Day 15: We were tempted to hike along the river Chulcha to the Achilman waterfall (4-5 km), but decided that the rain made it too dangerous. We would have needed a rope to complete the hike across the wet rocks and boulders.
The stone mushrooms on 08/09/04
Instead, we visited the stone “mushrooms” – Karasu, which took us about 3 hrs. Although we did not see any, we were told there was a chance to see the Altaian snowcock, the Siberian ibex, the brown bear, the musk deer and the pika. We kept our eyes peeled, but they stayed out of sight. By the time we got to the mushrooms, the rain had stopped. We couldn’t believe what we were looking at there. They were the craziest thing ever. Huge rocks, some of which must have weighed tonnes, were perched on top of columns of sand, gravel and mud. The action of rain and weather has eroded the moraine left by the glacier that carved out the river gorge. The boulders protect the moraine directly under them and so these amazing pillars are left.
On the way back we visited the aile that belonged to the man who had rowed us across the river. His wife offered us a traditional ‘tea’ (more of a soup really) made from barley and gave us a drink made from soured milk. It was a drink which visitors were always given on their first visit to an Altaian home. They also used it to make small cheeses that they hung from the ceiling. The cooking fire in the middle of the room sent most of it smoke through a small hole in the centre of the roof, the stray wisps flavoured the cheeses hanging on their strings like collections of conkers.
Our camp was on the opposite bank from the stone mushrooms and the aile. We crossed in the morning by going to a tall post stuck in the ground and shouting and whistling at the aile on the other bank. A man came out and waved at us, then came to the river and rowed across to pick us up in an aluminium ex-army boat.
After our visit to his aile on our way home, there was some ‘negotiation’ between Nikolai and his wife. The man came along to row us back across the river, his wife collected a couple of friends and joined us in the boat wearing a big smile and set off in the direction of the nearest town with shops as soon as we got to the other bank.
While everyone else had been up a mountain, Rebecca and Alison remained at the camp with Elena and Jenia. They played in the sand on the river bank. They spent a long time building a system of tunnels and corridors they decided was a house for a mouse, they finally stood back, hopeful that a mouse would take up residence in their ‘Mouse House’. The afternoon was a rest period and after lunch we lazed near the fire. Suddenly a herd of goats that had been wandering towards us started rummaging through the nearby bushes where our ‘kitchen’ had been set up. Nickolai and Elana jumped up and ran to chase them away from our supplies. Some fair amount of shooing later, Nickolai returned and declared that “We have defended kitchen from impudent goats”.
Jenia, a bit of a pyromaniac, amused himself all day by combing the river bank looking for firewood. Where you or I would have been happy with some branches, small limbs and jetsam from the river, Jenia spent his time looking for whole trees and limbs as big as himself. He tied a rope around them, hitched it to the back of the van and dragged them back to camp. We were pleased for him that he was satisfying his need to burn something big, he had burnt the log we had been sitting on around the fire the night before. He had lumbago, which caused him to sit at an angle and look sideways along the road when he drove.