Pik Lyubov', more commonly called Pik Lyubvi (trans: The Peak of Love), is one of the focal points of the Buryat tourist center, Arshan, located at the foot of the Tunkinskie Gol'tsi, a north-eastery offshoot of the Eastern Sayan mountains. Many visitors to Arshan climb the peak, some in sandals and without water, despite the 1242 metre elevation gain. It is a simple walk-up, without a trail save a climber's route in some places. It is rated a 1A according to the Russian or Soviet Classification System
The name comes from the legend that if two lovers climb the peak together, they will either break up shortly thereafter, or remain together forever. For those who find a simple peak climb to be a serious stretch of their endurance and capabilities, it may not be a bad litmus test. I make no claims as to the veracity of the legend. To learn more about local legends and the Buryat people, go here
Nearly all visitors to Russia require an invitation and a visa. The most commonly used visa is a toursit visa valid for 30 days. In the case of 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 six hour direct 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. Afterwards, you'll need to arrange transport to Arshan, about 220 kilometres from Irkutsk.
From Irkutsk there are daily buses to Arshan as well as route taxis or marshrutki
. The trip takes about 3 to 5 hours. Arshan is one of the former Soviet Union's great hot springs resorts, and has many bohemouth Soviet concret block "health spas" as well as an exploding number of small pensions. You can always try knocking on doors and staying with the locals. In the summer, buses can sell out several days in advance.
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 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 in Arshan 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.
Arshan is located inside the Tunkin National Park. If there is someone manning the entrance station when you arrive at the park, 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.)
When To Climb
Pik Lyubvi is accessible any time of year. Most climbs are done May through September as there is no snow and the temperatures are warm. Winter climbs require considerably more gear, including possibly ice axe and cramp-ons, and a tolerance for temperatures in excess of -30.
Technically, camping is not allowed in the Arshan village limits. There are those, however, who will put up tents outside the sight distance of town. However, this land belongs to a variety of agecies including health resorts (some of which still exist in name only), research facilities, and government land. There are plentiful accommodations in town. A warning that foreigners are subject to more severe penalties for breaking the law (or for any imagined offense that can be construed as against the law) than Russians.
Camping up the Kyngyrga River beyond the canyon is very common. While the canyon itself has only a few suitable campsites, once the canyon opens up into the "strelka" or river confluence, there are many established mini campgrounds, with picnic tables, shelters, and the occasional carved idol. Most sites are too close to the river to comply with good santitation standards.
A word of caution: Since Pik Lyubvi is located so close to the village of Arshan where there is a good deal of poverty, theft is not uncommon. Be aware that any campsite left without a constant guard (including gear left outside overnight or during a peak climb) is subject to pilfering. Since you don't have to camp-out to climb Peak Lyubvi, don't. Stay in a pension: it's safer and you won't have to wonder if your tent will still be there when you come back.
There are no websites, phone numbers, or web-cams with mountain info.
http://www.weather.com provides information in English for Arshan, 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 Pik Lyubvi 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.)
Àëáóì òóðèñòè÷åñêèõ êàðò: «Òóíêèíñêàÿ äîëèíà» - èçäàíèå 1-å. 1998 ã. –60ñ.
*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.
* 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 regularly organize tours for foreigners to 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 concerns 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 myself 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 to Eastern Siberia. Check out my profile for my e-mail.
Pik Lyubvi does not require a guide for someone experienced in climbing or mountaineering, so if you can get yourself to Irkutsk, get registered, and make it to Arshan, you've already done 90% of the work. Congratulations!!!