The Tian Shan Express.

Walking on ice for days is… unusual, but thoroughly awesome at the same time.

You might think that since there are no winding paths you could walk ‘as the crow flies’ across a glacier, but you’d be wrong. Much zigzagging is needed in-between and around mounds of rubbly rocks and glacial ‘icebergs’. Walking over smaller rubbly rock is tricky too. And walking on the ice is hardly a walk in an ice-free park either – especially when you can’t see the ice under a thin film of small rocks. But these inconveniences pale into insignificance when you have a look around at the oh-my glaciation landscapes all around!

Under those there rocks – ice. The ice around here inflicts serious damage to the surface of the mountains: as it expands (from water) in cracks it breaks up the rock, and over time grinds up the ever smaller rocks finer and finer and pulls it all downwards down the slopes. The ice melts, there’s less and less ice further down the slopes and more and more rocks – from pebbles to boulders.

Btw, there are all sorts of different rocks here.

The glacial ice flow comes from different directions from different peaks, so the quantity and quality of rock material varies plenty. There’s fine black dust, gray granite, white marble. And sometimes there are wholly unexpected colorings of the rock – like violet! Most of all though it’s black, gray and white.

A nice combination: green glade + a morainal ridge from a lateral glacier:

Here’s a black strip from another lateral glacier, and in front of it – a white strip; it stems from the next glacial flow in the next hollow between the mountains:

It was a pity we didn’t have a geologist with us. Perhaps he or she would have been able to explain to us the secrets of the origin of all the different colors here, or by which natural magical processes the marble and striped granite has turned up here.

The Englichek Glacier is very long and thus very stripy. Different flows of variously colored rocks pour into it. In places it’s all about rocks; in others – all about sheer ice; the result: a rare sight of natural landscape stratification of immense proportions. It’s best to take it all in from high up the mountains, which is just what we did:

It’s easier to walk on the stony strips than on the ice. From afar the ice looks the easier option as it seems smoother, but upon closer inspection it’s a very uneven confection of large clods of ice with cracks in them and streams of water running here, there and everywhere:

Our guides call these strips ‘trains’. As in: “this train is going to Glacier One, and that train – to Glacier Two; therefore, we need to change platforms.” Or something like that :).

Traveling on these ‘trains’ on the middle section of the glacier becomes rather comfortable: less winding, straighter, more even. I wonder – do they call such strips ‘trains’ on other glaciers around the world? Just curious…

Other stretches of ‘train’ were trickier to navigate, as you can see here:

Some of the views up here were fantastic. For example, that of this here glacial lake:

This is a much smaller lake, but at 3300 meters above sea level, it was the lake that enabled me to improve on my personal best in the high-altitude bathing stakes. My previous record was in Armenia – 3200m above sea level.

Check this out: a glacial… portal. Down it – noisily and with plenty of echoes – goes anything that finds itself near it. A glacial black hole. You guessed it: we didn’t take a closer look :).

The outstanding sights just kept coming:

Ice hills:

Here comes the solid ice:

Oh my goodness gracious:

A full-on Greenland-style glacier doesn’t come straight away however. You first need to clamber over ice ridges: not easy. But then it all becomes worth it:

More visual deception: the glacier looks smooth from afar:

…Closer inspection: rough as heck, with jagged edges, ravines… even stalactites:

We stopped at the start of the full-on glacier. To have gone any further would have necessitated rock-glacier-climbing – so we settled for down here. The views were still out-of-this-world awesome though:

And here’s the glacier-trotting posse, in full effect:

PS: If you haven’t looked up Tian Shan – can you guess where we are yet?…

Comments 1 Leave a note


    your travel pictures and travel commentary showing up in my Email is something I have come to look forward to, cool trips man, cool trips. Exciting big world to be reminded of, so thanks for that, fellow human.

Leave a note