Expedition Location

The expedition is heading to Kyrgyzstan. The Tien Shan mountains lie mainly in Kyrgyzstan and China, the name meaning 'Celestial Mountains'. You can find more on the Geography and Geology in our area by clicking the links.

Shami Tuyuk, Kyrgyz Ala-Too, Kyrgyzstan
Base camp coordinates: 42⁰N 28’28’’, 75⁰E 10’48’’, 3050 m

The Tien Shan, particularly in Kyrgyzstan, have become increasingly popular with mountaineers over the last few years. Many head to more remote and higher peaks of the Kokshal-Too in the South, or the Inylchek in the East.
We headed to the Kyrgyz Ala-Too range, which runs east-west from Lake Issyk Kul to the border with Uzbekistan. "Shamsi Tuyuk" means the gorge of the Shamsi area; the gorge snakes south then west then south again. The Shamsi pass is a horse-trekking route to the east of our expedition area.
The valley is roughly five valleys and 50km east of the well-developed Ala Archa range, which is just south of Bishkek. The valley is just four hours' drive from Bishkek, and has peaks ranging from 4150m to 4450m.

Previous visits
There are no previously recorded visits to the valley. Russian mountaineers were well known for climbing hard routes in majestic locations and leaving small ‘less worthy’ objectives unclimbed due to the competitive element involved. The area has been well surveyed (along with the rest of the world) and it is highly likely that a simple peak in the area was climbed for surveying purposes. Pat Littlejohn of ISM and Vladimir Komissarov of ITMC agreed that the area was unlikely to have had any exploration in recent times.
As there were no photos, we had to make do with the accurate but old Soviet maps and Google Earth satellite photos. We chose this area over other similar valleys close by because of the better resolution and less cloud on Google Earth. Near one of the peaks (Peak 4383), the Soviet map has an inscription that translates as ‘Visibility up to 20km’, which suggests that this may have been previously climbed by surveyors.
We found signs of little-used paths to base camp and over a snow-free pass to the west, which we used to access the western glacier. We found no sign of any human presence on any routes or summits. We hope to have left no trace ourselves.

Google Earth Satellite photos and old Soviet mapping were our major source of information about the area - you can find both below, with our base camp, and some potential peaks highlighted.

Expedition Area Geology

Recently, the Swiss National Science Foundation has funded a project based at ETH Zurich to create digital geological maps of some areas of the Kyrgyz Tien Shan. Unfortunately, our valley lies just to the east the Kyrgyz Range project area. However, using the wider tectonic scheme and extrapolating the geology of the area that has been digitally mapped, we made a good prediction of what rocks we would find in the Shamsi Valley.

The valley is underlain by sediments of the Torsu Formation, deposited in the North Tien Shan Epicontinental Basin during the late Devonian to early Carboniferous. The Torsu Formation is divided into two parts, both of which outcrop in our valley. The early part consists of sandstones, gritstones and conglomerates, while the later part consists of reddish siltstones and sandstones.

These sediments do not form anything like the impressive granite faces to be found in nearby Ala-Archa - but that's probably why our area was previously unexplored by climbers. Instead, the area is dominated by scree slopes and loose ridges.

We found sandstones and slate as expected. The rock was loose, and formed large unstable scree slopes, but the outcrops were solid enough for careful climbing and gear placement.


Tien Shan: a geography

The Tien Shan cover much of Kyrgyzstan and the border between Kyrgyzstan and China runs through this mountain range. Our expedition headed to the range south of Bishkek, known as the Kyrgyz Ala-Too, which are contiguous with the Zaaliyskiy Alatau to the north of Issyk Kul. The beautiful Khan Tengri and its associated peaks lie to the south-east of Issyk Kul, on the border with Kazakhstan and China. The highest peak in Kyrgyzstan, Peak Pobeda 7439m, is in this area, on the Inylchek Glacier

The Tien Shan mountains were formed, and in fact are still forming, from the continental collision of India with Asia, on the Indian and Eurasian plates respectively. This began about 40 million years ago, creating the Himalaya and Tibetan Plateau. The Tien Shan is one of the youngest ranges formed by this ongoing collision, which is useful for geologists as they can go there to learn about the early stages of mountain-building; evidence of this process tends to become lost in the older, more mature Himalayan ranges.
The geology of the Tien Shan has developed over the last 2.5 billion years. Igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rock of all ages can be found in the range. The modern Tien Shan mountains are formed primarily of Palaeozoic basement rocks, formed more than 250 million years ago. Younger rock from the Mesozoic-Cenozoic period predominates in the valleys.
Kyrgyzstan’s geology provides it with significant mineral resources including gold, mercury, antimony, other metals, gemstones and rare earth elements. The Tien Shan remain an area of active geological change. Almaty, in Kazakhstan, suffered serious earthquakes in 1770, 1807 and 1865.

The Tien Shan mountains are glaciated, though the glaciers have been retreating in recent years. The most significant of these glaciers, the Inylchek Glacier near Peak Pobeda and Khan Tengri, is one of the largest non-polar glaciers in the world. Several rivers flow from the Tien Shan, the most significant of which, by length and drainage basin, is the Naryn River which eventually empties into the Aral Sea. The Ala Archa river, which flows from the range, forms 100km of the border between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. The largest body of water in the region is Issyk Kul, the second-largest saline lake in the world (after the Caspian Sea) and the tenth-largest lake in total.

The Tien Shan span cover much of Kyrgyzstan and the border between Kyrgyzstan and China runs through this mountain range. Our expedition is heading to the range south of Bishkek, known as the Kyrgyzsky Alatau, which are contiguous with the Zaaliyskiy Alatau to the north of Issyk Kul. The beautiful Khan Tengri and its associated peaks lie to the south-east of Issyk Kul, on the border with Kazakhstan and China.  The highest peak in Kyrgyzstan is Peak Pobeda, at 7439m.