See also "Trekking" chapter for trekking reports from Central Tien Shan
Central Tien Shan mountaineers are attracted most of all by the Terskey-Alatau
(Terskey Ala Too) range, the Kuylu and Akshiyrak mountain massifs and the biggest
in Tien Shan freezing of the Pobeda and Khan Tengri peaks as well as the Sary-Jaz,
Kaingy, Inylchectau ranges.
The Terskey-Alatau ("motley mountains, turned away from the sun") ridge stretches latitudely and surrounds the Issyk-Kul lake in the south. The length of the ridge is about 375 km. It closes the Kungey-Alatau ridge up in the east and borders with the Sary-Jaz ridge outside the Issyk-Kul hollow. The average height of the ridge is about 4500 m, its highest point reaches 5216 m (Karakolsky peak).
The altitude, air-masses and moisture, which is evaporated from the Issyk-Kul lake cause freezing of the ridge. The total number of glaciers at the slops of Terskey-Alatau is about 1100, the total area of freezing is 1081 square km.
On the north slops of Terskey-Alatau the length of valley glaciers reaches 5-7 km (Aylanysh and others). Glaciers of the south slop are longer (the Kolpacovsky glacier, for example, reaches 10 km). Glaciers are leaving everywhere, their surfaces are littered. Generally glaciers stretch at the height of 3000-3500 m.
Snow-line is at 3900-4000 m in the west part of the north slop of Terskey, as for the east part it descends till 3700 m. In the south slop snow-line ascends till 4000-4200m.
From the west to the east the quantity of precipitation increases from 200 mm till 400 mm and at a height-from 1000 till 1000-2000 per year. From the west to the east the freezing degree increases accordingly.
The Terskey-Alatau ridge is unsimmetrical: it has short gently south slop and long north one. The north slop descends to Issyk-Kul.
The west part of the Terskey-Alatau ridge is destroyed and has many saddles, which are easy to pass. The altitude reaches almost 4800 m. Passes are at 3500-4400m, their category of complication is up to 4B. There are many short low ridges on the north slop. There is no vegetation at the west part of the slop because of the little quantity of precipitation.
Rivers of the region are rough. Generally they are not full. They belong to the basin of the Chu river and feed Maly Naryn or the Issyk-Kul lake.
The largest glaciers are concentrated in the upper reaches of the Konurulen (Kongurleng) river. The glaciers of flat summits remind glaciers of Arctic. Their feeding is done by means of precipitation. The Konurulenskaya valley stretches from the west to the east for 50 km. Ridges protect it from cold winds from the south and the north, therefore it is used as a pasture from spring till autumn.
The weather in summer in the west part of Terskey-Alatau is changeable. It is often raining and hailing in valleys and it is snowing in mountains. In winter snow cover reaches 2-3 m on glaciers. In August there is almost no snow on glaciers.
The west part of Terskey-Alatau is situated in the Issyk-Kul and Narynskaya regions. It is easy to get there by bus from Bokonbaevsk, Kochcopca or Bishkek. There are good roads to the Konurulenskaya valley (till Don-Tala village by bus) and to the upper reaches of Karakujur (till Jer-Kechku by bus). Some of the roads lead further to the valley of the Maly Naryn tributaries and then till Naryn.
The central part of the Terskey-Alatau ridge between the Barskaun and Turgen-Aksu gorges is highly visited. There are many large glaciers and various complicated gorges here. Tourists routes lie not only through valleys and gorges of Terskey-Alatau, but through the Kuylu and Akshiyrak mountain-masses.
The altitude of passes of the Terskey-Alatau ridge is 3600-4800 m and the category of complication is various. The most passes of the main ridge and its south spurs are snow or snow-ice. Passes of north spurs of the ridge are more different. Generally passes are rocky, ice and snow but often combined.
The mass of the Kuylu ridge stretches in latitude direction for 50 km, in meridian - for 25 km. The Sary-Jaz, Uch-Kel, Sarychat, Kuylu rivers and the Kuylu pass are natural boundaries of the region. The ridge is situated in parallel the Terskey-Alatau ridge, but further north than it. In the east it almost borders upon the Sary-Jaz, in the west-upon the Akshirak ridge. The average altitude of the Kuylu ridge is 4700 m, the highest summits reaches 5000 m and more (Konstitutziya peak-5203 m). Relief of the ridge is various and differ from the typical relief of Tien Shan. It reminds the Central Caucasus relief for its vertical rocks, high waterfalls, large gorges. The average height of snow-line is about 3700-3900 m on the north slops and 4000-4200 m on the south slops.
