bespoke expedition handbook

This Handbook contains everything you need to know about the bespoke ING expedition to Kyrgyzstan arranged by Secret Compass.

Read on to discover our ethos and team-centred approach and for the nitty gritty information like flight and visa advice, insurance requirements and kit recommendations. If you have any questions, use the buttons below or drop us an email. The next step is to apply for this team and, once approved, secure your spot with a Booking Form and a $700 per person deposit.


Key facts

  • Arrive: at your hotel by 1100 on 28 August 2020 in Bishkek.
  • Depart: leave Bishkek any time on 5 September 2020 onward.
  • Insurance: Ensure you have comprehensive cover.
  • Docs: send your flight, insurance and passport copy in.
  • Balance due: 90 days before departure on 28 May 2020.
  • Find FAQ and Testimonials online.


This bespoke expedition explores part of the Talas Range in the Tien Shan Mountains. Predominantly rural, Kyrgyzstan was once a part of the USSR, but today its nomadic traditions and culture are again on the rise. This expedition is a wild and remote experience as you travel deep into the land of the nomads travelling through diverse landscapes including mountain meadows, rock, scree and snow to reach the Chychkan Glacier. This bespoke itinerary is an A to B trek with a temporary base camp set up half way through the trek from which there is the option to make day ascents of nearby trekking or technical peaks and alpine ridges.

This expedition is semi-exploratory, while the area is well researched and home to members of your local team, some of the peaks and ridges we will be attempting for the first time. The joy of this trip is in the genuine sense of discovery and raw thrill of exploring somewhere new. It’s important to realise that failure is just as much a part of expedition life as success and we need to be prepared to turn back to Base Camp, or try another line, if we cannot reach a particular peak or ridge. We will re-group daily to make new plans for the following day. This tailored itinerary can be flexed and adapted on the ground to suit you and with an expert SC leader and guiding ratio of 1:3, there is the option to split groups by technical ability to allow for maximum peak bagging attempts.


  • Trek through diverse landscapes including mountain meadows, rock, scree and snow.
  • Pack animal supported and semi-exploratory; some of the ridges and peaks may be attempted for the first time
  • Breathtaking scenery; with passes at around 3500m and surrounding mountain peaks rising to 4500m.
  • Practice and improve mountaineering skills, including competency with ropes, crampons and ice axes.
  • Chance encounters with Kyrgyz shepherds en route and small villages of semi-nomads.
  • Hear from local mountaineering guides and nomadic herders about how climate change is impacting life in the Tien Shan and experience the dynamic environment first hand
  • Finish the expedition relaxing on the beautiful shores of Besh Tash Lake.



You need to organise your own international flights.

It is advised that you book a flexible flight ticket that can be changed or refunded if the expedition dates are changed or if it is cancelled for any reason. See our online Terms and Conditions.

You need to be at the team’s guesthouse on the outskirts of Bishkek by 1100 on the 28 August 2020 at the latest – many flights arrive in the early hours or you may choose to arrive a day early. The expedition officially ends after breakfast on the 5 September 2020 although you are free to depart anytime as many flights depart early in the morning.


Travel insurance which provides cover for emergency repatriation in case of a medical emergency is compulsory for all expeditions. You should be aware that many standard insurance policies may not cover you adequately for all aspects of a remote expedition and so we strongly recommend that you purchase a suitably designed insurance policy. Secret Compass cannot comment on the suitability of your cover so if you are in any doubt please contact your policy provider and ask them to confirm that you are covered to our minimum standard (below).

  • Emergency medical repatriation (to home country) including any associated expenses abroad of at least $500,000.
  • Activities: ensure that any expedition activities are included, this includes, trekking and mountaineering
  • Geographical region: check the geographical region you are going to is insured (often the US and Canada or countries such as Afghanistan are not insured).
  • Foreign Ministry advice: check your insurance is not sensitive to any travel warnings issued by your respective foreign ministry. In the UK, many insurers will not insure you when the Foreign Office warns against travel to this area. Foreign Office advice will not necessarily mean we cancel an expedition or do not travel to a particular area. Please check @FCOtravel and the Travel Aware site.
  • Dates: make sure the period of cover begins at the departure and ends at the return to your home country. Many flights take a day or two and time zones vary. Insurance companies may prejudice your claims due to this.
  • Pre-existing medical conditions: disclose these to your insurance company and to Secret Compass.

