A Trek through the Kavkazskii national park, to Sochi on the black Sea.
10/07/10 to 17/07/10
This type of trek is something we hope to run on a commercial basis next year, so gaining personal first hand experience this year was essential. As it turned out, the trek itself is perfect in every respect, giving something for everybody, as you will see in the following paragraphs.
The Kavkazski national park lies in the regions of Adigaya and Krasnodar in south Russia, on the edge’s of the Caucasus mountain range. Trekking routes (Marshrute) in this area were very famous in soviet times and are slowly regaining their popularity, though to nowhere near their former extent.
Inna, being trek organiser and guide, arranged for her farther to transport the 7 of us in his UAZ 4WD mini van, from Stavropol to Laganaki on the edge of the park. We arrived just after lunch and set up our tents at the national park border post. After a small lunch we walked back the way we had come for about 7km to view one of the largest underground cave complexes in the Caucasus mountain range. Entrance fee to the caves is not extortionate and if you can understand Russian you can join one of the guided tours. Immediately on entering the caves you notice the change in temperature and it’s a welcome relieve to the heat outside. You descend and wind your way through the cavernous interior via a rather out of place rough metal gantry.
Its difficult to describe the size of the cave interior, or the view of the impressive Stalactites and Stalagmites, its something you just have to see for yourself, all I can say is that it reminded me of the inside of a church or small cathedral with a leaky roof.
was spent exploring for further cave complexes which we had heard rumours of. After lots of jungle bashing and fruitless searching we gave up and retired to an open air café near the main cave and got drunk on (glint vein) or mulled wine. A while spent round the table playing party games and it was time to walk back to the tents. We then spent the night around the camp fire with the national park guards and some more wine.
The trek began in earnest with an early morning start and although I had watched the previous night when all the food and equipment was weighed and shared out among the group, I felt sure my 26kg rucksack must have represented everybody’s share.
We started in cloud and hill fog, but it soon broke out into a bright sunny day with thankfully a cooling breeze. We had been joined the previous night by Ilia, a local man who had trekked this same area 2 weeks previous. It was therefore decided he should point the way as it would save time on route finding.
After 9hrs of very hard trekking we reached our destination for the night, it should have been near 8hrs but our local guide’s short cut split the group, added another 40 min and it took Inna and I some time to gather up the group F%@k. To compensate along the route we had past through a botanist dream of flowering fields and herbs, with not enough time to admire them all. Our camp site for the night was in a very beautiful location on the edge of the mountain lake Psenodah (Псенодах), which is fed by the glaciers off the mountain peaks of Oshten (Оштен) and Fisht (Фишт)
After evening meal we spent the night finishing off the wine along with a little cognac in the coffee and being entertained by Masha and Nastia on the Guitar. The clock was not important anymore so I don’t now what time we went to bed, all I know is morning came all too quickly.
Tuesday was the hike up to the pass Fisht-Oshtenovski (Фишт-Оштеновский) between Oshten and Fisht, then a scramble up to the peak of Oushten. We left camp early, around 7:30 to avoid any afternoon thunderstorms on the peak and to get the best views before any cloud came rolling in up the south side of the mountains.
We reached the pass around 9:30 and spent a while taking photographs of the war memorials to the soldiers that fell defending the pass against the Germans in 1942.
We took the most direct route up Oshten via a spur on the western side leading up from the pass. It was a long hard scramble, all the time keeping just above the cloud that was now rolling in up the pass from the south. Keeping up the pace above the cloud allowed for some great views and the many short stops gave opportunity for photo sessions. We had been joined by a very friendly dog who had adopted us the day before, his legs did not seam to tire the same as ours, I blamed it on the increasing altitude to which I surmised the dog was acclimatised. Some time around 12:00 we reached the wide summit ridge from where it was an easy walk to the summit of peak Oshten at 2804m.
Group photo’s, phone calls and a small lunch and it was time to head back to camp.
We had planed to break camp that afternoon and head for the next location, but everybody was very tired and with a flexible schedule we decided to stay at the lake for one more night. This was by far the best decision of the trip, sitting out looking up at the Milky Way, with a thunderstorm in the distance and listening to the girls on the guitar made for a magical night. It was made all the better with a brew made from medical alcohol, kindly liberated from a life of sterilization and preserving and put to much better use by our trip medic. Eventually my eyes started to sag and I left the girls to it and retired to the tent.
Again we were up early to break camp and after a cup of tea we were off at 7:30. For some reason which I still don’t understand we either forgot about breakfast or it was never on the menu.
After 1 hour walk on relatively flat ground we reached the pass Maikopski (Майкопский) and then had to descend off the plateau down the western side. Although the track was well defined it was very steep and layered with small rounded stones, it was like walking on marbles with a slip possible at every step. This all made the going very slow and hard on the legs and the hike up to another pass via a traverse of the western side was very hard going.
Our goal for the day and the next camp site was the twin waterfalls of spring Vodopadistii (Водопадистый). We could see the escarpment where the waterfalls formed from the pass, but did not get our first view of them until we were nearly at the site.
