NORTH TIEN SHAN
Northern Tien-Shan - consists of Kyrgyzski, Zailisky
(not to be missed with Zaalaisky range in Pamir mountains), Talassky and Kungei
Ala-Too ranges. In general North Tien Shan does not offer the most dramatic
walls and high peaks in Kyrgyzstan, except for Kyrgyz range which offer good
climbs without major transportation issues and permits.
Ak Sai valley, located in Ala Archa National Park 40km from Bishkek,
has some of the best rock and ice climbing in the country. The real irony is
that so many climbers fly to Bishkek, then travel to remote corners of the country
when all along the best climbing is right outside of the capital city. Any climbing
trip to Kyrgyzstan should begin and/or end with a climb here.
Simply put the Ak Sai region in Ala Archa National
Park is one of the best climbing areas anywhere in the world. For any climbing
trip to Kyrgyzstan it is a must go to region and the best way to warm up before
heading out on longer expeditions. Actually in the end you can travel all over
Kyrgyzstan looking for great climbing and in the end the best walls are right
outside the capital city, 40 kilometers outside of Bishkek.
In summer there are rock routes of more than 500m.
This is a region of no bolts and no guidebooks, you will have to go and take
a look at what looks good to climb. In some sections described some of the routes
on the Ak-Sai peaks. The best time for rock climbing is from July to October,
before July it can be nice but often will rain, after October it gets a bit
For ice climbing the season is from October to
March. The wall of Free Korea and the North Face of Korona are the classic ice
walls, long routes of either ice or mixed. On Free Korea there are two classic
lines, the Barber route and the Lowe route, each long routes that were soled
by Henry Barber and Jeff Lowe in the 70s. There are many other climbs on the
wall that go through the bands of rock. On the North Wall of Korona there are
many options, from extreme mixed to good lines of ice. All of this is not for
the people that want a simple day of a little ice or rock. For this reason the
area will never be a popular climbing area, most of the routes are simply too
long and hard for the weekend type climber. A classic and simple climb is the
south side of Korona, it is a long snow slope with a pitch or two of either
a rock pillar or a 60 degree ice route. This is a popular climb. Also some ice
climbing may be taken in Shartkaratma canyon - located stright on the way to
Ak-Sai. This narrow canyon has a cascade of waterfalls ranging from 5 to 10
metres and can be a nice place for weekend ice climbing.
There are some small cliffs right near the Ratsek
cabin that have always been the traditional top rope area. Also if you follow
the stream up from above the cabin there are good small cliffs that are of a
rope length, so if you do not want a full day multi pitch climbing experience
it is worth it to bring a rope and a small rack up to the Ratsek and from there
There are various ways to get to the park depending
on how much money you have. The most efficient way to get there is to simply
walk to the side of road and ask a taxi to take you there. Prices will range
depending on how good of a talker you are, but 10-15 dollars will get you there.
There is a gate at the head of the park that is still 12 km from the trail-head.
At this gate they will charge you for the car and for each person in the car
except the driver. The car will cost about 2 dollars and 1 dollars for each
person. Be sure you have agreed with driver to take you to the end of the road,
not just the gate. They can justifiably say that when you said Ala Archa, you
meant just to the gate, not the end of the road. So say first Ala Archa, then
say "Alp Lager", which means alpine camp. Taking a taxi up, when your
packs are full is often the best way to get there and worth the expense.
If you want to get there for cheap that is also
possible. In the past there was the 177 bus from the Osh Bazaar, that no longer
runs, but often vans gather at a small bus station at the south end of the bazaar
and wait until the load is full then they drive to the gate at the park entrance.
The bus will take you only to the gate meaning you will have to walk the final
12km to the trail-head. This is a long slow uphill walk. It will take a full
day if you catch the van in the morning, walk the 12 km on the road, then the
final four miles to the hut is a long final haul. It is possible any time of
the year. But you have to be prepared for a full day of getting to the bazzar,
a slow drive and then a long walk.
A compromise between the costs of the bus and the
taxi is to take an 326 minibus from the city until the end of the line. A good
place to catch either of these busses it at the bus stop on Manas avenue anywhere
south of Moscovskya street. Take this to the end of the line and this gets you
just out of the city where it is cheaper to get a taxi. These taxis will cost
a lot less, perhaps 2-3 dollars to the gate and an extra 2 or 4 to the end of
the road. When you are lucky the driver knows the people at the gate and they
talk you into the park for free.