Prior to travel Secret Compass will require the name of your insurance policy provider, their 24-hour emergency contact number and your policy number. For full information on travel insurance and links to suggested companies, please visit the insurance page on our website.


Visas are your responsibility. British, US, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and most EU nationals can visit Kyrgyzstan for up to 60 days without obtaining a visa. If you think you may spend more than 60 days in Kyrgyzstan, you should get a visa from a Kyrgyzstan Embassy before you travel or on arrival at the airport in Bishkek. From 1 September 2017, e-visas have been made be available for tourist and business visits of up to 90 days from the e-Visa website. These visas can’t be extended within Kyrgyzstan. They can only be used at Manas Airport, Bishkek, Osh international airport and at the Ak-Jol border crossing point into Kazakhstan. Please check with your nearest embassy or consulate on the latest advice.


Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 3 months from the date of entry into Kyrgyzstan and must have at least 1 full blank page if you are applying for a visa. Please send a clear, colour copy of your passport to Secret Compass ahead of the expedition and carry photocopies with you on the expedition in a safe place.


All relevant tourist permits will be organised by Secret Compass. This process usually takes 5-6 weeks. You will receive a request for information from Secret Compass in late May/ early June 2020 at the latest. This will include a passport copy, work title and address and home address.


Below is our recommended itinerary however as a 100% bespoke trip this can be changed and adapted to work for you. If you want to add extra days for further trekking or sightseeing or would like to shorten or change any of the sections, we will work with you to create your perfect trip.

Day 1: Aug 28 – Talas

Arrive into Bishkek (flights usually land early in the morning) – transfer to the team’s guesthouse for breakfast and an expedition briefing before driving out (approx 6 hours) into the Kyrgyz countryside and a comfortable homestay.

Day 2: Aug 29 – Talas mountains

Driving to the end of the road, you will meet your local guides and pack animals in the foothills of the Talas Mountains. Spend the afternoon acclimatising with an exploratory hike in an area which is often popular with Nomads during the summer months.

Day 3: Aug 30 – Talas mountains

After exploring the valley yesterday, today’s trek will take the team higher into the mountains with the steady pace designed to allow for both acclimatisation and the opportunity to attempt a 4000m trekking peak in the area. Returning to lower elevations, there are plentiful campsites along the river.

Day 4: Aug 31 – Jarlu Tor Pass

Trekking further into the mountains, today’s main challenge will be the Jarlu Tor pass (3527m) from where the team will strike out along the river valley towards the base of Chychkan Glacier – a dynamic environment as Central Asia is on track to lose ⅓ of its glaciers in the next 30 years.

Day 5: Sept 1 – Potential summit day

Before we make our crossing of the range, we use today to scout the best route for tomorrow, attempt one of the nearby 4000m summits, enjoy a rest day in camp or to explore the valley. Weather and team energy will guide how the day unfolds. Due to our high guiding ratios we can split the team for different objectives.

Day 6: Sept 2 – Uzon Tor River

Today is a big day as the team attempts to reach the Chychkan Glacier by crossing the mountain range through high passes before camping by the Uzon Tor River. The terrain in the area can be challenging and there are multiple route options available depending on the conditions. If necessary, vehicles will transfer equipment should the passes be impassable for the pack animals.

Day 7: Sept 3 – Besh Tash Lake

Following on from the challenges of previous days, today will be a gradual ascent up and over Lt Argar Pass which gives way to fantastic views of the Besh Tash (Five Stones) Lake, the expedition’s final goal. With camp set up along the pristine shores there is an opportunity to swim in the icy waters if you dare!

