``Yergaki`` National Park.

A temple of nature, or an ancient city? We went on a hike to find out what secrets Yergaki National Park is keeping and why people who have visited here at least once, come back again and again.

In Russia, besides federal national parks, there are also regional national parks, and one of them is the “Yergaki” National Park situated in the South of the Krasnoyarsk region. One of the most remarkable features of this place is its compactness. You can look over the most interesting features within just several days. However, the question is: what makes people to return there again and again, from year to year? To get the answer to this question, we have taken a trip around Yergaki.

To get there from Moscow, there are several options. You can travel by plane or train from Moscow to Krasnoyarsk, or you can choose the direct route by train Moscow-Abakan. Abakan is the nearest big city to the park. Regular buses and mini-buses go from Abakan to the park side. You can also make use of private transport.

The main condition of being on the park’s territory is tourist registration and going through a briefing about rules of behavior in the national park.

There are some widespread entry points to the park where you can register before visiting:

  • The local ECM (Emergency Control Ministry) station, situated at 605 km of route M-54.
  • Near the National Park “Yergaki” Visitor Centre (614 km).
  • Near the temporary Visitor Centre, not far from tourist station “Tushkanchik” (622 km).

While registering, you need to answer just three questions:

1) Team leader;

2) Route;

3) Expected departure time from the park;

So, you’d better plan your route in advance.

The territory is divided into 4 zones:

  • Special protection zone (16% of the whole territory of the park).
  • Recreational tourist zone (50% of the whole park territory).
  • Zone for traditional nature use (two clustered plots) (32% of the whole territory of the park).
  • Economic zone (four clustered plots) (2% of the whole park territory).

More interesting for us is, first of all, the recreational tourist zone. It is 171 3002 hectares, equaling nearly half of the whole park territory. This zone is open for visits and organized tourism.

The First Encounter with the Park

We’ve decided to visit the park near the “Tushkanchik” tourist station. During the first 4 km our track passes through a thicket, sometimes near to the river Tushkanchik, sometimes moving slightly away from it, and at the same time always ascending. The name of the river clearly reflects its character: water always jumps from stone to stone, it is as quick and imperceptible as a little animal (“Tushkanchik” means jerboa in Russian). In the morning, the coniferous forest is just waking up and the first sunlight is breaking through crowns of trees, illuminates our track in spots. Light fog strengthens the fairytale landscape around us.

Charmed by such a picturesque track, we quickly arrived at the point “Restaurant”. Of course, there is no restaurant in its general meaning there. The only thing we saw there was a column with a signpost showing the nearest sights and a cozy place to rest. Most routes in the park have special markings and signposts on forks, so it is impossible to get lost there. We continued going up to our main camp near the Svetloe Lake.

Overcoming the ascent of 3 km, we arrived at the shore of the lake. The Svetloe Lake is a favorite for tourists. It is very large and clean. There is a wonderful view of the Yergaki Ridge (the Ptitza and Zvezdniy peaks) from here. It is very convenient to set up your main camp there and you can easily conquer peaks and examine the surrounding features. It is particularly relevant if your rucksack is packed full of not just simple things and provisions, but also full of photography equipment weighing nearly 30 kg. Carrying a package like this is not only slow (your speed is twice as slow), but especially dangerous in areas of mountain peaks, where ease of maneuver is the first thing demanded from a traveler.

Besides general camping for “wild” tourists, on the Svetloe’s lake shore it is possible to find seasonal campsites, working all through summer. The cost of these campsites is usually included in the price of a tour, including tents, food, all necessary tourist equipment and pedestrian excursions around local amenities. These campsites are mostly set up by Yergaki’s guards, professional climbing instructors, who in 1980 started to actively open up and adapt the park for organized tourism. Lots of foreign tourists and researchers stay in these camps. Travelers go there without being overloaded and it is very comfortable – you don’t have to bring tents, food or kitchen equipment.

As for us, making a camp and having a snack, we’ve decided to make a little trip to the neighboring Medvezhye Lake and the stream of the same name. 

Flora and Fauna

The vegetative world of the National park “Yergaki” is really unique. Regarding geological and climate features, here we can see neighboring taiga plants (cedars, firs, spruces), tundra plants (dwarf birches, mosses, lichens) and meadows (subalpine and alpine herbs and flowers). Most types of plants are featured in The Red Book. The southern slopes have more extravagant and varied flora than the Northern one. It is connected not only to warmth, but also with the amount of precipitation. The weather in Yergaki is very changeable. Just now the sun was shining, but after half an hour it’s possible to see snow with rain – and it happens in the middle of June. That’s because in the Sayan Mountains (included the Sayan, Aradan and Yergaki spins) there is a border between transferring air masses: Atlantic, Arctic and the Central Asian.

