Monday, May 21, 2007

Waterfall Hike (May 15, 2007)

On this trip to the Lazovsky District Diana and Sergei introduced me to a friend of theirs, Oleg Nikolaevich Voronoi, and he immediately invited me on a hike the next day to some nearby well-known waterfalls, which also are protected as a nature monument, “Elamovsky Spring.” (Elamovsky is the name of the river you follow to the falls. From the “spring” in the name I conclude the river must have its source underground.) It was super nice of Oleg to extend the invitation. Hikes always make my day, and this was a good one.

The falls have a number of names, as far as I understand, so I’ll just choose one I like – Benevskiye waterfalls.

I went on the hike together with Oleg, his wife Galina Nikolaevna, her father Nikolai Alekseevich, and Elena Viktorovna, a teacher and employee of the Institute for Teacher Qualifications in Vladivostok, who was visiting Lazo to give a seminar for teachers there.

The whole waterfall and hike concept really reminded me of Oregon! Of course, after getting to see the waterfalls of the Columbia River Gorge it’s now hard to find landscapes that will impress me, which Oleg surely didn’t know, but these waterfalls were very nice, high and fairly impressive. Water is an amazing force in any case. Here there was actually an organized trail and everything. Today we were the only people on it, although it was beautiful weather and a great day for a hike. It is 12 km round-trip, and we started only at 4 pm, but this is okay, because it stays light out until 9:30.

Oleg is the Lazovsky District representative for the political party “United Russia,” which is by far the most dominant party in Russia. (They pretty much have no competition.) I had never met a Russian party representative before, so had no idea what to expect. However, Oleg is pretty cool, and I liked him. He has lived in the town of Lazo (pop. 3000-4000) his whole life, and his grandfather was the very first Russian resettled to Lazo in the early 1900s. Oleg used to be a school teacher and in the early 1990s founded an environmental organization dedicated to environmental education. He also has written some books and poetry for kids; he gave me one book as a present.

There is often a problem in Russia with visitors leaving trash on trails, in the forest, on beaches, etc. In short, there is not much of a “leave no trace” culture here. On this trail there were set areas to leave your trash, so there was less trash than usual on the trail itself, but still enough. Oleg picked up every piece of garbage he saw along the trail the whole way to the falls and back. This was pretty touching, actually. By the middle of the hike he had me picking up candy wrappers and bottles, too.

When the hike started it was plenty warm, and since spring was just beginning here, there was plenty of new green and flowers all around. This hike involved crossing a small yet rapidly-flowing mountain river (the Elamovsky) a number of times, and although the water was never too deep, there were plenty of rocks to complicate things. We were lucky that someone before us had made a lot of “bridges” across the river out of fallen trees. Although, I would still not call these crossings safe! Good balance definitely required.

Where we hiked is an area where tigers, sable and goral (an animal like a large black mountain goat) can certainly visit, which we could tell by the surrounding landscape (cliffs for the goral, for example; we also found sable scat) – but we did not see any wild animals (besides ticks, of course). We did get to see some really cool plants, particularly ferns and very pretty wild rhododendrons with lavender flowers. We also passed a handful of 500-700-year-old yew trees, a very unique tree here, which Russians also call “red tree” due to its red bark. (Despite their old age they were not too tall or enormously wide – yew trees aren’t.)

You gradually go uphill on this hike, and at the waterfalls itself – and particularly at the top of the falls – the end of our trip – there was actually still plenty of snow. Apparently in the winter the outside edges of the falls freeze over, but the water still runs through the center, and it sounds like music. Above these falls the river keeps going, and Oleg says there are another 25 waterfalls ahead, but of course, we didn’t have time to check out any more on this day.

Pictures: 1. Venevskiye Falls, 2. Spring is here! It was very green at the start of the trail. 3. A scenic view of the Elamovsky River (Spring), 4. A cool fern. We saw a lot of these on the hike, although I haven’t figured out what they’re called yet, 5. Oleg helped everyone out on river crossings (here with Nikolai Alekseevich), 6. view looking down at the river from the top of the falls, 7. there was plenty of snow above the falls, 8. some amateur photography going on – me at the top of the falls

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