Heart of the Tien Shan

A trekking holiday in Kazakhstan`s Celestial Mountains




From $3,860 Land only

Book this holiday

Holiday Overview


  • Camp beneath Khan Tengri and Peak Pobeda
  • Meet nomadic Kazakh shepherds at their yurt camps
  • Exciting helicopter transfers to and from the Inylchek basecamp
  • All meals and helicopter flights included in the price

Extending for thousands of kilometres across Central Asia, the Tien Shan is one of the world's great mountain ranges. Making our approach from the Kazakh capital of Almaty, we begin a stunning week of trekking on shepherds' trails beside clear mountain streams. Our route takes us by way of several high passes on the north side of the Inylchek Glacier, with far-reaching views of towering snow-capped peaks. An undoubted highlight of the holiday is the remote trekking across meadows filled with a profusion of multi-coloured wild flowers. Then, as a climax to our adventure, we take a short helicopter ride to the South Inylchek Basecamp and spend 3 nights at this far-flung, glaciated location. We have lots of time to admire the dramatic mountain scenery, as we trek towards the basecamps of the Tien Shan's biggest peaks, Peak Pobeda (7439m) and Khan Tengri (7010m). This brilliant 2-week adventure holiday in Kazakhstan spends time at the spectacular heart of the Tien Shan range and provides a real taste of Central Asia!

Is this holiday for you?

This is a remote mountain journey. The first part of this trip we will be walking on good trails amongst foothills, with lush grass and forest and crossing moderately high passes. We then have a transfer by helicopter to a high and glaciated region where we will be walking on and around the South Inylchek Glacier. On this part of the trip the underfoot conditions will involve bare glacier ice and moraine debris. Any crevasses we encounter can easily be avoided. Crampons and ice-axes are not required. We have graded this holiday to take account of the relative remoteness of the area and the ruggedness of the terrain.

Brief Itinerary

View in full
  • Meet at the group hotel in Almaty. A single transfer from the airport is provided. Transfer to Karkara.
  • All terrain vehicle transfer to Kokzhar Valley. Final short walk to camp below the Tyuz Pass (3000m).
  • Cross the Tyuz Pass to the headwaters of the Tyuz Kokpak following an ancient shepherd's trail.
  • Trek into the Ulken Kokpak Gorge through meadows and the forest river valley.
  • Trek over the Buzynbai Pass (3100m). Descend to Karakol Lake.
  • Ascend a high pass at around 3600m for views of the Central Tien Shan. Descend to Lake Akkol.
  • Cross the North Ashutor Pass (3880m). Descent on scree before final ascent to camp (3300m).
  • Ascend the Ashutor Valley into Kirghizstan where we say goodbye to our trek crew.
  • Helicopter flight to the South Inylchek Basecamp (4000m) affording amazing views of the Tien Shan.
  • Exploration trek towards Peak Pobeda Basecamp along the Zvyozdochka Glacier.
  • Round trip towards Kan Tengri Basecamp following the South Inylcheck Glacier.
  • Helicopter flight out of the high mountains to Karkara Basecamp.
  • Drive back to Almaty. Free to time to rest or explore before a final celebratory dinner.
  • Departure day. A single early morning transfer to Almaty Airport is provided.
Sun 31 Jul - Sat 13 Aug Code HTS /01/16/ Adult$3,860 Status Limited Availability Book now
More information
  • Heart of the Tien Shan
  • The departure reference for this tour is HTS /01/16/
  • This tour begins on Sun 31 Jul and departs on Sat 13 Aug
  • This departure has limited availability. Don't delay - secure your place today with a deposit of $400
  • Single Supplement $165 - Group hotel night in Almaty (single tent not included)
  • Single Tent $150
The LAND ONLY dates and prices are for the itinerary, joining in Almaty. For clients making their own flight arrangements, Almaty International Airport is the most convenient for transfers to the group hotel. Please refer to the 'Joining Arrangements and Transfers' section of the trip dossier for further details.

Flights SHOULD NOT be booked until you have received your booking confirmation and the trip is showing 'Guaranteed to Run' or 'Limited'.

BOOK WITH KE CONFIDENCE - No surcharge guarantee

We have undertaken to guarantee that all of our Land Only prices will not change once you have booked your holiday. Unlike some of our competitors we have decided never to surcharge, whether you are booking for this year or the next.

Map & Itinerary

The Route

  • airport
  • point
  • peaks
  • trip direction
  • transfer
  • trek
  • internalflight

Holiday Itinerary

  • Meet at the group hotel in Almaty. A single transfer from the airport is provided. Transfer to Karkara.

    We rendezvous at the group hotel in Almaty at breakfast time where KE Land Only package services begin. A single timed, group transfer is provided in the early hours of the morning from Almaty Airport to the group hotel. Almaty is a lively, colourful and clean Soviet-built city with wide tree-lined streets and a quite cosmopolitan atmosphere. After breakfast, we board our private transport for the fascinating 6-hour drive to the Karkara Base Camp. We overnight at this fixed camp which has good facilities, including a bar.

    • Accommodation Fixed Camp

    • Meals bld

  • All terrain vehicle transfer to Kokzhar Valley. Final short walk to camp below the Tyuz Pass (3000m).

    Today, we make our way to a camp in the upper Kokzhar Valley, both on foot and with vehicle assistance. After breakfast at camp, we board our impressive 6-wheel-drive support vehicle for the continuation of our journey up into the Kokzhar Valley. This vehicle is needed at this point, as there are a number of deep river crossings to negotiate. After around an hour’s drive we may stop to visit with nomadic herders at their yurt encampments. These hardy people bring their flocks of sheep and herds of horses to this rich grazing area during the summer months. Then a further hour and a half of driving brings us to our lunch stop. After lunch we have a further 2 or 3 hours of bumpy, off-road driving through many rivers which would be too deep to cross on foot. After the last of several deep river crossings we can finally stretch our legs with a pleasant walk through grassy alpine meadows, to reach our campsite at around 3000 metres beside a side stream which flows down from the Tyuz Pass (one of many Tyuz passes in this area).

    • Accommodation Camping

    • Ascent 230m

    • Distance 8km

    • gps data View now

    • Meals bld

    • Descent 50m

    • Time 3 - 4 hours trekking

  • Cross the Tyuz Pass to the headwaters of the Tyuz Kokpak following an ancient shepherd's trail.

    Accompanied by our trek crew and a team of pack-horses, we will ascend on a trail beside a tributary stream which leads up to the Tyuz Pass (3556m). Here, we cross a level plateau area which marks the watershed and drop down into the headwaters of the Tyouk Kokpak stream. Descending beside this stream, we are following an ancient shepherds' trail. We may pass Summer Yurt settlements and herds of horses along the way. The valley becomes narrower and we are forced to cross the growing stream several times en route to our camp, which is close to the forest edge at an altitude of around 2900 metres.

    • Accommodation Camping

    • Ascent 850m

    • Distance 17km

    • gps data View now

    • Meals bld

    • Descent 1130m

    • Time 7 hrs trekking

  • Trek into the Ulken Kokpak Gorge through meadows and the forest river valley.

    Today's hike takes us through the Kokpak Gorge with many river crossings! (Get your sandals out!). At the discretion of the KE group leader and local guide and depending on recent weather patterns and trail conditions, we may cross an unnamed 3000 metre pass into the Ulken Kokpak Gorge. If conditions are not suitable for crossing the pass, the day will start with a couple of river crossings before following a trail above the river. This opens into a beautiful meadow with an amazing abundance of wild flowers and butterflies, passing old farm buildings and yurt settlements. The trail then follows the river valley in the forest with several river crossings then joins a jeep track where further river crossings maybe made on wooden bridges. We follow the Tulyk Kopak valley to its end and then enter a hunting reserve, passing an old memorial and the Rahat Tor hunting lodge. We camp at approximately 2450 metres, about an hour up the trail from this lodge.

    • Accommodation Camping

    • Ascent 730m

    • Distance 22km

    • gps data View now

    • Meals bld

    • Descent 1000m

    • Time 7 - 8 hrs trekking

  • Trek over the Buzynbai Pass (3100m). Descend to Karakol Lake.

    An easier trekking day today, with far fewer river crossings! Leaving camp we follow a track through beautiful alpine meadows and have an early lunch stop by big boulder just after a river crossing. From here, we climb steadily at an easy gradient to reach the Buzynbai Pass (3100m). From the top of the pass it is possible to see our campsite, situated at 3000 metres and beautifully located at the far side of the Karakol Lake. The brave can take a dip in the lake’s chilly waters!

    • Accommodation Camping

    • Ascent 760m

    • Distance 13km

    • gps data View now

    • Meals bld

    • Descent 120m

    • Time 5 - 6 hrs trekking

  • Ascend a high pass at around 3600m for views of the Central Tien Shan. Descend to Lake Akkol.

    After a leisurely breakfast, we leave camp in a southerly direction and walk through alpine meadows before gradually ascending a high pass at around 3600 metres. The final section of this ascent zig-zags at a steady gradient. The top of the pass rewards us with extensive views of some of the bigger peaks of the Central Tien Shan. There is minimal evidence of other people in this area, apart from the occasional curious Kazakh horseman. A straightforward descent from the pass takes us to a braided river crossing (hopping or sandles required!) and then to camp, again at around 3000 metres, on a beautiful flat area at 'Moraine Lake', also known as Lake Akkol

    • Accommodation Camping

    • Ascent 720m

    • Distance 9km

    • gps data View now

    • Meals bld

    • Descent 690m

    • Time 5 - 6 hrs trekking

  • Cross the North Ashutor Pass (3880m). Descent on scree before final ascent to camp (3300m).

    Still heading towards the east, we start the day with a steady climb up meadows and scree to a first pass (3600m), then onwards and upwards to the North Ashutor Pass (3800m), from where we have impressive views of the Tien Shan mountains, including Kan Tengri. A steepish scree descent of about 500 metres brings us into a grassy valley which we follow to reach the main Ashutor Valley where many herds of horses and cows graze, with a backdrop of mountain vistas. Towards the end of our walking day, we must ascend for an hour over tussocky grass and a few false summits before reaching our camp in a grazing area at 3300 metres.

    • Accommodation Camping

    • Ascent 700m

    • Distance 9km

    • gps data View now

    • Meals bld

    • Descent 680m

    • Time 6 hrs trekking

  • Ascend the Ashutor Valley into Kirghizstan where we say goodbye to our trek crew.

    Today we ascend to the head of the Ashutor Valley and climb to the Ashutor Pass (3900m) that lies on the border between Kazakhstan and Kirghizstan. Again, we have good views of the Tien Shan peaks and of the Sary Dzhaz Valley ahead of us. We descend to a camp near the river at 3400 metres. The final part of the trail to camp is marked by a series of old telegraph poles. The camp is in a beautiful setting with a remote feel. This is a shorter trekking day than yesterday but still quite tough. Those that have energy left are free to explore the area around camp in the afternoon. In the evening we have a traditional celebratory dinner and tipping ceremony with our trekking staff and horsemen, who will be leaving us in the morning.

    • Accommodation Camping

    • Ascent 890m

    • Distance 9km

    • gps data View now

    • Meals bld

    • Descent 480m

    • Time 5 - 6 hrs trekking

  • Helicopter flight to the South Inylchek Basecamp (4000m) affording amazing views of the Tien Shan.

    Striking camp early, we are picked up for a breath-taking helicopter flight (25mins) to the camp on the South Inylchek Glacier, with outstanding views of Tien Shan's highest peaks and the Merzbacher Lake along the way. The South Innychek Basecamp (4000m) is a fixed camp set up each year on the glacier mainly for climbers on Peak Pobeda and Kan Tengri. The afternoon if free to take it easy, acclimatise and soak up the splendid 360 degree mountain views.

    • Accommodation Camping

    • Meals bld

  • Exploration trek towards Peak Pobeda Basecamp along the Zvyozdochka Glacier.

    Today, we will make a return trek along the Zvyozdochka Glacier, which is the name given to the southern tributary of the Inylchek Glacier. Ahead of us is an unbelievably vast wall of mountains - the Kokshaal Tau - which culminates in the 7439 metre Peak Pobeda. This trek gives us a different perspective on the cluster of mountains at the head of the Inylchek glacial system. We return to spend a second night at the South Inylchek Basecamp.

