There are over 88 major mountain ranges in Kyrgyzstan, most of them forming the Tian Shan – the Celestial Mountains. The others, such as the Chon Alai Range in the south of the country, belong to the Pamir Mountains. Kyrgyzstan’s mountains effectively divide the country into a number of distinct regions. The two biggest regions are the northern and southern halves of Kyrgyzstan, united by one main road from Osh to Bishkek. Most of the ranges vary in length from 100 to 300 km (62 to 186 miles). The longest, Kakshaal, is 582 km (361 miles), and the Kyrgyz Range, which is to the south of Bishkek, is 454 km (282 miles) long. Most ranges are between 10 and 40 km (6 and 25 miles) wide. In Soviet times, many of these peaks were off-limits without passes, which were hard to get. Even now, when many restrictions have been eased, some places still require difficult border passes, making them difficult to reach.
Though some peaks can be technically easy to climb, the weather can present unexpected difficulties. Heavy snowfall can hide crevasses and cause avalanches, both of which can be deadly. Mountaineers who can summit all five of the peaks in the former Soviet Union that are over 7,000 meters (22,965 feet) earn an award called the Snow Leopard. Two of these peaks are in Tajikistan, two are in Kyrgyzstan, and one (Peak Lenin) is on the border between the two. Since the award was started in Soviet times, over 600 climbers have achieved this distinction.
The northern slopes of Kyrgyzstan’s mountains tend to be wooded, since the snow lasts longer without melting. The southern slopes benefit more from the warming effects of the sun’s rays, and so tend to be grasslands and summer pastures (jailoo).