Global Adventure - Trek Kyrgyzstan's Tian Shan and Pamir-Alay Mountains


Global Adventure - Trek Kyrgyzstan's Tian Shan and Pamir-Alay Mountains

Explore the stunning silk-road nation of Kyrgzstan for 18 days, including 14 days of trekking through the craggy, glacier-covered, 20-25,000 foot Tian Shan and Pamir-Alay Mountains. Stay in yurt camps and enjoy the hospitality of the friendly nomadic peoples of the steppe and mountains on several of the nights, experiencing their interesting culture (think yurts, Eagle Hunters and Mongolian horses!). See ancient Silk Road history still present in modern times. We’ll be supported throughout by professional drivers, pack animals and support staff as well as knowledgeable local guides, so we only need to carry daypacks. NOTE: The member fee shown is only for the 50% deposit; the remaining 50% will be paid the following spring. PERMISSION REQUESTS WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED BEFORE REGISTRATION OPENS! Applications will be accepted until October 6 after which we'll begin to accept people for the roster based on their qualifications (not based on the order of application).

  • Sun, Jul 21, 2024 — Fri, Aug 9, 2024
  • Global Adventures Committee
  • Backpacking, Global Adventures
  • Adults
  • Very Strenuous
  • Challenging
  • Mileage: 112.9 mi
  • Elevation Gain: 27,590 ft
  • High Point Elevation: 16,826 ft
  • Pace: 1.5-2 mph

Arrange to fly into Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan no later than 21 July 2024 – we’ll be transferred to our hotel, and then spend the next day exploring this bustling capitol city and prepping for our departure.   Those not going on to other adventures in the area should arrange for flights departing Osh, Kyrgyzstan on the morning of 9 August, 2024.  NOTE:  Dates are still subject to change.

Itinerary Highlights:   This supported trek will take participants on three different trekking segments through the remote, stunning landscapes of the high rugged Tian Shan and Pamir-Alay mountains of Kyrgyzstan, which ring the country on three sides, as well as some exposure to unique Silk Road historical sites and to Kyrgyz nomad customs from several yurt camps along the way.  We’ll be fully supported with an expert English-speaking local guide, transportation, food, and nights at hotels, supported camps, and at yurt camps with local nomad families.  Support staff of 5 or more on each of the trekking segments.  For a breathtaking visual of some of the places we’ll visit (though not in the same order), watch this video!  

Kyrgyzstan Adventure Map.jpg

After arriving on 21 July, and transferring to our hotel, we’ll start our adventure on the 22nd with a day to explore the modern cosmopolitan capitol city of Bishkek which combines the largest markets in Central Asia, with spacious parks, a thriving cultural scene, an excellent state museum, and one of the Russian bath houses or Banyas with a myriad of health benefits (and to allow any delayed bags to catch up!).

From there it’s just a short drive to Issyk-Kul lake, the second-largest saline lake in the world, where we’ll find our first yurt camp and demonstrations of cultural traditions of the local Kyrgyz nomads including an eagle hunting demonstration and a dinner and folklore performance  (also a chance for a swim!).  Along the way we’ll stop to visit the Burana Tower, all that remains of the ancient city of Balasagun from the 9th century – the tower, often considered a template for many later minarets in the Muslim world, is one of the oldest constructions in Central Asia.

The next day we’ll head southeast in our group van for an easy 4-5 hour acclimatization hike along the picturesque Svetlaya-Polyana gorge before ending the day in Karakol, the country’s 4th largest city, ~95 miles from the Kyrgyzstan–China border at the foot of the lofty Tian Shan range at about 5760 feet elevation.  Karakol is the jumping off point for our four-day trek through  the eastern Tian Shan.   During that time we’ll trek between 5.5 and 7 miles per day and from 500 to 3500 feet of daily elevation gain.  We’ll camp  at altitudes of 9512 ft, 10,496 ft and 8036 ft.  Our camps will be fully supported – our support crew and their trusty donkeys will provide and carry all our overnight gear – except we provide our own our sleeping bags - and they will provide, carry and prepare all of our meals as well as boiled water for the trail.    We’ll traverse above the stunning glacier-fed Ala Kul mountain lake at (11,483 ft), cross Ala Kul Pass (12,956 ft), and walk through the lush Karakol Valley, Keldyke Valley and Altyn Arashan Valley (the last with its own sulfur hot springs where we can enjoy a soothing soak and another yurt camp).  


