Day One ::
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
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
Day Two ::
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
The ascent of
the Barguzin Mountain Range proved to be a bit challenging for me.
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
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