Day 8: Sept 4 – Bishkek

Striking camp early, walk to the North side of Besh Tash Lake where the team will be collected by vehicle. Bid farewell to the local support team before returning to Bishkek for some creature-comforts in the Bishkek guesthouse and a celebratory meal.

Day 9: Sept 5 – Departure day

Onwards travel with many flights departing early in the morning.

About Secret Compass itineraries

Please remember that this itinerary acts as a framework plan. It provides guidance as to our intentions but may not be followed religiously. This is an adventure and by definition the outcome is uncertain. The leadership team will adapt, flex and change the plan depending on the numerous frictions you may encounter along the way.



All our expeditions are achievable by people with an active and healthy lifestyle. However, this is an arduous expedition that will test you and at times you may be sore, tired, hungry and wet. You must be prepared physically and mentally for the expedition and for living in basic conditions for the duration. Please ensure that you train for the expedition and arrive fit and ready to go. You will be required to be fit enough for the following.

  • Grade: 270º.
  • Daily activity: varies but trekking up to approx. 8 hours per day.
  • Walk: up to 15km a day at altitude.
  • Carry: up to 12kg.
  • Terrain: rocky and uneven trails below the snow line. Above the snow line expect snow, ice and often steep, exposed terrain which may be glaciated.
  • Climate: temperatures ranging from 25ºC to -10ºC at night.

Previous experience

There is no need for previous experience on this bespoke expedition. A high guiding ratio will allow the team to naturally split into beginner and more technical groups so everyone can experience the mountains at a level that is comfortable for them. This is a great opportunity for those with previous alpine skills to further develop their skills in a challenging expedition environment or for beginners to learn the basics from the experienced mountain guides.


Please seek advice from your health professional on recommended vaccinations. The NHS Fit For Travel site and Travel Health Pro are both useful.

It is strongly recommended that you have a dental check up prior to departure. Dental problems far from help are very unpleasant.


Banks and licensed moneychanger booths (marked obmen valyot) exchange US dollars and other major currencies. Local currency is called SOM (which translates in Russian to ‘Catfish’). Trying to get change for a 5000SOM note will likely be met with a look of horror even in cities, however, changing money back out of SOM is not problematic. ATMs are increasingly common in Bishkek and other major towns. Many dispense both US dollars and SOM and work with Visa, but for Mastercard and Maestro look primarily for Demir banks across the country.

This expedition is all-inclusive so you won’t need much money, just enough for a beer in the town and some souvenirs on the way or for (discretionary but always appreciated) tips for the local team.

Secret Compass always suggests carrying an emergency fund of $100-$200 in cash.


The following is Secret Compass’ recommended kit list for the 2020 bespoke expedition to Kyrgyzstan. Although this is a pack animal supported style expedition, you will be required to carry day sacks on the summit days including warm / waterproof layers, food and water, any technical mountaineering kit required for the day and the a share of the medical and communications. The pack animals will carry a maximum of 18 kg per person so do try to pack light. Secret Compass will supply tents, stoves, crampons, ice axes and helmets and any technical climbing gear.

Secret Compass have arranged team members discounts with Cotswold Outdoor, Nordic Life, Outdoor Hire and Expedition Kit Hire, details of these will be sent through on booking.

Baggage and sleeping

  • RUCKSACK / DUFFEL (60-70 ltr): All your personal gear needs to fit easily into this pack and have enough room for a tent and share of group equipment provided by us. This will be used for transporting kit on the pack animals so please do not pack more than 18 kg of personal kit.
  • DAYSACK (30-40 ltr): To use once basecamp is established. Still needs to be big enough to fit warm layers, crampons, snacks etc.
  • WATERPROOF RUCKSACK LINER: Sealable “canoe” or “dry” bags made by Podsac or Ortlieb. You need a large one to line your rucksack.
  • SMALLER DRY BAG (optional): As above, but smaller bags to put essential items in. The large rucksack liners sometimes leak so anything important needs to be waterproofed individually. This also helps to keep you organised.
  • SLEEPING BAG: Rated to at least comfort -15ºC. 3-season is absolute minimum. Add a liner for extra warmth. Down is good but may need waterproof protection e.g. a bivi bag and waterproof stuff sack.
  • FULL LENGTH SLEEPING MAT: Inflatable winter roll mat required as pitching tents on snow. Bring a repair kit!