There we’ll end our exploration of the Tian Shan and drive back to Karakol and then Bishkek for a short domestic flight to the city of Osh in the center of the country (flight included in our trip price) – the staging point for our trekking segments in the Pamir-Alay mountains!  (This transport day will provide a good rest from our first trek to prepare for the next one!)

After a night in Osh we’ll drive south through remarkable scenery to the village of Sary Mogul at the foot of the towering Pamir-Alay mountains with 23,406-foot Lenin Peak looming above.  Sary Mogul will be our starting point for a five-day trek through valleys and over high passes of the Pamir range.  We’ll spend one night in a wild camp, three nights in yurt camps, and a night in a guesthouse with hot showers and wifi!!  These trekking days are a bit bigger now that we’re acclimatized – up to 10 miles and 3800 feet of gain.  First we’ll climb steadily with ever-growing glacier views over 14,000-foot Sary Mogul Pass and down to a wild camp at 11,700 feet altitude.  Then we’ll walk along a river gorge and over 11,700 foot Koshmoinok Pass to end the day at a yurt camp at 9300 feet.  The following day we’ll climb again, this time to 10,300-foot Sarybell Pass, before descending through red rock formations forming the “Three Dragon Gorge ” with the snow-covered Pamirs in the distance.  On the fourth day we’ll have a relatively easy walk in a beautiful gorge, arriving at our yurt camp for lunch and a bread-making master class with local shepherds (!) followed by a home cooked dinner - including our newly baked bread - with a local family, and then another overnight at the yurt camp.  Finally, this first Pamir Mountains trekking segment ends with an ascent to Jiptick Pass (13,700 ft) with breathtaking views of the Pamir Mountains and Lenin Peak, followed by a steep descent to Darbazatash Valley where we’ll have dinner and an overnight stay at another yurt camp, before heading back to Sary Mogul.


Now that we’re trail-hardened and acclimatized, we’ll launch our last trekking segment – the most challenging but also the most dramatic.  We’ll drive south from Sary Mogul to our camp near Tulpar Lake at 11,250 feet, from which we will set out to the Lenin Peak Basecamp, then to Travelers Pass (13,450 ft), and finally to Lenin Camp One at 14,450 feet, our highest camp on the trip.  We’ll stay two nights here in an alpine camp on the side of the Lenin Peak massif, still fully supported by our crew.  Sunset and sunrise here are sights that truly only a relative handful of people on the planet have seen!   The following day we’ll traverse and trek to the top of 16,826-foot Yukhina Peak for another stunning close view of Lenin before heading back down to Camp One for our last night’s camp.  After breakfast the next day, we’ll return over Travelers Pass to the yurt camp at Tulpar Lake and catch a car transfer there, which will take us back to Osh City for a hotel night before taking off on our return flights or other travels the next day. 


The group will be supported by Visit Alay, which began in 2008 as a small travel agency offering adventure tours in Alay Mountains of southern Kyrgyzstan. Beginning in 2014, they expanded operations to Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and today they run adventure and cultural tours across Central Asia.  Their operations are focused on involving and training locals in tourism to alleviate poverty, and working with them to develop their yurt camps, luggage horses, guiding, and taxi services. In 2022, Visit Alay granted 25000 USD to its camp providers to improve the infrastructure of yurt camps.  Now almost 300 locals are involved in tourism during summer time.   And through this partnership, Visit Alay works to provide guests with the best local experience through yurt camps, local food, and local guides, along a green tourism path to be in a good harmony with the planet.

