Lago-Naki is a protected area within the western Caucasus Mountains which contains vast beautiful alpine meadows and majestic mountain peaks.  Difficulties encountered on the hike include route finding for all foreigners (as there are no trail signs and no park hiking maps), dealing with potentially inclement weather in the form of rain, snow, and freezing temperatures during certain times of year, and possible encounters with bears.  Google Earth maps of the backpacking route which we used to explore the area can be found by clicking on the buttons above.  GPS coordinates for the parking area are 44° 0.554'N, 39° 59.744'E.  GPS coordinates for Instructors Camp are 44° 1.155'N, 39° 58.251'E.  GPS coordinates for Fisht-Oshtenovsky Pass are 43° 59.445'N, 39° 54.848'E.  GPS coordinates for Fisht Camp are 43° 57.549'N, 39° 55.794'E.  GPS coordinates for Armenian Pass are 43° 58.302'N, 39° 56.500'E.  GPS coordinates for Guzerpilsky Pass are 43° 58.954'N, 39° 57.551'E.
The Lago-Naki plateau is a vast expanse of pristine alpine meadows located within the Caucasian State Nature Biosphere Reserve in the western Caucasus Mountains.  The lush green meadows are surrounded by three majestic mountain peaks -- Mount Oshten (9,199 feet), Mount Pshekha-Su (8,999 feet), and Mount Fisht (9,406 feet).  The Lago-Naki area also contains streams, caves, canyons, forest trees, wildflowers, glaciers, and abundant wildlife which includes bears.  Lago-Naki is a well-known area to Russian hikers, backpackers, and mountain climbers.  But because there is very little information available in English, it has mostly gone unnoticed in the western world.  And that's too bad, really, because Lago-Naki is such an amazing and beautiful place which rivals some of my personal favorite wilderness areas in California.  Being that my wife is originally from the Black Sea region of Russia, we usually take a trip back to visit our family every 2-3 years.  During our 2011 trip, I made my first visit to Lago-Naki by way of a tour bus.  Taking the tour bus was an interesting experience, as I went on my own and was the only person on it who spoke English.  The bus made a number of stops to visit waterfalls, caves, canyons, and rivers, and only actually spent about 30 minutes at the Lago-Naki plateau.  The stop was just long enough to make me dream about having more time to explore the area, especially as I saw hiking and backpacking groups starting out their trips.  Some of the factors which were holding me back were the lack of information in English, my limited Russian vocabulary, no hiking partners, and the long distance involved in getting there from where my in-laws live (about 6-7 hours one-way driving time).  Three years later, in September of 2014, I would finally get my chance to fully explore Lago-Naki.  I began planning for the trip about one year in advance by researching satellite imagery, reading translated web pages, reaching out to previous hikers who could speak English, and considering possible hiking routes.  It was a long and sometimes frustrating process, but I knew that it would make for a great trip if I put in the hard work at home to prepare properly.  Joining me for the hike would be my wife's brother-in-law Oleg and a friend named Konstantin from Anapa.  I had met Konstantin several months earlier when he came out to visit the Sonoma-Napa area where I live to do some winery tours.  Oleg had previously hiked with me in Yosemite to Rainbow View and Ribbon Fall, as well as out at Stinson Beach in Marin County.  But this was the first time that Oleg would be backpacking overnight in the past 25 years.  Some mistakes that I made before leaving home included not purchasing backpacking food, not bringing my water filter, and not bringing all of my necessary backpacking gear.  I thought those things would be easy to obtain, but they were not.  I couldn't find backpacking food, even at an outdoor sporting shop in Novorossiysk (one of the larger cities in the Krasnodar Krai region).  And water filters for backpackers were not sold, either.  As I would find out later, everyone just drank and filled up their water bottles directly from the streams.  Thus, I loaded my pack with lots of water and canned foods, which made it much heavier than normal.

Our backpacking trip finally began early on the morning of September 14, 2014, when we left Gelendzhik and drove for 7 hours to Lago-Naki.  Before entering the park and turning off onto the gravel road which leads to the parking lot, we had to stop by a ranger station and pick up our overnight camping permits.  Without speaking Russian or being able to read Russian signs, there is no way that a western visitor would be able to find the permit station and obtain permits.  In fact, it would be difficult to even locate the Lago-Naki plateau.  The area just isn't geared toward non-Russian speaking tourists, which is understandable.  When I had my group ask for hiking maps at the ranger station, we were informed that maps were not available.  To make matters worse, when we arrived at the parking lot, there were no trail signs (not even in Russian) which direct hikers where to go.  Everything that I had taken for granted when hiking back home did not exist here.  Without maps and trail signs, we were left to rely on my previously inputted GPS coordinates and asking other hikers for route information.  It was a good thing that we regularly saw other backpackers, otherwise we could have been in real trouble.  Essentially, the entire park is not signed with the exception of Fisht Camp.  Upon leaving the parking lot, we immediately entered into the forest and began hiking along a sometimes muddy trail.  The trail we were on continued steeply uphill for the entire afternoon.  After we exited the forest, we entered an area of rolling hills with tall grasses and flowering plants that were past their blooming season.  We followed a stream up a ravine called Instructors Gap which had views of beautiful rocky cliffs along an area known as the Stone Sea Ridge.  Just as the sun was setting, we arrived at Instructors Camp, which would be our camp for the first night.  There were about five other groups camping in the area.

