The Bol'shoy Chivirkuy river  Days Three and Four
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:: Day Three ::

Birch trees on the trailIgor tried to wake us up so we could have our breakfast and be ready to go on the trail by 10:00 AM. However, we were so tired from our hike the other day that we failed to get up the first couple of times that Igor tired to get us up. We did finally manage to get up but instead of leaving at 10:00 AM we left an hour and a half after we were supposed to, which would haunt us latter. But we were pretty lucky that Igor got up early and did manage to get a fire ready and cook our breakfast – kasha, of course. What would we do without him? I guess that we would have been even later and we would have gotten lost as well. The trail was pretty well marked, but there was a place where we went off the main trail to go to the Southern part of the trail.

Our first main stopping place was on this nice level semi-tundra field. After having traveled through all that mountainous area the other day, it was a nice place to take a break, emotional as well as physically. I am crossing the riverIt was explained to me that it served another purpose as well; the park used it as helicopter landing field in case of an emergency. Well it is at least good to know that in case of a serious emergency there was a place where we could be evacuated. But as I left the area I felt that I was leaving the last escape route that I would see on the rest of the trail. The next obstacle in our way was this broken bridge that crossed the Big Chivuirskii river. Half of the support for the bridge broke three years ago and so far has not been fixed. Igor was kind enough to cross the bridge several times carrying our backpacks across for us; again, it was really smashing of him to do that. We managed to cross unencumbered by our backpacks without too much difficulty. But I was quite careful when it was my turn.

I guess that I should say a couple of words about the scenery itself, since I am being a bit cynical about this trip. It is quite diverse and we seem to have traveled through many different terrains. Yesterday I was quite amazed at the many different types of scenery that we passed: alpine forest, taiga, alpine tundra, and back to taiga. This day it seemed to be mostly forest, either taiga or alpine. An interesting fallen tree along the riverBut since we were walking along the river most of the day, it was quite cliff-like since it was a steep valley that was forged by the river, and the trail hugged the rim of the banks for the long periods of time. So imagine walking in a deep valley with a forest surrounding you. On one side the tops of the mountains peeking through, and on the other side there is a fast moving river with water so clear that you could see the deepest parts as if it were only a few inches deep, and in the distance there are mountains untouched by man. I tended to lag behind the group for 2 reasons, the first and most important to me is so that I was able to whip out my camera and take photos of the beautiful scenery. I happened to be the trip's unofficial photo recorder; I took about 800 photos on the trip. The second and actual reason I lagged behind the main group so often is because I was quite out of shape and not used to the altitude.

However, one of the main drawbacks to this deep river cut valley was that there were many places along the trail where we either had to climb over either rocky patches that ran parallel and even into the river or walked along alluvial deposits which were very cliff like and was like walking a mountain goat path. Even a couple of times Igor carried our rucksacks over difficult patches for us, Alex crossing the bridgeso we could cross without the extra weight and unnatural center of gravity that the baggage gave us.

We came to a place where Igor told us they did some work a few months ago in summer as part of LAT's contribution to the Great Baikal Trail. It was a nice new bridge; in fact there was evidence of the old bridge right underneath the newer one, and the new bridge was quite an improvement over the older one. After crossing the bridge we came to a place that was another rest stop, another site where the LAT team worked this past Summer. This stop had a nice new picnic table and a good view of the mountains and river.

While we were doing some resting, Igor did some investigation around the site. He found this can with clear evidence that "The Bear" had gotten into the can. Apparently, last time Igor was here he buried some cans of food so in case of an emergency the next time he was around and needed some canned food it would be available. However, it was not buried deep enough and "The Bear" apparently got into the food. The can of food “The Bear” ateHaving traveled the entire trail, I've noticed that "The Bear" gets blamed for quite a lot that happens on the trail. Several of the nice wood-burned information signs along the trail we saw were demolished; again "The Bear" was responsible. Every time we came across a tree in the middle of the path that was recently uprooted, it was blamed on "The Bear." Or once when we saw a big pit near the path it was "The Bear" who decided to dig the pit. Well, fortunately enough, we were able to survive the entire trip without encountering "The Bear."

