Connection with nature and its serenity is what we always look for on our road, to put it in the most simple way – we feel that being among it, makes us better people. Ergaki is one of the first places we marked on our travel map, long time ago. Back then it seemed to us like a dream land, a few photos and videos we could find online amazed us.
WHAT IS ERGAKI
Ergaki mountain range is located in Russia, in the very south of Krasnoyarski Krai. It’s part of the Western Sayan Mountains which form eastern continuation of Altai Mountains. It’s actually bordering with 2 “oblasts”, Khakassia Republic and Tyva, lands of the unique beauty of it own. Though the history of human activity there goes back to mid XXth century, the Park of the same name was established there just in 2005. Though, while being there it may seem pretty much packed, park itself has over 80 km of trails to offer! What we found out, is that if somebody in Russia heard of this place, it’s probably under its common name – Sayany.
HOW WE PLANNED IT
It quickly became one of the main destinations of our journey, but we understood that to experience this place fully we need to make some effort beforehand. Planning is a pure joy in itself, just as travelling, however when it comes Ergaki not much quality material can be found on the internet. Most of the info is in Russian which made the search challenging for us. But of course we managed!
So to sum it up, it took us quite some time to plan it. Still, there were some things that we left unanswered, so that we learned a lot while being there. Our strategy was to contact some hikers that were there. We wrote e-mails, reddit and facebook messages to Russians that that have done there multiple hikes. Using google translate and intuition we learned a lot from them, so we could get to the next step – planning the hiking route. Archival online reports and exchanging maps with the guys from russian forums helped a lot. Though in the park itself only maps.me application and paper map were useful, google maps and its panoramic pictures let us decide on the views we want to see and passes we want to take. Some other major points of our online discussions were camping locations, bear danger (!), registration etc.
The best place to prepare for your visit in Ergaki is Abakan. It is there when we could stock up on all the food, buy equipment that we were missing and reconsider our hiking route once again. Stock in the shops and city market is quite limited so we had to think well about alternatives of regular products we buy for such trips. Being there longer time we found this city to be very interesting and charming, thus we were happy to come back to it once we were done with hiking. Capital of Khakassia Republic has a lot to offer and it’s definitely worth doing some evening walks around. A big influence on our so positive experience had our local big-hearted couchsurfing host – Juliet. About our time there we wrote in another post 🙂 Unlike the majority of places in Russia, hitchhiking in and out Abakan was very easy, so that we got to the mountains and later back to the city as planned.
HOW IT WAS
We spent in Ergaki 8 days, 7 nights. It feels like we’ve experienced enough for the first time, but we truly hope that it was not our last time. After a whole tour we discovered that we did it quite the hard way, each of our nights there we spent in a different spot, meaning that through each distance and mountain pass we carried with us our full backpacks. The majority of the hikers we met went with a different strategy, setting up a camp for a few days and doing the day trips from it. Of course, it’s solutions has its pros and cons, depending, for example, on the amount of time in the park.
Though hiking in Sayans was challenging for us and at times it got very hard, the views, the air, and the people we met, balanced our energies well. Climbing on almost vertical pass with moving gravel-like rocks under feet, we were both fighting with our height fear and admiring the grand view behind us with the lake bed 600m down from us. The silence during those approaches was meditative, no people around us, a just quick exchange of information between us, which rock is moving and which small branch of the trail up to take. A few curse words in both languages could be heard, on the way out of anxiety, on the top out of amazement. We had little information about the difficulty classes of the passes we took, each of them felt very different and each of them had their own difficulty. Getting through each of them resulted in great satisfaction and reward in the form of stunning views of nature all around us.
In our opinion, it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world, quite a hidden gem on this planet. Walking through it’s pristine wild nature, beautiful clear lakes, ridges and valleys one cannot believe how compressed the variety of landscapes can be. It is hard to contain it and not to write here a book about how exceptional the views were, perhaps the photos can express a little bit of it. Morning orange sun on the peaks, still lakes surrounded with never-ending echoes of far thunderstorm, dense humid mist falling from the ridges in the valley and through the massive pines, starry skies framed around with the unreal formation of dark peaks. Flora and fauna seem to be celebrating it’s location. While taking a rest on the trail instantly we could feel and see that around us a lot is going on. Siberian chipmunks with their beautiful stripes on the back made a very close approach to us, birds were giving concerts and flowers, we could not name, were dancing in the mountain breeze. There’s one inhabitant of Ergaki which we were happy not to meet though the meeting could be amazing for some seconds – brown bear. Though internet is lacking useful information on the park, we could easily find articles and news about numerous cases of bear attacks. Though we tried to apply all of the rules hikers should know in bear country, still our instincts stayed active the whole time. In the first camp area where we slept in, I asked one park ranger about them, she answered “of course there are” and instantly took out her phone out and showed us the video of her shouting at the bear… in that very camp. “I shout to him, what are you doing? Go to your home! But he just looks at me shocked and probably think, but this is my home!” Later on we calmed down a little on a rather sad information from an older female solo hiker. Since she was a local she knew about bear shootout that has taken place for 2 years now, many bears were killed and a number of accidents fell down strongly.
