The greatest mountains in Kazakhstan are the Tien Shan whose name means Heavenly Mountains. Its highest point is Peak Pobedy (7, 439m) but it is located in Kyrgyzstan. Kazakhstan is home to almost the entire Northern Tien Shan, as well as parts of the Central and Western Tien Shan.
The Terskey-Ala-Too Range is the second largest center of glaciation in the Tien Shan; there are about 1,100 glaciers with a total area of 1,081 sq.km. Over half of them are found in the northern slopes facing Issyk-Kul Lake. Speaking of which, the northern slope of the Terskey-Alatau descends by giant steps to the 702-metre deep Issyk-Kul which lies at 1609 m a.s.l.
The highest and most frequently visited part of the Terskey-Alatau is the central one, between Barskaun and Turgen-Aksu gorges. Here lie the largest glaciers as well as the most technically difficult and diverse passes. Tourist routes often go not only along valleys and passes of the Terskey-Alatau, but also lead to Kumtor and Arabeli syrts (districts), cover Kuylu and Akshyirak mountain ranges.
The passes of the Terskey-Alatau Range vary from 3,600 to 4,800 m a.s.l. and have up to 3B categories of difficulty. The absolute majority of passes of the main range and its southern spurs are snow and snow-ice. Passes of the northern spurs of the range are more diverse, there are rock, ice, snow, and talus passes, and most often they are combined.
Planning routes in the Central Tien Shan, please beware the peculiarities of each season. In winter, the weather conditions on the southern slopes of the Terskey-Alatau, the Kuylu Ridge and the Akshyirak might be very harsh. The relief here creates conditions for stagnant and freezingly cold air. The long-term average of January-February temperature here is -28°C (-18F), the absolute minimum is -53.6°C (-65F).
If the route passes through the southern slopes of the Terskey-Alatau and crosses Kuylu and Akshyirak massifs, you need a special permit (the admission to the border zone) which should be applied for at the FSK agencies in your place of residence or in Almaty or Bishkek. Group travel permits must obligatory be registered in Karakol.
The Northern Tien Shan includes such ranges as the Zailiisky Alatau, Ketmen, Kungey Alatau, the Chu-Iliisky Mountains, and the Kyrgyz Alatau. Talgar Peak (4,979m) towers over the Zailiisky Alatau, it is the highest peak in the Northern Tien Shan. It would be difficult to climb this peak without special training and equipment, but you can admire its view from the cities of Alma-Ata and Talgar. Next to the mountain is the Korzhenevsky glacier. It is the largest glacier in Kazakhstan.
The Western Tien Shan within Kazakhstan begins south of the Kyrgyz Range, beyond the Talass Valley. Here, in the close vicinity of Taraz town, starts the Talass Alatau Range which in its Kazakh part has two ridges – the Zhabaglinsky Mountains and the Sayramsky Ridge. The Zhabagly or Zhabaglinsky Mountains are divided into two mountain ridges as well which form the Aksu-Zhabagly basin (the height of the northern ridge is 2,600-2,800 m, the height of the southern ridge is 3,500 m).
The Western Tien Shan includes the Talass Range with its southwestern spurs called the Ugam Ridge that continues on to Uzbekistan and the Korzhintau Ridge.
The Karatau Range is the most northern-western spur of the Tian Shan. Its slopes have been severely eroded over time. It extends in the north-western direction for 400 km, and its average height is 1,800m. The highest point is Mynzhylky (2,176 m). The Karatau is the only Tien Shan range that is totally located inside Kazakhstan.
The climate of the Western Tien Shan is influenced by the warm climatic conditions of southern Kazakhstan. Therefore, the snow line is higher than that in the east. The average annual amount of precipitation is also higher and amounts to 600-800 mm. On the slopes of the mountains, the average temperature in July is +20°+25°C (68-77F), at the foot of the glaciers -5°C (23F).
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