    • Accommodation Camping

    • Ascent 170m

    • Distance 3km

    • gps data View now

    • Meals bld

    • Descent 200m

    • Time 2 - 3 hrs trekking

  • Round trip towards Kan Tengri Basecamp following the South Inylcheck Glacier.

    Khan Tengri is one of the world's most striking mountains, with its summit taking the form of a sharply defined and quite symmetrical marble pyramid. At sunset, the upper parts of the mountain take on a deep red colour that is particularly dramatic. There has always been some uncertainty about its true height. This is most likely explained by the fact that its rocky high point is at 6995 metres, whilst a permanent snow dome is actually a few metres higher, taking the peak above the important 7000 metre mark. Standing on the border between Kakakhstan and Kirghizstan, the mountain was first climbed in 1931. We will spend a full day on a round trip towards the base of this great peak, hiking up the northern arm of the South Inylchek Glacier. We return to spend a final night at the South Inylchek Basecamp.

    • Accommodation Camping

    • Ascent 380m

    • Distance 9km

    • gps data View now

    • Meals bld

    • Descent 390m

    • Time 5 hrs trekking

  • Helicopter flight out of the high mountains to Karkara Basecamp.

    Today a helicopter will pick us up from the South Inylchek Basecamp and transport us back to the fixed camp at the Karkara Mountain Base. Once again, we have fantastic views of the Tien Shan mountains and glaciers from the air, as we make the 40 minute flight to Karkara. The hot water, sauna and bar facilities at Karkara will be much appreciated.

    • Accommodation Fixed Camp

    • Meals bld

  • Drive back to Almaty. Free to time to rest or explore before a final celebratory dinner.

    After breakfast we will board our transport (4WD vehicles or minibus) for the long drive back to Almaty. After checking in to the group hotel, we will have time to rest and freshen up before enjoying a celebratory evening meal, either in the hotel or at a restaurant in town.

    • Accommodation Hotel

    • Meals bld

  • Departure day. A single early morning transfer to Almaty Airport is provided.

    After an early breakfast, there is a group transfer to Almaty Airport, where KE Land Only package services end.

Holiday Information

  • A KE leader
  • A single group transfer from Almaty Airport on Day 1 and back to Almaty Airport on Day 14
  • All accommodation as described in the trip dossier
  • All meals All camping equipment (excluding personal equipment)
  • Helicopter transport to basecamp on Day 9 and back from basecamp on Day 12
  • All land transport involved in the itinerary
  • Travel insurance
  • Kazakhstan and Kirghizstan Visa fees
  • Tips for local staff
  • Almaty Airport transfers (other than the single group transfers on Day 1 and Day 14)
  • Miscellaneous expenses - souvenirs and drinks etc

All meals are included in the trip price. The food served during the camping section is a mixture of local and Western, purchased locally and cooked for us by well-trained trek cooks. The emphasis is on providing a high-carbohydrate diet, which we have found to be easily digestible at high altitude. Please note that vegetarianism is a concept not widely understood in Central Asia. Whilst we can cater for vegetarians on this trip, choices will be limited and a degree of flexibility is required. You must inform us if you wish your diet to be exclusively vegetarian.

All meals included in trip price from breakfast on Day 1 of the Land Only itinerary to breakfast on Day 14.
A single group transfer will be arranged to meet the preferred group flight on arrival at Almaty Airport. This transfer will normally be in the early hours of Day 1 of the Land Only itinerary. At the end of the trip there will be a single group transfer to Almaty Airport timed to meet the check in for the preferred group flight. This transfer will normally be at breakfast time on Day 14 of the itinerary. The KE guide or a representative of our local agent will assist with these group transfers. Clients not arriving at the same time as the preferred group flights should make arrangements to meet the group at the hotel in Almaty at breakfast time on Day 1. Hotel contact details and an emergency number will be provided with your final confirmation letter. Independent transfers to the group hotel can be arranged in advance at extra cost, through the KE Office. Clients booking a Land Only Package MUST provide the KE office with full details of their flights.
1 hotel night in Almaty, 2 nights in a fixed camp with family size tents and 10 nights camping with 2 person tents. All accommodation is allocated on a twin sharing basis. If you are travelling by yourself you will be paired up with another single client of the same sex. It is possible to hire a single tent while on trip for an additional cost (please note single tent hire does not include single rooms in hotels). Depending on availability it may be possible to book a single room for the hotel night in Almaty. Please contact our office for a quote.

