Active Adventures: 6 Hikes We Recommend in Siberia, Ukraine, Romania and along the Silk Road
“There’s always a great hike in or near any of MIR’s destinations,” says tour manager extraordinaire Martin Klimenta, who has been leading tours for MIR since the 1990s. An active guy who loves to hike, bike and climb, Martin often explores on foot after his MIR travelers have retired to their hotel rooms for the night.
“Sometimes on a tour there will be a client who loves to walk, too, and after dark we’ll head out together, just walking around a city for hours until we get hopelessly lost. Then we’ll call a taxi to take us back to the hotel.”
Here are a few more formalized hikes recommended by some of MIR’s adventurous destination experts:
- Stepping out on Siberia’s Great Baikal Trail
- Roaming Romania
- Walking in Western Ukraine
- Hiking the High Pamirs
- Backpacking North of Baikal
- Afoot in Almaty, Kazkhstan
1. Stepping out on Siberia’s Great Baikal Trail
One of our favorite destinations, Siberia’s UNESCO-listed Lake Baikal, is a great place for a hike. Since 2003, volunteers have been working together to encircle the lake with the Great Baikal Trail, an idea that has been dear to Russian environmentalists and outdoor enthusiasts for decades. Each year a few more miles are bushwacked and tamed by international teams who camp and work at the trailheads.
The longest completed section of the trail, and the easiest to get to, runs from Listvyanka to Bolshoye Goloustnoye, a small town about 34 miles north along the lake. This hike usually takes three days, and is characterized by swift transitions between steep coastal bluffs, sandy beach and deep forest.
Besides first-hand experience hiking the Great Baikal Trail, MIR’s travel experts have more than 30 years of arranging great custom private hiking trips as part of a visit to the shores of Lake Baikal; or you can add in time on the Great Baikal Trail to an Essential Siberia private independent trip.
If you’re looking for a winter adventure in Siberia, MIR’s small group tour, Siberian Winter Escapade features a variety of uncommon adventures on a frozen Lake Baikal, including rides by dog-sled, hovercraft, snowmobile and troika as well as ice-fishing and dinner in the home of an indigenous Buryat family on Olkhon.
2. Roaming Romania
From 2005 to 2008, MIR offered a small group tour called “Walking Romania’s Countryside,” featuring day hikes through Romania‘s southern Carpathian Mountains and dinner around a campfire with shepherds in their high pastures. Outside Magazine named it one of the best trips of the year in 2005.
Some of the hikes were in Piatra Craiului (Prince’s Stone) Park, centered around the 7343-foot limestone ridge of the Piatra Craiului massif, a massive blade of white limestone that appears to be snow-capped, even when it is not. In the park are dozens of hiking trails, some easy, some difficult, all of them with fantastic views from the higher elevations. Some of them lead through beech forests into small clearings where a hiker may come across a farmer piling hay onto a horse-drawn wagon, or a herd of sheep peacefully grazing. Limestone caves, waterfalls and deep gorges are features of the landscape, which was used as the location of the 2003 film, Cold Mountain, standing in for Civil War era North Carolina.
The Walking Romania’s Countryside is no longer offered as a small group tour, but MIR has more than two decades of expertise of planning custom, private trips that include hiking through Romania.
3. Walking in Western Ukraine
Luba Rudenko, MIR’s Ukraine Director, was born and raised in the Carpathian Mountain region of Western Ukraine. This area is home to the Hutsul people, high mountain pastoralists whose woodcarving, embroidery, weaving and leatherwork is highly prized.
She suggests a four-hour hike from Kolomiya – one of the oldest towns in the region, and a cultural center – to the Hutsul village of Sheshory. Sheshory is set in the green Carpathian foothills, with bubbling streams, apple orchards, tall stacks of hay in the small fields and old-fashioned mountain life continuing as it always has.
If you continue on uphill through groves of beech for about 40 minutes, you’ll come to a summer pasture (polonyna) above the village. Here, Hutsul shepherds live with their flocks all summer, milking the ewes and making the special fresh sheep cheese called brynza. You can visit with them in their log house and taste their hand-made cheese.
A visit and if you wish, a hike, through this picturesque area of Western Ukraine can be arranged as part of a custom, private itinerary, or can be added to our Essential Ukraine private independent tour.