  • LONG SLEEVE SHIRT: 2 x quick drying long sleeve trekking shirt or top (not cotton).
  • WATERPROOF SHELL: 1 x gore-tex or the equivalent.
  • WATERPROOF TROUSERS: 1 x gore-tex or equivalent. Consider a bib-style.
  • THERMAL BASE LAYER: 2 x top and bottom. Merino wool or synthetic mix is great. Do NOT bring cotton.
  • TREKKING TROUSERS: 2 x thin trekking trousers that dry quickly and are comfortable.
  • MID LAYER: 2 x micro fleece or equivalent. Prostretch is good for layering. Can be used as pyjamas.
  • THERMAL LAYER (optional): 1 x THICKER fleece or equivalent. Prostretch is good for layering. Can be used as pyjamas.
  • DOWN JACKET: 1 x expedition down jacket or synthetic equivalent.
  • HIKING SOCKS: 4 x well fitting with your boots and comfortable.
  • CRAMPON COMPATIBLE MOUNTAIN BOOTS: Ensure your boots are worn in and comfortable. 3 season walking boots (Rated B1 or B2) with stiff sole capable of taking C1 “flexi” crampons (sturdy and worn-in). Recommend you visit your local outdoor store for advice on fitting.
  • GAITERS: To prevent snow getting into boots and to keep feet dry.
  • WARM HAT: Must provide ear protection.
  • UNDERWEAR: 4 x (optional).
  • GLOVES: 2 x waterproof cold weather gloves with wind protection. You need a thinner pair and a thicker, weather proof pair. We would also suggest a pair of liner gloves such as running gloves to wear underneath your thick waterproof gloves.
  • CAMP TRAINERS/SHOES: To wear in an evening instead of your mountaineering boots.

Climbing Equipment

  • HARNESS (optional): Comfortable and well-fitting for any technical mountaineering sections. Secret Compass can provide a harness if needed, please let us know.
  • CRAMPONS (optional): Secret Compass can provide C1 crampons however you are welcome to bring your own. Please let us know. Note: if your feet are smaller than UK 4 you will need to provide your own crampons.
  • ICE AXE (optional): Secret Compass can provide an ice axe although you are welcome to bring your own. Please let us know what you would prefer.
  • HELMET (optional): As above, this can be provided but you are welcome to bring your own.


  • ROBUST WATER BOTTLES: 2/3 x Nalgene or Sigg are recommended. You need to be able to carry a minimum of 3 litres of water.
  • 0.5l THERMOS FLASK (optional): Great warmth and morale boost on the mountain.

Health and Hygiene

  • WASHBAG, TOOTHBRUSH & TOOTHPASTE (optional): Ensure it breaks down small. You do not need a large travel washbag – small dry bags or sealable sandwich bags work well.
  • SOAP (optional): Anti bacterial and BIODEGRADABLE.
  • TRAVEL TOWEL/SARONG (optional): Quick drying is ideal.
  • WET WIPES OR BABY WIPES: To clean yourself with.
  • TOILET PAPER (optional): Travel tissues are ideal.
  • SANITARY PRODUCTS (optional): Bring nappy bags to remove used items from the mountainside.
  • LIP SLAVE WITH UV PROTECTION: This is essential. Chapped lips are painful.
  • VASELINE: Keep readily available to prevent chafing skin ad heel friction blisters.
  • MYCIL FOOT POWDER OR EQUIVALENT: Very useful for keeping your feet and other sweaty areas dry at night.
  • VITAMINS (optional)
  • AFTER SUN / MOISTURISER (optional): Try and avoid water-based moisturiser.