There will be one English-speaking professional guide and assistant guide accompanying our group through the entire trip, and depending on the size of the group, we will have 4-11 other staff to tend the animals that will carry our overnight gear, food and dining-cooking equipment, and to assist the guide with any necessary evacuations (up to 12 staff in total through the trekking portions of our itinerary).  We will be carrying daypacks and sleeping bags and staying in hotels, guest houses, yurt camps or supported wild camps every night. 

Special Risk Factors:  This adventure has some elevated risk factors that participants must be aware of and accept when they register for this trip.  Before registering, please review this Risk Assessment document and be sure that you are ready to accept these risks, and cooperate with the leader and our support team in controlling those risks.  In particular, while most of Kyrgyzstan is rated by the US State Department as an alert level 1 (the lowest risk level) and the government has a good relationship with the United States, much of the border area including the part of the Pamir-Alay mountains in the second half of our itinerary is currently rated Level 3:  Reconsider Travel, due to a border dispute along the Tajik border that turned violent during September of 2022.   Talks between the countries to finalize agreed-upon borders have been making good progress, and the only areas that still are still thought to be dangerous are 12 hours west of our trekking area in the Pamirs - we will stay far away from these zones.  If this situation changes at any time before we enter that area, we have backup options and will quickly pivot away from any dangerous area.  Still, the country is known for periodic active protests and demonstrations, and part of the benefit of having a local guide and driver is to help us keep track of the places where these are happening and steer clear.

Time of Year:   The best travel time for Kyrgyzstan is from April to October, when temperatures aren’t so hot in the center and there is barely any rainfall.  However most high-altitude treks and climbs take place in July or August in order to minimize snow in the high passes.

Lodging:   In Bishkek, Karakol and Osh we will stay in comfortable modern hotels, twin-share basis with private bath.  ∙ We’ll stay in shared bunk-room accommodations at guesthouses 2 nights, in basic yurts shared with 4-5 people on 7 nights, and in tents in wild camps on 4 nights shared between two people.

Luggage:  All food and cooking gear for the group as well as our overnight gear will be carried by porters. Porters will carry 15 kg max of your personal gear.  If you wish to add more weight you will be charged 3 USD per kg and the Mountaineers will pass this cost on to you. You should have a daypack to carry your bottled water, cameras and the most important belongings.

Food:   We’ll enjoy wonderful local cuisine around the country prepared by locals at guesthouses and yurt camps.  Kyrgyz traditional cuisine is heavy to lamb, chicken and beef, but  there is a great array of salads commonly served in Kyrgyzstan, from Korean-style cabbage salads to savory Russian salads, the latter of which is actually referred to locally as “Italian salads”.  Many meat dishes such as shashlik (like a shish kabob) can also be requested without meat.

When at our wild camps we will be served a simple hot meal prepared by our camp staff, such as soups, pasta, meat, rice, fried vegetables, bread, processed food, cheese, eggs, sausage, energy bars, dry fruits, nuts etc. Lunch on the trail is usually a picnic composed of bread, meat, vegetables, fruit, chocolates and other snacks.

Leader’s Experience:   Cheryl Talbert has led many Mountaineers hikes and several Mountaineers and private backpacks, treks and cultural trips around the U.S. west and worldwide, as well as 38 Global Adventures including successful high-altitude treks in Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim and four treks in Peru.  She has never traveled or trekked in central Asia.

Strenuousness or Difficulty rating:   This itinerary is rated very strenuous, because of the cold and high altitude.

Limit:   Maximum of 12, minimum of ten, including the leader.