The animal world here is very interesting and varied too. Squirrels, chipmunks and taguans inhabit the park territory. Lagomorphs are found by the Altai and Northern Peaks, as well as white hares. Glutton and lynx are found more rarely, because they follow a reserved way of life. A family of skunks is represented by ermine, sable, weasel, American mink and otter. There are 163 types of birds in the local forests. The most amazing information which is stored in written sources, however, is about the snow leopard and the red wolf, which also inhabit the territory of the park “Yergaki”. None of our contemporaries have succeed in seeing them, and it’s no surprise, because snow leopard (irbis) have a most reserved way of life: it lives in the high mountains, goes hunting only at twilight, and the color of its fur blends into the background of grey snowy rocks. However meeting another famous predator, the bear, is very possible in Yergaki. Bear hunting is forbidden here, which is why its population is in a normal situation now.

We were walking a lot around Medvezhye (Bear) Lake, but haven’t seen any bears. However, walking a bit further by the track and along the stream, we’ve succeeded in finding a bear’s footprints. As twilight was coming, we decided not to test our luck, but to return to our camp near Svetloye Lake. To meet a bear in an open space at a distance of 100 meters is one thing, but a close encounter with bear in a dark forest at night is another matter.

In general, the number of accidents when bears have attacked people in this territory is extremely low. These cases are usually down to human error. Irresponsible tourists throw out food waste near tents and some carefully feed predators, leaving food for them on the paths. Bears, in turn, realize that it is possible to obtain food here without any effort and eat these leftovers and begin coming to campsites after dark.

Around 2009, there was one unpleasant incident in these parts: a drunk tourist was returning to his tent at twilight, finding a bear walking in search of leftovers not far away. Under the influence of alcohol, the man thought of nothing more interesting than to grab his sleeping-bag and try to attack the bear with his “threatening” weapon. Defending itself, the predator tore his thorax to pieces and ran away into the forest. The man turned out to be lucky – he survived, but the bear was shot soon after. As usual, nature suffers because of human stupidity. After this accident, the park administration was obligated to put guard-posts near the Svetloye Lake to protect bears from inappropriate tourists.

Not only Hikes

Getting to our camp and having dinner, we immediately went to sleep. The next day, we planned to conquer some passes and visit a legendary place – the Gornih Duhov Lake (Mountain Spirits Lake in Russian). It’s astonishing, but for full recreation in the mountains, 5-6 hours sleep is enough. Fresh air and the clearest water of the local lakes influence our organism in an extremely beneficial way. Many people come here just to relax from the vanity of city, to be alone with nature and do yoga or meditation. Being in Yergaki even once, travelers fall in love with these wonderful places forever. The mountain-guards claim that here people become kinder; they develop themselves and grow spiritually. And it’s impossible to deny this. This place really has a special energy, here people and nature became one, and all the values of the material world absolutely don’t matter.

If you’re very tired after a long trip, you should certainly take a long dip in one of the local lakes. Cold water will take all your tiredness away, cheer up your body and give you lots of strength!

Waking up at nearly 4am and packing light sacks, we immediately set out on our journey. Along the way to the lake Zolotarnoye, we met a group of climbers, and it turned out that part of their route matched ours, so, we decided to all go together. These guys told us that they come to Yergaki every year for training and have already conquered almost all of the local peaks, but they always find something new and unexplored. These mountains are unique because here there are routesas for beginners as well as for professional sportspeople. The quantity of sport festivals and international championships for rock-climbing increases every year here.

At the same time as we were overcoming the Pikantniy Pass, we found ourselves in the Valley of Zvetnoye Lake. There is a wonderful view of the Zub Drakona (Dragon’s Tooth Peak). Its typical feature is an almost vertical stone wall nearly 600 meters high with a protruding rock at the top.

In 2010 Krasnoyarsk’s daredevils from the team “Na grani” (“On the brink”) made their first jump from this rock on a rope (rope jumping). The guys were preparing for this jumping the whole year. They even had to order a helicopter because it was too hard to bring all the equipment with them: the ropes alone weighed nearly 500 kg. And they did all this only for 5 seconds of free flight.

As for us, we were lucky enough to see a parachute jump from that peak. The sportsman was in a special wingsuit and jumped from the rock: 6 seconds of free-fall before he opened the canopy of the parachute, then a successful landing with applause and enthusiastic screams from friends.

By the way, Yergaki offers many different kinds of sport besides camping trips on foot and climbing, horse tourism has being actively developed during recent years, but because of the landscape’s difficulties and the wealth of so-called “kurumniki” (blockages of large stones), far from all of the tracks have been adapted for horse trekking. In winter time there are some ski slopes with lifts in the park territory. However, the main thing for snowboarders and mountain-skiers is, of course, free riding. Smooth flowing slopes, studded with firs trees, cedars and spruces, look like they are specially created for sportspeople to lay their patterned footprints on the snow-white unbroken expanse.  