Small first aid kit

  • WATERPROOF BAG OR TUPPERWARE BOX: Keep kit fry and safe.
  • PAIN KILLERS: Ibuprofen and paracetamol.
  • ZINC OXIDE TAPE AND SMALL SCISSORS: Leukoplast is great if you can source it.
  • COMPEED BLISTER PADS: Please note that Compeed produce several similar-looking blister packs for corns, etc. Please ensure you purchase the standard / original item.
  • DIORALYTE SACHETS OR SIMILAR REHYDRATION PACKS: Nuun or Zero tablets work well as a preventative measure.
  • PIRITON TABLETS (optional): For allergies.
  • ANY MEDICATION YOU NORMALLY USE: It may be useful to find out the generic/chemical name for the medication in case you need to source more in-country. Please also check whether your particular medication is legal in your destination.


  • WATCH (optional)
  • WALKING POLES (optional): Collapsible trekking poles with snow baskets are great if you have sore knees or ankles or for extra security on steep ground.
  • LIGHTWEIGHT CAMPING SEAT (optional): For relaxing each evening in camp. Remember there is a max pack weight for 18 kg for the pack animals so make sure it is small and light!
  • GOGGLES: Ski goggles for whiteout conditions.
  • PENKNIFE: Remember not to pack in hand luggage!
  • LIGHTER: Storm proof for lighting stoves (and burning loo roll!)
  • GAFFA TAPE (optional): For emergency repairs to your kit, you can take some off the roll and wrap it around something else in your kit like a water bottle.
  • SPARE BOOT LACES (optional): Also handy for fixing gear, creating washing lines, etc.
  • RE-SEALABLE PLASTIC BAGS (optional): For dirty washing, wrappings, etc.
  • WATER PURIFICATION TABLETS (optional): Secret Compass will purify all water and these will likely not be needed, they are a back up in case our systems fail!
  • PHOTOCOPIES OF YOUR PASSPORT: Don’t keep this in the same places as your original passport.


Our approach

Secret Compass organises expeditions, not sightseeing tours. Our expeditions are team-centred, flexible and dynamic. Teams are managed on the ground by Secret Compass staff: industry-leading professionals and guides of the highest calibre. They put the structure in place for your team to have an incredible experience while achieving your expedition’s aims. Our people are as passionate as you are about achieving the extraordinary in the world’s wildest places. Secret Compass teams often go to places that others don’t. This makes our expeditions truly different, taking you beneath the skin and beyond the headlines. You’ll be set ambitious goals and will overcome similar hardships to those experienced on the audacious journeys of the past.

Remember this is not an organised tour. It is an adventure. More often than not expeditions don’t run smoothly! The nature of the areas we operate in mean that we will encounter a number of challenges that we expect everyone to meet and relish. Friction and hurdles are all part and parcel of an arduous expedition and also to our success as a team. These make the journey more interesting and are often the best and most amusing parts when looking back. Each expedition is thoroughly reviewed on its return and team members will have the opportunity to provide feedback which helps to inform planning for future expeditions.

Local partners and bureaucracy

Our teammates can only achieve the extraordinary with the help of people in the communities we travel through. NGO and aid workers, guides, fixers and interpreters all work extremely hard and are generous in their hospitality to us and our teams: visitors in their land. They are crucial to our success. Please remember and respect that their perspectives and concepts of time, environmental responsibility and customer service might differ to yours. Occasionally there is no established protocol for outside visitors which means we encounter local power struggles or disagreements. Our leaders have years of experience in delicate negotiations like these and conversational chess – especially through an interpreter – and these interchanges are often memorable parts of any expedition.

Infrastructure and natural events

The areas we travel to often especially remote. Transport infrastructure can be ageing, inadequate or non-existent. Flooded roads, collapsed bridges, fallen trees and vehicle break-downs are all par for the course. Our teams thrive on overcoming challenges like these – be prepared to get stuck in and push occasionally! Natural phenomena like desert sand storms, early monsoons, landslides across key routes, winter coming early, gale force winds and driving snow can all make for a more adventurous set of challenges on the expedition.