As we arrived at the site it was obvious a thunderstorm was about to break on us and no sooner had we erected 2 tents then heavens opened. With 7 of us crammed into the 4 man tent and Ely in his own single, we sat out the rain. The dog which was still following us found his own shelter under the rock overhang along with our rucksacks.
After the storm ended and the sun came out again we all walked up the hill to the waterfalls. Both falls are very impressive when running and with a drop of 158 m it was impossible to get the entire fall in one camera shot. We all took a shower under the cool water of the smaller waterfall, boy’s first and girls second, unfortunately strict separation was observed. With every body clean I erected our tent and started on the soup for lunch, only to be replaced by the girls as I could not cut the onions correctly, huh what do they know anyway, so I stuck to fetching wood for the fire.
As usual the night was spent in front of the fire with the guitar and although the alcohol had now run out the stars came out right on queue. We retired to the tents after midnight and even though the insides were a little damp and I was a little cold a reasonable night was had by all.
No need for an early start today so after the fire was rekindled and breakfast made we left around 8:00. A hike through the wet undergrowth between the woods and the escarpment revealed a different view of the falls. It showed how the run off water from peak “Fisht” cut into the rock at the top of the falls before cascading over the escarpment. With the packs getting lighter and the ground getting easier we expected an easy day of gradual decent to the camp site on the other side of the park were we would spend the night. Pausing a while to take the last photo’s of the escarpment and to watch the helicopters lift supply’s into the summer house of a rather famous Russian politician, we arrived at the police check point and signed through.
During lunch break on the last pass Cherkesski (Черкесский), which won’t be noticed among the hills, if it hadn’t a memorial monument to the defenders of Caucasus, the clouds developed quickly and after a crack of thunder we decided to descend through the woods as quick as possible. After an hour the heavens opened again and though some of the group ran through the woods it was no use, we were all soaked to the skin before we reached a small bee farm where we could take shelter from the rain. With the storm still producing showers we set off for our camp site for the night. Now with everybody wet and tired the group became strung out and unfortunately rather poor directions from our local guide left Inna, Masha and me missing the turning for the bridge of death. After an hour of searching side paths and back tracking we regained the path and crossed the river via a suspension bridge from an Indiana Jones movie.
From here it was a short walk to the camp Babuk-aul (Бабук-аул) site where we met the rest of the group already drying cloths and supping cognac from the site store. A decision was made to use a communal tent of the site owners rather than go to the hassle of putting up our own in the rain, and for a small fee you can use the site facilities and fire wood.
Evening came and went with the usual fireside songs before retiring to the communal tent and the midges.
The site facilities allowed me to have the first proper shave since the start of the trip and after the transformation was complete I washed some of my clothes and scrubbed out the cooking pans. Arrangements had been made the previous night for us to receive transport in the back of a UAZ pick up, 20km down the mountain track to the nearest village. My admiration has to go out to the driver for his no doubt daily negotiation of this road, I was glad I was on the cliff side rather than looking out over the drop.
We dually arrived at the village bus stop and a glance at the time table showed a bus in an hour, time to dry the clothes on a fence and get some ice cream from the café.
2 bus rides later and we were in Sochi, the sea side holiday resort that everybody in Russia wants to be seen in. From here on we planed to travel to the enclave of Abkhazia to spend the next 5 days, but for me I was to go no further and had to say goodbye to the rest of the group. Unbeknown to me only Russian passport holders are allowed unrestricted access to the enclave of Abkhazia and although I had verbally been told otherwise, all other nationals need a visa. For those that know me you can imagine why I had a feeling of deja vu. After passing through the Russian border control and crossing the 200m no mans land to the Abkhazian border, the border guards examined my passport along with all the others, but with no visa no amount of pleading was going to make them let me in. With the Russian word “nazat” (go back) been repeated more frequently we gave up an Inna gratefully accompanied me back through the Russian border with all that it entails. A reasonable priced hotel was found by Inn’s friend Marina near the central promenade. Inna dropped her gear at Marina’s while I showered and changed; latter we met up for a beer to say our goodbyes before tired eyes forced us to go our separate ways. In the morning Marina took me to the bus station to buy tickets for a night bus back to Stavropol, I then had 8hrs left to explore the city and beaches. I have to say that I wished I had stayed 2 nights as Sochi is definatly a happening place.
Swimming in the warm clean sea then sitting on a sun lounge with a cold beer and watching the beach babes the day passed all too quickly.
I shall not mention much about the 15hr bus journey back to Stavropol as none of you will ever have to go through it; needless to say I was like a zombie by the end of it and glad of my bed back home.
Other notable points
Masha, after her trainer’s disintegrated on Monday she did the entire trek, including peak Oshten in her flip flops, hard core girl that one.
Midges are just as hungry in Russia as in the UK.
Always the drunk on the bus is never more than 1 seat from mine.
Sochi needs more than 1 day.