Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Peak of the Trip

By John Kuebler,  Hobart College '16 & Soren Anders-MacLeod, Hobart College '18

After having celebrated the culmination of our language classes with a dinner and a farewell to our Russian teachers the night before, we boarded the bus again on Saturday morning to leave for our final excursion. This weekend’s trip was to the Multinsky lakes region near the border of Kazahkstan and was the farthest that we have been from Barnaul this trip. With a total transport time of thirteen hours, we made a couple of stops along the way.

One of these stops was a tour of a regional botanical garden. The garden had a collection of more than 1200 plants from the Altai region and from the rest of the world. Many of the local plants were ones that we had seen previously on other weekend excursions and we were able to get an overview of some of these plants and their importance to the region and its people.

Particularly interesting to us was hearing about the use of many of these regional plants in medicinal and herbal teas. On our past excursions we have frequently seen different vendors selling assortments of different flowers and leaves for the making of herbal tea. It was fascinating to match this past experience to the guides’ explanation of the many different plants and their uses to the people of this region. We were able to learn more about how this region uses traditional medicine to treat a huge variety of ailments and gained a greater understanding of the importance of natural remedies to this region.

After the botanical gardens we continued our bus ride through the Altaian countryside. The long journey took us through many small farming villages and through some beautiful parts of the region, passing next to the Katun river for much of the trip. After avoiding the obstacles of the herds of cows and the road construction, we were able to make it to our destination where we had a late dinner at our hotel.

The following morning we took an expedition to the Red (Krasnaya) Mountains, a large dormant volcano surrounded by nine lakes fed by the peaks glaciers. The drive was too offroad for us to take the bus, so we were able to take several offroad vans during the three hour drive to the base of the mountain. The drive was long and very bumpy, but it also contained some of best views of the rural countryside and the Altaian mountains that we have seen so far. The route took us through several types of forests and meadows, where we could see eagles as well as hundreds of wild cows and horses.

Upon arrival at the base of the mountain, we set out on foot to see three of the glacial lakes and climb the mountain a little bit. The first lake we could only see from a distance because of a cliff, but the second one we were able to wade in. The view from the edge of the second lake was stunning with several waterfalls and glaciers forming the perfect backdrop to the bright blue water. We spent a little bit of time on the shore of this lake just taking in the scenery and the wild beauty of the mountain. A few of us took the opportunity to go swimming in the frigid water, while the rest of the group was smart enough to stay on the shore of the lake.

After some time at this lake, we continued our hike to an observation point looking over the highest lake on the mountain as well as the entire valley we had driven though on our ride up. This trail followed a stream up the side of the mountain and was a fairly steep path. Though the trail was quite pretty, passing waterfalls and patches of bright purple flowers, it seemed like the whole group was pretty happy when we got to the third lake. While this lake did not have quite as nice of a backdrop, we found an observation point on a cliff where we were able to see all three lakes at the same time looking down the mountain.

After spending some time at the top of the lake admiring the amazing view, we headed back down the mountain and met the buses at the trailhead for a picnic lunch. We had a great lunch in a grove of enormous ancient cedar trees. Some of us hiked down the hill to the first lake to see the view from the shore, while the others opted to enjoy the picnic spot and have some rest time after lunch. Following this, we packed up and got in the vans for the long road back down the mountain.

The following day our excursion was planned for Multinsky lakes, and a short hike with a picnic overlooking a lake. The road for this expedition was even steeper and so we set out in a group of off-road vehicles. The path to get to the lake took us over the top of a mountain, and the road went almost straight up the side. The drive went pretty well at first, and the large off-road truck did fine until we came to one particularly steep section of the trail. There, because of rains the previous several days, the truck kept sliding backwards and losing traction. The driver tried for thirty minutes to go up the same slope but accomplished nothing except for knocking off a mud flap driving over a boulder patch. As it became apparent that the truck was not going to be able to go up the mud on this steep trail, we decided to cut our losses and attempt a different route which went around the back of the mountain. This worked well at first, but approximately 5 minutes down the road the truck got stuck in the mud, which went past the bottom of the driver’s door.

Without the rest of the group, who had made it up the initial hill, we exited the vehicle and began to climb the hill to meet up with the rest of the group. Our excellent guide and translator, Igor, took the lead and brought us up and around the side of the mountain until we had found the main path. Our truck had been carrying the bulk of our picnic lunch, and so the meal was slightly delayed, giving our group the opportunity to play cards and take naps. The food was worth the wait, and our lunch consisted of a beef stew, fish salad sandwiches, tea, and plates of tomatoes and cucumbers. The bounty of the Altai is unbounded, and on our post-luncheon stroll we recognized a number of plants from the botanical gardens, all of which could serve as the basis for an herbal tea, in addition to a small cluster of shamanic mushrooms.

Eventually the very talented drivers were able to extricate our truck from the mud, and we rode in the back of a pickup to the junction where we’d been delayed. We returned that afternoon to the hotel for a brief rest before setting off for the Roerich Museum. While we were replacing our damp socks with dry pairs and our boots for tapachki, all 17 of us were more or less engaged in the same conversation. Namely, we were all remarking on the natural beauty we had borne witness to earlier that day and
comparing the landscape with that of the day before.

Our professor shared with us an interesting etymological point about the Russian words for “red” and “beautiful”. The two words have a similar sounding root, which allows “beautiful” to be corrupted through common usage to “red”. This makes it difficult to determine without research whether a Russian place bearing the name “red” is so named because of an association with the Soviet regime, whether its name comes from a colloquial distortion of the word “beautiful”, or whether some dialectic between these two causes produces the name red. In any event, this linguistic peculiarity leaves the Red Mountains with the potential for a double name, i.e. the Beautiful Mountains. The unanimous consensus among our band of travelers is that all of the peaks we saw this weekend more than live up to such a name.

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