Participant Requirements: Must be a current Mountaineers member with an up-to-date waiver on file. This is a very challenging trek that includes some very rugged boulder terrain and poorly formed trails, very cold temperatures and exposure to high altitude for several days.  Though we will have multiple exit options during the route, exit (by horse – no helicopter evac will be available) to a road and back to a medical facility will be difficult and time consuming, and rural medical facilities are limited and poor. Therefore, participants will be screened by way of a detailed application and followup discussions to demonstrate:

  • recent experience with strenuous mountain trekking and the gear and experience to pack properly for very cold mountain conditions.
  • no past altitude illness symptoms on trips above 8000 feet altitude.
  • no medical conditions that could be exacerbated by severe cold, GI illness or altitude (people with such conditions may be allowed to participate with a doctor’s written approval).
  • the maturity and judgment to recognize and be forthright about illness or injury symptoms before they become significant problems (as evaluated based on application responses, conversations with past Mountaineers leaders and other respected colleagues, the leader’s past direct experience with the person, and the leader’s impression from in-depth conversations with the person. 
  • a positive attitude and the ability to get along well with groups for extended periods under demanding conditions with few amenities for multiple days at a time (evaluated through the same process as in the previous bullet).

Applications will be collected until October 6th after which decisions will begin to be made to accept applicants for the roster based on their qualifications (and not on their order of application).

The Mountaineers then require that anyone participating in a high-altitude trek like this one must participate in training[1] on safe travel at altitude and on safe decision making in outdoor adventure.  Each participant will be required to hold international medical treatment insurance as well as emergency evacuation insurance sufficient to get them home in case of an emergency medical issue during the trek. Participants will be encouraged to follow the guidelines of the Wilderness Medical Society in terms of medications for prevention and treatment of severe altitude illness, in consultation with their doctor.

All participants will be expected to be up to date on the latest vaccinations and boosters for Covid-19, and to take precautions before and during the trip including:

  • avoiding indoor crowds and gatherings the week prior to the trip that carry a risk of bringing Covid-19 to the group
  • masking during all transport to Kyrgyzstan
  • carrying 4 self-tests and testing yourself proactively if you begin to experience any symptoms that could indicate a covid infection
  • isolating in the case of any positive test, for at least 5 days or as long as symptoms persist, whichever is longer.

NOTE:  Your leader makes most of the arrangements and provides logistics support during the trip, but is NOT a tour guide!  As a Mountaineers group we will operate as interdependent, capable travelers making our way together and helping one another succeed and be safe.   

NOTE:  The leader’s trip objectives, expectations and style are detailed in this document.   By registering for the trip, the participant understands and accepts these fundamentals and agrees to support them during the trip.

[1] The training will consist of a summary of the latest literature from the Wilderness Medical Society in altitude illness prevention, symptoms and treatment, and a quiz for comprehension.

Trip Price Detail:   $3600 including all lodging, transportation, guides, support teams and most meals as well as a domestic flight from Bishkek to Osh.  Your airfare (~$1200-1500, plus any flight from Osh back to Bishkek if you choose), travel insurance ($75-350), tips (~$100-150 per person) and a few meals in town (<$100) are not included. 

Registration Instructions:   First please submit the application form (see button below) which will automatically be sent to the leader.   After the leader’s approval, go to the trip listing and click the REGISTER button to pay the 50% deposit and hold your space on the roster. Registration will close on March 15, 2024 or whenever the roster fills. A place on the roster can only be held with payment of the deposit.   The final payment due date will be announced by the leader as the outfitter’s payment schedule is finalized.

Application     Trip Agreement     Release

Supplemental Information

Cancellation Policy: If you cancel from the main itinerary or the extension, you may receive a refund less non-recoverable expenses (including any outfitter cancellation fees) and a $100 administrative fee. No refund is available if you cancel within one month of the trip departure (June 21st).


Trek Kyrgyzstan's Tian Shan and Pamir-Alay Mountains

Required Equipment

Required Equipment

After receiving your deposit, the leader will send out a series of letters or emails providing information to help participants succeed on the trip, including recommended and required gear, recommended maps and guidebooks.


Trip Reports