In some areas our teams explore, we rely on local food sources. This can often be outstanding (but can also be very average) and we always make the best out of the resources available. In other cases, we will supply filling and high-calorie dehydrated expedition foods (ration packs).

Part of a team

Secret Compass fosters a team mentality across all its expeditions and projects. Like all teams you will have a leader who will give direction to your progress. Crucial to your team’s success – especially when the going gets tough – is the attitude of the teammates working together to achieve the aim. You really are part of a team, not a cosseted guest on a tour. We ask teammates to muck in and help out any aspect of the expedition, from fetching water and helping to prepare and cook food, to carrying some group kit and equipment if required. The working language of all teams is English.

Typical teammates

There really is no typical expedition member, though everyone needs to be fit, healthy and ready to take on the expedition’s aim by the time of departure. Participants range from 21 to 65+ in age and come from all over the world. Backgrounds include contract workers and engineers, IT specialists and students, teachers and literature lovers, journalists and keen photographers and so many more. What bonds our pioneering teams is their shared spirit of adventure and their sense of humour and positive outlook. A good teammate looks on the bright side when the 4×4 breaks down, the rain comes early and when a meal is distinctly pedestrian. Our teammates help each other, look out for each, encourage each other and help each other when needed. Our teams have done us proud in working together to achieve their common goal: the aim of the expedition. If this sounds like you, you’ve come to the right expedition company.

Teammate mentality

You need a robust, spirited and can-do attitude to cope with demanding days and rough camping in rugged and wild places. You’ll cover good daily distances (generally carrying your own kit and equipment), eating expedition foods or relying on local food sources. These elements combine to create the unique character of each expedition. On expedition, challenges, frictions and changes to plans are inevitable. Teammates should meet and relish these as an integral part of any arduous expedition and its ultimate success. Such things make the journey more interesting and are often most memorable parts when looking back.

Risk management

Secret Compass is an expedition company not a tour company. Expeditions contain inherent risk. This is part of the appeal for teammates. We do not make expeditions safe as, by definition, that is impossible. We construct and implement a three-staged risk management approach to reduce risk to what we perceive as a tolerable level.

  1. Risk assessment.
    We conduct a thorough risk assessment of potential hazards and threats that may be encountered on the expedition and provide recommendations to reduce the likelihood of harm occurring/ severity if it does occur.
  2. Safety plan.
    As part of our expedition plan, we detail actions to be taken to implement and resource the recommendations of the risk assessment. This includes a detailed medical and communications plan.
  3. Delivery.
    The expedition leader is responsible for dynamic risk management on the expedition itself.

Key risks

Key risks encountered on this specific expedition include RTA’s, altitude mountain sickness and cold injury. If you would like to see the full Risk Assessment for this expedition, please email info@secretcompass.com.

Incident management and medical

As part of the safety plan, Secret Compass has a full incident and emergency plan for medical and other emergencies. This will be discussed in full at the arrival brief, so everyone is aware what action will be taken. In summary, incidences are usually managed on the ground by the expedition leader in the first instance with remote support from Secret Compass’s 24 hour Operations Room before evacuation to the nearest appropriate medical centre.

Informed consent

It is your responsibility to understand the risks associated with adventure travel in remote areas. You also must understand that medical evacuation will take an extended period of time (potentially up to two days) and will require wilderness extraction techniques and long carries by stretcher. In-country search and rescue and emergency services are very basic or non-existent and the expedition will rely on internal resources for medical evacuation. By joining this expedition, you accept the risks associated with the venture. If you require any more information on specific risk management for this expedition, or would like to speak to us about our medical planning prior to the trip, please get in touch.