The rivers of the north slop have valleys, which are easy to reach. The valleys of the middle and low reaches are difficult to access and to traverse, except the Terekty river.
The valley of the Keolu river is generally considered to be the north boundary of the Kuylu region. It stretches to northwest for 50 km.
The Uch-Kel river and the right tributary of Sary-Jaz river are also the south boundary of the Kuylu mass.
The most area of freezing is in the basin of the Ashutor, Karator and Bordutor rivers on the north slop of the Kuylu ridge, and the Terekty, Kuylu,Uzhnaya, Bashkul and Ikichat rivers-on the south. Glaciers of the valleys are situated on the diametrical spurs of low altitude. There is no glaciers on the flat summits of the Kuylu mass. The glaciers reach 506 km of length and descend till 3500-3600 m. Feeding of glaciers is done by means of precipitation and snow-slips. Ridges are snowcapped at the height of 3600-3900 m in the northeast and east parts and till 4100-4600 m in the south parts.
The Akshiyrak mass is situated in the watershed between the basins of the Sary-Jaz and Naryn rivers. It is the second largest freezing in the ex-USSR. The mass borders with the south slops of the Terskey-Alatau ridge and the Kuylu mass by the Sarychat river, which is the left tributary of the Sary-Jaz river.
The Akshiyrak mass consists of 3 parallel ridge, which stretch from northeast to sough-west. They are divided by large valleys. The average altitude of the mass is 4700 m, its highest point is 5126 m. There is a deep longitudinal valleys between the north and central ridges. The Petrov glacier is situated in its west part. Glaciers of the basin of the Jaman-Su river expand in the east part. The length of the Jaman-Su glacier is more than 10 km. Glaciers are also situated between central and south ridges: in the west part-Kary-Say Severny glacier, in the east-part-Kayndy glacier. West slops of Akshiyrak are snowcapped. The total number of glaciers in the mass is more than 130, the total area of freezing is about 450 square km. The glaciers expand at the height of 3700-4100 m, snow-line is at 4100-4400 m.
Relief of internal part of the Akshiyrak mass has alpine appearance, namely rocky watersheds, steep rocks, sharp summits and ridges, which are not snowcapped, because of the steep slops. Many glaciers of valleys have alpine appearance as well.
There are many difficult snow-ice and rocky-ice passes (till 3A category of complication) in the Akshiyrak mass, and at the same time some of them are easy to cross (1B-2A category of complication). Inexperienced groups are not advised to come because they have to be at the height for along time and overnight here. The climate of the region is rigorous. Mountaineers can find out weather forecast at the weather station called Tien Shan, which is situated not far from the mass at 3600 m.
The average temperature of a year is -7-8o C , i.e. lower then in the Pamir or in the New-Land for example, of 2o C higher than in Antarctic Mirny. There are 3 months in a year which have temperature above zero. There are light frosts almost every day. The average temperature of a day in the warmest month-May is +4,7o C, in August- +3,0o C. In summer temperature decreases by 0,7o at every 100 m of ascending. Wind is blowing twenty-four hours.
There is a big difference between the north and the south slops of the Terskey-Alatau: in relief, climate, flora and fauna. Flora in the north slops is rather rich. There are Tien Shan firs in the wet slops at 2100-3100 m. Bushes of bayberries, honey-suckles, currants and dog-roses are met till 2500 m. Subalpine and alpine meadows are situated in highlands. Alpine grasslands and plants such as edelweiss, anemone, moss, lichen are met at the height of 3800 m.
Rivers of the central part of Central Tien Shan refer to Tien Shan type. As a rule they are mountains streams with rapid strong current. High water is in July-August. Valleys of the rivers, which flow along spurs of the ridges, are wide, valleys of cross rivers are narrow. Generally water is clear, saying nothing about Irtash. It is difficult to cross the Terskey-Alatau, Kuylu and Akshiyrak rivers.
Przhevalsk is a starting place of the most tourists routes to the Central Tien Shan. It is connected with Bishkek and Alma-Ata by air. Besides, there is a regular bus communication between Issyk-Kul and Bishkek. Tourists can get from Przhevalsk to other places by local bus, or passing cars as well.
It is necessary to get special permit to cross south slops of Terskey-Alatau, the Kuylu and Akshiyrak masses. People can get it in the FSK (Federal Security Service) in Alma-Ata or Bishkek. Travel allowance for a group must be registered in Przhevalsk.
