Mountain Ko: the miracle of Khabarovsk region or Witch Mountain

Witch Mountain Koh in Primorsky Krai

It is located in Khabarovsk region, Lazo district, as a part of the Sikhote-Alin mountain system, has an elevation of 2003 m.

Mountain Ko with a top height of 2003 m above sea level is part of the Sikhote-Alin mountain system, located on the border of Khabarovsk and Primorsky regions of Russia. On the southeastern slope, the Ko River originates from springs and flows into the Katen.

Interesting fact: In translation from the Nanai “Ko” means “witch”.

Where is the Ko Mountain

The starting point of the tourist route to the top of Mount Ko is behind the Solontsovy village of Khabarovsk Krai. The distance from the highway Khabarovsk-Vladivostok M-60 to the village is about 150 kilometers.

Public transport to Solontsovoye does not go and an ordinary car is impossible to pass there. The road, mostly unpaved, passes through a pass and sometimes is impassable at all because of the overflow of mountain rivers in the off-season.

If you depart from Khabarovsk by jeep cross-country vehicle, the way takes approximately 5 hours, its length is about 250 kilometers. From Vladivostok travel much farther – about 800 kilometers and 14 hours. It is important to take into account that there are no petrol stations after Dolmi village and it is necessary to have reserve fuel for the way back.

To the south-east of Solontsovy village there is a road, in 30 km of which there is the 3rd bridge over the river Ko. It is crossed and then the way up continues on foot on the right side of the river bed.

Route of ascent on the mountain

A little higher than the bridge there is a winter hut and a convenient place to park the car.

Along the course of the Ko in some places you can see a hunting trail. Passable sections of the forest road alternate with the ramshackle ones, there are a lot of stone placers. The ravaged, broken places are bypassed in a semicircle, returning to the river bed. Base camps for rest are at an altitude of 970 m and 1200 m.

On the way up you will meet 8 springs and they are crossed by wading. The stream can be up to 10 m wide and 0,5 m deep depending on the amount of recent rainfall.

At an altitude of 1500-1600 m the forest line is replaced by thickets of grasses and creeping dwarf trees. The gradient of the mountain slope increases and there are more mobile placers. The river source is gradually replaced by dry rocks, there are snow bands and moraines.

At an altitude of 1950 m is the top of Mount Stolovaya. The further way to the mountain Koh lies along a narrow, sharp ridge called Dinosaur. Moving without special safety devices on it is extremely dangerous.

The top of Koh is a stone plateau, on which grows cedar shrubbery and moss. On it is a two-meter tour, folded by tourists in the memory of the stones and souvenirs.

Interesting fact: Mount Koh is famous for fogs. Conquering the summit is often impossible because of poor visibility, even after reaching the peak of the Table Mountain.

The return to the foot of Koh follows the ascent route using the sites of previous stops.

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Useful hints

While making an expedition to the summit of Koh mountain you should:

  • Thoroughly think through a list of things you can’t do without. It is not recommended to take unnecessary things because of the heavy ascent, and there is no place to buy any of the missing equipment after the turn from the trail;
  • Choose the right month for a hike. Summer is stuffy in the taiga, with lots of ticks, gnats, and other insects. Late autumn is unfavourable due to heavy rainfall;
  • Notify the appropriate organization of your intention;
  • Get maps, radios, and GPS-navigator.

Tourist companies Khabarovsk offer 7-10 day hikes to the summit of the mountain as a group under the guidance of experienced instructors at a price of 12000 RUR to 40000 RUR per person.

Witch Mountain

Mount Ko, which is the second highest peak of Sikhote Alin (after Tarduki-Yani Mountain) in the south of Khabarovsk Krai, attracted our attention and was a long-desired goal of our expedition. The first attempt to ascend it ended rather miserably: one of the participants of the expedition had broken his leg and was evacuated by a rescue helicopter of the Khabarovsk Krai Ministry of Emergency Situations.

We had not abandoned the idea of going up there and after thorough preparations made we made a second attempt. The members of the expedition were three people from the laboratory of insect ecology at the FEB RAS Mountain Station (two of them also work for FEFU).

A majestic panorama of the northern ice circus. In the upper right corner you can see the distant lake, which we never got to. Photo: M.M. Omelko.

