Near the Barguzin Mountain Range summit  Days One and Two
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:: Day One ::

School kids walking home in the small town of Ust'-Barguzin We started off before the crack of dawn, in order to get to the bus station on time. The group consisted of Igor Z. (our guide and LAT representative), Melissa P., Alex P. and myself. After paying for our tickets and squeezing into the bus we were off. The latter bit proved to be more difficult than I had imagined, as everyone on the bus was trying to bring in all sorts of bags, leaving very little room for the people. The bus looked no different from a city bus, so there was no separate baggage compartment as one might find in the United States. One woman was bringing what seemed like all her possessions on this trip. Another woman just dumped several boxes of stuff after making an arrangement with the driver to transport the goods to her relatives in the town of Ust'-Barguzin—our destination. Of course something like this would never happen in the United States after 9-11.

We arrived in the small town of Ust'-Barguzin sometime in the early afternoon. We stayed at a guesthouse run by a Russian couple, Galena and Alexander, who have a well established business of hosting foreigners. Alex and his weird getupIn fact on several occasions they have hosted the well known American photojournalist Boyd Norton, who has written several books about Lake Baikal. We soon learned that we were trapped inside the house for a few hours while Igor went to the local registration office (OVIR) to receive papers indicating that our passports were located at the OVIR in Ulan-Ude. Why they didn't do that when they took our passports in the first place, I don’t know. Why did we need them now in a town of 9000 people right before we left on our trip? After walking around all week without documents of any kind in Ulan-Ude (population 400,000), why did we need them now in a town of 9,000, when we'd leave the next morning? At least now, if a militia man happened to discover us on the trail, kilometers from civilization, our papers would keep us from being thrown into jail. But staying in the house wasn’t so bad after all: Galena was an excellent cook. We ate omul', the local fish, and this excellent zucchini cake with a wonderful garlic sauce. Once we finally got our papers we took a quick jaunt around town. School was just getting out, and apparently we became quite an attraction among the school kids of Ust'-Barguzin. Perhaps it was the ridiculous hat and sunglasses that Alex was wearing that attracted everyone's attention.

After we got back from our little walk, we had a yummy dinner and drank a bit of the obligatory samagon (moonshine). We went to the banya (sauna) and got really hot and sweaty, but clean all the same. Then it was off to bed in order to get up early for our multi-day hike.

:: Day Two ::

Near the mountain summitWe got up early again, and had our last meal before we went off on the trail. Alexander, the owner of the guest house, drove us about an hour and a half to the trailhead. There he left us to fend for ourselves for the next 4 days. Just as a side note, several times on the Russian roads, I really felt that the van would tip over because of the massive pot holes. Note to self: bring a Hummer next time. The trailhead was nice because we got to see a few of the handmade wood burned signs that kids involved with LAT had made describing the trail. The start of the trail is in an alpine forest that all too quickly turns into taiga (coniferous forest). The trail is quite well planned, as there are several places along the trail where people can camp or take breaks. The first stopping place along the way is a small cabin that hunters often use. We stopped here for a few minutes to catch our breath, as the first bit of the climb is all uphill.

The ascent of the Barguzin Mountain Range proved to be a bit challenging for me. I am eating snowThe total elevation change that we traversed was about 3280ft (1000m). The highest point on the trail is 5314ft (1620m), so altitude was also a factor for a flatlander like myself. In short, we took several long stops once we started into the alpine tundra landscape. (Tundra is a treeless Arctic region with a marshy surface and underlying permafrost.) I say we, but I should really say Alex and myself, as Melissa, who grew up in Northern California, and our host Igor were already used to both altitude and a lot of outdoor hiking. I had recently taken a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, and I'm pretty sure if I saw the write-up of a similar trail there, I would have balked at the mere description of it! One thing that I forgot to do is fill up the water bottles when we were still in the taiga. I was quite thirsty from the combination of altitude sickness and normal physical activity. I ended up eating snow for hydration. There is nothing like Siberian Tundra snow! Besides eating snow during our long breaks in the tundra, Igor found various natural berries for us to munch (how resourceful of him).

There was another stop/campsite at the summit of the mountain, but we did not stay there for long as it was quite cold and we wanted to get to an area with water for our lunch break. We walked through a lot of snow and eventually came to a stream that was fed by a melting glacier. "The Bear's" footprintWell we had a little celebratory lunch, as the rest of our hike would be pretty much all downhill from here on out. We snacked on sandwiches and fake Pringles; our mothers would be proud. The rest of the hike was uneventful. One thing of note is that it got warmer as we descended into different climates. We passed one more stop along the way to our final destination. Finally we went on to the 4th stop, which had a little log cabin where we spent the night. Of course I should be a bit more clear on the concept of a Russian log cabin as opposed to what an American might envision when I say those words. In actuality it was a lot smaller than one might typically envision. I am not that tall at 5'8" (172cm), and although I could stand upright in the cabin, there was a main beam in the ceiling that would have hit my head if I did not hunch over when I was in the area. The beds were just wooden boards, and we squeezed two people onto each bed. One thing we had to do was to hang our food up on special wire lines that ran across the ceiling so the mice would not get into our food. But at least there was a stove so we could sleep in warmth. Well, actually that was not as good as it sounds, as the first night the stove was stoked up so high that sweat was clinging to us. So I was plastered up against a wall and sweating out of every pore in my body. That is how I spent my first night on the trail.

"That which does not kill you makes you stronger" -Nietzsche

© 2005, 2006 Copyright by John Walkoe
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