In a memory of those, whose souls remain to fly not visually in a silence of Mountain's Grandeur.

Tien-Shan - "the Heaven's mountains"(map).



peak Khan-Tengri
(In the foto to the right) North face of peak Khan-Tengri, seen from North Engilchek glacier
The Tien Shan mountains are the most distant, unknown and captivating, in Russia - a boundless expanse of peaks, many of which have never been explored. The immense fertile and virtually unknown valleys are populated only by flocks of sheep and shepherds on horseback. Most of the valleys have no tourist facilities or even villages, and in some cases there are not even any roads. Maps have not been made of some of the areas, and hiking there is an adventure. The rough-hewn product of what geologists call the collision between the Eurasian and Indo-Australian plates, continuously crushed and pushed upwards by the pressure of the Indian subcontinent against the imposing mass of Eurasia (which grows about 5 mm a year in altitude), Tien-Shan is an endless region that lies between Kazakhstan, Kyrgyistan and China, like a sort of foreign body, as if it had a life all to itself. In like manner, the inhabitants of Tien Shan are original and utterly different from both the Russians and the Chinese and came under the dominion of these two powerful nations only relatively recently. Many nomadic Kazakh have difficulty in understanding Russian, and one of the issues raised by the ever growing nationalist movement is the refusal to learn this language because it is the mother tongue of their conquerors.
Up to the invention of the airplane the mountains were unconquered; no government could pursue and capture the people hiding, in them. The snow-capped peaks are hidden by clouds, and between one peak and another the Jagged ridges follow one another in a convoluted labyrinth..."
"From time to time, up there, a tiny valley can be glimpsed amongst the clouds, an uncertain green stripe crossed by silvery waterways, and in each valley there are one or two tiny khaki-coloured dots: the Kazakh yarts. Any grouping together of yurts that might in the least resemble a village, is a rare event indeed; in general they are scattered over the mountains, a family here, another family there, at a distance that allows each family to have enough grazing land. "One mi^ht ask how such a disunited tribe can maintain its identity, especially considering the many insurrections in which it has been involved. " (Robert M. Poole and Thomas Nebbia, Mountain Worlds). And yet, despite the frontier that has kept them separated for so long, the peoples of Tien Shan, the Kazakhs and Kyrgyz (respectively 900,000 and 100,000 of whom live in Chinese territory) have the same language and customs, and the same nomadic-pastoral way of life. Their life is in many ways still much like that of their ancestors, who had christened their mountains "Tengri Tag," or "mountains of the spirits." They believed they were inhabited by evil spirits and demons. Even the adventurers who took the Silk Road crossed over these mountains most unwillingly, for fear of the spirits that were said to infest the valleys and the bandits who in reality had their lairs there. The Chinese replaced Tengri Tag with "Tien Shan," which means "celestial mountains. "
The first European to penetrate Tien Shan was one of the greatest explorers in the 19th century, Piotr Semioniov, an exceptional figure indeed. He was a highly cultured professional soldier -well versed in zoology, botany, mineralogy, ethnology, topography and art. But his true passion was geography. When he was only twenty-two years old he was already a member of the Russian Geographic Society, the fourth most important in the world after those in London, Paris and Berlin.
Tien-Shan attracted him irresistibly. His discoveries in this region in the fields of geography, zoology and biology we're extremely important. lie became famous and was conferred honours and the title of Semionov of Tien Shan. Semionov set off for Alma-Ata in 1856, after having made thorough studies as well as several , training climbs up the Alps and no less than seventeen climbs up Mt. Vesuvius (like most geographers of the time, he too believed that Tien-Shan was of volcanic origin).
That year he made his first expedition, going as far as Lake Issyk Kul. "for the first time," he wrote, "I saw sparkling in the sunlight what for many years had been the object of my thoughts i and aspirations - the snow-clad, interminable interminable Tien Shan range." peak Chapaeva
(In the foto to the right) North face of peak Chapaeva is still unclimbed, seen from North Engilchek glacier
He spent the following winter at Alma-Ata in order to study and classify the plant and rock samples he had collected, many of which bear his name.
The following summer, determined to penetrate the heart of Tien Shan, he set off again, this time at the head of a small army of 1,500 men. He reached the fascinating Santas Pass (or Pass of the Counted Stones). According to legend, Tamerlane, who was taking his army to attack the eastern part of the country, ordered that every soldier pick up a stone on the bank of Lake Issyk Kul and set it on the pass, which they did, creating a huge pile. On their return from the campaign, each survivor took away one stone and Tamerlane was able to count how many men he had lost in battle.
Semionov marched through the immense green valleys, where he found unknown plants and flowers, and then went up the track, which became steeper and steeper. It was bitterly cold, and they could see the corpses of natives and animal carcasses that had remained there where they had fallen, preserved by the icy air. They went up 4,200 meters. Then, instead of proceeding south, the expedition headed east towards the Chinese frontier and arrived in the highest area in the entire range. Semionov counted at least thirty very high mountains covered with snow, all dominated by an extraordinary pyramid-shaped mountain. The explorer identified this as the peak the inhabitants called Khan-Tengri, which he thought was the highest mountain in Tien- Shan.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the adventurous Italian prince Cesare Borghese came within sight of Khan-Tengri together with Giulio Brocherel and their guide Mattia Zurbriggen. it was partly thanks to the information they brought back with them that the famous mountaineer and geographer from Munich, Gottfried Merzbacher, together with Hans Pfann, Hans Keidel and the guide Francesco Kostener from Corvarn, tried in 1902 to conquer the mountain. They went up the Bayancol valley, where they saw the majestic peak of the "Lord of the Spirits," but they felt it was impossible to get over the rugged range that surrounded the valley. After many reconnaissance ascents, they tried to approach Khan-Tengi via the Engilchek. valley. But the spectacular lake that was named after Merzbacher, where the sheer vertical faces of the mountain seem to plunge into the water, blocked their may. After a fifteen-kilometre climb on the Juzhniy (Southern) Engilchek glacier, the expedition stopped; but Merzbacher went on and managed to reach the foot of the mountain. Once there, the famous mountaineer thought there was no chance of climbing it. "Tien-Shan, " he wrote in his diary, "is no place for mountaineering entertainment. " Despite Semionov's and Merzbacher's expeditions, and those that followed, Tien-Shan is still partly unexplored. Eight hundred kilometres wide and 2,800 km long (1,500 km of which are in Chinese territory), this region extends endlessly from Uzbekistan to Mongolia. It includes more than thirty peaks close to, or over, 6,000 meters above sea level, and they are dominated by two colossi: Pobeda peak (7,439 m) and the fantastic pyramid of Khan-Tengri (7,010 m). These are the two most northerly 7,000-meter mountains in the world, and they attract mountain climbers from all over the world. But it is really surprising that most of the peaks around them have not even been given a name.