The expedition started on 16 June. None of the members of the expedition had their own car, so we loaded ourselves into a second-class car and departed in the direction of the village of Pereyaslovka, whose railway station, by some strange logic, is called Verino. Having arrived early in the morning in the village, we went to the local bus station, where we soon found a private coach, who would take us all the way to Solontsevo for $9,000. From this village to the point, where they usually start to climb the mountain was only 20 km along the forest road, and we tried to entice the driver to take us there, but he strongly refused, citing the lack of a normal road. We found out a bit later that he was absolutely right and the road is really in a miserable state. In short, we had to get off the car and go to a local store in order to find out who could take us further into the woods. Then luck smiled on us again – just a few minutes later a local guy Vasily drove up to the store (almost descended from heaven, like a guardian angel), who, without thinking twice, agreed to take us to the desired point for a very modest fee. We piled into his jeep and to the accompaniment of the stories about the taiga life we rushed away. As I have already said, the road is in disgusting, broken condition and it is possible to pass it only with a truck or a good jeep. As we understood, the main part of the loggers left and now no one watches the road, the graders do not work. Apparently, only small logging companies are left, who do not want to spend money to maintain the road. Passing through, we saw a couple of places where they load the logs onto the cars. The work is clearly in violation of the rules, the gruff men are fiddling in the mud right on the side of the road, interfering with traffic. Nevertheless, we safely reached our destination, where we said goodbye to Vasily. Before we left he gave us his phone number so we could call him on the satellite to arrange our return trip. As we found out later he dictated the phone number by mistake, so it was not as easy as we wanted to get out. We had an old and uncomfortable winter hut at the exit of the road, but we were not tempted and set up our tents. Lying in the evening in a warm sleeping bag I was filled with thoughts of my previous work and unwarranted optimism. The following days quickly brought me back from heaven to earth.

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A blooming meadow in the early morning. There is still dense morning fog in the valleys. Photo: Omelko M.M.

The next morning began with incomprehensible weather, with a coarse fog or drizzle in the air. Having photographed a white watershed by the road and a tall briar patch next to the winterhouse, and having set traps, we set off. In the beginning there is a semi-abandoned road along the spring, but soon it turns into a normal forest trail. The trail is relatively well-maintained, with fallen trees cut down, and at first it is fairly easy to walk. After a while, however, the journey began to turn into torture. Many springs flow into the Ko Creek, which many times you have to wade through mud and crawl over fallen tree trunks into the water. When you have a couple dozen pounds of cargo hanging on your back, it’s terribly tiring and slows you down. Kilos of fat gained over the winter and weakened legs don’t make traveling any easier either. A GPS in my breast pocket was telling me sad news that we were making stops every 300-400 meters, and the total speed was not more than two kilometers per hour.

Alpine whimbrel (Prunella collaris) - an unusual bird inhabiting only high mountains. Photo: Omelko M.M.

After walking a couple of kilometers we came to a fairly large rocky scree, located, as the GPS navigator showed, at an altitude of only 545 meters above sea level. In front of the scree there was a small canvas covered with mounds of thick lichens, flowering rosemary and cranberries. There was a pleasant spicy smell of essential oils in the air. Such talus is a favorite habitat for some species of spiders, so we stopped here to collect material. As it turned out later, one of the wolf spider species collected here was a representative of a new species and genus for science.

You can see large areas of blooming golden rhododendron (Rhododendron aurеum) somewhere. Photo: Omelko M.M.

In just the first day we walked about four and a half kilometers, but all members of the expedition were dead tired. The first crossing was followed by three more, all to the point of exhaustion.

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The mountain welcomes travelers with its stony debris and flowers. Photo: M. Omelko.

The trail along the Ko Creek is well-trodden in some places, and in one place even a log bridge was built with metal staples. There are quite a few sable traps along the trail, which means that hunters walk here regularly and keep the trail in decent condition. The forest along the trail varies, there are bright, good areas, but in many places there are difficult to pass rubble, where you have to crawl on your hands and knees, which is not easy when you have a heavy backpack on your back. At one point, Koh clings to a fairly high scree. You can pass here either along the bank or along the slope, but the place is dangerous anyway, because the rocks are wobbly underfoot and there is a risk of falling from a considerable height. On the fourth day of ascent it got noticeably colder and holes with ice on the bottom began to appear.

