I finally met someone who likes all the off-the-beaten-track beaten tracks and mud and dirt and gravel… and it was fortunate I met him where I did. A local family I had met had suggested riding up to Lake Teletskoe from Aktash. It would be hard on a bike, but of course it can be done, they said. I was in two minds… the Chuysky Trakt was also beautiful and I was rather enjoying the easy riding for a change. But just a few miles out of Aktash I bumped into Steffan, and he said, yeah, that track to the lake is really nice. If given the choice between that and the main road, definitely that. I didn’t take much convincing. It wouldn’t be so hard he reckoned.
Yeah, it’s probably not so hard on a bike with an engine, on a day it isn’t pissing with rain…
So I left little Aktash up into the mountains behind and was rather surprised to discover that most of the road to the first village (which was actually rather large and incredibly well-stocked) was primarily tarmac, with a few gravelly sections. Yeah it was steep in places winding up onto the plateau, following the river that had gouged out a steep path but steep is much easier on a smooth road. Low gear, slowly slowly, no need to push. But as I neared the top the clouds thickened and the drizzle began and then the torrents flowed. I sheltered at the top until the rain abated a bit… I was soaking and cold and put on my stove for a coffee to warm up while I decided which way to go… keep going even though I couldn’t see anything through the fog and mist or just turn back, check into the guesthouse, dry off and stick to the main Chuysky Trakt the next day?
Don’t be such a wimp. You’re at the top already. What a waste just to turn round now. Quick, get a move on before you change your mind again…
And with that I was off. Waterproofs donned, hat and gloves and warm jacket layered underneath… Down and down, gripping the ineffectual brakes hard as the wheels slip and slide on the slick wet road and water streaming down, catching glimpses of forest and river through the mist when I dared look away from the road.
As I reached the village and found a cafe, the rain stopped. As I finished up my coffee and hit the road again, it started again. Sigh.
The road turned to dirt and took to the hills, winding through grassy vast swathes until I reached the tree-line again. On and on, drip, drip, drip. I was determined to reach the top before camping but it never seemed to flatten out. Finally, after 10 hours on the road, on what must be the most miserable day of the trip yet, I reached the top. Wow, you should have seen the views… I wish I could have seen the views. No, it was like one of the blank grey postcards you get saying Southwold or Blackpool in the fog… Altai in the fog also looks grey. So I camped, dampened.
And still it was raining in the morning. I made a coffee. And another. And another… until the rain stopped. Then I packed up and put on my spare dry shorts for the first time this trip. I couldn’t face all the wet clothes straight away. Just a little luxury.
So I set off down through the forest and when I came to a clearing the fog was starting to lift and that’s when I saw the Chulyshman valley way down below. Hell, that’s one nice sight! Ok, so maybe this’ll have been worth it after all. And then I saw the road down to the valley and the waterfalls streaming down the vertical gorge walls and the tents pitched beside the river in the valley bottom, tiny little marks they were so far away and I was so high up. Oh yeah, this is gonna be a good day. And then, would you believe, I even saw a hint of blue sky. Thank you!
The Chulyshman gorge is a Russian wonder. It seems plenty of Russians know about it, and they drive down here for a few days camping. But it’s their little secret. I’m letting you in on it… Now, I had enjoyed the day riding down the Chuysky Trakt, but this beat it by a long shot. Wow. I rode all day, and stopped to take photos and camped at the far end, just a few kilometres before the river becomes a lake.
On to Lake Teletskoe the next morning, I managed to get someone with a boat to take me across the lake to the little touristy town of Artibash on the other side. Some people call it the Altai’s answer to Lake Baikal. But I don’t agree. Sure, it’s smaller. But this lake is had a different feel. There are no roads around the lake, the mountains rise steeply from the edges, covered in thick forest. It’s like a lost world up there. Where the rock faces have fallen away and the trees plunged into the depths, you can see the rock strata, horizontal one place, angled the next, vertical right beside, where the land had shifted and grinded and risen to form the mountains and plunged to create the lake. And water falls off the cliffs and you can see the gorges and ravines forming. This is a world that is still being created.
As we travelled over the lake towards Artibash, the valleys widens and the rivers broadened, until finally it felt like the land had come to a rest and was ready for people to live among it…
The rain had resumed by the time I reached Artibash, so I whiled away a few hours in a cafe before forcing myself onto the road. From there on out, it was smooth riding again and pretty enough, but just couldn’t compare to the Chulyshman valley and the lake. I’d been on such a high, and now I hit a low… but when I finally found a hotel I could just about afford and shower and put on clean dry clothes for the first time in days, things looked up again!
Yeah, the Russian Altai is a great place to ride…and here are the photos: