Donnerstag, 21. August 2008

Trip idea and planning

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(map taken from


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


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 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 (in Russian). Soviet military maps in 1:50.000 scale we found at
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 and finally choosed the company "Bijsk Altaj Tur" (OOO Бийск Алтай Тур, 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.


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 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 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.


The links to the detailed travelogue with many photos:
Trip Vienna - Moscow - Barnaul - Aktash
Taldura valley
Total solar eclipse 1st august 2008
Leningradskij pass (3300m)
Akkol valley
Back to civilization: Bijsk & Barnaul
Train trip to Almaty
Astana - Kazakhstan's new capital
Train trip Astana - Moscow - Kosice - Vienna

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Trip Vienna - Moscow - Barnaul - Aktash

thursday, 24th july 2008

Timetable for the day:
from Vienna (11:28) to Bratislava (12:37) with a local train
at Bratislava (13:47) changing to a fast-train going to Kosice
en-route at Zilina (16:34/16:42) boarding the Russian sleeping car to Moscow, which is attached here
Slovakian border check at unnamed border check platform before midnight

Me and my bags...

Together with Katrin and Florian (they arrived the evening before from Frankfurt) we took the "elektrichka" to the Südbahnhof, where we met Manfred and continued to Bratislava on a local train.

At Bratislava main station...

...we bought sausages (this here is Manfred's sausage together with it's owner), which we ate then on the train to Kosice.

At Zilina the sleeping car to Moscow is attached to the train. It is quite full from the beginning, there were also some astronomers from Slovakia travelling to Novosibirsk to watch the solar eclipse there.

Katrin and Florian "reading" Komsomolskaja Pravda...

friday, 25th july 2008

timetable for the day:
Ukrainian border check at Chop (0:06/3:32)
boogie-changing for Soviet-broad gauge tracks
during the night crossing the Carpathian mountains
during the day across Ukraina via Lvov 9:45/10:10, Hmelnizkij, Vinniza, Kiev 20:00/20:36 to Konotop (Ukrainian border check, 23:10/23:30)
during the night crossing the Russian border

At the Ukrainian border station Chop the boogies of our sleeping-car are exchanged, as the trains in the former USSR run on broad-gauge (the difference between the rails is 1520mm instead of 1435mm). After that the sleeping-car is attached to a Budapest - Moscow train, which conveys also cars like Venezia - Moscow, Zagreb - Moscow and Belgrade - Moscow.
Border formalities are no problem.

Next morning: Lviv (Lvov, Lemberg) railway station.

Lunch in the dining car.

Irina from Hmelnizkij was the 3rd passenger (in Manfred's and my compartment) from Hmelnizkij till Brjansk.

saturday, 26th july august

timetable for the day:
Russian border check at Brjansk (3:52/4:24)
arriving at Moskva Kievskaja station at 9:53
leaving from Moskva Kazanskaja station at 13:19 with train no. 96
on the train via Vekovka, Murom, Sergach to Kazan (2:08/2:28)

Arriving at Moscow Kievskij station.

My friend Alexander picked us up and drove our luggage to this flat, we followed by metro (not enough space in his car). Vera, his girlfriend, prepared a very good lunch for us and we had an opportunity to take a shower. The then went to Kazanskij station, from where our train to Barnaul departed.

Train 96 to Barnaul at Kazanskij station

The train was full, we had a 4-bed-compartment for us. Among the other passengers there were also many tourists travelling to the solar eclipse.

Our living room for the next few days ;-)

At Sergach station

sunday, 27th july 2008

on the train from Sarapul via Druzhinino, Sverdlovsk (17:17/17:40 Moscow time) to Tjumen (23:02/23:23 Moscow time)

somewhere in the Ural

at Druzhinino station

25-minutes stop at Sverdlovsk station (Yekaterinburg)

monday, 28th july 2008

on the train from Omsk (7:56/8:26 Moscow time) via Tatarskaja, Karasuk to Kulunda (18:12/19:02 Moscow time)

At Omsk station

The two twin-brothers of compartment no. 9

Our train was 18 cars long. Here it is pulled by half 2TE10 (= one section), a double-section diesel locomotive. The route branches off the Transsiberian mainline at Tatarskaya and this branch line to Karasuk isn't electrified.

View from the train near Karasuk:

Again the twins...

