is a vast mountainous region located partly in four countries: Russia,
Kazakhstan, Mongolia and China. Russian part of Altai is in the
southern part of Siberia.
The name "Altai" or "Altay" has Mongolian origin,
it means "golden". Indeed Altai mountains prove to be
a real treasure of rich resources, beautiful landscapes and unspoiled
Altai is very important recreational domain because:
- there one can meet unique natural diversity, variety of landscapes,
ranging from the Mongolia-like steppes to those of the Swiss Alps;
contrast of different climates and consequently abundance of wildlife;
- there is almost no industry in the region, just agriculture and
tourism. So the nature stays practically untouched;
- population is very thin there. Historically it was formed by Mongolian
and Kazakh nomads. Many of them still preserve their cultural traditions,
for example, throat singing. Also there are some remote villages
of Old Believers who managed to avoid almost all contacts with civilization
since 18th century;
- at the same time there are quite a few roads (most of them unpaved)
which allow to get by car close enough to most of destinations;
- thanks to wide range of climate and geographic conditions most
outdoor activities can be practiced in Altai, in addition to trekking:
backpacking, pass hopping, canyoning, horse riding, biking, mountaineering,
climbing, speleo caving, rafting, kayaking, fishing, hunting, paragliding,
skiing (mountain skiing, ski-touring, snowboarding, snowshoeing).
There are a lot of routes of different grades of difficulty (from
1 to 6) for each kind of activity. Therefore one can meet experienced
sportsmen, commercial trekkers and schoolchildren on excursion in
Altai wilderness, both Russian and foreign. There are some international
mountaineering camps (near Mt Belukha and Mt Akthru) and some traditional
international competitions (Chuya Rafting Rally, paragliding events).
While on a route, you can easily put a tent anywhere you want.
- you can make part of the way by train along the famous Transsiberian
railway up to Novosibirsk, from the west or the east end, complete
your Altai journey and then continue by train further;
- the last but not the least is that the Altai is almost clear from
mosquitoes and other biting flies which make traveling in Siberian
taiga miserable in summer. On the other hand unfortunately I must
mention here ticks which are wide spread in the region. They can
cause encephalitis and are especially dangerous in June. Medical
shots are highly recommended.
All in all,
Altai is a mecca for adventure tourism. Russian people, used to
lack of some civilization amenities, go there for a wilderness experience.
At the same time, there are some resorts (also near hot-springs),
campings and refugees along the main routes.
believe that Belovodie (the area around sacred Mt Belukha, set in
the heart of the Altai) is where the new civilization will start.
It can seem surprising but historical and archeological data confirm
that many former nations took their birthplace there. The Altai
has a long and rich history being the cross-roads of human migration
for innumerable centuries. Actually some archaeological finds of
the paleolithic site in the town of Gorno-Altaisk have an age of
900-800 thousand years. That means that man's ancestors lived in
the Altai long before the pithecanthrope of Java. There are also
dozens of younger sites (mainly in caves), numerous graffitos. They
are available to see for tourists.
The Altai mountains
boast by thousands of lakes and rivers which feed both on rains
and on melting snow and ice, covering the peaks above 2800-3500
m. This is special combined so called altai type of river supplying.
The sources of two of Russia's great rivers - the Ob and the Irtysh
- are found in the Altai. Parts of them are Katun, Biya, and Chuya
– the main destinations for white water fans. As for lakes the most
important and popular among visitors for their beauty are Teletskoye
lake, Shavlinskiye and Multinskiye lakes. The first one is considered
very much as the lake Baikal because it is also located in a great
adorn high peaks. Mt Belukha, the highest mountain of Siberia, 4506
m, is covered by eternal snow and ice. Its name means “The White
the trekking. Material.
The Altai mountains
form natural border between Siberia open to Arctic cold and wet
air masses and high mountain deserts of Mongolia and China which
get very little precipitation.
intermingle with different altitude zones, each having its own complex
of vegetation. The result is that the Altai weather is as diverse
as its nature. But of course there are some rules.
Compared to the hot plains – Siberian steppes - the rainfall in
the mountains is quite high. Naturally the climate is cooler here
though sunny days in the Altai are much more usual than on the Black
sea coast, famous for its resorts.
In the beginning
of May snow begins to disappear from slopes giving way to grass
and flowers. Springtime here is very beautiful but traveling to
remote points is complicated and dangerous because roads and paths
the summer starts in the end of May - June and finishes in September.
During that time it's quite warm during the daytime (about 20 -
25 C) and cool in the night (about 5-10 C). During June and July
there may be quite a few rains and hazy days. The most quantity
of rain falls in the mountains in the first ten-day period of August.
It’s a typical and rather formidable situation when after a week
of constant sunny weather several days of rainstorm come. It causes
rising of water level in the lakes and rivers, trekking paths turn
to streams, while ordinary streams become uncrossable. So when planning
summer routes one shouldn’t forget that the warmest time in the
Altai is also the rainiest and therefore not favourable.
time is in the end of August – beginning of September (more than
60% of the time there's no rain at all). In the middle of the summer
the snow is left only on the heights of 2600 meters and more. Winds
in the valleys are not very strong. So it is thought that the best
months for traveling in the Altai in summer are July, August, and
first half of September. During this period it is warm and usually
sunny in the day.
But the autumn
(end of September – October) with its yellow and red colors and
a lot of nuts, mushrooms and berries is even more delightful and
rewarding. Of course during that time one has to deal with more
frequent rains and cold temperatures.
Winter in the Altai starts in November and is also popular for outdoor
activities. But one should know that winter is really severe there:
a lot of snow, frequent avalanches, frosts (-30, -40 C) come in
turn with snow-breaks, which can be really terrible for skiers.
If you buy
a tour porterige is presumed. In the Altai a number of local outfitters
run trips of different grade of difficulty. Also you can buy a package
from one of renowned companies in the gate cities (Moscow, St. Petersburg)
or in your country. Altai outfitters provide camping stuff, guides,
porters and horses to ride and carry loads. Most local companies
and guides are located in the town of Barnaul and in the city of
Novosibirsk which are 300 km and 650 km from the mountains respectively.
Novosibirsk stands on the Transsib. There are also 2-3* hotels in
these towns with good-quality western-style shared rooms, original
restaurants and friendly people. Don’t seek for a guide in towns
of Biysk and Gorno-Altaisk (just at the beginning of the Altai mountains).
They are closer to the destination but rather poor and dull, without
good hotels (but there are some resorts outside).
Price of a tour
includes staff, camping gear, all accommodation, meals on the trek.
Usually it consists of two hot meals prepared by cook plus cold
packed lunch. You will be expected to help with installing your
tent. Normally the tents are for two persons, always double-skinned.
The guides will be responsible for the setting up of ropes to protect
some of the mountain river crossings. If you have a trek with porters
they carry all communal equipment including food and tentage. You
need to carry your own belongings. 60 liter rucksack is adequate
to take your spare clothes, waterproofs, sleeping bag and sleeping
mat (see the gear list). If the trek is horse supported then the
animals carry all your equipment as well. You will be expected to
carry only your daysack (30 liters).
There is wide
range of itineraries, some of them for beginners others requiring
reasonable degree of fitness. As a rule each day of trek involves
about 4 - 5 hours of walking or horse riding on average but some
days are as long as 7 hours and are rather tiring. Apart from normal
demands of walking uphill there are moraines and rivers to be crossed.
Some sections are demanding because one has to walk through taiga
vegetation. Paths to main tourists’ destinations are clearly marked
but it is very easy to get lost in a fog which is quite common in
the Altai. So keep full control and move in a group.