4. Hiking the High Pamirs
“My favorite hike in Tajikistan is a morning walk above the tiny village of Langar at the far end of the Wakhan Corridor in the Pamir Mountains. The air is thin and only rarely are there clouds around. You can see across the Pamir River to Afghanistan. The snow-capped, razorblade peaks of the Karakorum Range in Pakistan loom in the not-so-far distance.
The gravel road leads up at a gentle slope for miles, slowly winding through switchback after switchback. You can walk for hours on end without seeing a motorized vehicle pass. What you will see are caravans of Kyrgyz nomads astride horses, leading Bactrian camels loaded with dairy products on their descent down to civilization from the jailoos of the Great Pamir in Afghanistan. You will also see shepherds driving herds of goats up the craggy hillsides to eke out a meal from what little vegetation there is.
You’ll see small Ismaili Shia shrines adorned with ibex and Marco Polo sheep skulls. If you pause you’ll hear nothing but the faint roar of the river below, and the thought will cross your mind that you will probably never be further from home.”
Tajikistan, both in the Pamirs and in the lowlands, offers countless opportunities for hiking, from hour-long jaunts to multi-day treks. These can be worked into a custom, private itinerary, or can be part of our Essential Tajikistan private independent tour. The hike described above can also be experienced on MIR’s small group tour, The Pamir Highway & Across Fabled Frontiers.
5. Backpacking North of Baikal
In 2008, one of our MIR colleagues hiked near Severobaikalsk on the northern tip of Siberia‘s Lake Baikal. Severobaikalsk began in 1974 as a base camp for construction of the BAM (Baikal-Amur) railroad line, which takes off from the regular Trans-Siberian Railway line and runs north on an alternate route through the taiga above Lake Baikal.
Cleared from the virgin taiga on the north shore of the lake, the town was little more than a collection of tents, cabins and railroad cars at first. By 1980 it was declared a city, and today more than 25,000 people live in this remote place, surrounded on three sides by mountains, and on the other by Lake Baikal.
He took the train from Irkutsk to Severobaikalsk and hiked in the vicinity, near Lake Slyudyansky. In Russian, slyuda means “mica.” Our friend explains:
“In 1932-37 there was a gulag here where they mined mica (they used to use it for windows). We hiked up to the peak of a hill overlooking Lake Slyudyansky, separated from Baikal by a narrow isthmus, with majestic alpine forests on the opposite shore.
The really impressive part was not simply the view, but the fact that the trail was pretty steep, and our guide told us that the gulag prisoners used to haul dozens of kilos of mica and equipment on their backs up and down the trail. Must have been awful work.”
Although trips on the BAM are not predictable enough to arrange, MIR has more than 30 years of arranging great custom private hiking trips near the shores of Lake Baikal; or you can add a hike to an Essential Siberia private independent trip.
6. Afoot in Almaty, Kazkhstan
While on a trip to Kazakhstan, a MIR colleague found herself on a spontaneous hike in the beautiful pine-covered hills of Medeo Gorge, in the mountains just south of Almaty, the country’s biggest city.
“A colleague of mine called her friend’s son (whom I had never met before) and he picked me up in his Mercedes SUV and proceeded to take me on a full day hike to a waterfall. I thought we were just going around the city, so I was in my business clothes (I had hiking shoes, thank goodness!).”
(click on photo to see larger version)
It turned out to be a great hike among the craggy peaks and alpine slopes bearing traces of an ancient glacier. The glacier-fed Small Almaty River becomes narrower and pours over several falls as a hiker ascends.
MIR has more than 30 years of travel experience in Kazakhstan and Central Asia. MIR can arrange a personalized custom private hiking trip through Medeo Gorge or you can opt to travel on a tour that includes Almaty:
Small Group Tours that include a trip to Medeo Gorge:
Add a private pre- or post tour to Medeo Gorge to any of these itineraries:
- Essential Kazakhstan– travel on your dates on a private independent trip
- Caspian Odyssey by Private Train – rail journey by private train
- Silk Road by Private Train – rail journey by private train
(Top photo: Taylor Broadfoot enjoying her spontaneous hike to a waterfall in Medeo Gorge, Kazakhstan. Photo credit: Taylor Broadfoot)
PUBLISHED: March 17, 2015