25th – 26th April 2016
The train between Irkutsk was a reasonably short and uneventful one. This was my first time on a journey that felt like a much more local route and you can tell the difference. I felt a little intimidated alone in a cabin with three butch Russian men. I tried to chat a little with the one guy who was willing but the other two seemed to roll ‘bloody tourist’ eyes at my every movement. I’m certain I was being too sensitive so I channelled my inner Baikal fisherwoman, grabbed my book and let myself get sucked into the world of Thomas Harris instead.
I chose a stop at Krasnoyarsk for the main purpose of visiting Stolby National Park. I was a little strapped for time so I got in touch with Antoliy at Sib Tour Guide for some help. He went above and beyond to ensure that I could see the best bits in the time that I had. He picked me up from the train station with a huge smile and a big welcome, much needed after my journey. He gave me 20 minutes to check into my hostel and drop off my things before we set off to pick the other two hikers coming with us. We were doing the half day hike to Takmak Rock which, from the other side of the river, looked pretty high up! He drove us across the bridge and gave us a quick history of the local area, we parked up at the bottom of the hill and Antoliy explained our itinerary.
The hike wasn’t a leisurely stroll but it wasn’t a trek up Everest either. Exercising in the cold fresh air has been doing absolute wonders for my Hong Kong filled lungs and I was excited to get my legs moving and my heart racing once more. There are some truly stunning viewpoints at Stolby National Park and we were only seeing the edge of it. Tourists are allowed in the main zone and can apply for permits for the ‘buffer zone’ at certain times of year. You can’t currently gain them, however, as the first ‘wakers’ have been spotted. Not something from The Walking Dead but in fact the brown bears waking from hibernation.
Antoliy stopped a few times along the way to show us some of the tricks of the trade of the park. He showed us how to use local fire ants as a natural protection against tics, ie. they stink and whipped out his knife to show us where worms and beetles have been bringing down birch in the woods since the 90s.
When we reached the rock we needed to take a good long pause to catch our breath and take in the view. I haven’t seen anything quite like it since Yosemite and I love the feeling of being in awe of the natural landscape. It makes you realise how tiny you are as a human! From here we trekked up one of the out of season ski slopes (some snow – yay!) and jumped on the chair lift back down to the bottom.
I had a little time the next day to do some exploring of Krasnoyarsk itself. It’s a busy city, the biggest I’ve seen so far but again there are a lot of churches and monuments to see. I spent the bulk of the day walking the long way round the centre and down to the river to enjoy the view. I loved just walking along the riverside (note: it never freezes, even in the minus 20s) and doing some serious people watching. I think, if I had planned better ahead, I would have organised another half-day tour or hike for the morning to maximise my time there. Stolby definitely would have been a better use of my morning than the town centre!
Knowing that the next leg of my train journey was going to be another long one, I wanted to make sure everything was charged up, Game of Thrones was buffered and snacks were plentiful before I left that evening.