Cultural and Historical Value

The Sayan Mountain range (which includes the Yergaki Range), beside its natural magnificence is remarkable for its archeological monuments. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, The Great Siberian Path was functioning here most intensively. Trade and ambassadorial convoys from the Khakassia Principality and China came along this path to the Dnieper, Volhov and Volga rivers. There have been numerous findings of coins from Ancient China, the Black Sea coast and the Arabic East as evidence of this history. In the twentieth century, this way was replaced by the Trans-Siberian Railroad. Along the territory of modern park “Yergaki” passed three tracks, but only one of them functioned throughout the whole year: the worldly track Usinskaya (later, the Usinsky highway). Present-day travelers also have the possibility to touch this antiquity and follow this ancient track, but you should take into consideration that this highway is quite long (the track takes 3-4 days to pass).

Archeologists have started to show special interest in these places only since 1984. Since this period a multitude of burial mounds, considered to be from different time periods have been discovered. A unique discovery made in 1993-1995 was the burial place of ancient Tsars, considered to be the Saglinskaya culture (V-III centuries B.C.).

However, not only professional archeologists made discoveries in Yergaki. Local inhabitants found different bronze subjects not far from the route, which have been dated to the VII-V century B.C. Students of Krasnoyarsk University have found several bronze deer, dated to the same period.

According to preliminary scientific estimations, that’s only the beginning of more upcoming discoveries in this district. The difficult to traverse mountains and taiga areas of the Yergaki Park haven’t been researched by archeologists yet. 

And we, meanwhile, have come to the legendary lake Gornih Duhov (Mountain Spirits Lake). This is the most mountainous and the deepest lake of the ridge. The ridge’s highest point is located near this lake, the Zvezdniy Peak or, as our ancestors named it, the Paletz (the Finger). According to legend, it holds up the sky.      

Altogether, the number of local legends and myths simply delights our imagination. Even more amazing is the fact that scientists find mentions of these unusual rocks in different cultures: Mongolian, Iranian, Indian, Egyptian and Greek.

Near the Gornih Duhov Lake (Mountain Spirits Lake) there is another prominent feature – the Bratia Cliffs (Brothers), often called the Parabola, because the space between two rocks makes an almost ideal mathematic figure – a parabola. It is so unusual in shape that scientists can’t explain its origin even with the using typical tectonic processes up to this day. If we look deeper into the left rock tower, seems that it is constructed from giant monoliths and the granite of the right one, in contrast, is strongly polished. The height of this rock is similar to 200-storey skyscrapers.

During the camping trip we always had the feeling that the creations of nature around us are the creations of human hands or of the highest intellect. It is possible to encounter unusual smooth areas in the mountains, made from matching plates, fragments of megaliths, reminiscent of dolmens and also man-made stacked pyramids.  

Imagine our amazement when we realized, that the Gornih Duhov Lake has an artificial origin. A dam, forming a reservoir, is untypical for the rocks in this area. This is also shown by the soil layer and plants around the reservoir. The age of this dam is probably thousands of years old.

Beside the dam, footprints of long-gone canals and sinks were found in valleys. This suggests again, that the level of developed civilization which existed here several thousand years ago was very high.    

Moreover, researchers were able to determine that on equinoctial days (20th of March and 22th of September), the last ray sunlight passes through a gap on the Taygish Pass and glides right through the middle of the Parabola, falling on the top of the Zvezdny Peak (the Paletz/Finge Peak). On all sides, these valleys are surrounded by menhirs – huge megalithic slabs, vertically established on rocks. Without a doubt, this is the biggest ancient observatory, without analogues in the world.

No less interesting is information contained in ancient Tibetan manuscripts, which mentions a pilgrimage of high-ranking Lamas from Lhasa’s Potala to the district of the Yergaki mountain range. Their route was from Tibet’s capital to the cold country, situated in the North at 91-92 degrees eastern longitude. In their opinion, in these mountains there was a town guarded by no one which held mysterious knowledge. You can recognize this town by the rock, which resembles a huge reclining man. Tibetan Lamas came here to touch the greatest knowledge and achievements of highly developed civilizations, leaving this mysterious spiritual heritage for our Earth.

What kind of civilization did it use to be, and what knowledge did they leave? This question is left to future researchers.

Some more unforgettable days were spent in Yergaki. This park turned to be a real natural home for us. It was a bit sad for us to pack up our camping equipment and luggage. However, the main thing is that each of us found his or her answer to the question: why do people come here from year to year? So, we’ve decided to be back for sure, and more than once!

Text: Andrey Sugakov-Romanov.  Translation: Margarita Maslova.  Photo: Alex Nerozya.

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