View the gallery below for images of the style of accommodation used

A typical day starts with an early morning wake up and a brew served in your tent. After a hot breakfast, during which camp will be struck and the pack-horses will be loaded, we start walking in the pleasant cool of the morning. We take a packed lunch every day and will stop at a convenient place on the trail for this snack meal, usually after 3 or 4 hours’ walking. The pack-horses will usually catch up with the group during lunch. We aim to establish camp by mid to late afternoon. It is usual for the afternoon’s walk to be shorter than the morning session. During the day you are free to walk at your own pace and to take as many photographs as you wish. On arrival at camp, the tents will be put up and a hot drink will soon follow. Dinner is ready at around 6 p.m. and is a 3-course meal served in the mess tent. This is a great time of day for reliving the events of the trek so far and for socialising.

The group will be accompanied by a KE leader, together with an experienced English-speaking local guide. During the trek, there will be a local trek crew including a team of porters.

Approximately $150 should be allowed for miscellaneous expenses and you should take this money in the form of US dollars currency. You should allow $80 for trek staff tips. Outside of Almaty, there is little opportunity to spend anything. If you are intending to buy expensive souvenirs, you should budget accordingly (credit cards can be useful in this respect).

Tipping is expected in this part of the world, although you should only tip for services which are well done. The total amount that you can expect to pay in tips for your local guide, trek crew and drivers is approximately $80. The local guide and the KE leader will help to coordinate these payments and decide on an appropriate level of tipping for each crew member.

During the trek, your trek bag will be carried by pack-horses. The packed weight of your trek bag whilst trekking including your sleeping bag and camping mattress should be no more than 15 kgs / 33lbs.

All KE clients will receive a FREE KE trek bag.  These have been specially made to stand up to the rigours of adventure travel.  Your KE bag will be posted to you when your trip is guaranteed to run or on receipt of your booking if the trip is already guaranteed.  If you have travelled with us before and already have a KE trek bag you can select an alternative free gift in the booking process.

This holiday involves going to high altitude. During the course of your trip you will reach altitudes in excess of 3500 metres. This is not something that you should worry about; the human body is quite capable of adapting to a very wide range of altitudes, but it is important that we follow some simple rules in order to acclimatise successfully. Before coming on this holiday you should read the advice on trekking at high altitude on our website which can be viewed via the link below. You can also talk to one of our trekking experts if you have any concerns about altitude. www.keadventure.com/page/altitude.html

The following checklist should help you with your packing. As a general rule, you should always try to keep the weight of your equipment to a minimum. The packed weight of your trek bag whilst trekking should be no more than 15 kgs.

You must bring the following items:

  • Daypack: c30 to 40 litres

  • Sleeping bag (comfort rated -10°C)

  • Thermarest or similar sleeping mat

  • Sturdy and waterproof hiking boots

  • Trainers or similar for travelling and camp

  • Footwear for river crossings*

  • Socks

  • Walking socks (2 or 3 pairs)

  • Spare laces

  • Trekking trousers**

  • Waterproof trousers

  • Underwear

  • Thermal baselayer - leggings

  • Shorts**

  • Thermal baselayer shirts (2 short sleeve, 2 long sleeve)***

  • T-shirts and/or casual shirts

  • Fleece jacket or warm jumper

  • Waterproof jacket

  • Warm jacket (down)

  • Sunhat

  • Warm hat

  • Sunglasses

  • Thermal gloves

  • Headtorch and spare batteries

  • Sun protection (including total bloc for lips, nose etc.)

  • Selection of dry bags (to keep trek bag contents dry)

  • Water bottles 1 Litre (x2)

  • Washbag and toiletries

  • Antibacterial handwash

  • Small towel

  • Basic First Aid Kit including: antiseptic cream, throat lozenges, diarrhoea treatment (Imodium), Diamox, painkillers, plasters and blister treatment, insect repellent, and re-hydration salts (Dioralite).

