Upon close consultation with a map, I learned that Bare-Top Mountain's highest point was 2647 m. (8686 ft.) above sea-level. And it wasn't where I'd thought it was. My butt and upper thighs were light-pink from two hours of nude alpine exploring. My butt also hurt as a result of having slid down a "krutyy" (jagged) snow slide.
But, mountains aren't the only things I climb! While among the Altai Mountains, I climbed a tree that was like a dream. Moving up its broad, round, white trunk, I felt like I was strolling on a prestigious maroon carpet, rather than climbing. Thick branches provided even climbing steps; they reached out to sunned leaves at an angle that captured the feeling of a hugging parents' arms. When I jumped down the "steps" later, I felt weightless and safe like an astronaut.
This tree grew in Ust-Kumir village, which sat on a dirt road not found on my map but which passed through my favorite part of the Altai Mountains.
The clear, shallow, Charish River raced over a dark-brown rock bed. A calm, wide valley extended to mountains that wanted to be friends rather than challenge you. Bad things didn't enter this valley.
Even the gray of the mountains was soft and sunny. Far-off forests called you, promising safety from annoying plants found elsewhere and empty earth where you could sleep dreaming merry dreams. Small waterfalls trickled by the road, offering places to wash and drink.
Here, I helped Valyerii Reptikov - a businessman who sends honey to Moscow and deer-antler extract (for pharmaceutical purposes) to Seoul - to buy and load 3300 lbs. of "myod" (honey). He'd helped me a lot, too.
Suddenly, I noticed that 700-foot, stuffed-animal- soft-gray cliffs pounded up, with rugged knuckles, right beside us on the Charish River's opposite shore. The beauty didn't scream out here. It waited for you to rest and join it in resting. I think a man could wander for ages here - to the Kumir River's canyon - and not grow old.
- Modern Oddyseus