Western part of one of the most extensive and highest ranges in the Tien-Shan stretching almost for 500 km is really one of the best and interesting places for climbing. It is the Western Kokshal-Too. The administration of the region is divided by two raions. Territory to the east of Kotur canyon is Jetyoguzskiy raion of the Issikkulskay oblast and to the west is Atbashinskiy raion of the Narynskaya oblast. Speaking geographically the region is rather the western end of the highest part of the Kokshal-Too range than the very western part of the whole range. Altitude here exceeds 5,000m. It’s located to the center part of the range. Drawing imaginary line from the very center of lake Issik-Kul to the south on the intersection with Kokshal-Too range we can define the location of the Western Kokshal-Too. It borders with China. The region stretches from longitude 78 east to longitude 79.15’ west for almost 100 km. The axial part of the ridge here stretches in the exact latitudinal direction. Glaciers fill up the canyons meridionally spreading from the axial part. Glaciation prevails at quite large territory of the area. If glaciers slide down of the slopes they stay on the remains of ancient peneplain, on some tops of it. There are about 40 glaciers in the area. The biggest one is the Chon-Turasu and stretches for almost 18 km. Glacier bottom is rather flat what makes it easier to walk there. Altitude reaches up to 5,982 m (Dankov peak). Elevation is 1,500m. A lot of walls are 1,000m high. Glaciers in the canyons are located at the altitude of 4,000-4,500 m. The climate here is typical for Central Asia, i.e. acutely continental. The region is one of the most rigorous ones and called the Arctic of Kyrgyzstan for its severe winters when temperature drops to -60°C. Summer here lasts only for one month – August and it is the best time for climbing. Thunderstorms are very common for May – July. September has very stable weather however cold one and snow doesn’t melt. The average temperature of July is +4°C, of August is
+6°C and of September is +2°C. The annual precipitation is 420mm. Bottom of gorges and watersheds is alpine desert located on the ancient peneplain* surface with slope swamps in some areas.
*peneplain – is a low-relief plain representing the final stage of fluvial erosion of mountains during times of extended tectonic stability.
The area lacks wood or bushes. Fauna is represented by mountainous sheep Marco Polo, Siberian goat “Teke”, wolves, foxes, various rodents, birds including many birds of prey. Some nomads camps are found in the bottoms of valleys breeding sheep, yaks, horses and camels.
The region is not very well studied and there are few reasons for this. The main factors are severe climate, sparse natural recourses, remoteness, inaccessibility and border with China. For many years the region was closed for visitors for the reason of complex relations of the Soviet Union with China. First description of the region was done in 1869 by the Russian geographer A.V. Kaulbars. Later on, the region was visited by few researchers. The first ascent was made by the expedition under A.A. Letavet in 1934. It was an ascent to the summit 4,900m in the Chon-Turasu glacier which then was named Maron peak after one of the climbers. The first mountaineering expedition in 1938 was unsuccessful because of the bad weather. The next expedition took place only in 30 years in 1969. Participants of the expedition were from Moscow region and Kaliningrad city under the leadership of A. Korsun. Six first ascents in the Chon-Turasu glacier were made during that expedition. Afterwards, during the pre- perestroika time number of expeditions took place in 1972, 1980 and 1985. That time most of the summitted peaks were in the eastern part (the Chon-Turasu glacier) and in the western part (Kyzyl-Asker peak) of the region. Other areas were still unexplored due to the inaccessibility. The new stage of exploration started in 1993 when M. Lebedev organized big expedition of climbers from vicinities of Moscow and 1995 A.Korsun organized one of climbers from the West. The destination was again the region of Chon-Turasu glacier. Subsequent period was marked by the foreign expeditions to the Western Kokshal-Too with climbers from the USA and the UK. 1996 was the year when the first English-American expedition took place under Lindsey Griffin and Christian Beckwise. They reconnoitred the region and summitted several peaks in the western part. In 1997 there were two expeditions to the area. Those were again English-American. One was to the same region under leadership of Lindsey and Christian and another one to the Chon-Turasu glacier was organized by ISM (International Mountaineering School) under Pat Littlejohn. The latter one with Pat discovered number of new routes and flew around the area by helicopter in order to prepare for the future expeditions. The second ISM expedition to Kokshal took place in 1998 but that time to the central region to the unexplored Kotur glacier. However because of the heavy fall of snow during first three days of expedition (up to one meter high) it was possible to explore only bottom part of the Kotur glacier and only three successful ascents were done. Much more successful was ISM expedition to the same glacier in 1999. Six first ascents were done in the upper part of the Kotur glacier. In total there were 8 unclimbed peaks of the glacier but bad weather interfered and didn’t let to summit the rest 2 of 8. The expedition explored the canyons east of Kotur gorge in order to find out access ways for the subsequent expeditions. By now most of the canyons are more or less explored as opposed to the canyons Karagerme, Kyzylunet, Kichi-Turasu located in the central part of the range east of the Chon-Turasu gorge.
Access. The western part of the region located west of the Sarychat gorge can be accessed by the road form Naryn town via Akmuz village and Kindyk pass in the upper reaches of the Mudryum river. The road from Naryn town to the pass is good gravel road and further is about 80 km of bad road to the Upper Mudryum. From the riverhead to the campsite grounds it’s about 10-20 km on the trail which continues in the riverbeds and slopes which can be driven by the off-road vehicles. Another obstacle of the access is big number of slope swamps in which a vehicle can easily stuck.
The eastern part of the range can be accessed through the Barskaun gorge on the southern shore of lake Issik-Kul. From the gorge the road goes over Barskaun and Suek passes to Karasai village and further over Ashusu pass and Kichi Uzengegush gorge to the river Uzengegush and follows its head. The area along the river has lots of unexplored gorges up to the Chon-Turasu gorge. The road goes mostly along the northern bank of the river and unexplored gorges are on the southern one. There are no bridges or crossings over the river thus it has to be rope crossing. It’s necessary to work out access to each canyon itself and recommended to visit the area with people familiar with it. Another difficulty is that in places the road runs on the right bank of the Uzengugush river but now it belongs to China in accordance with the Kyrgyz-Chinese agreement of 2002 and only Kyrgyz border service and its transport has authority to drive the road.
The region is in the border area and special permit is required.
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