The following items are optional:

  • Trekking poles (highly recommended)

  • Insect repellant

  • Travel clothes

  • Pen-knife (note: always pack sharp objects in hold baggage)

  • Repair kit – (eg. needle, thread, duct tape)

  • Small padlock (to lock your KE trek bag)

  • Camera

  • Sleeping bag liner


*There are numerous river crossings on this trip, especially on Days 3 and 4 of the itinerary. You will need to have footwear suitable for river crossings, such as Teva style sandals or trainers/sneakers. This footwear should be comfortable to walk in, as there will be sections of up to 15 minutes walking in between river crossings, in which you will not change back into your boots. Crocs, flip-flops and similar non-secured footwear are not suitable for river crossings.

** Shorts or trekking trousers with zip off legs are useful for the trekking days in which there are a number of river crossings eg Days 3 and 4 of the itinerary.

*** A long sleeve shirt is good for sun protection whilst trekking on the glacial terrain surrounding South Inilchek basecamp on Days 10 & 11.

For each holiday there is a minimum number of participants required to enable it to go ahead. Once the minimum number is reached, the trip status will change from 'Available' to 'Guaranteed to run'. You can check the trip status for each departure in ‘Dates and Prices’ table. Other than in exceptional circumstances, we will not cancel a trip once it has achieved this guaranteed to run status and so you are free to proceed with your international flight booking and other travel arrangements.

A passport with 6 months remaining validity at the end of your stay is generally required. The information that we provide is for UK passport holders. Please check the relevant embassy or consulate for other nationalities. It is your responsibility to ensure that you have the correct travel documents and visas for your holiday. Visa requirements and charges are subject to change without notice. If you are travelling outside the EU you should have at least 2 blank pages in your passport.

Visa Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan

UK and USA passport holders do not currently require a visa for Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan.  For further details we urge you to download and read the detailed information document: Visa PDF Kazakhstan / Kyrgyzstan.

You should contact your doctor or travel clinic to check whether you require any specific vaccinations or other preventive measures. You should be up to date with routine courses and boosters as recommended in the UK e.g. diphtheria-tetanus-polio and measles-mumps-rubella, along with hepatitis A and typhoid. A good online resource is Travel Health Pro.

We recommend you check if you require an adaptor for your electrical items at:


This is a physically demanding trip and you will enjoy your holiday more if you have an appropriate level of fitness for the activities involved. It makes sense before coming on any active holiday to make sure you are in good shape. We recommend that you adopt a weekly exercise regime building up to departure. Regular hiking in hill country is the best preparation for a trip like this but if this is not possible, jogging, squash, swimming etc are all good for building up cardio-vascular fitness and stamina.

As a reputable tour operator, KE supports the British Foreign & Commonwealth Offices ‘Know before you go’ campaign to enable British citizens to prepare for their journeys overseas, and we recommend that all KE travellers take a look at the FCO Travel Advice for their chosen destination on the official FCO website: www.fco.gov.uk. North Americans can also check out the U.S. Department of State website: www.travel.state.gov for essential travel advice and tips.

KE treat the safety and security of all clients as the most important aspect of any trip we organise. We would not run any trip that we did not consider reasonably safe.  Should the FCO advise against travel for any reason, we will contact everyone booked to travel to discuss the situation.  We receive regular updates direct from the FCO and are in constant touch with our contacts on the ground.  If you have any questions about government travel advice, please call our office.

In Almaty it can be hot during the day - above 30 degrees centigrade. Once we start trekking, however, we will already be close to 3000 metres and the daytime maximum temperatures will be cooler at around 20 degrees centigrade. Night-time temperatures at the South Inylchek Basecamp will fall to freezing point or even a little below. The Tien Shan Mountains usually experience excellent weather throughout the summer, with hot days, clear skies and little rain or snow. However, weather in mountainous areas is notoriously difficult to predict and short-lived storms can occur at any time of the year. In short, you need to be prepared for everything!

  • Central Asia. Lonely Planet. John King.

  • Foreign Devils on the Silk Road. Peter Hopkirk.

  • Mountains of the Middle Kingdom. Galen Rowell.

EWP - Central Asia: 500K. Regional Topographic Maps

1:500,000 Scale. This EWP mapping series has sheets which cover southern Kazakhstan (with Almaty).The maps have contours at 100 metre intervals, enhanced by altitude colouring and relief shading. They are available from Stanfords. Reise-Know-How Verlag have a 1:2,000,000 Scale Kazakhstan map.

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