The trails and especially camping areas are located nearby landmarks of the park. Two of the most popular of them are: gravity defying Hanging Rock and unique two peaks of Parabola with the Painters Lake at its foot. Though the latter one is kind of a symbol of Ergaki, to get to it one have to do some hiking, most visitors get to there on the second night. These places, though touristy are must sees, especially for the first time. Except for them the main “attractions” are basically lakes and viewpoints from perevals (russian for mountain passes). We got to see (and sometimes dip in!) many of them – Lake Raduzhnoye, Maloye Bubinskoye, Lazurnoye, Khudizhnikov (mentioned before Painters Lake), Gornykh Dukhov, Svetloye, Tuschkanchik and others. Their crystal clear water and cool temperature were perfect after a strenous hike, oftentimes they were teasing us to stay for a day or two more at the same place and just enjoy the swim. The lakes, just as the streams feeding them, provided us with fresh drinkable water at any point of the hikes. To drink it after reaching the top of the pass and admire those unearthly views is worth every effort. Enormous valleys filled with pine trees, little mountain lakes here and there, reflecting in the sun and huge, huge rock formations with ridges circling around the forests and rivers. Ergaki from the height looks like set of crowns in which inside the little paradises are closed . We had a perfect weather to enjoy and experience it all, well, maybe except for two evenings. Our last night in the Park, at the mysterious, misty lake Tuschkanchik was quite a dramatic experience. The storm that came from behind the ridge was a surprise, though we were earlier warned by many that it will come at some point. There was not much sleeping that night, our arms had to be used as additional support of the tent. Luckily two additional tarps construction over our little house let us cook a meal before the real storm hit in. We run through the torrential rain to throw a bea rbag in the bush and back to the tent. Though we set up the tent on the small angle, still we could feel water flow through the floor. We waited long, ready for any action, listening to the skies ripping over our heads, the sounds of the thunder like we never felt before. It was a good night for the last night in the park 🙂
Big majority of the park visitors are “locals” (people from Abakan, Minusinsk and Krasnoyarsk), all of them – Russian. The reason for it might be the remoteness of the place, but then again there are regular flights from Moscow to the cities nearby. Hikers can be separated in few categories – big and small organised groups with a guide/guides: kids, adults and elderly with all types of body shapes, both fit and not so much. As we later learned from participants of those groups themselves, such tour enables them to face many fears and in the group they feel motivated and much less scared to reach the heights. Beside that of course for many it’s just great solution to get social in the evenings, and we had a good taste of it. They were oftentimes mix of people coming from all parts of Russia: Krasnoyarsk, Moscow, Ural region. Much smaller categories were: couples, families and solo hikers, all of them enjoying their place in their own style, some being there for a day, some camping in one place for a week. All people were extremely kind, both happy and amazed to see us, maybe feeling a little bit proud to hear from us that Ergaki is truly amazing. Needless to say we were quite an attraction, being foreigners, something that in the end we learned to enjoy.
Even though we prepared well when it comes to camping locations, asked information board for recent info, still at the very spot it turned out that it has changed recently and now it’s forbidden to camp there… To avoid such misinformation we used the technique which seemed to be very common – interviewing almost each and every encountered hiker. This way we could get fresh news about changes in the trail, level of difficulty of some passes, and some useful advices. Wanting or not many of those questions turned into long conversations. Actually during our stay there we had many chances to get social. As mentioned before, us being foreigners resulted in many photo sessions, and trying to answer our favorite philosophical question “why are we here” If not for our wish to sometimes put the tent in more remote areas, each evening we would spend chatting, drinking and singing. People were sharing everything they have, groups with fixed diet were the happiest to receive from us some dried meat. As a thank back we were forced to drink a lot with them, how they were able to carry so much homemade vodka with them is still a mystery for us, but we helped them to make those backpacs lighter! Beside drinking we received also many gifts from random people. Power bards, chewing gum, some power shakes… but one of the gifts shocked us truly. The flag of the Ergaki Park hikers, which has to be very old. One very old man approached our tent, and just handed it to us. On the back the was his phone number and written wishing of the good weather, we thanked and then stood long in silence looking at it. What a heartwarming man!
TO SUM IT UP …
Leaving Ergaki we were extremely tired but smiling wide. Our brains were still going through all the views and experience we gained. Back then we already knew that oftentimes on our further road we will get back to those memories of pure nature wonders. We cannot recommend the place enough and we will be happy to help out with advice to anyone who wants to visit it. For now, it seems like this place will stay more of a local secret for longer time!