After we left the last rest stop, we went up this really steep part and then down this really steep part of the path. Once we got back down to river level, Igor had us ditch our packs and he took us to this secluded place off the beaten path. He called it his secret part of the trail. It was a gorgeous scene right on Big Chivuirskii river: There were mountains in the background, the Sun was shimmering off of the water just right, and deep fast moving crystal clear water was running over large boulders with a rock cliff on one side of us. Igor's secret fishing spotWe later asked our guide why there wasn't a sign that pointed out this area to the rest of the trail hikers. He replied that he had thought about putting up a sign to point out the area, but he was afraid that if he did put up a sign that he would never be able to catch fish there again. After we left, we hiked for a bit more before we had a late lunch on the trail on a former rock slide. At some point after lunch, while navigating the many alluvial deposits, I managed to twist my ankle pretty badly. It did manage to slow me down even more than I was before. We eventually moved a bit away from the river and got into some normal ground towards night time.

We made it to another way stop on the trail, but we did not have long to rest there, as we had to make it to the next way stop so we could spend the night at the cabin that was located there. However, it was already getting dark and the way things were spaced there was a good distance to go before we would get to our cabin that night. I even put away my camera after this stop, so I was not tempted to take more photos that would slow me down even more. We ended up walking the last bit of the hike that day in pretty dark conditions; again that was not good for me going along this uneven path with a sore ankle in darkness. Alex and Melissa playing at the camp stopIn fact, I happened to lose the sleeping mat that I had attached to my rucksack, somewhere during this last stretch of the trail. This was unfortunate, as I slept on a wood plank without any padding beneath me for the rest of the trip. At some point during this last bit we took the southern part of the trail, and it was good that we had our guide to point that out to us, because we would have missed the turnoff in the dark. Once we got to the stop with the cabin, we still had to unpack our stuff, get a fire going and fix up dinner. Luckily this stop had a bunch of precut dried wood waiting for us, so we did not have to search in the dark for dry firewood as we did the previous night, and again Igor took care of a lot of the food preparation stuff. By the time we got into bed we were exhausted. But at least we managed to convince Igor that we did not need the stove in the cabin heated up to the uncomfortable levels that we experienced the previous night.

:: Day Four ::

Trees just outside the 2nd cabin that we slept inThis day was our day of rest, well sort of. We were able to sleep in on this day a bit, because we were not going too far. And in fact we would be spending the night at the same cabin, so when we were on the trail this day we did not even have to lug all of our rucksacks along with us, although we did fill up one with our warmer clothes and food for lunch. The plan for the day was that we were going to backtrack a bit and take the Northern part of the trail to where it met up with the Lakinshina River. And supposedly we could see the omul' swim upstream to mate. (As luck would have it, this was the unique time of year when this endemic fish swam upstream to mate.) If you were paying attention to this narrative you would know that we already encountered omul' once before, on the dinner plate when we were at Galena's and Alexander's guest house. Anyway, omul' is a salmon-like fish found only in the waters of Lake Baikal, and apparently the Lakinshina River during mating season, and it is considered a delicacy among the locals. I cannot rate the taste of the fish compared to other fish, as I do not really like fish all that much, But I can say it tastes the most unlike a fish that a fish can taste, and it was surprisingly good.

The slippery bridgeSo we had a kind of leisurely breakfast and then left on our day hike. We backtracked a bit to get back to where the northern and southern part of the trail split. Actually it was interesting to see the path we walked yesterday, only this time in the daylight. For instance there was a bridge crossing the Big Chivuirskii river we did early on our hike that we crossed last night, and I can tell you it was quite a different experience when there were low light conditions. The "bridge," such as it was, was this thin tree that was chopped down and lying across the fast moving river, and it had 2 really thin metal cables for hand holds, as you can see in the photo. In addition the bark was skinned off most of the tree, making walking the bridge even more slippery.

