Hiking Guide to the Shumak Trail, Siberia, Russia.
I recently realized that there is very little information in English about trekking in the spectacular area that I live in (Baikal region of Russia) apart from the Great Baikal Trail, so I decided to put together a hiking guide to the Shumak Trail using some photos I took this past summer.
Shumak is the “sacred” valley of 100 springs, located in Buryatia (trailhead is about a 4 and a half hour drive from Irkutsk). There are literally over 100 springs that meet in this location. Most are meant for consumption, some are meant for your eyes, ears, nose or feet, and some you can bathe in. Each spring has a little sign with its ‘healing property’.
Legend has it that Genghis Khan used to bring his army here to heal his warriors’ wounds. People still come to Shumak for healing purposes, but the only way to get there is by helicopter or a 50 km trek through a 2,800 meter pass. We did this trek 5 times this past summer with Syberia Top.
The season for this trail is only July and August. In June, the pass is still covered in snow (waste deep in some places), you might not be able to see the trail on the pass, you have to climb over loose rocks and boulders, walk through high rivers, and there may be avalanche danger. In September, you have higher chances of running into a snowstorm, and again, you may lose sight of the trail and can end up lost in Siberia.
In general, I would not recommend for people to do this trail on their own, but if you wish to do so, please do this in July or August and be prepared. Siberia is no joke! You can hire me as a personal guide or join one of our group hikes next year. See our English Facebook page or Instagram.
I recommend downloading an app such as mapsme, so that you can see the trail and your location while being offline.
Alright, so to get to the trail you have to get to poselok Nilovka, Tunkinskiy rayon, Republic of Buryatia, Russia 51.694445, 101.674198
There is a minibus that goes from Irkutsk to Nilovka.
While in Nilovka, you can check out this Buddhist Temple:
From there you need to get to this spot:
8.3 km down “unnamed roads” to “Nachalo Puti” (which means “starting point”) :).
There, you can find a fence, a couple of houses (one with a cafe in the summertime), and a gazebo-type thing.
There might also be a a “zilla” truck that you can pay a lot of money to in order to drive you another 8km down a crazy dirt road.
So start here:
It’s the only dirt road in “Nachalo Puti.”
You will walk down this road for a while, passing one cobble-stoned shallow river in the first 500 meters (it may be dried up or knee deep, depending on how lucky you are ;)). (And there may be more small rivers if that one is knee deep).
Follow the road. After 8 km or so, you will come to the end of the “zilla road” and you will see this:
There is a small trail directly across the road from those signs, which leads to a river. About a 3 minute walk to fresh drinking water.
*The water is spectacular and all over the Shumak Trail, so there is no need to carry a lot of water or a filter.
From there, go straight on-
Follow the trail through the forest. This is the mark you want to look for:
Markers are few and far between, that’s why I recommend getting an app that shows the trail and your location.
After about 6-7 km, the view will open up on your right and you will see this:
(probably without that woman:)).
We usually walk another km or so and camp in the forest by this blue tarp:
*There is a river about a 4 minute walk down a steep hill to the right of that tarp if you are the little person in that photo.
Watch out for cows in this area! They will eat anything, including your campfire!!!! :D
After this, you will walk up some small hills and the views will open up a bit more. There will be plenty more rivers and streams ahead for drinking water.
You will see these waterfalls on your right:
And probably some more cows :)
In less than a km, you will come to this waterfall (photo was taken in June):
Then you will follow along the trail, keeping the river to your right for a few more kilometers before you will have to cross it.
And here’s where you would like to have a guide… If the river is low, you can follow the trail and hop across some rocks, if it’s high, you will need to walk upstream and find a shallower area, then revert back (or climb a grassy hill) to find the trail again.
You want to cross the river when this mountain is directly to your left (at the safest spot).
This is what the river looked like in June:
After crossing the river you want to walk up a small hill with the mountain that I mentioned before directly behind you. In about 400 meters, you will come to this lovely spot:
We usually camp here on our second night. It gets quite cold in this spot, hails quite often, and there is no firewood. So be prepared with warm clothes and a gas burner.
It snowed in this spot in JULY!
