For two Sundays straight – the first and second ones of this month – I exited the city and went on hikes to the Lena River.
On the first of these hikes, we went to Kangalasskiy Mis, which is a cape overlooking one section of the river. We went with a tour company that arranges hikes and excursions into the wilderness. Only three of us from school went but our group included fourteen people plus our guide, Olga, who was a small, energetic bundle of capability. Oh, and by the way, fourteen of the fifteen of us in the group were women. I’ve noticed that when it comes to excursions of this nature – at least, the ones that I’ve been on – the men are noticeably missing. But that’s a discussion for another time.
We met at 8:45 am and left the city fifteen minutes later on a hired bus for an hour-long ride to the town of Kangalassy. Just after 10 o’ clock, we got off the bus and set off on our trek to see the melting river. Let me just tell you guys up front that it was on this hike that I fell in love with my hiking boots. The Yakutian forest caused to happen what Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Rinjani and a slushy Yakutsk spring could not. I was totally neutral about these boots up until the minute I stepped almost ankle deep into a what I thought was a shallow puddle. My right boot came out of that encounter covered in mud and soaking wet, while my foot stayed warm and dry. It didn’t get even a little bit damp. I fell even more in love a little while later when we had to wade through a large snowdrift into a boggy field then back through the snowdrift and out again.
For the first part of our hike, we walked mostly along clear trails, but the melting snow had created many large puddles in various places that frequently made the trail impassable. At those points, Olga would fearlessly plunge into the woods while we obediently followed her. Well, most of us followed her. There was one grandma in our group that was more of an independent thinker than the rest of us and would more often than not walk along a barely visible strip of ground on the edge of the path to get to the other side. For my part, I enjoyed plunging into the dense woods. The only downside was that I had worn my light down jacket, which I feared would get snagged and torn by the many branches that slapped our torsos. Thankfully, after a couple hours of walking I grew hot and discarded my jacket for the rest of the day until we returned to the city, so it remains rip-free.
About two hours into our walk, we encountered a herd of wild horses on the edge of a field. Some stood in the woods and kept a sharp eye on us, as they allowed us to skirt by pretty closely. Soon after that, we stopped in another field for about an hour, where we had lunch. As is typical on these types of outings, everyone brought something to eat that they were ready to share with everyone else.
While we ate, the one man in our group regaled us with stories of other hikes he had been on; one of the teachers from school translated for me so I understood some of his stories. I must say, he was quite the gentleman, staying at the back of the group for the entire hike to ensure that all of us women were alright. At first I thought he was Olga’s assistant since he would often help her to scope out alternative paths when we came to impassable points. However, I was soon made to understand that he was a paying customer like the rest of us. This made me even more impressed with his behaviour. A few times I found myself falling into line at the back of the group and every time I stopped to snap pictures or record videos, he ensured that I stayed ahead of him and didn’t get left behind. He did the same for any other woman who found herself at the back.
Another couple of hours of hiking after lunch took us to the shore of the still iced-over but melting river. We had a quick bathroom break (which is to say, those of us who had to go each found a convenient tree or stump in the woods and did our business behind it) before we ventured down to the shore. It was amazing to me that I was standing with one foot on the ice and one foot on the sand of a beach that will be fully flooded in just a couple of weeks with the arrival of the ice break. I took a couple of stones from the beach to commemorate my visit.
After we left the river, we continued on our way through the woods until we had to cross a rushing stream by walking over a log. After that, we went straight uphill for a good fifteen minutes or so. I was huffing and puffing all the way but it was worth the effort because at the top we found ourselves suddenly at the cape overlooking the frozen but melting river. It was salt-white as far as my eyes could see to the left and the right. The shore across the river looked like a desert, and beyond that the forest stretched to the horizon.
We spent about thirty minutes at the cape taking photos and eating our second communal lunch. Then we continued on to another part of the cape which had a few brand new snowdrops (the flowers, not actual drops of snow) just blooming. After that, we started off on the last leg of our journey, to the point where we would meet our bus. This was a totally different point from where we had been dropped off. We came upon it quite suddenly, actually. One minute we were hiking in the woods and the next minute we were in a clearing with people barbecuing shashlik and sitting on folding chairs. Soon enough, our bus arrived and we returned to our meeting point in the city. In all, we covered twenty kilometres in the seven and a half hours our hike lasted.
I’ll tell you about the second hike next time. Meanwhile, I learned something on that first hike that I never knew before. I now know what spring smells like. This is my first time living in spring and I don’t recall ever before smelling air so crisp and fresh and full of new life. Tramping through the forest behind Olga, I was immersed in an experience that satisfied my senses: I smelled new growth and melting snow; I heard (but didn’t see) a woodpecker at work; I watched wild horses grazing and the bright sunshine lightening the world around me; and I felt the cold air cooling my warm skin.
As soon as I arrived home from that hike, I stripped out of my dirty clothes, threw them into the washer and jumped into a hot shower, as advised by our token man from the hike, to avoid sore muscles the next day (it worked, by the way). Then I fell into bed and was soon out like a light. I slept heavy and deep that night, as I do when I spend time in nature, because I was at peace, at ease, and content.
Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it. Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy. Psalm 96:11-12 (NIV)