At the end of the road is an Alpine Camp. Here
are the remnants of the great Soviet Alpinist system. In these buildings climbing
teams from all of the former USSR gathered and headed up to Ak-Sai valley to
climb. Now it is a bunch of run down old buildings that do not offer much of
anything for a climber. It is possible to pitch a tent in the area, or the largest
building right at the end of the road has rooms to stay at for about 2 dollars
per night. They may even have beer and food but do not count on it. There is
also newly built hotel offering rooms starting from 60 dollars for bed and breakfast.
To get back to the city it is easiest not to arrange
transportation in advance, unless you know for sure that on a certain day and
certain time you will be coming back. If you leave from the mountains in the
morning and get back to the Alpine Camp by noon you can walk the road back to
the gate and from there keep walking until a car picks you up. It is always
cheaper going down so a few dollars will let you back at least to the bus stop
(there is an arch over the road here) where you can catch the 326 or taxi back
Once at the end of the road take the road for about 30 meters then
take the trail that veers off to the left. There should be a sign that shows
the trail. The trail stays flat for a 100 meters or so, then angles steeply
up and to the left. There are a lot of different trails that head up the hill,
but they all end up in the same place. As you rise up the river flats open up
below to the right. At the top of the first hill there is a large rock, on the
back side of this rock is a great little wall to boulder on.
From the rock the trail rises only slightly as
it angles right across a mountain meadow. This is a very well traveled trail
and the route is obvious. In route follows high up from the river, but eventually
meets up with the river where is pours out from Ak-Sai glacier. At the high
end of the meadow is a small waterfall, or long black smear on the rock depending
on the season. Where the trail meets the river there is a small copse of trees
that is a good spot for lunch. Beyond this point the trail rises sharply, continuing
up and up and up until finally you look up and the beautiful walls of Ak Sai
which are spread out in front of you. The trail goes right to a stone cabin
called the "Ratsek" Here is where people stay and do trips from. In
summer to the cabin can be a good day hike, in winter it is longer, gets steep
and icy at times and good boots are necessary. Total time from the start of
the trailhead to the stone cabin is about 2-4 hours.
The Ratsek used to be a great place to spend the
night, there were windows, the inside was solid and it felt good staying there.
Now it is a dump, a run down tribute how little care is given to infrastructure
in the region. Everybody has given up taking care of the region, and the cabin
is left to fall apart. Someday somebody might decide to do something, but for
now it only gets worse. Local climbers complain that there is not enough tourist
business but they do nothing to make the jewel of their region a pleasant place
So the better option is to take a tent and stay
outside of the cabin, you are welcome to stay in the cabin, it is free and after
all the roof is still there. What to do with your equipment while you climb
is of course a problem. Leaving it is not an option as it can disappear, stashing
it or having someone stay in camp is the only choice. This little detail, of
what to do with your things while you climb we have no good answer to.
Past the Ratsek cabin
Further on there are two more small metal cabins that are used by
climbers. If you continue straight up the trail past the Ratsek after about
100m there will be a big rock that has memorial plates attached to it. From
this rock you can go left, this is the trail to peak Uchitel (teacher) 4527m
and is a great three hour hike up to get nice views of the region.
There is a trail that goes a little past the rock
then angles left. This trail goes to the wall of Baichechekei, the north wall
of Peak Korona and to the highest point of region Semenov peak. At the end of
this trail is a small metal hut that is still in pretty good shape as it is
not often used. This cabin is about a three-hour walk past the Ratsek, just
after you start walking on the glacier keep looking left and you will see the
cabin just up on the hill.
If you take the trail straight past the rock and then angle slightly right you
will take the trail to the south side of Peak Korona. About two or three hours
from the Ratsek there is also a small metal cabin to stay in. This trail rises
steeply along the left side of the glacier, then flat along the glacier, stay
to the left and the cabin will be right below the snowfield that comes off of
Korona. There used to be two cabins here, one was set on fire in 2000, the other
is about to fall over. So you may want to bring tents here as well.
Korona Peak 4810m
Peak Korona is the shining crown of the region. Often this peak
is used as a warm up climb before expeditions head out to other regions in Kyrgyzstan.
The north face provides a wall for the most extreme
climbers to have their day, while the south approach gives a straight forward
ascent and many final towers to climb.
Climbing from the South side
The South face of Korona is a popular ascent, it requires glacier
travel gear and a some rock and ice gear for the final tower. From the Ratsek
cabin take the trail 100m to memorial rock then angle right and follow the trail
up to the metal cabins.
From the cabin ascend up the broad snowfield staying
to the left side. The easiest route to one of the towers is an ice gully easily
visible as you approach.
A trip from Bishkek to the summit of Korona from the south
and back would go something like this:
1 Day - Bishkek to the Ratsek cabin
2 Day - Ratsek to the metal hut.
3 Day - Ascent of Korona, back to Ratsek
4 Day - Back to Bishkek
Routes from the North
The North side of Korona is so extreme that it is not often climbed.
