Munku-Sardyk is a remote peak straddling the border between Mongolia and Russia's Buryat Republic in the Eastern Sayan Range of East Siberia. Due to its dubious distinction as the highest mountain of the range, it is one of the most climbed in the area, both by serious climbers and by novices. The easiest route is a 1B according to the Russian or Soviet Classification System
and is climbed almost exclusively by Russians due to its remote location and complicated access regulations.
The mountain was first climbed by the Russian geographer G. Raddle in 1868. He was also the first person to conduct research on the three glaciers that cover the mountain's summit.
The name Munku-Sardyk comes from the language of the Buryat people of southern Siberia. "Munku" in Buryat means "eternal"; "sardyk" means "bald or bare": the Eternally Bald Peak. To learn more about the Buryat culture, go here
A note about all information on this page: Russia is a complex country in a contstant state of flux. All information was accurate as of July 2005, however, it is not at all uncommon for laws to change at a moment's whim. Thus, all information is only a guideline
to plan a trip: it is NOT a 100% definitive guide to the wilds of the untamed Russian motherland.
Nearly all visitors to Russia require an invitation and a visa. The most commonly used visa is a toursit visa valid for 30 days. For a tourist visa, the sponsoring tourist agency would provide the invitation. A note of caution that most agencies are based in Moscow and may not be able to provide appropriate registration in Irkutsk (which is required -- see Red Tape).
From Moscow, there are daily, direct, six-hour flights to Irkutsk on Aeroflot and Sibir Airlines. Other airlines (like Transaero) provide less regular access, or access with stopovers (Ekaterinburg Air). Another option is to take a three- to four-day train trip Moscow-Irkutsk on the Trans-Siberian Railroad. If you fly in from the East, there are bi- or tri-weekly flights from Vladivostok or Khabarovsk, as well as the Trans-Siberian. While in Irkutsk, there are plenty of hotels and hostel-like accommodations.
Once you've arrived in Irkutsk, don't forget to register your visa. You will then need to arrange transport for the 300-some km. trip to the bridge over the Irkut River where the Black and White Irkut Rivers converge. The mountain ascent begins here, about 50 kilometres beyond the border town of Mondy from the road that leads on towards Orlik.
From Irkutsk there are daily buses to Mondy -- a mostly Russian populated border town about 15 kilometres from Mongolia. There is one semi-hostel in Mondy that can be arranged through an operator-assisted phone call from within Russia, or you can knock on doors and ask if the locals will take you in. If your Russian is good, you can try to arrange transport to the Irkut River bridge for the last 50 kilometres along the dirt road towards Orlik from there. If you don't speak Russian, it's best to hire a vehicle in Irkutsk to take you all the way to the bridge. The trip Irkutsk-Mondy will take 6-10 hours depending on vehicle and road condition, and about another hour from there to the bridge. Don't forget to arrange for pick-up after your hike.
A note about gas/petrol in Mondy: there very often isn't any. Thus, rides can be very expensive. The gas available may be of poor octane quality (72). If you head out alone -- bring plenty.
As mentioned above, most visitors (save those from select post-Soviet states and a few other countries) will need a visa and an invitation. Please see the Please see the Russian Embassy's website
Many foreigners have faced serious fines and red tape becuase their Moscow-based tour agencies failed to arrange for the visa to be locally registered in Irkutsk. A registration stamp from Moscow is not sufficient. Registration can be provided by the tourist company (or sponsoring individual) if they are based in Irkutsk. Large and expensive hotels will also provide registration, but only while you are staying at their facility. Thus, while you're on the mountain enjoying the scenery, you are technically violating the terms of your visa. You may get away with it, or you may not. You also have the right to be registered by any OVIR agency, so long as your invitation lists Irkutsk as one of the cities to be visited. This is considerably easier said than done, however, so unless you're a veteran at OVIR registration, find another way.
To get to Mondy, you must pass through the Tunkin National Park. Munku-Sardyk, however, is not in the park. It is therefore theoretically possible to waive payment of the national park entrance fee as you are not technically visiting the national park, however, you would have to argue your way out of that. Otherwise, if there is someone manning the entrance station, your vehicle will likely be pulled over and charged an entrance fee. In summer 2005, this was 20 rubles (68 US cents) for Russians, and as much as the official can get from foreginers. (I've heard anywhere from 100 to 500 rubles.)
Mondy and the area beyond it, including the road to Orlik and Munku-Sardyk, is in the specially designated "border zone" as it is so close to Mongolia. (Note: Border crossings at Mondy are not allowed save for Russian and Mongolian nationals or those with approved diplomatic papers, though the border may be opened in 2007.) Due to the border zone designation, all
visitors are required to have a permit to access the area. An official permit can be acquired through the "zastava" or security detachment in Mondy if you have a sponsoring organization in Mondy. You can also try to get one from the headquarters of the Tunkin National Park if you arrange it at least 1 to 2 months in advance. Many people ignore this regulation, particularly those climbing during high season (see When to Climb). However, nearly all of those bypassing the regulation are Russian, and the authorities are more or less willing to ignore the rule. Beware that foreigners can be charged with espionage, violation of visa regulations, arrested and deported. All future rights to Russian visas can be suspended for ignoring the requirement.