Kyrgyzstan is predominantly made up of ethnic Kyrgyz. The largest minority groups are Russian (in the north) and Uzbek (in the south). You can also find Ugyhur, Dungan, Tadjik, Kazak, Korean and Chinese. There are more sheep than Kyrgyz people. Kyrgyzstan is officially Islamic, however it is the most relaxed of the Central Asian Islamic nations. Kyrgyzstan was the last country in the region to be converted to Islam due to its inaccessible mountain terrain and nomadic culture. Kyrgyz also have strong ties with nature as a result of Shamanistic beliefs which pre-date Islam.

Dress in Kyrgyzstan is very relaxed. Bishkek is cosmopolitan and you can see mini-skirts and high heels on the same corner as religious head scarfs – or even on the same person! Villages are a little more traditional and thus conservative, mostly trousers (dresses for women) and long sleeves or t-shirts, but shorts are also fine. It is worth noting that lycra is not generally appreciated!

Predominant languages are Kyrgyz and Russian. Kyrgyz is a Turkic based language. Most Kyrgyz speak Kyrgyz and Russian, but Russians only speak Russian. Basic English is spoken in towns and occasionally in villages.

Local dynamics

Kyrgyzstan used to be part of the Soviet Union. When the USSR collapsed, in the early nineties there was a power vacuum, and so cultural identities and social relationships were challenged. The older generations who grew up in the USSR have shared experiences and similar mentality, though the younger generations have less in common. For the most part Kyrgyz and Russians mutually tolerate each other. The south of Kyrgyzstan is poorer and has a large Uzbek population, the north is richer with more Russian influence, so there is generally some tension. The government is corrupt and in general not trusted, nor respected. Same goes for Police. Generally there are many different cultures living together in Central Asia, and tolerance is good but in recent years there has been a rise in Kyrgyz nationalism. A large provoker of this is the majority Canadian owned KUMTOR mine. In Bishkek there is a wealthier upper class – mostly politicians and businessmen, there is also a visibly growing middle class, though the rest of the country is rural and poor. National identity is firmly centred around a mythical figure called ‘MANAS.’ All folklore heroics are attributed to this one, ‘Ghengis Khan’ type character who united the 40 warring tribes to create the current nation. The Manas histories are said to have unfolded in Talas.

Dos and don’ts

Always take shoes off inside someone’s home – be that a house or yurt. Males should shake hands with other males when you meet. Women don’t shake hands. It’s polite to greet nomads when passing in the mountains, especially if camping nearby. It is often required to sit and drink tea or fermented mares milk. In towns avoid police and drunks. Don’t give random gifts to poor locals – it creates misconceptions and encourages begging. If you’re not sure about something hang back and watch others first, or ask.


This expedition will cover a variety of terrain from rocky and uneven trails below the snow line. Above the snow line expect snow, ice and often steep, exposed terrain which may be glaciated. The team won’t be covering vast distances each day, but the expedition will be made more challenging by the altitude.


The weather will be in the high teens/early twenties during the day, even at altitude, but on occasion can reach 30 degrees. It will drop down quickly at night and will be below freezing on occasions. The wind will likely pick up in the afternoon and be pretty strong during the evening. Rain is rare but above 3000m there can be squalls at any time of year.


Manas international airport is located outside of the city – team members are responsible for their own transfers between the airport and the accommodation at the start and end of the expedition. Transfers are available by bus or taxi depending on your arrival time. Depending on the final team size, 6WD vehicles or minibuses will be used to transport the team between Bishkek and Talas. From Talas 6WD may be used to arrive at base camp, where the rest of the expedition will be on foot with pack animal support.


The team will stay in comfortable homestays and guesthouses in Talas village and Bishkek. Rooms will be on a twin-share basis and the hotel where you will meet your expedition leader will be able to store any luggage which isn’t required for the expedition, any extra nights outside of the Secret Compass itinerary can be booked directly with the hotel. Whilst on the mountain, the team will be camping in technical mountain tents provided by Secret Compass.