There are many good routes on obvious lines. There are also many good routes
to the left and right of the main wall. The gully to the left of the summit,
then a few pitches of easy (5.6) rock then a decent down the south side is a
good climb. But for this you have to travel with sleeping bag and stove and
spend the second night in the metal hut on the south side.
The cabin at the base of the North wall is still
in good shape and is a good place from which to base climbs.
Free Korea Peak 4740m
The wall of Free Korea is the premier climbing wall of the region
and has many routes put up on its kilometer long north face.
The classic two routes are the Barber route straight
up the ice highway in the middle, or the Lowe route which angles right to left
on the lower angle ice gully on the right.
The best season for these routes is late fall and
into early March. It can be done year round but rock and ice fall become hazards
Barbar - Lowe routes
To get there take the trail from the Ratsek cabin to memorial
rock, then angle right up the left side of the glacier. At the base of Peak
Korona is a metal cabin in bad shape that can serve as a base. The wall is directly
across the glacier. This glacier appears easy to cross, but has been the sight
of tragedy of climbers that return from the climb unroped.
The Barber route is the ice highway that runs up
the center of the wall. It was first climbed by Henry Barber in 1976. The route
is 22 pitches on mostly 60-70 degree ice.
The Lowe route is the gully to the right of the
Barber route that goes from right to left. This was also put up in 1976 by Jeff
Lowe. The story tells that Henry first put up the route in front of an amazed
gallery of Russian climbers, the next day Jeff was feeling left out so he left
his mark on the wall as well. This route is about 800m and much less angled
then the Barber route at 40-55 degrees.
Getting down both requires rappelling off the route,
no other easy way off. You could go down the other side but it is a long walk
off where you end back in the Alpine Camp at Ala Archa, this means taking all
bivy gear with you.
Bachichikei Peak 4515m
This is the main rock wall for single day climbing trip from the Ratsek cabin.
The classic route is Schwaba, a seven pitch 5.8
- 5.10 route that goes up the right side. The route is well protected with big
ledges and is a comfortable one day trip.
On the main wall are only three standard rock routes,
but many other variations and new routes to be claimed. In winter the ice flow
on the left fills up and creates a beautiful thick pencil that stays all winter.
The best season for the rock routes is from July
to the end of September. The routes face south and get sun all day. This is
an especially good wall for those lazy types that want to stay in camp and let
the rock warm up before leaving camp. The ice gets rotten in the summer, but
by October is already frozen up and forming.
To get to the base of the climbs, walk up a few hundred meters along the main
trail from the cabin to the large memorial rock. 30 meters beyond the rock the
trail forks, take the left fork of the trail, this will lead you along the base
of the cliff. After a half hour or so of walking the trail parallels the cliff,
It is tempting to angle toward the cliff and hike over scree, but to find the
route it is best to stay on the trail until you are directly below the route,
then decide what scree field leads to the base.
The ice flow on the left side of Bachichikei is a great one day climb
from the Ratsek Cabin. The route is as straight forward as it would look from
the ground.It is about 6 pitches of 60 - 70 ice with one pitch in the center
that goes to 80/85 degrees. The final section of the climb is a walk over a
40-50 degree snowfield. The walk off is a long way around down the escape gully.
It can be done in approximately 6-8 hours from cabin to cabin. This is a winter
Bachichikei Left. 5.10 (estimate)
This route follows the rock just to the right of the ice flow. Start
low on the route, if you walk gullies as high as possible you will miss a few
good pitches down low. The number of pitches to this climb varies on when you
decide to hop on, but once you are on the route there will be at least six good
pitches. The hardest moves are right near the top and involve a wonderfully
exposed little roof you have to hop over then move lightly on the face above.
Lots of old bolts and pitons in this section.. The route is easy to follow due
to the preponderance of old pitons and bolts. Descent via the easy east scree
Schwaba 5.8 - 5.10
This is the must do climb while you are in the area.
It is the series of pillars on the right end of the wall that are stacked like
cucumbers all the way to the top of the ridge. The reason that it a must is
that the rock is so solid and the climbing so comfortable that you can look
around and get an excellent sense of place, knowing that the mountains to your
south rise higher and higher to the top of the world in the distant lands to
To get to the first pitch it is necessary to scramble
up steep but short rock section. The start is just to the right of a small rock
pillar that has fallen in toward the cliff. Here is a small notch, climb up
to that then follow the obvious route up the wall. The start of the climb has
two variations. The left variation gives a solid 5.9 start to the climb. The
right variation misses that first pitch and soon join the route two. On this
route there are lots of ledges for comfortable belaying and the rock is solid
for good placements. In general the route leads up the pillars.
