Friday, April 27, 2012

Return to Paragilmen

Mt. Paragilmen
I think we might be jumping right to summer here. Sure warmed up fast, but these beautiful sunny days are such a treat after our long drawn out cold winter. Last weekend I made it out hiking once again with my PCV pal Cheryl and our “protégé,” as Cheryl calls her, Lilya from the library. This time we went to Mt. Paragilmen down on the coast where I had gone with Safie and her classmates last fall. Then we never made it to the top of the mountain, as fog descended and obscured the plateau in a thick wall of grey, and our guide wisely (as it turns out because later we encountered a pair of hikers who had come down from the top and said it was snowing up there) chose to keep his charges on a path at the base of the mountain. So I resolved to go back when the weather was better and there was a chance of hiking to the top.
Here we are at the top!

Anton, one of our new hiking companions.
As usual, I only vaguely knew where we were going and the maps I had were of little use. But we got off at a trolleybus stop somewhat after our original destination along with a group of backpackers who also didn’t seem to know where they were going. But after rearranging gear from our long trolleybus ride, we all started trudging back up the highway to the turnoff that I remembered from my previous trip. We soon lost the backpackers as they appeared to be going somewhere other than Paragilmen, and Cheryl and Lilya and I started searching for a trail that I was sure must exist somewhere that would lead us to the top. On the map, Paragilmen is marked as a botanical reserve and I had read a brief description of it on the internet that talked about the rare plants found on the plateau.  So I assumed there would be many trails leading to the top, and we just had to find one. But apparently that isn’t the case, as we started off on several trails that looked promising but then just petered out in the forest. Eventually we just took to bush whacking our way up, something that Lilya wanted to do from the beginning but was held back by Cheryl and I’s cautiousness. Ah, the optimism of youth—“Get lost? What’s that? We can’t get lost…”

As it turned out, it wasn’t too hard going. I could tell from our map that the back side of the mountain gradually sloped upwards and the woods were not so leafed out that we couldn’t mostly continuously keep the peak in sight. Finally we arrived out on to the openness of the plateau and were greeted by magnificent views of the sea in front of us and Babugan plateau—the area of the highest peaks of Crimea—behind us.
There was only one other group of people up there—a woman and her two young sons—so it was not the popular hiking destination I thought it was, and thus the lack of trails. We asked the woman how they came up to the plateau, and she told us of a different approach which sounded a lot more promising, trail wise. We determined to try it on our way back. 

But first we took some time to roam the open plateau, amazing at the beauty of the surrounding area, taking many pictures, and eventually settling down to some lunch. This time Lilya did not bring a whole feast and just brought things to share, obviously with the idea of depending on food we would bring too. Maybe that first time with us she wasn’t sure us Americans would bring any food!

We searched some for the 1000-year-old yew tree that was supposed to be nestled in a crack in the rocks on top, and finally realized it was probably the sprawling tree in front of us. Most of it was clinging to the rocks over the vertical cliff face, so we really couldn’t see its thick and gnarly trunk without leaning over a very scary precipice. But it did remind me some of the very ancient trees you sometimes find in the high mountains of California. 
Dima with Lilya.
The weather started to turn windy and cold and it looked like rain might be rolling in with darkening clouds, so we decided to try and find the trail the woman told us about and make our way back down. They had long gone and we watched in what direction they left, but when we tried to head that way too, it seemed a mystery about where exactly this trail was that they were talking about. But while searching we came across a clearly well used trail that seemed to be going in the direction of the Babugan plateau behind Paralgimen, and we decided to take that, thinking it would eventually hook up with a trail that would take us down to the sea. As we went along, it continued to be a well used trail which was reassuring, but it continued to go in the direction of Babugan, which was not so reassuring. However, we didn’t want to turn back and end up bush whacking our way down, so on we went.

 And as fate would have it, we happened upon two young men—Anton and Dima—who were coming down from Babugan and knew the way out, and we ended up hiking with them the remainder of the afternoon. I mostly hiked with Anton who was eager to practice his English, and what a sweetheart he was. He grew up in Crimea and talked about his love for the land and how so many people did not understand that. When I told him how much I loved Crimea he seemed grateful that I recognized the beauty and specialness of this place. I didn’t get much of a sense of his companion, Dima, but Cheryl spent some time hiking with him and also said he was delightful. Much to everyone’s surprise, when I parted I asked Anton for his phone number with the possibility of arranging for all of us to go hiking again. He was excited about the idea—kind of an English language hiking club—so we made some tentative plans for a future hike. I’m not sure exactly how Lilya felt about them, but it turned out they all went to the same university and shared the profession of computer programmer, so had much in common. That and the fact they liked to hike! I’m thinking, “Here are some nice young men for Lilya to get to know (who doesn’t have a boyfriend).”  But they aren’t Crimean Tatar, and I know most Crimean Tatars (96% is the figure I remember reading somewhere) marry within their people. But hiking partners? Seems that could be anybody. Well, I am sure I will have some interesting stories to report from our future hikes.

Love to all from Crimea where it is finally spring and my circle of hiking companions is ever expanding.

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