Day 3: The journey to the High Altai

Day 3: The journey to the High Altai

On the third day, we left the camp at the Jeloman-River. Early in the morning we took down our tents and stowed the luggage back to the trailers and the bed of the pickup. To strengthen there was oatmeal for breakfast. We drove the small way to Inja, which we have already seen, and from there further upstream. After a while, the driver stopped at the roadside. At first, we did not know whether we should get out and first only looked out of the window. We saw a ground squirrel, or at least a ground squirrel-like animal on the roadside.

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The ground-squirrel-like animal that was looking distrustful at us from the side of the road.

Waldemar, our driver, said after a few seconds “get out of the car” and smiled. So we got out and met the occupants of the other cars, with which we went right up to a small survey besides the street. We had arrived at the mouth of the Chuya-River into the Katun. We had another impressive view of the Katun, which we would now leave behind of us to continue to follow the Chuya-Highway towards Mongolia.

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The mouth of the Chuya-River into the Katun-River.

The survey of the mouth was clearly marked as a sacred place for the Altaian inhabitants, which was recognized by the vast amounts of fabric straps that were tied to the bushes. The people of the Altai often live a shamanic belief, which regards some places as holy. After another while driving, we stopped again on the edge of the road, without an apparent reason on the first sight. Again, the group gathered and walked across a field towards an elongated upright stone. On closer inspection, it turned out that there was a stele with a carved face at the upper end. Another place that showed parts of the history of the colonization of the Altai. But the stele was not all. A bit up of the rock wall behind it were 3000-year-old petroglyphs. Pictured were mostly animals, which probably served as a food source when they were painted there. I really was impressed how well these drawings were still recognizable, but also, to what inconspicuous place this was painted.

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3000-year old petroglyphs.

Through a presentation that Kevin, a fellow student, was holding there in the field I found out that the region was once densely populated and once the Altai was inhabited by the Scythians. That the Scythians have been more European-derived people, doesn’t stop the today’s Altaians , to describe them as their ancestors, although they have mostly Mongolian roots, which can be seen in the Asian look of today’s inhabitants. After this historical slide, we went back on the road to Aktash, one of the larger towns on the Chuya-Highway. Once we had our cars refueled, we then bought new stocks. We were told that the lunch will be soon after that at the roadside, however, it lasted a little longer than we expected. In Russia, it is common to  eat Lunch at 2pm, since normally the breakfast is served quite hearty. „Oatmeal, really hearty…“ I thought, but fortunately I bought two typical Russian dumplings that I could eat in the car against hunger. Therefore our next camp should have been near a glacier, we rarely saw any signs of snow so far. But then, behind a curve out of a valley, the northern Chuya-Chain revealed before us.The sight was breathtaking. The summits, which had  more than 3000 meters of height, appeared in front of us, still thickly covered with a thick layer of snow and ice. Almost perfect the mountain peaks were arranged into a row, which bestowed the  Kurai-Steppe a scenery that was ripe for a picture book.

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The northern Chuya-Chain in all it’s glory, captured from the vast Kurai-Steppe.

A short while longer we followed the Chuya-Highway until we arrived at Kurai, from where the convoy turned onto bumpy dust roads, that went through the dry steppe. We crossed the Chuya-River over a simple wooden bridge and drove across the vast steppe directly to the Southern Chuya-Chain. The whole trip had really won a character of an adventure, since our cars now really showed their purposes of their off-road equipment. Once we had to cross a small marsh, where two cars got stuck, even if they were four-wheel powered.

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Looks like the pickup didn’t make it through the marsh.

Fortunately, the other two cars could pull out the stuck ones back to the other side of the marsh. Now, finally, we had lunchtime, which this time consisted, of course, only out of some snacks, because there was no time for cooking. After lunch, there was still an hour cover to  get to the base camp of our glacier hike. The already bumpy road got progressively worse, eventually they could be compared only with a wider ungroomed trail. No problem for the cars which gave a good shake to the crew. In the late afternoon, we reached the camp, made ourselves comfortable and prepared dinner. We had now reached 1700m above sea level. We had to expect a cold night. A hearty stew with chicken legs presented a good basis for this. Later, Timo and I took all camera material that we had to capture the magnificent starry skies. For me, the evening got a disillusionment.

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Breathtaking stars and the setting Milky Way above the Aktru-Glacier. Photo taken by Timo.

I had just bought my first new Panasonic Lumix G6, and naively I thought that I could capture anything I want. Unfortunately, it turned out that the combination of my not so very high-aperture objective and a too small camera sensor didn’t allow me to capture the stars as good as Timos Fujifilm camera could. I was lucky as a child when I looked forward to capturing the amazing sky, so now I was really disappointed. But basically I can still prove what a wonderful natural phenomenon we were able to experience, thanks to Timos pictures. About my camera methods and the material I plan to provide a post in the category tips and tricks for you, hopefully with some good advice from Timo. A ray of hope the evening still  had for me. My GoPro already helped me at some other places to create some quite respectable results in the night-lapse mode, what I wanted to try again. I had the small action camera previously installed on my Powerbank so they would create the longest possible shots without the battery running out. But somehow that night was against me. The GoPro battery had discharged itself over the time, then the Power Bank didn’t work due to the cold, and I was sick of the cold, too. Finally, I took all my equipment to my tent, put the GoPro back in their protective case and crawled into my sleeping bag. It was no longer worth it to put a lot of time and energy into the project, as we had the long hike on the next day. That I have therefore made a right decision, you can soon read in my next post.

 

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