continued from the last post…
Özgür and I ended up spending 12 days backpacking in the Altai Mountains (aka Golden Mountains of Altai, a UNESCO World Heritage Site). My favorite spot was the area called Seven Lakes. After our rain-forced rest day near the shore of Akkem Lake, we packed our heavy bags and walked up the trail to Seven Lakes, an area that most visit as a day trip. Wow, I was glad we spent the night. My favorite time was spent in the evening after dinner walking from hill to hill, enjoying the various views of the various lakes with the snow-capped-mountain backdrops, and watching five pairs of ducks swimming and flying between the lakes. It was a magical hour.
The next day we weren’t surprised that the police found us as we walked right passed their bungalow on the shore of Akkem Lake. The only thing they wanted, as it turns out, was to be certain that we’d stop in Ust Koksa to take care of our summons. It (still) sounded as simple as a 1000-ruble fine.
That evening I walked up Yarlu Canyon to what was marked on my map as a “tourist attraction”. Turned out to be a strange site — just a collection of cairns really, enclosed by a stone wall. Maybe there’s some magical energy there or something, but I found that energy at Seven Lakes, not at Yarlu.
It was a forced march the following day to 3 Bieriezy through the mud and then a treacherous, frightening return to Tyungur in the back of a military truck. It was every bit as bad (or worse) as I remembered from the ride in 12 days earlier.
The next morning we were up at 4:30 to get what is apparently the only public transport out of Tyungur, the 6am departure to Gorno Altaysk. We only went as far as Ust Koksa for our important police rendezvous. The buses to Barnaul leave in the evening so we had plenty of time. Or so we thought. We showered at a small hotel, left our packs, had a substantial breakfast at the deli of a supermarket, and dropped my boots off with Tanya, the local cobbler. It was then off to the police station to pay a fine and spend a leisurely, restful afternoon in Ust Koksa. Or so we thought.
Not that Ust Koksa is charming or anything. Here’s one of the only photos I took of the place:
Little did we know we’d end up spending eight hours at the police station. We weren’t allowed to leave, and they offered us absolutely nothing to eat or drink. Thank goodness for that substantial breakfast. Once the interviewing finally started, they took Özgür who speaks Russian into a different room. The man who interviewed me apparently outright lied to me saying he was only an interpreter, not an investigator. Hours after his very thorough questioning, a real interpreter showed up to make sure I understood what I was signing. We learned later that Dmitri, my partner on Belukha, had been at the police station a few days earlier. Thankfully Dmitri’s, my, and Özgür’s stories all matched up. Eventually we signed what I guess are called confessions — a 700-ruble fine for Özgür for going within 5 km of the border without a permit and a 2000-ruble fine for me for crossing illegally into Kazakhstan. Yikes, what a day!
We were kept at the police station so long that we missed the 7pm bus to Barnaul but were ready after a quick dinner for the 9pm bus. Wow, what an awful bus. I know I’m spoiled by years of experience with the high quality, comfortable Turkish and Mexican buses, but, come on, Russia. I had higher expectations — quite the opposite of my Sulawesi bus experience last year (where I had low expectations and ended up in one of the most comfortable buses I’ve ever been on). This one looked like 1960s Philippines.
We arrived in Barnaul in the morning, bought our tickets for the overnight train to Abakan, and had time to see the city a little. First, however, we found a bank where we were able to pay our police fines, truly the end of that incident, I hope. We then celebrated with a long lunch over a few beers at a comfortable diner. It was, finally, our post-hike celebratory meal.
Quite a contrast to the overnight bus, the overnight train to Abakan was very comfortable. We had dinner fixings and vodka and splurged for a 3rd class sleeper, I think it’s called. Our longest stop was a bit over an hour after dark in Novokuznetsk where we walked around the rather dead center of this 600,000-person industrial city.
The next day was a rainy one in Abakan. Our reason for coming to Abakan was to visit Ergaki National Park, and the reason we decided to come to Ergaki was thanks to Alex who I met in Geyikbayırı last fall. I pointed him in the right direction to climb Kızlar Sivrisi and then started telling him about my plans for the Altai Mountains. He said, “if you’re coming to Siberia, you ought to read about Ergaki.” Well, he spends much of each summer in Abakan, leading backpacking groups into Ergaki. That morning he met us at our hostel in Abakan, helped us with the route, and showed us where to buy fuel for our stove (white gas instead of the usual automobile fuel that I use). He was even leaving for Ergaki the following morning with his last group of the season and offered us spots in his van. Super! Off to “Russia’s Yosemite!”
That’s for my next post. I’ll finish the Altai Mountains with a few more Seven Lakes photos: