Tien Shan - the Heaven Mountains

Short version of my expedition report Khan Tengri 1995
(C) Hartmut Bielefeldt 1995
Quick overview - mountains
Peak Chapaeva North6095 m
Khan Tengri7010 mAttempt up to 6400 m
Peak Trehglavnyj ("Triglav")5500 mup to 5110 m
Peak Pesni Abaja4901 m
Uchitel'4527 m

This yurt is a "travellers' inn" at the road from Almaty to Karakol

Landscape in Kyrgyzstan

The destination of this year's trip to the mountains of the world is located between China and the CIS republics Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Here in the Tien Shan, the "Heaven Mountains" the northernmost 7000 m peaks are found - Pik Pobeda ("peak of victory"), 7439 m high, and Khan Tengri ("ruler of the skies"), a splendid pyramid with a summit composed of marble, 7010 m high.6995 m high. Unfortunately it is meanwhile accepted that Khan Tengri's height is not 7010 m therefore not belonging to the very high category, but this shouldn't be a real problem for us.

Khan Tengri (7010 m)
Khan Tengri (7010 m)

Southern Inylchek Glacier, view outside the valley
Southern Inylchek Glacier, view outside the valley

After the journey by plane, so-called bus, and helicopter we reach the Inylchek base camp at 4200 m in the beginning of August. It is situated at the huge southern Inylchek glacier stretching about 60 km long with a width of mostly two to four kilometers through the mountains, one of the world's longest glaciers. A few wooden huts are crowded on the side moraine including the toilets with the world's best view, and a kitchen tent where the Russian cook Nelly takes care of us very well, when we can not go to the high camps due to bad weather. Unfortunately that happens quite often here, the weather is enormously unstable. Almost every day against afternoon, a roll of bad weather is rushing towards us from the west, and then it roars and torms for an hour, sometimes only for ten minutes. But this horrible weather is uncomfortable enough, making a mountain ascent of several days very hard to plan.

Shortly after a bad weather front has passed
Shortly after a bad weather front has passed.

Ascending to our first high camp at Khan Tengri.
Ascending to our first high camp at Khan Tengri. In the background the Inylchek glacier and Peak of the Military Topographers (6860 m), located directly at the Chinese frontier.

After some days we begin the first ascent towards Khan Tengri. At 5000 m, we have to cross the "mother of all crevasses". The only passage to the upper glacier basin requires a daring step over a crevasse surely deeper than a usual rope length. And it becomes a bit wider every day. Quite a bit beyond that, at 5800 m, we dig snow caves like all our neighbours and climb the north summit of Peak Chapaev (6095 m) the next day. The main summit was forbidden by camp leader Sergey; he doesn't like us to rush down towards the valley together with the summit cornice.

Peak Chapaev
Peak Chapaev, seen from very far below.

The summit attempt some days later gets stuck in the doubtful weather of this region; it doesn't look that bad in the beginning, but for some days the sky covers. It's middle of August now, in the base camp winter is already expected. Quite often we have a very strange weather: Below 6000 m everything is clear, but above a tenacious, opaque cloud layer stays obstinately. That may have been the reason why Khan Tengri, visible from the valley, was first climbed already 1933, but only 20 km distant, much higher Peak Pobeda was "discovered" only in 1947 and finally climbed in 1956. (A secondary summit was climbed in 1938 by mistake, one wanted to make another mountain and had got lost in the fog.)

Peak Pobeda seen from the base camp.
Peak Pobeda seen from the base camp. This view is given sitting at the most important location of every basecamp (the loo).

Peak Maxim Gorki (6050 m) above the basecamp
Peak Maxim Gorki (6050 m) is enthroned directly above the basecamp South Inylchek.

Bad weather in the base camp
Bad weather in the base camp.

Peak Abaja on the other side of the glacier
Peak Pesni Abaja (4901 m), on the other side of the glacier

So we change destinations to the smaller mountains of the region, so the three-summit "Triglav"(5500 m) and Peak Abaya (4901 m), carrying a daring summit cornice which is oviously reserved for the completely crazy as a final ascent. Crossing the Inylchek glacier turns out to be quite a big adventure, with torrential rivers and deep ice gorges.

Mountain goat at Maida Adir (2500 m)
Tame mountain goat in the "lower" camp Maida Adir at 2500 m, where we change from helicopter to truck (if the truck would arrive...)

After these high alpine adventures, we move to a mountain range near Biskek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. Here the mountains are "only" 4800 m high, and all reminds a bit to the Mont Blanc region. The mountain we climb is, however, an absolutely simple scree slope from the south, and completely glacier covered from the north - the "teacher" (4527 m). Probably so-called because one has a nice overview over the range from this mountain.

Camp site Ak-Saj (3300 m)
Camp site Ak-Saj (3300 m) in the Ala-Archa valley

Shortly before the Teacher's summit
Shortly before the "Teacher's" summit

Besides this, we can have a short bath in Lake Issyk-Kul on the way back. Although at 1600 m altitude, it never freezed in winter - and winter is quite hard here. Beautiful bathing water.
At the end of our trip we visit Bishkek, making a rather rural impression. After a seven hour trip through steppe and a lot of nothing (except one radar control) we reach Alma-Ata (newly: Almaty), which still was the capital of Kazakhstan in August. Newly, the Kazakh have changed the capital to Aqmola which is situated more in the center of the country: From Almaty to the kyrgyz border it is only 40 km, and that's unique for a country of more than 1000 km x 1000 km. Another unique thing about Almaty is the airport: Quite seldomly you see 4000 m peak so close to the runway from an airport with reasonable altitude.

Covered market in Almaty
Covered market in Almaty

©Hartmut Bielefeldt 1995
©Hartmut Bielefeldt 1997 for the English version


We undertook this trip as participants of a commercial expedition.
We will not quote the name of the German organizer, as probably it would not be very good for his reputation. Several organization failures concerning equipment that was made available from tent to shovel(s), high camp food and general incapacities, lead us to a clear judgement of this organization. If you anyhow would like to know the name of the organizer, please send me an e-mail, and you will be immune to future misplanings.
E-mail: Hartmut Bielefeldt

P.S.: I would like to point out that this was not the organizer we used for our trips in 1992 and 1993 as well as for 1997. This Tien Shan trip was the first and the last we got organized by that company.

Last updated November 14, 1997 by Hartmut Bielefeldt