And don’t think that it will get any warmer for another 30 km or so :)
Yes, I made that snowman in July :D
From there you will have to cross this river-
We usually hop over some stones, onto that island and then over some more stones. But there have been times where we’ve had to go upstream for another 200meters or so before crossing.
After crossing the river, it can get confusing as the trail and markers are hard to spot, but the most important thing is to keep this mountain directly behind you.
You want to go this way-
You can go around the first hill to either the left or right (we usually go right), after climbing the hill and walking straight for another 2-300 meters, you will see this:
Climb the hill between those two waterfalls and follow the trail.
Keep left here.
In other words, don’t stray off climbing the hill, from here on it’s mostly uphill.
The trail will rear to the left and you will climb a steep hill.
From the top of that hill the view looks like this-
Keep on going straight with that mountain at your back. In another 3-400 meters you will be able to spot the pass and a clear trail which goes up alongside a stream.
In June, this part of the trail looked like this:
In the beginning of July, it looked like this:
At the top of the pass you can see Lake Nogon-Nur (if you’re lucky) :)
From the flags and pile of garbage (offerings for gods) at the top of the pass, there are two ways to get down. The easiest is to take the “horse trail” (I wouldn’t recommend going the other way down, it’s very steep and there are loose rocks). To find the horse trail, climb up the hill (to your left, looking at the lake), and look for this:
From here, the trail is pretty clear and easy to see all the way down the pass and past the lake (for another 10-15km). Unless it’s snowing of course… :) Or if there’s still snow on the ground… Then there’s not much I can help you with in this blog. Just head for that lake and don’t fall off any cliffs, because there are a lot of those. Watch out for falling rocks and avalanches too.
The trail will take you down the pass, over a river, past the lake, down a hill, over another river, up another hill, down another hill, until you have to cross the river “Levyy Shumak” (Left Shumak). The river will be on your right. This can be a cobble-stone hop, or a dangerous crossing, depending on how lucky you are ;)
After you’ve crossed Levyy Shumak, look for the trail again, it goes up a small steep hill. Follow the trail for another 45 minutes or so and you will reach this waterfall:
Walk for another 5 minutes and you will find a bunch of comfortable camping spots. We always stop here for the 3rd night:
After this, there will be another 5-6 hours of walking through little winding, bushy, super-mud trails. The worse part of the trek. There are lots of small paths that separate and weave back together, going alongside or on the bank of the river. So long as you keep the river to your left, you shouldn’t get lost.
Eventually, you will reach Shumak! But it will be across the biggest river you will have to cross in the entire trek :D
You will know you’re there because you’ll be able to see a fence, some wooden houses, and wooden sculptures on the other side of the river.
Mapsme tells you to cross Levyy Shumak before you reach the intersection with Pravyy Shumak, but out of the 10 times I’ve crossed this river, I’ve only been able to do that twice. The water level is usually way too high to cross there. So you want to keep on going straight, cross over stones onto an island, then follow the path and look for a rope. Not sure how much trust you want to put into this old rope (better bring your own, and a harness). People die every year crossing this river, keep that in mind. If the water level seems too high, just wait it out, eventually it will come back down again.
Alright! Once you’ve crossed that river you’re there! There are 2-3 temporary bridges which connect the “Russian side” and the “Buryat side” of Shumak. Buryat is the local ethnicity in this region. (Don’t worry, those are just nicknames; Russians are allowed on the Buryat side and Buryats are allowed on the Russian side :)). The bridges may be lifted during heavy flooding.
The main lines of springs, healthy mud, mineral water bath, shop, and helipad are on the Buryat side; the radon bath, Buddhist temple (Datsan na Shumake on the map) and more springs are on the Russian side. Both sides have cabins that you can stay in for free (don’t expect luxurious Swiss cabins :)). First come, first serve.
Helicopter rides back to Irkutsk are available once a week or so. Bring your passport and 15,000 rubles just in case you need to get a lift back to civilization.
The small shop in Shumak is open for 2 hours each day in July and August. It sells expensive food (like rice and chocolate bars) and some crappy goods. You can charge your phone/camera/radio/w/e there for 100 rubles if they’re open. There’s also a satellite phone and a shower that you can use if you pay a lot of money :)
And, of course, there are hundreds of springs to drink from! All different flavors and temperatures. Don’t forget to bring a cup! Springs, baths and mud are free!