All of your food will be sourced in country. In Bishkek and other urban areas it is often bread and kebab, or noodle/rice based dishes, with simple meat and vegetables. Lamb is the mainstay of Kyrgyz cuisine. Fruit and vegetables in summer are abundant and good quality. Dried fruit and nuts, and different melons are common. We will have a cook attached for the mountain section who will make up our meals. They will be basic but filling and provide all the energy you need. Dietary requirements can usually be catered for but should be discussed with Secret Compass in advance. It is recommended that you bring a favourite snack or cereal bar for each expedition day as a morale boost.


Secret Compass will have up to two Secret Compass leaders depending on the team size, who will guide the expedition with the assistance of a local trained mountain guide. The leaders will have experience of leading groups in remote and mountainous locations.


Secret Compass staff will be carrying at least two methods of communication, usually a Satellite Phone and a DeLorme two-way communication device. These will be used for regular updates to head office and for emergencies.

Unfortunately, routine communication between team members and family/friends is not possible – please reassure them that no news is good news! If there is an emergency and someone needs to contact a team member, they can contact Secret Compass’s Operations Room on +44207 096 8428 who will endeavour to pass a message on within 24hours.

Your mobile roaming will work in Bishkek and perhaps Tamga village, you are unlikely to get signal whilst in the mountains.


Here are some frequently asked questions that are specific to this expedition. Read our general FAQ too for questions such as ‘how do I join an expedition’ and more. Can’t find your answer? Contact SCHQ.

I’m a vegetarian. Will I be catered for?

Teammates with dietary requirements are welcome to apply for this expedition and should state their specific requirements when applying.

Can I bring my own tent?

If you have a suitable lightweight or mountaineering tent you’d like to bring on this expedition, let Secret Compass know in advance so we can advise on its suitability.

What are crampons?

Crampons attach to the bottom of walking boots to facilitate trekking on snow and ice. For this expedition it is imperative everyone’s boots are crampon compatible, a B2 rating boot is advised. Consult your local outdoors shop for advice. Secret Compass will provide C1 crampons for all teammates unless you tell us you have your own.

What if we don’t reach a summit?

Team mates will embrace the spirit of a mountaineering expedition. All peaks have a degree of uncertainty, and even on mountains with well-trodden paths, numerous factors ensure that a summit is never guaranteed. The Secret Compass expedition leader will use acclimatisation and recce days to choose between selected peaks in accordance with team strength, weather conditions and technical difficulty to maximise chances of attaining a summit.

Is this expedition porter supported?

This expedition will be pack animal supported. Each animal will carry 3-4 bags at a maximum of 18 kg per back, so please keep your packs to under 18 kg. You will still need to be able to carry day sacks which will include food, water, technical gear, extra layers and your share of the team med and comms kit.

Can I arrive a day late?

As The Plan outlines, there is a chain of transport to get teammates out to and back from Bishkek and so start and end dates are not flexible once the itinerary is confirmed.

Can I charge all my electrical items?

This will be very challenging with no access to mains power once the trekking section begins. Please ensure you are self-sufficient in terms of charging your appliances by bringing things like spare batteries, lightweight solar panels or power packs to avoid frustration.

Will my camera work in the cold?

Battery life can be a challenge in cold climates. If camera or phone battery life is of paramount importance, research the best ways to protect and keep your batteries warm and come equipped accordingly.

Will there be telephone signal?

Phone signal will be limited once the team leave Talas for the mountains.

Will I get altitude sickness?

The peaks you will be attempting to summit are at an altitude of up to 5000m. Most people can ascend to 2400m without difficulty although symptoms can be present above 1500m. This expedition is planned to provide plenty of time for acclimatisation and part of the expedition briefing will be on signs and symptoms of acute mountain sickness, or AMS as it’s known. The expedition leader is well-versed in such activities with teams at altitude and can advise and answer your questions when on the mountain.

Do you provide further advice?

You might find our Get Ready section useful, with further advice about fitness, flights, travel insurance, visas and our approach to risk management.

How can I apply?

Use the buttons below to contact Secret Compass with your questions or to complete our no-obligation Application Form to join this bespoke expedition. Someone will get back to you promptly.


The Journal