The highest mountain of Altay
(mountain system, which is located partially on the territory of Russia (Altay Autonomy), and also on the territories of Kazakhstan, Mongolia and China) - Mount Belukha (4506 m) is also the highest mountain of all the Siberia and one of the most significant mountains of Russia. At the same time Mount Belukha is equally distant from three oceans - Pacific, Indian and Atlantic which give to this mountain the unique position right in the center of Eurasia continent.
It is a magic mountain, not resembling to any other. The snow-white pearl among the boundless sea of taiga, fairy Belukha is not just a mountain as an average object for climbing. This is beating, alive heart of Siberia, the source of the mystical power.
About mysticism of Belukha and its spiritual importance spoke and wrote much the Russian philosopher and artist Nikolay Rerikh. The followers of his doctrines until now actively visit Altai, organize pilgrimage to the foot of Belukha, which they worship.
It looks more or less like Shamanism, there are many crazy people at the foot of Belukha, who meditate on the mountain, communicate with local spirits and perceiving some kind of cosmic wisdom.
Belukha has two summits divided from each other with wide and flat Saddle. East Summit of Belukha is far more accessible and consequently climbed more often than the West one.
The most popular route to the top of Belukha is from Russia (East Belukha), it is comparably easy (PD+) and there are many people during the season who attempt it.
Altay is famous by the instability of its weather conditions and all climbing activities are highly dependant on the conditions of the weather and often even easy routes become unclimbable because of snow and high winds.
The history of climbing Belukha is tightly connected with exploring of Altay in XIX and early XX centuries. First attempts to climb the mountain were made by Russian scientist Vasiliy Sapozhnikov in 1897 (his team reached the Saddle from Kazakh side), then in 1899 and 1911. But the first attempt was the most successful.
In 1914, July 25, two brothers - glaciologists Michael and Boris Tronov climbed the East Belukha, and thus opened the era of mountaineering in Altay.
Originally the mountain was called Uch-Sumer which in the language of the local Altay people means "Three Mountains".
The present well -known name was given to Belukha by the first Russian settlers - Old Believers who run from the schism in Russian Church in the end of XVII century. From Russian it translates as "something wight". The word has visible soft and caressing coloration.
Getting to the base of Belukha is comparably difficult because of its remote location.
From Moscow domestic flight to Barnaul takes 5 hours.
From Barnaul, by minibus or taxi 800 km (400 km bad mud road) to the settlement Tungur, located on the bank of majestic Katun river.
From Tungur begins the horseback part of the route. Horses and horse drivers can be found in Tungur but sometimes the communication with them is hard even in Russian - there is no chance to find English speaking person among the locals.
From Tungur normally it is two days of horseback riding to Akkem lake - the point from where the trail to the base of Belukha begins - 1 day to the Tomsk bivouac at the foot of Belukha.
2011.. Now it is two years as one very special rule works in the area. As for going to Kazakhstan from Russia you don't need any special documents in the same time for coming to the Russian region bordering to Kazakhstan you need the border pass, which can be done only by personal apply in the main border office in Barnaul not later than 60 days prior your coming. That absolutely absurd restriction decreases number of visitors in 10 times in two years. The border pass is free, but to get it you have to send you application via fax to the border office (only in Russian), and after trace your papers moving between instance to prevent their loss which is highly probable. My personal opinion is that for non Russian speakers that is beyond any possibilities.
Just in case you found that info but can speak fluent Russian (which would be strange)
Here is the form of Border Pass application (in Russian) http://altai-guide.narod.ru/pogranzona/blanky_dlia_viezda_v_pogranzonu.rar
It is to be sent to the Fax # +7 388 46 23 555
Phone for references (in Russian only) +7 388 46 23 654 (115)
From the season 2010 new Russian border regulations made it really hard for foreigners to get to the region. The reason for that is difficult to explain as many things in Russian government. According to these regulations any non-russian person should apply for the border pass 60 days minimum before the trip. Without that pass it won't be possible to enter beyond the Ust-Koksa checkpoint. Applications should be made only in Russian via fax +7 388 462 3555. After sending the application and all the passport details (! All in Russian !) call to the same number to be sure they got it and if al is well you will be given the the number of your request.
By the situation on the summer 2009 there are no permits, no fees, no closures in Altay mountains. The area is open to general use.
Although Altay is quite popular in Russia for many types of outdoor activities, and especially the distant but highly visited Belukha region, the tourist infrastructure is really very poor. Especially careful you should be undertaking any climbing routes as there is very small chance to get rescue help in case if something happens.
When To Climb
The best time is July, August, September. As well Belukha is climbable in winter months, although this is significantly more difficult in all the aspects.
The camping is allowed anywhere. If you stay in huts (there are some) you pay for that, if outside - it's free
Information on the organized tours and climbs in Altay mountains you can find here
Fresh photos from the recent AlexClimb Altay expedition 2011