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Tien Shan - Celestial Mountains

Trip Summary

Trek Map

The Tien Shan (Celestial) Mountains take up most of the small republic of Kirghizstan, half of which is over 3000m and much of it under permanent snow cover. The upper reaches of these magnificent mountains themselves are swathed in snow and ice. Lower down glaciers abound. The highest point is Pik Pobeda 7439m). More splendid is Khan Tengri, (7010m), a huge, snow-white pyramid. The mountains of Tien Shan are almost as high as the Pamir, but the less rugged valleys make it a much greener and richer region agriculturally. They are considered to be some of the most beautiful places in Central Asia.

Chon Kyzyl Suu

The region is rich in alpine lakes with the largest fresh water lake in Central Asia, Issyk-Kul - after Lake Titicaca, the world's second highest lake. The name translates to Sacred Lake which, in spite of its high altitude (over 5000 feet above sea level), is still warm in summer. As a total contrast, not far from the lake, there are ski resorts which are open all the year round!

The valleys of Kirghizstan and neighbouring Kazakhstan lie on the Silk Road trade route and for centuries the region has been of great importance due to its position and rich valleys. Our trek takes us from the more populated northern valleys to the south east of Issyk-Kul and up into the more wild and almost uninhabited mountains of the Terskei-Ala-Too ridge (from the Kirghiz "motley mountains turned back upon the sun"). We cross some high mountain passes and hike in picturesque valleys with slopes covered by coniferous forests of the famous Tien Shan pyramidal fir-tree which grow up to a height of 50m. Along the way we will meet local people. They graze sheep and horses and are very hospitable. We'll visit their yurts and try their local milk and milk products - airan (yogurt) and kumys. The area is rich in fauna. Marmot, hare, mountain goat, partridge, eagle are most likely to be seen. Much less likely to be seen are snow leopard, bear, wolf or fox. On trek we will admire 5000 meter peaks towering above us their with snow-ice caps, camp on the banks of a pearl of this area - the Ala-Kul Lake (from Kirgiz - Motley lake), 3500m. The lake changes its colour depending on the time of day and on the weather; it can have an innumerable number of tints of violet, blue and green at any one time. We visit hot springs; swimming in them is said to give you second youth.

View from Ala Kiol Pass

Tien Shan Trek 
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Although porters carry all communal luggage you will need to carry your personal belongings. Some of the walking is over difficult terrain although no technical mountaineering experience is required.

Our trip starts in Almaty from where we have a long drive, first eastwards, round the high mountain ridges dividing Kirghizia from Kazakhstan to Karakol. Here we can leave a small amount of luggage before continuing to our first camp site. We will return here at the end of our trek to collect our luggage before spending a day by Issyk-Kul Lake - the largest fresh lake in Eurasia - for an excellent rest and day to relax after the mountains. Stunning mountains all around over 5000m high and magical lakes make this an unforgettable experience.

For best times of year to travel see
trip summary

Outline Itinerary
Day 1Early morning drive from Bishkek to Lake Issyk-Kul. Overnight in lodge.
Day 2After breakfast we drive via Karakol to the Chon-Kyzyl-Su Gorge, 5-7 hrs, with lunch on the way. Camp near the Jiluu-Suu hot springs.
Day 3-12Trek over high passes amongst beautiful glaciated mountains, camping in Alpine meadows, often by lakes.
Day 13We drive to the Lodge by the Issyk-Kul Lake via Karakol, collecting any luggage we left there.
Day 14We drive back to Bishkek for dinner and to overnight.
Day 15Depart.
Flights should be arranged to Bishkek to tie in with the start of the trek.

Ala Kiol Lake
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