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The author: Konstantin Beketov, Saint Petersburg
Photo: Eugeny Zakharov

Out-of-the-way Corner of the World

"The most effective method of loosing weight: just for a month you will throw off not less than 5 kg!" - in this piece of newspaper with the advertising module my ice-screw was wrapped up for some reason or other. But I, perhaps, know not less effective method of loosing weight... To tell the truth it is not cheap too.

You have to take skis, cram into your backpack about 30kg of belongings, and the other things (about 15 kg) that have not all gone into it - put on sledge. And travel for 25 days in mountains, somewhere out-of-the-way corner of the world... Between Tuva, Mongolia and Altai. In the heart of Eurasia, equal distant from all seas and oceans. Some time ago it was not popular, but nevertheless visited mountain area. In 70-80th years scientific expeditions were there and tourists appeared both in winter and in summer. In the beginning of 90th the situation changed. Tuvinians suddenly recollected, that up to the middle of 20th century they were not a part of Russia; and very long ago before that they had paid tribute not to Russian tsar but Manchus. From 1991 till 1995 from Tuva (which have urgently renamed on old manners in Tyva) practically all Russian population was forced to leave. Bad rumours were spread: malicious Tuvinians beat somebody, they took away things from somebody. In addition, after the unique republican industrial enterprise - asbestine mine in Ak-Dovurak- was closed and the public transport practically ceased to go there. More shortly, for the last 10 years you can count on fingers of one hand the amount of visits into the mountains of Southwest Tuva.

The group teamed up quite big for such travel - 9 person, all of them are old familiar mates. We reserved a vehicle from Abakan directly in mountains beforehand; there is almost 500 km through Khakassia and Tuva. Just in case we did not call in settlements on the road, in order to prevent any conflicts and got off the machine only when we had rested in continuous icing of the river Shuya and the driver had refused to go further. Our route laid from the east to the west from Tuva to Altai along the Mongolian boundary. This line crosses mountain ranges and separate massifs: Shapshalskogo, Tsagan-Shibetu, Mongun-Taiga, Chikhacheva, Turgen-Ula. The last one is the highest, the most mysterious and little-known; the most part of these mountains is located already aside of the boundary. Such route is a unique opportunity to trace the dynamics of snow retention on glaciers of the area; under the orders of Russian Geographical Society we were making a survey of snow cover on all the way. The snow, it is necessary to note, lies here extremely non-uniformly. First three days we did not put on skis at all. In the valley of the river Shuya on east slope of Shapshalskogo range snow practically is not present. Only blue tape of the river icing and a frost reminded. It was the middle of February outside. We went constantly put on crampons. The river was not frozen up to the bottom in places and we could see through thick transparent ice under our feet current of the river, even sleepy khariuses (kind of fish) at the bottom. We put on skis only at 2500m above sea level when we began ascending Mt. Ak-Oyuk (3611m, the highest top of Shapshalskogo range).

In Uzun-Khema valley we left some food and gear, under the plan we were going to make a ring in Tsagan-Shibetu range. From there woods on our way comes to an end, the next 20 days we had to cook exclusively on kerosene stoves. All mountain passes in Tsagan-Shibetu have two features: first, they are completely snowless from the west and avalanche dangerous from the east; second, there was some confusion with definition of their technical complexity. The first pass of the planned ring appeared instead of 1B under the description in practice not less than 2B: we descended the whole light day, applying all arsenal of climbing equipment! It looks at least strange!

At the same time we invented a new mega-extreme kind of sports: mad skiing on icing. Company Fischer gave us new skis Hitrax specially made for use in independent expeditions on a cross-country terrain. Edgings at these skis are much sharper, than at traditional "Beskid"s, and first cautious experiments showed a basic possibility to use these skis even on firm overfrozen ice. What began there! Huge speed, unknown lines, a lot of impressions...

But the main object of our dreams was ahead. It was the massif Mongun-Taiga, which is isolated from the other ranges (in translation into Russian "Silver Mountain"). Its main top, only 14 meters "have not grown" up to a treasured mark of "4000", and it is topped with a dome of a powerful covering glacier. This ice dome for a long time draws attention of glaciologists. The creation of such large center of congelation (on a long axis - more than 10 km!) in a droughty climate at the edge of the Mongolian deserts is surprising. In winter the dome appeared absolutely snowless, the strongest winds do not allow snow to stay too long on ice and sweep it away in valleys. At the top wind blows practically constantly, sometimes getting really storm force. When you are going roped up, the rope between you and your partners not drag on ice, but it is arched in the air. You can lie a breast on a wind: it will keep you under 45 degrees to horizon.

To the west of the main summit of massif Mongun-Taiga there are several short but extremely high and rocky ridges, divided by deeply cut valleys, with a lot of glaciers, unclimbed passes and summits. It is the area of a severe high-mountainous landscape. To the south the mountains abruptly break to Mongolia. Between Mongun-Taiga and Chikhacheva range in a valley of the river Mogen-Buren the settlement of Kyzyl-Khaya is located. It is possible to get in it only through the territory of Mongolia. There isn't any other road. Having not got in Kyzyl-Khaya we forded the river Mogen-Buren on icing in 5 km above, but we had an opportunity to observe their real Tuva sticks living out. Locals almost do not understand in Russian, but they are very benevolent, approximately as far as they are not sober. People had lodged in a valley of the river Mogen-Buren not without purpose: it is never snowing here, even in the last especially snow winter. They can graze cattle the year round. The sensations were unusual: it was about negative 30 outside, but the bright sun was shining, the grassy slopes were trampled by sheep and yaks. Nothing seems to exchange here for last one thousand years.

Snow cover begins again on the slopes leading on Chikhacheva range. On the axis of the range administrative boundary between Tuva and Mountain Altai passes. In the south the range extends to the territory of Mongolia forming the mountain massif Turgen-Ula towers up to 4029 meters above a sea level, but any sea is so far from here. We planned to summit the highest point, but approaching the border we unexpectedly ran into the real ambush of frontier guards. We were just going and touching nobody... And not at once we heard shouts from the next hill - it appeared, the boundary order was trying already for a long time to shout until the "infringers heard. Our documents made out from the Geographical Society placed everything in places, but we could not pass the border again impudently, therefore we had to refuse this ascent. Instead of that we had the Russian part of Turgen-Ula massif reco where nobody was before our winter expedition.

This area is very interesting and almost not investigated. In 60-80th years geologists carried out here trial investigation on silver, but because of the area remoteness it appeared unprofitably to open industrial extraction here, and since then people practically have not got in these mountains. Meanwhile, these mountains concede nothing to Central Altai, and it is not difficult to get to it: there are only 30-40 km of approaches through the woodless hills of Chuiskaya steppe from the customs post of Tashanta where the Russian part of Chuisky trakt (highway) comes to end. We summited the highest mountains of the Russian part of the range and reconnoitred some passes. Nowadays in heart of Asia you can feel this rare feeling of the pioneer: this feeling for centuries drove restless people away from the warm small houses in Europe to the open spaces of wild unknown countries.

The end of our 400-kilometer route was at the customs post of Tashanta, on Mongolian boundary. From here there is no public transport, but after several hours of expectations and negotiations we managed to get the Mongolian "UAZ" and to reach up to the raion center Kosh-Agach. The further way was well-known: Chuisky trakt (highway)- Gorno-Altaisk, Biisk, Novosibirsk...


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