When To Climb
The most popular time to climb is during the May Holidays (the weekend closest to May 1) and the holidays surrounding May 9, Russia's celebration of their victory in WWII. The exact days off change from year to year. If you climb this time of year and know some locals, you may be able to join with one of many clmbing groups or the folk music festival to share a ride from Irkutsk to the bridge over the Irkut River.
In early May, the Irkut and its tributary, the Muguvek, are still frozen, allowing easy access up the frozen waterfalls to the summit. The temperatures are wamer (highs -15- to 0 C, lows -30 to -15 C) and the Ministry of Emergency Situations sets up a rescue station on Lake Ekhoi below the peak in the case of unprepared climbers. In summer, the rivers thaw and one must negotiate trailless steep-sided canyons, mostly scrambling over boulders to access the summit.
All routes require usage of ice axe and crampons. Some people climb in helmets, and the technical routes require ice screws, carabiners, ropes, and belay systems.
Camping is allowed anywhere you can put up your tent. In most places, the canyon walls of the Muguvek and Irkut are too steep to allow safe camping, however, some people camp at the bridge just above where the so-called Black and White Irkut Rivers converge. Most people camp on the Muguvek River at the "strelka" or "arrow" just below treeline. A few camp at the frozen lake at 2613 meters. This is also where the Ministry of Emergency Situations makes it's camp.
Those who camp at lower elevations bring four-season tents and high-quality sleeping bags. Those who camp at the lake usually build a snow shelter or dig into the snow on the hillside to get out of the weather and off of the ice.
There are no huts.
A word of caution: Since most people on Munku-Sardyk are dedicated climbers or mountain hikers, theft is not as common as in other areas of Russia. However, be forewarned, that any campsite left without a constant guard (including gear left outside overnight or during a peak climb) is subject to pilfering.
There are no websites, phone numbers, or web-cams with mountain info.
http://www.weather.com provides information in English for Mondy, Russia.
The following websites provide APPROXIMATE weather information in Russian:
Books and Maps
I have found very few books in English that even mention
this region, much less provide a detailed overview. Those that I do know are Russian publications and therefore do not have ISBN numbers. Below are the best materials I have found that are available to the public. Both are in Russian and include sections on Munku-Sardyk and the surrounding area. Please adjust your browser settings so that the Cyrillic characters show properly. (I haven't learned how to program this into HTML yet.) If you cannot read Russian, I have both transliterated and translated the titles below Please bear in mind that the publications are not available in translation.
Àëüáîì òóðèñòè÷åñêèõ êàðò: «Òóíêèíñêàÿ äîëèíà» - èçäàíèå 1-å. 1998 ã. –60ñ.
Al'bum turisticheskikh kart. "Tunikinskaya dolina" -- izdanie 1-e. 1998 g. -60s.
Album of tourist maps. "Tunikin Valley" -- 1st edition. 1998. 60 p.
*The best map has a scale of 1:50,000 but it's all I've seen. Let me know if you have a better one.
Âîêðóã Áàéêàëà: Ìèíè-ýíöèêëîïåäèÿ: Ïóòåâîäèòåëü Èçä. 4-å, ïåðåðàá., äîï. Ñ.Í. Âîëêîâ. ÎÎÎ ÐÈÀ «ÐÈÊÎ», 2001.
Vokrug Baikala: Mini-entsiklopediya: Putevoditel' Izd. 4-e. pererab., dop.
S.N. Volkov. OOO RIA "RIKO", 2001.
Around Baikal: Mini-encyclopedia: Guidebook 4th edition, revised, supplemented. S.N. Volkov OOO-RIA "RIKO", 2001.
* This is a truly excellent guide to the area. Information gets old quickly, but the basic roads and villages are correct.
Miscellaneous Tourist Information
There are a very few companies in Eastern Siberia that organize tours for foreigners to popular natural areas. The few I have known change frequently and generally charge a great deal of money for services that actually cost considerably less. One might simply chalk this up to the price of hiring a tour guide in a remote area, and one would be correct in doing so.
The concern is that while sometimes the service is excellent, it is more often either lacking or downright unacceptable. I have known of whole groups rescued by helicopter because their tour-agency supplied guide had never actually done the route before and led them to an unknown or dangerous situation. (I myslef have been on hikes where the guide was finding the way for the first time.)
Thus, I do not provide links to tourist agencies. Even a tour agency I have trusted in the past may hire a guide of unknown abilities for a certain trip because their other guides are unavailable. The people I have generally trusted are my friends (who have no tourist license and therefore cannot sponsor a trip.)
The internet is probably your best resource for tourist agencies, just bear in mind that quality of service can vary significantly.
I hope this site has given you enough information to know what to be aware of when you plan your next trip to Siberia. However, if you find yourself confused about all the regulations, lacking in Russian language skills, or unable to find a tour agency, I can help plan a serious, high-quality mountaineering trip. Check out my profile for my e-mail.