The total number of pitches is about seven, each
pillar has a distinct personality. Be ready for a few moments of run out on
face, cracks, or corner climbing. There is a good spot to bail off the after
pitch six, just below the final column with the long crack on the right corner.
A double rope rappel and some scrambling will get you off the climb. I have
put pitons there for the rappel, but chances are they are already taken.
The classic pitch and crux is the final column.
If you have had enough or if it started to rain you can bail off right here.
The variation might be climb by the crack up the right corner. Down low there
is a bit of loose rock, but good placements. The crux is the small roof near
the top of the pitch. Save a big friend of two for here. After a short smooth
section above the roof is a big jug of a hold that means safety. The other option
is right up the face, the climbing is easier, but more difficult to protect.
If you avoid the crack on the right the whole climb is about hard 5.8 or easy
At the top of this column it is possible to rap
off down one pitch and rappel a few times down to the scree, or continue on
and up over loose rock then right down the escape gully.
As this is a popular climb there are many old pitons
as route markers so route finding is not usually a problem. The beauty of the
climb is that at each belay there are large ledges, usually at the top of each
pillar. The climbing is all on solid rock with a mix of face climbing with the
final pitch being a large column with either a good face climb.
East ridge- no rating
This is either the casual ascent up to the ridge or the descent
from all of the climbs. While returning from a climb it is the first wide open
rock field on your right. You need to be careful so as not to take a right to
soon and end up in a steep gully that requires one rappel to get through. Just
wait until it is a rock field that opens up and not a gully that narrows.
Box Peak 4240m
Box is an Ak-Sai classic in part due to that it stares you in the
face each and every morning when you wake up at the Ratsek cabin.
This is a winter climb and one of the only good
ice routes of a lower grade with a good walk off descent.
It can be done in one long day from the Ratsek cabin and back that night.
From the cabin it is a short hike over to the base
of the climb. At the beginning the ice is a gentle flow, there is a nice large
rock which serves as a good first belay station. There are two possible routes,
the obvious right and left forks. The left fork is shorter and not so steep.
At the top of the route you walk over rocks to the base of the really large
cornice. Move right around the cornice and head up left over the snowfield to
the summit. Both routes are good consistent glacier ice of about 60-70 degrees.
The right fork is the preferred route as it is
narrower and longer and provides an opportunity for a better challenge at the
top. At the top of the main flow you can either bail left and scramble over
to the cornice, or go straight up the thin ice that becomes mixed ice/rock near
the summit. There is a lot of loose rock all over the top of this climb.
The descent goes over the summit down the other
side to where the glacier flows above the cabin. The descent is a long gully
of loose rocks that can quickly and easily be descended. At the glacier, cross
and return via the main trail to the cabin.
The descent route is also used to climb the mountain.
To climb this peak take the trail past the Ratsek to memorial rock and angle
right as if going to south Korona. At the top of the glacier cross the glacier
and take the obvious rock gully working your way up over the loose rock to the
summit. This climb requires crampons and a rope for the glacier crossing and
the final snow at the top of the mountain. It is not technical, but is underestimated
by many who think it is an easy climb and have trouble on the glacier crossing
or at the summit.
Teke-Tor peak 4441m
Peak Tikitor is a good one-day climb of medium difficulty. This
can be done from the Ratsek or from the metal hut below southern Korona. There
is a glacier to cross and a crevassed section on the climb so ropes and other
technical equipment is necessary.
To get to there take the trail from the Ratsek
to memorial rock then angle right and ascend to the left of the glacier on the
trail. Cross the glacier when you are directly across from the summit and ascend
up the gully going left to right (to the right of the peak in the above picture),
then follow the snow ridge up to the summit. This climb has a couple of nasty
crevasses so bringing a rope and glacier gear is a good idea.
You should be very aware of snow conditions on
this route, the slope is such that the snow pack can be unstable after a storm.
It is also possible to climb the big snow/ice face
far to the left of the peak, then go down the other side a bit and cut over
to the summit. This is a long tiring and frustrating day, but has a bit of everything,
ice, rock scrambling, swearing at taking the wrong gully and going back down
and only eventually it is about as fun as it sounds. So either take the main
route up to the summit and back, or do the ice face to the left as a separate
climb to the ridge and descend on the route.
There are also a number of other peaks in Ak-Sai
area as well as in other side valleys of Ala-Archa gorge. If you are interested
either in walk up's or technical climbing please contact
us for further details.
Besides climbing possibilities North Tien-Shan offers a great opportunities
for trekking and day walking either in Kyrgyz range or in other remote areas.
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