This high summit is purportedly the highest in the At-Bashi range but through much research, still looks unclimbed and even more interestingly might not be the highest summit from what the last ISM expedition reported!
The plan for 2017
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 up with 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 this very Soviet architecture, you'll find that the soul of the place remains very much as it was when fortified to control local caravan routes on the ancient Silk Road.
Leaving Bishkek you very quickly find yourself in the mountains and 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 spend the second night in Naryn, situated on one of the branches of the ancient Silk Road, in a picturesque gorge on the banks of the River Naryn. In Naryn we'll pick up the last of our fresh provisions before continuing our journey south to the At-Bashi range, which is where our adventure really begins. We cross the main river delta south of the range and off the beaten track and travel onwards overland to basecamp at around 3500m.
Once at BC we will acclimatise carefully by exploring the glaciers and climbing lower peaks, as well as setting up Advanced Base Camp from which to attempt higher peaks. From information gained from the 2014 expedition and carefully looking through all the photographs taken, it's clear that there's a great variety of superb objectives. Snowy summits and more technical rocky peaks seem to make up this part of the At-Bashi range and as we have always found, once you are in the midst of the peaks, far more objectives come to light than can be seen from a distance.
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.
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 normal alpine skills and a good level of fitness.
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 one night in a yurt during the trip.
We will be using 6WD off-road vehicles 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Read the full Tien Shan Expedition itinerary and details here.
Past expedition reports:
- Kuilu & Son Kul Expedition 2009
- Kyrgyzstan 2010 – ISM At Bashi expeditions
- Borkoldoy Report, CLIMB magazine - February 2006
- ISM West Kokshal-Too Expedition - 2006
- ISM Central Borkoldoy Expedition - September 2005
- ISM Central Borkoldoy Expedition - September 2004
- ISM - Virgin Peaks of the Tien Shan, Borkoldoy - 2003
- ISM West Kokshaal-too Expedition - 2002
- Mountain Info report, High Magazine - August 2000
- ISM Virgin Summits Expedition to the Pamirs 2015
- See all reports and articles in our News area