By now, you probably agree with us that Leonid was a terrible guide. He consistently gave unclear directions as to time, distance, and whether there would be water along the way to fill water bottles. Quite a few days, we hiked all day without water in open conditions and under a broiling sun, and it wasn’t unusual for everyone to become dehydrated. In addition, Leonid’s estimation of time was always off because he was so fast, and he catered to the people who were able to keep up with him. They were always out of sight and, again, Rob didn’t know the trails. It developed into an accordion effect. Spread out over large distances, until the slower ones caught up, and then the “jets” would take off like a bat out of hell. But Day 10 took the cake.
Leonid and Rob offered two hikes that day. Leonid led six of us on the “slow” trek (Brian, Liz, Marlynne, Michael and us) and Rob took the “jets” to visit a scenic lake before meeting our group at tonight’s camp. Below a trail leading up the mountain, Leonid told Slava (horse leader) to wait for us at the top of the mountain and lead us to camp while he went to assist Rob.
If you noticed, Slava’s facial features resemble an Eskimo. The Altaitsi, native people to this region, transmigrated through the Altai, over the land-bridge to Alaska in ancient times.
The very evident trail led to the top where ex-Marine and I waited a bit for the others but then decided to head on, Slava and horses nowhere in sight. The two of us wandered a bit looking for any kind of water to purify on another hot day, but no luck.
By this time, little cook and the other four caught up and we started doubling back, going on ahead, doubling back, trying another trail, shouting “help”, looking for markers, cairns or a faint trail to camp. The sun was sinking, and we had a group discussion hashing over what each of us had with in our daypacks to wear if we had to hunker down for the night. Did anyone have any munchies on them, what to do, and little cook was crying hysterically. All of us were smart enough to have extra clothing, a knife and a few munchies in our daypacks and one night without food certainly wouldn’t kill anyone. We soldiered on…and trying another path, a group of Russian backpackers came into view heading up to the pass we were supposed to cross tomorrow.
Little cook spoke to them in Russian and we decided to go with them, hoping to spot our camp somewhere along the way. And, if not, we’d have to proceed up to the pass scheduled for tomorrow’s hike or just wait it out until someone found us. What a horrible thought…hours more of hiking…when we were all ready to drop. Following the Russians through a boulder field, there was a very obvious cairn (pile of rocks) showing the way in the middle. ex-Marine and I had thought about going through this boulder field earlier but hesitated, fearing to get even more lost, and there was the path on the other side!
Hours later, there was our camp down in the valley by the Tekeliu River. Staggering into camp, exhausted from the extra three hours on the trail, and dehydrated from lack of water (the water bottles had been empty for most of the day), we still had to erect the tents before sitting, or falling, down.
When Rob and the “jets” appeared in camp, the six of us had a lengthy conversation with him. Rob then had a lengthy conversation with Leonid and Slava. It seemed that Slava thought his horses were getting tired but he had planned on going back for us eventually!
Another hiking/camping lesson re-learned. Always hike with a daypack holding a warm jacket, pants, gloves, hat and a few munchies. Yes…it is heavy and sometimes we feel ridiculous setting out on a hot and sunny day with all this gear, but you never know. None of us ever expected to get lost in the Altai Mountains on a GUIDED tour, but you never know what is going to happen and that was an object lesson. An extremely frightening experience and one I hope never to be part of again…