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.


Aksay glacier with Korona peak behind.


Nice encounter near the Ratsek refuge.


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 very much like in the European Alps, without their towns, roads, and very few hikers (in 1998).


Market scene in Karakol.

Along the Arashan river.

Mark fording the Arashan river.

A view of Ala-Kel lake from Ala-Kel pass.


Me at a hut below Ala-Kel 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 mouth of the Jeti-Oghuz canyon.


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) at the base of the Inylchek glacier, West of Khan Tengri. From there, a helicopter of Kyrghyz 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 4, 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.


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.


Left: Climbing routes on the South face of Khan Tengri. Right: Spectacular Marble Rib leading to the summit (I am not the author of this photo).


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. An helicopter flies from here to the Base Camp of Khan Tengri on the South branch of the Inylchek glacier.


The helicopter on the South branch of the Inylchek glacier near Base Camp. Peak Pobeda is in the right photo background.


Base camp at 4000m on the side of the Inylchek glacier. In 1998, the camp consisted of 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.


South Inylchek glacier between BC and Camp 1.


Camp 1 at 4100m at the base of Khan Tengri.


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


Left: Three Spanish climbers in the mist just above Camp 2. Right: Kathy among seracs between Camps 2 and 3.


Several views looking downward while climbing on the Semenovskogo glacier. The Inylchek glacier progressively gets out of sight.



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


Left: Mark at Camp 3 in front of Khan Tengri summit. Right: pyramidal summit of Khan Tengri; the West Ridge (normal route) is in the middle of the photo and The South Rib on the right.


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