In the dining car

tuesday, 29th july 2008

early morning arrival at Barnaul (2:20 Moscow time = 5:20 local time).
then transfer by minibus "Gazel" (company Bijsk Altaj Tur) to Aktash in the Altai-mountains.

Early morning arrival (2:20 Moscow time = 5:20 local time) at Barnaul station.

The minibus from "Bijsk Altaj Tur" was already waiting there, and we drove to the airport to pick up the others.

En-route at Bijsk (150 km from Barnaul) we were driven to the office of "Bijsk Altaj Tur", where we payed for the trip and left some luggage, which we wouldn't need during the hiking trip.
At a supermarket we bought some food and at petrol-station Matthias bought 1,5 liters of petrol for his petrol-cooker:

Also we went to a sport-shop to buy some new hiking boots for Katrin, as she noticed that the one she brought were almost broken.

At Gorno-Altajsk (km 250 from Barnaul) we made a stop at the office of the mountain-rescue-service "Пойсково-спасательный отряд Горно-Алтайск" to give them notice about our planned trip and return date. We also had a satellite-phone with us, so we could have called them in case of emergency:

The official paper from "Пойсково-спасательный отряд Горно-Алтайск"

From Gorno-Altajsk we continued on the M52-road via Ust-ema, Tuzkta, Ongudaj, Inja to Aktash. A long road trip in a beautiful landscape!

During the road trip at Ongudaj

About 5 km after Aktash we finally at 22:00 arrived at the place, from were we would continue next day to the mountains.
The total trip from Barnaul was more than 600 km.

Taldura valley

Wednesday, 30th august 2008

Campsite no. 1. We got up at 6:00

Our GAZ-66.

From Wikipedia:
GAZ-66 is a Russian 4x4 all-road (off road) military truck produced by GAZ. It was the main transport vehicle for motorized infantry of the Soviet Army and is still employed in former Soviet Union countries. Nicknamed shishiga (шишига) shehsherik (шешерик) trueman (in Siberia).
The Gaz-66 has gained legendary status in many countries around the world due to its reliability, simplicity and off-road capability. Thanks to standard features such as a front mounted winch, Central Tire Inflation System (CTIS) and self locking differentials the Gaz-66 is extremely popular with armed forces all around the world as well as off-road enthusiasts. Production ceased in 1999, instead GAZ produces the GAZ-3308.

We left the place at 7:30.

Our driver

En-route to Kosh-Agach: the Aktru-mountains in the background

Petrol station at Ortolik. The vehicle needs about 35 liters/100 km, off-road more....

...but it needs 80-octan petrol, which wasn't available at this petrol station. So we drove 10 km further to Kosh-Agach, were we finally got what we needed.

At Kosh-Agach. The mountains in the background are already in Mongolia.

M52-road near Kosh-Agach

We drove back to Ortolik, where the 29-km long branch road to the village Beltir leaves the M52. Till Beltir a normal car can go, but we continued even further to the Taldura valley.


In the Taldura valley.

After some 20 more kilometers our driver said, that it's not possible to continue further.
So we get off and unloaded our backpacks. The altitude here was already about 2150m.

Here you can see, how the GAZ-66 leaves us:

We started our hiking trip at 14:10.

This "bridge" over the Mohroojuk river (a side-river of the Taldura) was the first excitment ;-)

In the Taldura valley

Bridge over the Taldura river

Settlement of the local farmers, living here all-year round.

Most of us weren't used to walk with heavy luggage, so our walking speed wasn't so high.
At 19:00 we found a suitable place for tents next to the river to stay overnight.

Campsite no. 2

Day walking distance: ~ 7 km
Altitude difference: 2150m -> 2300m

Thursday, 31st july 2008

Temperature in the morning was below zero, there was some ice on the water of a small stream..

We continued following the Taldura river upstream

At the place where the climbing up to the Leningradskij-pass starts, we built up our tents at lunchtime.

Campsite no. 3.

In the afternoon some of us continued further without backpacks to get more closer to the Taldura-glacier and the mountains.

View up to the gorge, through which we would have to go the next day.

Mountain IIktu (right, 3936m)

(Photo: Matthias Bauer)

Back at the campsite.


Day walking distance:
Campsite 2 (2300m) - campsite 3 (2330m): ~4,5 km
afternoon excursion:
campsite 3 - unnamed place (~2400m) - campsite 3: ~6,5 km