It is important to know seasons features for planning routes in the central pat of Central Tien Shan. Winter is very severe on the south slops of Terskey-Alatau, in Kulu and Akshiyrak. The average temperature of January-February is -28o C (the absolute minimum is -53,6o C). The average temperature in the north slops is higher by 10-12o, because of the Issyk-Kul lake. There is no snow in the Kulu and Sarychat valleys at all. The Kumtora and Arabeli are snow-covered by 10-20 cm. There is almost no precipitation here.
It is rapid changes of the weather in spring, which is generally short and rainy in valleys. It dosent come at the same time in the whole region. In mountains, for example, spring comes a bit later. Hiking begins in May. Summer in valleys comes in May, in mountains- in June. It is cool, especially at the beginning. At the altitude of 3000 m the average temperature raise above zero only in early July, and below zero- at the end of September, when autumn comes. Therefore the best period for hiking or mountaineering in Central Tien Shan is the period from June 1, till September 30, and the most favorable time is considered to be from July 15 till August 31.
There is no much experience of hiking in Autumn in Tien Shan, because of the weather. It is often changed, but as a whole it is cold and dry. It is autumn in mountains till early November.
The west part of Central Tien Shan is considered to be the highest region of the ex-USSR Tien Shan, which is limited by the east part of Terskey-Alatau ridge from the north, and by the Sary-Jaz river from the west, by the Kokshaaltau ridge- from the south and by the Meridian ridge from the east.
Great freezing is typical for this region. The highest summits of the ex-USSR (Pobeda peak-7439 m, Khan-Tengri peak-6995 m) are situated here.
The main ridges stretch latitudely. They are Terskey-Alatau, Adyrtor, Sary-Jaz, Tengritag, Inylchektau, Kaindy-Katta, Kokshaaltau. The only ridge, which has meridian direction, is called Meridian. It is situated along the east boundary of the region.
The Terskey-Alatau ridge begins from the Odinadtzat (The 11) peak. It is not high and its north spurs have poor freezing. The south slops of the ridge have no glaciers, they are not snowcapped.
Sary-Jaz is a high snow ridge. Its summits ascend more than 5000 m (the highest point is Semenov peak-5816 m). The north slops have large freezing, except the south slops. All these things are typical for the east part of the ridge. As for the west part, its summits are not so high and freezing is poor.
The Tengritag ridge is situated to the south of Sary-Jaz. It has one of the highest peak called Khan-Tengri. There are several summits, which have the altitude of more than 6000 m. The ridge becomes lower to the west.
Snow-white slops of the largest Kokshaaltau ridge of Tien Shan with massive north spurs ascend further to the south. The east part of the ridge looks like a big snow wall, the crest is about 6000 m. The highest point of the ridge is Pobeda peak, which is 7439 m of height. The ridge descends to the west of the Kirov peak.
The Inylchektau ridge begins from the Kirov peak, which turns yo the west in several km and descends till the valley of the Sary-Jaz river. The cast part of the ridge is snowy and iced.
The Kaindy-Katta ridge begins from the Krasnaya Armia peak. Its north slops are rather large. In the region of the Bulantor peak the ridge is divided into two parallel branches.
The Meridionalny ridge has large freezing. It is snowcapped from the Kokshaaltau in the south till Sary-Jaz ridges in the north.
Generally glaciers are situated in valley between ridges and spurs.
The Semenov glacier flows to the west between the Terskey-Alatau and Adyrtor ridges. It is the main source of the Sary-Jaz river. The largest glaciers of the deep canyon of the Terekty river, which has its sources in the Kuulkan glacier.
There are many difficult passes in the north slops of the Kokshaaltau ridge, some of them are not crossed.
Tourists can get to the region by different ways. The north variant is through Alma-Ata to Narynkol by bus and then by passing cars till the mouth of the Ashutor river and further on foot.
The northwest variant is from Bishkek and Przhevalsk. Tourists have to get there by passing cars through the Chon-Ashu pass, the valley of the Sary-Jaz river to the Kulttzentr village. But the best way is to rent a car at a moto depot in Bishkek or Przhevalsk.
The west variant is from Przhevalsk to the Inylchek village. One can get to the mouth of the Inylchek river by air. It is possible to go there by passing cars or rent a car till Maydaadyr, which is situated in the valley of the Inylchek river.