Well its been a long time since I’ve posted anything here, not that that there hasn’t been anything to right about, its just I’ve been a bit busy of late. Back in the beginning of June I once again made my annual pilgrimage to Russia to participate in another trek. Mike from Australia had contacted me back in December with the possibility of running my Sochi trek, with nothing else in the offing for June, I gave him the thumbs up and started the planning back in April. Now I should know not to make any sort of detailed plans when it comes to Russia, after all if you don’t make a plan you can’t be caught out when it goes wrong. However I’m just not that sort of guy, so plan I did and almost caught out I was, anyway more of that later. Now where should I start, let say the week before the trek.
I’d duly arrived in my second home of Stavropol and gone through the usual rigmarole of registration (thanks for your patients there Oleg). There was only a week to go before I headed off to Sochi to meet Mike and Vitaly and start the trek and all I thought I had to do was collect my gear and buy the food, wrong. Having already booked Mike into one of the more expensive hotels in Sochi, on the count of the cheaper ones could not be relied upon to do the registration, it now became apparent that there was a problem with the trek route. It appears that with so much money going into Sochi for the Olympics $30 billion plus, that just about any infrastructure construction project has been given the go ahead, whether it has anything to do with the Olympics or not. It only now came to my attention that the only road into the Lago-Naki national park from Sochi was completely closed for redevelopment. No access was allowed from Souk-aul to Babuk-Aul leaving the only easy approach into the park through Lago-Naki itself. This would mean a 1 day 2 stop train ride and a 40km car journey before we even commenced walking, clearly this was out of the question both on budget accounts and logistics, so another plan or two was needed. A few days spent pouring over the maps and chatting with friends and I had come up with a new if little used alternative route to the camp site below peak Fisht, our main destination. It did however mean a short train ride, transfer by 4wd vehicle and a walk of 3-4 days, rather than the original 2, still it looked an interesting route and far better than looking at the scenery from a train window. Vitaly, who I had persuaded to join us on a cost only basis was to be instrumental in organising the logistics, being Russian and also speaking good English, he was able to do all of the arrangements for transport and park fees etc. So after arriving in Sochi, while I met mike at his hotel and promptly went to the beach, Vitaly was dispatched to the National Parks office in the next town to pay the fees and enquire about our route. Now knowing our planned route was off the normal national park trails, in fact completely off the beaten track, I had prepared another alternative route that stuck to the official trail, something which the National parks people might be happier about. So on meeting the parks admin and been told Ohh No you can’t Vitaly handed them the alternate plan and after I’m sure many “yes I see, of course, I understand and I’m sure much head nodding, was duly handed the tickets and permissions and at that point completely forgot about this alternate plan and went back to plan b.
Now Sochi at the moment is just one big construction site with every 50m of road dug up, so any time after 07:30 the place is just one big parking lot. So we elected for an early start to our trek by taking the 05:45 train up the coast to the town of Lazarevskaya, from here we would take 4wd transport up the valley as far as possible past the village of Marin’a, before continuing our journey on foot. After arriving at Lazarevskaya we meet our man with the jeep who took us to the village of Marin’a. Here he insisted on stopping at the local park/forestry office for permission, now anyone who deals with officials knows the only word in their vocabulary is NO. It seemed our proposed route took us very close to the main Gazprom pipeline for the region and for so called”security reasons” access to that area needed more special permissions, from more people who’s only word is NO, Christ we only wanted to go for a bloody walk, if we were going to blow up the pipeline did they think we were going to ask their permission first. Anyway the upshot was, after promising to go back and get permission, we ignored them took a different turn and continued on our way. Our driver took us as far up the washed out river bed as he could before saying goodbye with a good wad of cash in his hand, from here we would walk, or so I thought. We had only walked about 300m when we heard the sound of a vehicle approaching from behind, now given that we were not really meant to be there we had a decision to make, do we hide, or stay and see if we can get a further lift. Anyway by the time we had made up our mind it was to late, the vehicle had rounded the corner and was upon us, it was a big Ural truck, with Gazprom security written on the side and a couple of guys dressed all in black on the inside. As you would expect after it stopped and the main man got out I was full of apprehension, however when Vitaly came back with the words ” he says he has some business along our route and he says to hop in and he’ll give us a lift” I was suddenly more upbeat. After an hrs drive we were much further along our route and dropping us off at an obvious turning, the considerate fellow even pointed out the route we should take on the map to avoid their “sensitive area’s”, as is usual in most countries the workers are much more understanding the the officials. Form here the rest of the day was uneventful and we had a pleasant walk along the track until late in the evening with tiered limbs, we made our camp, it had been a long day.