The climate here is severe, characterized by sudden variations and frequent rainfall, phenomena connected to the vicinity of the Takla Makan desert. Here the snow line is at a much lower altitude than in the Pamirs - 3,200 m.

Western Tien-Shan - Ala-Archa region
Western Tien Shan includes the Kyrgyzskiy Mts., where the Ala-Archa region begins. Northern Tien Shan includes the mountains that extend to the north of Lake Issyk Kul, that is, the Zaaliyskiy Alatau and Kungey Alatau ranges.
The Kyrgyzskiy Alatau mountain chain is a large mountain system extending from west to east for 400 kilometres in Western Tien Shan. It is connected to Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, by a forty-five kilometre practicable road at the end of which is the Ala-Archa alpine camp.
Northern Tien-Shan region
the Valley of Castles in Charin river canyon

Central Tien Shan consists of the mountain ranges that go from south and east of Lake Issyk Kul - Terskey Alatau, Sariddaz, Kuy-liu, Tengri-Tag, Engilchek, Kokshaal-Tau and Meridionalniy Khrebet. This is the most fascinating area in Tien Shan, a complicated interweaving of mountain chains that rise up south and east of Issyk Kul lake, with the highest peaks in the entire mountain system that are a must for international mountain climbing.
Karacol - Djeti-Oguz region Djetyoguz valley
(In the foto to the right) Djetyoguz valley.
This region lies on the northern buttresses of the Terksey Alatau range, the slopes of which run down to Issyk Kul Lake, The Karacol alpine camp is on the banks of a river with lovely clear water that is shaded by blue fir trees, at the end of a practicable road from the town of Przheval'sk. The camp is dominated by an amphitheatre of mountains with two splendid peaks over 5,000 meters high - Kara-colskly (5,281m), with seven routes rated from 4B to 5B, and Dzhigit (The Horseman, 5,170 m), with twelve routes, ten of which are rated 5 and 6. These routes all take from three to five days to climb.
Mertzbakher's lake
Lake Issyk Kul, on the other hand, has been known since the earliest explorations of this region. This vast body of water - the pearl of Tien Shan - measures 6,000 square meters and is 700 m deep. Its name means "sacred lake," which is quite appropriate for a sheet of water amongst the mountains of the spirits. from a mountaineering standpoint, the part of Tien Shan between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan can be divided into three areas: Western, Northern and Central.
Khan-Tengri (7010 m) - Pobeda (7439 m) peaks region
Bayancol valley in Central Tien-Shan.
The valley of the river Bayancol - one of the most big in Central Tien-Shan. It is situated on the south-east of Kazakhstan, near to the border with China.

To be continued...
Back home | Mountains | Heli-skiing | Mt. Elbrus | CD-ROM | My book | Photo collection | Maps & schemes | Links | E-mail