In short, Shumak can be a 50km walk in the park, a horror story, or the biggest adventure of your lifetime… All depends on your experience as a hiker, your equipment and, of course, the weather. Like I said, it can snow any month of the year, including July and August. The rivers can flood and the bridges can get swept away.
The benefits of going with us (apart from meeting all the pretty girls that you’ve probably noticed in the pictures :)) are:
1. We know the trail very well
2. We have all the necessary equipment
3. We cook pancakes :D
The best time for Shumak is August because there are mushrooms and many berries- blueberries, raspberries, blackcurrant, redcurrant, honeysuckle berries and more!
While in Shumak, we will also take you on mini-hikes, without your big backpack. Some of these hikes include:
Peak Trekh Kapitanov (3 Captains Peak)
This trail is easy to find and hard to get lost on. Make a left after crossing the bridge in Shumak going from the Buryat side to the Russian side. Follow the trail past the massive cross. Cross your first river then look for a blue marker on your right. Make that right and follow that trail all the way to the top of the mountain. Watch out for loose falling rocks when you get to the steep bit. Once you reach the top of the mountain, make a left and look for a trail that goes along a ridge. You can climb along this ridge for another 200-300 meters before you reach a dead end. Enjoy the views and be careful on those cliffs!
You can find this trail on mapsme:
Pretty easy trail. About 20km there and back. Make a right at Perevalnaya River (before crossing it) and follow the trail and markers. You will pass a waterfall far on your right “vodopad na pritoke Perevalnoy” and you will have to climb over some boulders. In August, there were loads of delicious blackcurrent berries alongside the boulders. There’s a nice camping spot about a km from the lakes.
This is a super easy and quick hike from Shumak. 30 minute walk up a small hill. If you walk across the bridges from the Buryat to the Russian side, make a right and walk down the trail until you reach a river. Cross that river and make a left straight after the crossing. Follow the trail up and you will see these waterfalls. Loads of blueberries here in August!
Zolotoy (Golden) Lake + waterfall:
This one’s a little tricky. Finding the trail can be confusing, but basically you start off on the Buryat side, go up the hill behind the mudbath area to where there are a few cabins. Go straight, but a bit to the right until you reach a stream. There is a fat, carved log that you need to walk over to cross the stream. After you’ve crossed the stream, follow the trail past a couple more cabins. Then look for a marker (the 3 blue lines). There are lots of small paths you can take up the hill, most of them weave around and then join up again. Once you’ve climbed the steep bit of the hill, you should reach some boulders from where you can see a nice view of the mountains. Then you will get to a small waterfall and the Zolotoy River. If you don’t find that river and you’re no longer going uphill, you should probably turn around. Once you reach the river, the views open up and the trail becomes much clearer. You will have to cross this river a couple of times. I wouldn’t recommend doing this hike without a GPS or guide.
This is meant to be a “sacred” place that houses two female spirits. These spirits are said to help women get pregnant. I try to stay away from this place :P
If you want babies, you are meant to bring these spirits two offerings and the offerings are supposed to be exactly the same, so that one spirit doesn’t get jealous of the other :D. Some people bring candy and food in wrappers… the candy is then taken by squirrels while the garbage is left behind. Other people leave plastic dolls and toys. Not quite sure what a spirit would do with a plastic toy..?
Anyway, maybe one day we’ll clean up this pile of garbage :D
It’s super easy to get to the pillars. Make a left after crossing the bridge going from the Buryat side to the Russian side. Follow the trail past the massive cross. Keep on going alongside the river for about 7km and voilà! You’ll run into the pile of garbage :D. The pillars are across the river. I don’t see how you can get lost on this trail so long as you keep the river to your left and you don’t climb up any mountains.
Alright! I walked about 1000km and sorted through about 15,000 photos in the past two months to make this post, so I hope you enjoy it! :D
Big thanks to Artem, Katya and Dima for bringing me onto your team and showing me all these amazing places. You guys are just awesome!
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