That evening while the others were preparing the meal i took a walk further up the track to scout out the next mornings route and to confirm the position of our campsite. Setting off the next morning in good weather it only took a couple of hrs before we reached the fork in the river where we were to branch off right and SW and head up a small footpath that would lead us to a pass overlooking the Mountain Autal, before descending and camping at the river below the mountain. Now with maps dating from the late 1970’s it was worth checking to see if the trail marked on the map, was actually on the ground, so I did another rece. Although the trail was good for the first 500m or so, after this it became less defined and finally petered out after less than 2km. Although you could still make out the remnants of a long forgotten track it was well overgrown and easily lost. Given that from here camp Fisht was still 2 days walk with some serious steep ground to cover it was not worth the risk of continuing on such a trail with no knowledge of it getting any better. It was a bitter pill to swallow, having to abandon my planned route, but with safety always as top priority I reasoned that if anything happens on such a trail we would be many days from help, not to mention the possibility of days of jungle bashing with packs in excess of 25kg. By the time I got back to the others who were having elevenses I was comfortable with my decision to go with the alternate plan B mark 2. So out came the sandals and we crossed the river and followed the track that would lead us to the pass Garachevski and onto the village Addelonie where we would spend the night. As we climbed up to the pass through the forest the trees started changing from the subtropical to the usual mixtures of pine and birch and the canopy started to open out. It was a hard pull up the track to the pass, an ascent of around 550m in all, but as we started to get our views we knew it was worth it. Once we reached the pass we had a rest and a good look around, Looking into the distance we could see the the mountain Autal, which would have been our original objective for tomorrow. Even from this distance it looked like an enormously hard day and significantly higher and steeper than it looked on the map, any lingering doubts about the route choice was now dismissed, we knew we had made the right choice.
It was already well after lunch when we reached the pass and there was a chilly wind blowing, there was another reason not to hang around, it was still 13km to Addelonie and we wanted to get there at a sensible time. We had planned to go to this village not only because it was the only one withing 150 sq/miles, but also because Vitaly had been there some weeks previous on another trek and knew of a place to stay. Not only that, it had a good road/track link to the next stage of our journey and we reasoned we should easily be able to pick up transport to the next drop off point. We were very glad when some 5hrs later we stumbled into the outskirts of the village, trouble is our digs where at the other end and its a long village, 1.5km to be precise. Once we had reached the house Vitaly had stayed at last time Mike and I just collapsed on a bench outside. Vitaly whent to knock on the door and ask if he and his mates could once more stop in the datcha (sort of small house in the garden used to prepare the produce) next door. We stayed away, understandably with her husband away the woman would have been nervous letting 3 stranges sleep next door never mind 2 off them being foreigners. Still she was happy to let us stay and we gladly stretched out on the floor for a rest before supper. Now this accommodation wasn’t 5 star you understand, but it was free and what more do you need, we had a roof over your head, tables and chairs and even electric lights and sockets. While Vitaly went to the shop for supplies, some light bulbs, chocolate for the ladies children and beer, “don’t forget the beer”, I set about making our supper, a variation on Lasagna if I remember correctly. With the supper inside of us and the beer inside of me (seems the others didn’t like my choice, must remember that for next time) we bedded down and had a great night sleep.
The next day we were to source transport to take us back into the National park and as close to the track up to the escarpment and the lago-Naki plato as possible.
You can read part 2 of this story and whether we made our objectives with some great pictures by clicking HERE.