So we headed up the northern part of the trail. Igor explained to us why we were not using the Northern part of the trail to get to Lake Baikal. He said that in October when there are fewer people traveling the trail and there’s a greater chance of storms it is better to travel the Southern part of the trail, because where the North part of the trail meets up with Lake Baikal it can have high waters if it were to be stormy. Melissa at the split of the trailsThat makes it hard for the ship to meet up with us to rescue us. If we had gone the North route we could be stuck on the beach several days until the weather and lake conditions were favorable for the ship. Also since in October and there are fewer people about, there is really only 1 boat that would take us, the National Park's boat. Apparently in the summer, there are a few hotel boats that regularly cruse the area, so it is easer to pick up a boat to take you in the summer. But today we would be going a little bit along the Northern part of the trail so we could see the place where the omul' would be swimming up stream to mate. As you can see in the accompanying photo the split of the trails is marked by this red arrow. We would have missed it last night in the dark if it had not been for our guide.

The trail on this Northern part seemed to be a bit overgrown in places. Igor said to us that they plan go back and clear out that part of the trail next year to make it easier to traverse. I think originally they were to have done some trail clearing at this part of the trail this past Summer, but there was some sort of equipment failure with the chainsaws or something like that, so it got put off for a year. We did a bit of hiking until we ended up at this scenic bend in the river. The panorama banner photo at the top was taken there. We stopped a bit before going on. We stayed on the trail for a while. Alex crossing the cold streamWe ended up at the next way stop, where we took another break and broke out a little lunch. The site was on a very scenic place, as there was a nice fall, colored wooded ridges in the distance, and the Lakinshina river running nearby.

After our rest break we went up the path a bit, but when it became clear that we would not see the fish if we continued along the path, Igor had a suggestion for us. There was another path partway back, but the problem with that path was that there was a small stream that did not have a bridge over it. So we would have to cross the stream in order to follow this better path that ran along the river. Well we decided to follow his suggestion, and we backtracked a bit and went along this other path. We made it to the stream, and Igor and I stripped down to our underwear and carried our stuff across this stream. It was very, very cold, as the stream was fed with melting snow from the mountains. Alex decided to roll up his pants and wade across. After we got dressed we left so Melissa could cross the stream in privacy. After we all got dressed it we continued a bit along the bank of the river for a short bit. Omul' swiming upstreamOn our left was the river and on our right was this kind of a golden meadow with green and orange hills in the background. It really was a nice place.

Then all of a sudden Igor got excited. He had spotted something in the distance. I hadn't noticed anything, but then again I do not usually go fishing, so I wasn't sure what to look for anyway. Well after we got a bit closer I did manage to see a whole school of omul' all moving very slowly. Well I really did not think about it, but of course they would be moving slowly, because they were swimming against the current to go upstream. I was shocked at how slowly they were moving, and how hard it must be for them to swim all this way upstream to wherever they were going. I mean this river was a pretty fast moving river as it originated up in the mountains somewhere. We were there for like 30-40 minutes, and the fish couldn't have moved more than a few yards upstream in all of that time we were watching them. It was quite a site to see, as I can really see how much of a feat it is for these animals to accomplish something like that. Well Melissa had us do this ritual where we were to throw bread crumbs into the river, and it was to symbolize all of our bad thoughts and emotions being excised from the soul. After that Igor tried to make a makeshift fishing pole with a piece of string and a branch to try to catch one. Fall colorsIf he had brought a fishing net that was all he would have needed to scoop up a fish or two. I was a bit ambivalent about the whole matter, I thought it was resourceful of Igor trying to make this makeshift fishing pole, and I would have been excited had he caught a fish. However, I was also a bit concerned that catching a fish that was running, if not illegal, should be at least problematic as these are endemic fish going off to mate. Igor did not manage to catch one so there was no moral conflict. On a side note, after hearing Igor retell the story a few times after we got back I was able to see the "fish that got away" story in play a few times.

On the way back across the stream that we had to wade across, Igor was even so helpful that he carried Melissa across on his back so she did not have to go into that cold water again. We got back to the cabin at about sunset. We had a big dinner, as it would be our last dinner on the trail. We went to bed early, because we had to get going early the next day.

"In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous" -Aristotle

© 2005, 2006 Copyright by John Walkoe
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