The next morning, we woke up and began hiking across the Lago-Naki plateau.  It was positively beautiful with several miles of alpine meadows.  After a while, we passed by several herds of wild horses and then Blyam Camp, which is an another campground that we did not use.  Just past the camp, we had spectacular views of Mount Oshten, the second highest mountain peak in the area.  We circled around the northern and western sides of Mount Oshten until we reached Lake Psenodah.  Lake Psenodah is a very interesting place, although it was mostly dried up during our visit.  Psenodah means "beautiful well", and that perfectly describes the lake.  The water level in the lake has the mysterious characteristic of rising and dropping at different times.  When the water level is high, a funnel (or small whirlpool) can be seen above the deepest part of the lake.  The water appears to be slowly draining into underground channels which sometimes get stopped up.  At the same spot where we had an overview of Lake Psenodah, we were also directly in front of the north face of Mount Pshekha-Su.  The phrase Pshekha-Su means "water princess", and that was once again a very fitting description of the glacier-covered mountain we were admiring.  We took a nice long break at this spot, enjoying some lunch and getting a lot of pictures before moving on.  From here, we had to turn to the southeast and hike in that direction for the rest of the day.  We climbed up to Fisht-Oshtenovsky Pass, which contained several monuments to Russia's fallen World War II heroes.  Fisht-Oshtenovsky Pass has been described as a bridge between the two most powerful and high mountain peaks of Adygea.  At the pass summit, there is an incredible view down the other side and off toward distant mountain ranges.  But even at this spot, there is no indication that the Black Sea is less than 30 air miles away.  As we began hiking down from the pass, we had our first breathtaking view of Mount Fisht.  It was an incredible sight to behold on a perfectly clear afternoon.  After hiking steeply downhill for a while, we crossed the White River and walked across a suspension bridge into Fisht Camp.  Fisht Camp is essentially the basecamp for day hikes and climbing expeditions to summit Mount Fisht.  It was a very interesting place to check out.  There are two old barracks buildings, one of which is for backpackers to use if they wish and the other for the park ranger's office and housing.  Park rangers are stationed at Fisht Camp for one or more weeks at a time.  Because there are no roads anywhere in the area, rangers are changed out by helicopter and supplies are sent in by horseback.  There are pit toilets, a dishwashing area, a trash disposal area, a community cooking area, and wooden tent platforms for visitors to use.  The park ranger was very surprised to see an American hiking in the park.  I don't think that he had ever seen one visiting before.  Other hikers that we ran into on the trail also expressed surprise upon seeing me and learning where I was from.  As it got late in the afternoon, fog rolled into the valley and completely covered all of the mountains.  Later that night, a bear came through camp and spooked a few campers.  It also rained off and on, but our tents kept us dry.

It was the next morning when did our day hike to visit Mount Fisht.  Due to space limitations, that side trip is covered in a separate report here on the site entitled Mount Fisht (Caucasus Mtns, Russia).  So be sure and check that out after viewing this one for a lot more information and details about Mount Fisht.  Upon returning to Fisht Camp late that afternoon, I cooked dinner and rested in my tent for a while as it rained off and on.  Just as it was getting dark, we came up with the crazy plan to backpack all the way out to our vehicle that night.  We figured that if we caught a break in the rain, it would be a good idea to do so.  It ended up working out, but we didn't start hiking until about 6:30pm and it took us about 8 hours.  That part of the hike I regret, however, due to the fact that I missed all of the scenery along that portion of the route.  It gives me a good reason to come back someday, though.  The route back from Fisht Camp to the parking lot crossed Armenian Pass and Guzerpilsky Pass.  Hiking by flashlight through thick fog with no trail signs and only limited GPS coordinates set us up to get lost.  But somehow we made it without too much trouble except for the sheer exhaustion that I was feeling by overdoing it.  On a future trip, if I can return to Lago-Naki, it would be fun to summit both Mount Pshekha-Su and Mount Oshten.  It would also be fun to explore the two major canyons that I didn't get to see this time -- Tsitse Canyon and Deep Canyon.  Our backpacking trip through Lago-Naki for three days was definitely one of the most enjoyable hiking adventures we had ever been on.  Our hikes took place on September 14-16, 2014.
Many more photographs taken during our visit are available for viewing for this destination.  To see all of them, choose one of the two options presented below.  The two options are Slideshow viewing and Trip Report viewing.  The Slideshow option allows for viewing larger images with an autoplay option and a full screen option (available on most browsers).  This option works very well for large computer screens and tablets.  The Trip Report option allows for viewing smaller pictures in a standard scroll-down format and enlarging of any panoramic photos taken during our visit.  Click on the option of your choice to view all of our photos from this destination.  The Slideshow format opens in a new browser window and the Trip Report format uses the same browser window for viewing.