(map taken from http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/SEmono/TSE2008/TSE2008fig/TSE2008globe1a.JPG)
The idea to travel to the Russian Altaj mountains for the solar eclipse on 1st august 2008 in combination with a trekking-trip was already born two or three years ago.
In summer 2007 I sent an mass-email to friends to gather travel-buddies and got positive replies from Tobias and Florian/Katrin. In february 2008 we started to plan the trip and during the planing phase the group increased to 9 people (mainly friends of Tobias):
Matthias Bauer, Dresden
Manfred Hinteregger, Wien
Tobias B. Koehler, Graz
Harald Metka, Wien
Hynek Okon, Praha
Katrin Pohlner, Frankfurt(Main)
Mihal Rihak, Praha
Florian Sicherl, Frankfurt(Main)
Helmut Uttenthaler, Wien
WHERE AND HOW TO GO
During the planing phase we first had to consider the following questions:
- exact location for the hiking trip
- how to get there from Bijsk or Barnaul (this towns are the railway/air transportation hubs for the Altaj mountains)
- walk with or without guide?
The location should be choosen depending on the solar eclipse path. At http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/SEmono/TSE2008/TSE2008.html we found all necessary details about the solar eclipse.
A map of solar eclipse path in the Altaj-region:
After some web-research we decided to go the "Southern Chujskij Mountain Range" (marked red on the map, already close to Mongolia).
It is located close to the central line of the eclipse, and we were told that here the weather conditions are usually better than in the Northern parts of Altaj - a very important fact when planning a solar eclipse trip.
The next town is Kosh-Agach, about 50 km east of the mountains.
We found an excellent description of an hiking trip suitable for us at http://www.turistka.ru/altai/pub.php?p=18 (in Russian). Soviet military maps in 1:50.000 scale we found at http://maps.poehali.org/en/.
With this good database it should be possible to do the hiking trip without a local guide. So we only needed to organize transportation to the mountains. Public transport till Kosh-Agach exists in form of regular but infrequent buses Gorno-Altaijsk - Kosh-Agach, but to get closer to the mountains other means of transportation are necessary.
I contacted various Bijsk- or Barnaul-based companies offering transportation listed at http://mountainaltai.ru/category/obzory/zabroska_altai_2008.html and finally choosed the company "Bijsk Altaj Tur" (OOO Бийск Алтай Тур, http://www.bialtur.biysk.ru/index.phtml). The staff there was always very helpful and the price was good too. Also they were the only who could arrange transportation to the Taldura-valley where our hiking trip started and where only off-road vehicles can go. Other companies only offered transportation to Beltir, the last village where normal cars can go, but that would mean another 1-2 days to hike to reach the planned starting point.
I fixed the deal with "Bijsk Altaj Tur" somewhen in may, it included the following trips:
day one (29th july): Barnaul - Bijsk - Aktash (about 600 km) with minibus type "Gazel" (Газель)
day two (30th july): Aktash - Beltir - Taldura-valley (about 100 km, partly off-road) with truck "GAZ-66"
after the hiking trip (night 6th/7th august): Beltir - Bijsk (about 550 km) with minibus type "Gazel" (Газель)
Price per person for all that was ~140 EUR. On the way back we planned to go from Bijsk to Barnaul by train in the morning of 8th august.
During the planning phase two more questions occurred:
- are special border permits necessary to enter the area? In Russia access to border areas is restricted and special permits might be required. Fortunately we found out that our planned trip is just off the border area, so no additional paperwork.
- is there any kind of mountain-rescue-service in emergency situations and how to organize that? That problem was solved easily, "BijskAltajTur" said that en-route to the mountains during a short stop at the MChS-office in Gorno-Altajsk this can be organized.
Of course a special insurance which covers mountain-rescuing is useful, I decided to join the "OEAV" (Austrian Alpinist Club), whose membership includes a worldwide insurance.
WHAT TO BRING
After that we started the detailed planning of what to bring. As we were 7-days off-civilization this questions were quite important. In groups of two (who shared one tent and one burner for cooking) we planned the food. Manfred and I formed one of this groups and with our food-plan we came to about 3500 kcal per day per person, which should be enough. For cooking we had a Trangia-burner.
Our tent was a MSR Zoid 2 ultralight-tent, we had sleeping bags suitable for temperatures till about -5 degrees. Together with all other stuff the initial weight of my backpack was maybe something like 23-25 kg.
We also brought one GPS, one satellite-phone and some medicine with us.
Of course we also had to get to Barnaul somehow. Every group member organized the transportation to/from Barnaul her/himself. The time frame was defined by the latest possible arrival time in Barnaul (not later than 29th july morning) and the earliest departure time from Barnaul (not earlier than 8th august afternoon).
I decided to go by train from Vienna (leaving on 24th july) via Bratislava - Lvov - Kiev - Moskva - Sverdlovsk - Omsk to Barnaul, a trip of about 4500 km which would take about 5 days.
The way back I planned from Bijsk via Barnaul - Almaty - Astana - Ufa - Samara - Moskva - Kiev - Lvov - Bratislava to Vienna. On the way back longer stops for sightseeing (rather than just for changing trains as on the trip to Barnaul) were planned at Barnaul, Almaty and Astana. Arrival in Vienna was sheduled for 17th august.
The other group members choosed the following transportation options to/from Barnaul:
to Barnaul: train Frankfurt - Vienna, from there together with me by train
back: by plane to Moscow, then train to St. Petersburg, then plane to Frankfurt
to Barnaul: by plane from Vienna via Moscow
back: together with me till Moscow, then after a 3-day-stop via train to Kiev and 1 day later from there by train to Vienna.
to Barnaul: together with me
back: together with me till Almaty, after that he planned a longer trip across Kazakhstan and Russia (further to the east, till Vladivostok) which would last untill end-september
to Barnaul: by plane from Prague via Moscow
back: by plane to Prague via Moscow
For the train trip to Barnaul the Slovakian Citystar-Ticket (see http://citystarticket.blogspot.com/) was the best option, the total ticket price Vienna - Barnaul (including sleeper supplements for kupe-carriages) was about 170 EUR per person.
For the way back till Moscow I booked online-tickets at http://ticket.rzd.ru/. From Moscow onward I could again use the Citystar-Ticket.
With the help from a friend in Moscow I got all the necessary visa-invitations for the whole groupe (including double/multiple-entry business visa invitations for those travelling back via Kazakhstan). For the Kazakh visa no invitation was necessary, so this was the first visa for which I applied already in end-may. The Russian visa I finally got in the beginning of july. Mine was a one-year multiple-entry visa, because the price is the same and I might need it for future trips to Russia.
TRAVELOGUE AND PHOTOS
The links to the detailed travelogue with many photos:
Trip Vienna - Moscow - Barnaul - Aktash
Total solar eclipse 1st august 2008
Leningradskij pass (3300m)
Back to civilization: Bijsk & Barnaul
Train trip to Almaty
Astana - Kazakhstan's new capital
Train trip Astana - Moscow - Kosice - Vienna