Kyrgystan, 1998: Ala Archa, Terskey Ala-Too, Tian-Shan, Khan Tengri




(This banner alternates two pictures. One shows the central area of the Kyrgyz flag: a red field with a yellow sun containing a stylized representation of the tunduk (the top of a Kyrgyz yurt). The other picture shows a statue of Manas, the legendary Kyrgyz hero.)

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I went to Kyrgyzstan in July 1998, with Kathy Cosley, Mark Houston, and Mike Christianson to trek and climb in the Tian Shan mountains. I first did a small trek alone in Ala Archa National Park, which is close to Kyrgyzstan's capital, Bishkek. Next we went altogether on an acclimatization trek in the Terskey Ala-Too mountains (just south of Karakol and Lake Issyk-kul). Finally we went to the far-East of Kyrgyzstan to climb Khan Tengri (6995m, or 7010m with its glacial cap).


Map of Kyrgyzstan, with the three visited areas marked in yellow. See here for a more recent trip (2011) in the Tersey Ala-Too.



Ala Archa:

General view of the Ala Archa Canyon.


Left: nice encounter near the Ratsek refuge. Right: waterfall on the way to the refuge.


Aksay glacier dominated by several high peaks, including Box (4250m), Teketor (4441m), Svobodnaya (4740m), and Korona (4860m).




Terkeu Ala-Too:

Terskey Ala-Too is a subrange of the Tian Shan, with several peaks above 5000m. We trekked for 5 days from Altyn Arashan to Jeti-Oghuz (see map1 and map2) through Ala-Kol pass (3860m), Ala-Kol lake, and Teleti pass (3800m). The scenery is much like in the European Alps, without towns and roads, and with very few hikers (in 1998).


Market scene in Karakol.

In the valley of the Arashan river.


Mark fording the Arashan river.

View of Ala-Kol lake from Ala-Kol pass (photo on the left) and during the descent from the pass (photo on the right).


Left: another view of Ala-Kol lake. Right: the canyon below Ala-Kol lake seen from the lake′s outlet.


Me at a hut below Ala-Kol lake, near Karakol river.


Wood sculptures around this hut. I guess that people made them during bad weather. If this is true, it says a lot about the local weather.




Kathy crossing Karakol river.

Climbing toward Teleti pass.

View from Teleti pass.

Our camp below Teleti pass.

Along the Jeti-Oghuz river.

Red sandstone formations at the end of the Jeti-Oghuz valley.



Tian Shan and Khan Tengri:

The Tian Shan (Celestial Mountains) is a 2000-km long and 400-km wide mountain range. About two thirds lie in Kyrgyzstan (the rest lying in Kazakhstan and Xinjiang). The two highest peaks are Peak Pobeda (7439m) and Khan Tengri (6995m, or 7010m with its glacial cap). Khan Tengri (see map below) is located at the border between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, less than 5 km away from Xinjiang, between the south branch (Kyrgyzstan) and the north branch (Kazakhstan) of the Inylchek glacier. The south branch of the Inylchek glacier is 60-km long.


A truck took us from Karakol to Maidadyr Camp (Russian military camp in 1998) at the base of the Inylchek glacier, west of Khan Tengri. From there, a helicopter of Kyrgyz Airlines flew us to base camp. We arrived at the base camp of Khan Tengri on July 11. We spent 14 days on the mountain, but only got 2 days of excellent weather. We spent 4 days and 4 nights at Camp 3, with almost continuously bad weather. We had to leave without even trying to summit, in order to catch our return flight to the US from Almaty (Kazakhstan). A few hours after our descent, the route was swept by an avalanche that destroyed several tents at Camp 2.


Left: Map showing the location of Khan Tengri between the two branches of the Inylchek glacier. Green dashed line: travel by helicopter. Red dotted line: our climbing route. Blue dots: camp locations. Right: Climbing routes on the South face of Khan Tengri.



Our truck in Karakol.


Our truck on the road between Karakol and Maidadyr Camp (from left to right: Mark, Kathy, and Mike).



Kyrghyz man near Maidadyr Camp with traditional Kyrgyz hat.



Inylchek river at Maidadyr Camp. A helicopter flied us from here to the base camp of Khan Tengri on the south branch of the Inylchek glacier.





View from the helicopter over the south branch of the Inylchek glacier during the flight to base camp. For the entire trip the helicopter was flying low above the glacier.



For safety, the helicopter first landed on a flat area of the Inylchek glacier not far from base camp to unload its passengers. Then it took off to land again at a more precarious spot very close to base camp and unload boxes and bags.









The helicopter taking off to return to Maidadyr Camp. Peak Podeba (7439m), the highest peak in Kyrgyzstan, whose official Kyrgyz name is Jengish Chkusu, is visible on the left of the tail of the helicopter. It is about 15km south of base camp.



Base camp at 4000m on a moraine on the northern side of the south branch of the Inylchek glacier. In 1998, the camp consisted of some tents, a few wood cabins in very bad shape, a kitchen/dining room, and a working sauna, all built when Kyrgyzstan was part of the Soviet Union.





The Inylchek glacier seen from base camp (view toward the east).



Peak Podeba seen from base camp with the Inylchek glacier in the foreground.





On the Inylchek glacier between BC and Camp 1.





View from the Inylchek glacier.



Our Camp 1 at 4100m below the Semenovskogo glacier.



Views between Camps 1 and 2.





Camp 2 at 4900m nested between crevasses, on the Semenovskogo glacier.



Three Spanish climbers in the mist just above Camp 2.




Left: Kathy among seracs between Camps 2 and 3. Right: Snow/ice blocks in precarious equilibrium.





Successive views looking downward while climbing on the Semenovskogo glacier. The Inylchek glacier progressively gets out of sight. (Some of these pictures were taken during our ascent, others during our descent.)

















View of Khan Tengri from the upper part of the Semenovskogo glacier.



Camp 3 at 5900m at the saddle on the west side of the summit.






Pyramidal summit of Khan Tengri seen from Camp 3 in the morning (first two photos) and in the afternoon (third photo). The West Ridge (normal route) is in the middle of the photos.








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