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Peak Chekhov, 1040 m, Yuzhno, Sakhalin Island, 14 November 2009.

Concrete cube on top of Peak Chekhov, 1040 m. Temperature -6 Celsius. Light wind (Click on pictures for high resolution, large pictures).

Yuzhno, Sakhalin Island.

Yuzhno is on the South side of Sakhalin Island, North of Japan. The area is mountainous, an extension of Hokkaido Island, Japan. There are several over 1000 m high mountains. Peak Chekhov is just a few km up a dirt road from the two most comfortable hotels of Yuzhno, the four star Mega Palace and Santa. Here there is also an advanced about one km long cross-country trail winding through the forest. On Sundays, Russian families pushing a stroller use it as a walking trail which seems strange but it is one of the few walking trails through the forest without mud.

Snow is late this year and there is nothing on the ground. In the far distance the mountains have snow above 800 m. I am too early for cross-country and down-hill skiing.

Peak Chekhov

We walked from the parking lot at the Santa Hotel to the access trail, mostly along a straight, muddy dirt road. You reach the start of the trail after 45 minutes, just before the road makes a wide turn to the right.

The weather was sunny, around 5 Celsius.

Start of the trail to Peak Chekhov at the dirt road.

From the start of the trail at around 180 m altitude, it is about one hour until the 673 m point, walking through a pine forest. The last 200 m up are steep and slippery.

673 m point.

The 673 m point has a nice view point over the valley we came up along the dirt road. After this point, there is snow in the forest. Again the trail goes up steeply up for 200 m. The trees change into a birch forest and higher up there are bamboo bushes.

There is more and more snow on the trail and finally the ground is fully covered.

Seeing all this snow, I was very happy that I managed to buy a pair of excellent Asola men's hiking boots in my size in the Columbia outdoor store on Lenin Street. There were only two pairs of men's hiking boots in the shop. Using my running shoes, like I did last week in Korea, going up a 836 m mountain in a mild 15 Celsius, would not have worked. Going through snow, you get wet feet within minutes.

Birch trees, first peak in the back ground. With Thomas, the local guide.

We walked up to the first peak. Thomas, see above, did this trip already three times this year. He was training for a 90 km cross-country race in Italy in January.

Passed the first peak. Note the snow cover and low bushes obscuring the trail.

From the first peak you have a nice view at the upcoming long ridge which has Peak Chekhov. At 800 m altitude the wind is stronger and we cover up wearing a coat, woollen hat and gloves. Temperature is around -2 Celsius.

The trail is now just above the tree line on rocky ground and among low bushes. It is also obscured by 10-30 cm of snow. It is not maintained, except by passing walkers, and often you have to force yourself through the low bushes. It is difficult to stick to the trail as the snow obscures it and we loose it several times after the 860 m point.

It is another 45 minutes to the top, ploughing through 20-30 cm of snow and thick bushes, sometimes stepping and sliding on snow covered rocks, before we reach the top. The weather is slowly closing in and we walk mostly in light clouds..

860 m point with Thomas. Peak Chekhov past the peaks. Not visible.

Top of Peak Chekhov in the far distance.

Top of Peak Chekhov, with Thomas. Note the little shelter.

We finally reached the top. Today there is very little wind but normally there is a fierce wind from the North, also forming the typical icicles.

Snow flakes are starting to come down and this may signal the start of a snow storm, often characterised by low wind as the such low-pressure systems tend to move in slowly.

A big concrete cube marks the top and could serve as a shelter. I suspect the Russians smashed one side of the cube to be able to use it as a shelter.

It is -6 Celsius and we stay only briefly. My new Sigma camera I bought in Singapore is doing well but it is made of metal. It freezes my fingers and I need to keep it warm to be able to use it.

Top of Peak Chekhov, with Thomas and three young Russians, with very wet feet.

Three young Russians also come up; two of them are wearing running shoes. They take them off, changing socks as these are very wet being filled with melting snow. This is not a day for using running shoes but young Russian's are tough.

Going back was much easier, we managed to pick up the trail despite the snow cover and this saved us ploughing through snow and thick bushes. Past the first peak going down was surprisingly fast, holding on to branches and trees going down on steep sides. It was slippery caused by the snow and wet soil but did not hinder us going down fast. We were back at the Santa at 17:30 h, just when it got dark. The three young Russian's were probably half an hour behind us on the dirt road.

Walking times

At an experienced hiking pace, this was a 2.5 hour trip up and 1.5 hour down, starting at the trail at the mountain road. Starting at the Santa Hotel, this adds another 45 minutes one way, but it saves you from driving on a poor, muddy dirt road (and washing your car).

The total walk from the Santa took us about 6 hours, with about 30 minutes for breaks.

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ALSO: What to do on Sakhalin Island

See e.g.: http://www.infohub.com/TRAVEL/SIT/sit_pages/18397.html

Day 2: Start exploring the island with a sightseeing tour of its capital,Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, once the capital of a Japanese province. Tour the Museum of Local Lore to learn the Russian and Japanese history of the place, visit the Art Gallery and enjoy a scenic overlook of the city at the Observation Platform. Afternoon excursion to Tunaicha and Izmenchivoye Lakes will give you a glimpse of the natural beauty to expect from your stay in this exotic area.

Day 3: In the morning depart for a fishing trip to the coast of Aniva Bay. You will journey into the local forest for a look at the botanical wonders of the region and may also have a chance to watch migrating salmon in the local rivers. Enjoy a traditional fishermen's lunch prepared over a campfire. Return to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk for an overnight at the hotel.

Day 4: Begin the day with an excursion to an interesting natural phenomenon – the Mud Volcano. In the evening you will depart on a trip to explore the culture of the Nivkhi people – the largest ethnic group on the island. Take an overnight train to the town of Nogliki.

Day 5: Upon arrival in Nogliki, take an excursion into town, including to a crafts shop where local masters make Nivkhi souvenirs. Visit a fishing camp and enjoy a lunch of traditional Nivkhi cuisine. Return to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk by overnight train.

Day 6: Arrive in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk in the morning and transfer to hotel. Enjoy a relaxing day in the city or take an optional boat excursion in the bay. Rest well overnight before a day of hiking in the beautiful wilderness.

Day 7: Depart early for the base of Peak Chekhov. You will ascend the mountain using an old Japanese trail (takes about 4 hours) with frequent stops to enjoy the changing landscape. Watch the evergreen forest change into birch and rock landscapes, bamboo groves, and finally a dwarf cedar forest dotted with blueberry and mountain cranberry bushes. The views that open before your eyes from the top of this mountain will be worth all the effort of the ascent. Return to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk for overnight at hotel.

Day 8: Finish exploring the exotic island with a full-day trip to Starodubskoye village for a chance to collect rare dark amber on the shore of Patience Bay and a bird watching excursion to Swan Lake, which is frequented by great numbers and varieties of waterfowl. Return to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk for a farewell dinner at a city restaurant.