Huge snowfields and green forests are a usual mountain contrast for this time of the year. Photo: M.M. Omelko.

We could not avoid minor injuries. While climbing over a fallen trunk of a tree I leaned unluckily on top of another tree, my hand fell through the rotten wood and my whole rucksack laden weight rested on it. By the evening my hand hurt so much that I had to run, but the painful sensations in it remained for about a month after my return from the trip.

Not yet flowered golden rhododendron (Rhododendron aurеum) on the edge of the snowdrift. Photo: M.M. Omelko.

Among the interesting places first of all we should mention an excellent winter hut, located not long after the above-mentioned shelter of Ko. When we reached it on the second day of our ascent, after several hours of tiring forcing our way through the taiga, I had the feeling of a traveler who had unexpectedly found an oasis in the middle of a desert.

The winter hut is spacious, very solidly built, and the roof is covered with roofing felt. There is a supply of dry firewood, and there are even mattresses and blankets inside on the bunks. The lighting inside is realized in the form of diode bulbs glued to the ceiling with transparent scotch tape. Behind the winter hut there is a talus and in front of it a glade with raspberries and currants. In short, a beautiful, clean place. Above the entrance to the winter hut is a nailed sign with the commandments of religious content, profoundly signed “unknown fathers”. I don’t know who they are, probably a sect of men hiding from alimony or something along those lines. Inside the room is a more prosaic inscription of local hunters promising death to anyone who littered in the hut. It is written, however, politely, in beautiful handwriting and even without foul language.

Mist is sliding down the slopes below, and everything is blooming on top. Photo: Omelko.

Another good place is situated at an altitude of 970 meters above sea level at the point where the key divides into three. You can see that many groups stop at this place. There is a place for a campfire, several flat areas where you can set up your tent. There is a wooden cross pinned to one of the trees – apparently, the unknown alimentary fathers made it here as well.

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The top of Koh covered with clouds. Photo: Omelko M.M.

I must say that among the hardships of the ascent was a bright spot – a beautiful waterfall with flowers on the shore. Here we spent quite a lot of time photographing it and the vegetation on the shore. True, passing a little higher than the waterfall, we made a mistake for joy and directed our footsteps along another, side stream. Then we realized our mistake and decided to shortcut, went over the hill, realized we would not be able to climb up and went back to Ko key. We climbed a little more, but soon realized that we were running out of strength, so we decided to stop on a small pad above the key. Tents for overnight stays had to be pitched literally right next to each other. By that moment my morale had finally dropped and the summit of the mountain began to seem as far away and inaccessible as Everest. As I lay in the tent and scrubbed my bite-eaten hands, pictures of the quiet joys of family life were particularly vivid in my mind: a soft bed, a young wife, affectionate cats, and plentiful meals. Nevertheless, there was a forest all around, unfinished work awaited, and escape routes cut off.

One of the many blooming meadows on the ridge near the summits. Photo: Omelko.

Despite the dire forebodings inspired by the hardships of the previous days, the last day of the climb up the mountain was much easier than it might have seemed. At first the trail followed a stream and was very difficult to pass, but fairly quickly we came to a slope with grass and stone birch trees. The birch-stone belt is very wide, probably about a kilometer long. It was easy to walk through: the grass was soft, there were few stones and fallen trunks. In spite of the fact that we were going up the southern slope, there were big snowfalls on it. We were especially lucky with the weather – the sun was shining and it was warm, which had a good influence on our morale and added optimism.

One of the local peaks, with snowfields on the slopes. Photo: Omelko M.M.

We set our final base camp in a glade surrounded by thickets of driftwood, without going to the top of the ridge. The main problem was to find a flat spot not far from water sources.

Blooming meadows on the background of mountain peaks. Photo: Omelko M.

In general, if we compare the nature of the alpine belt of Ko (above the forest border) with such a well-known peak of Sikhote Alin as Mount Oblachnaya, we can say that it is more beautiful here. The glades are littered with numerous rhododendrons of Redowsky, Ledum, Myrtle, and other flowering plants.

This small but noisy waterfall was one of the most beautiful places during the hard ascent to the mountain. Photo: Omelko M.M.

After working in the vicinity of the base camp, on the second day it was decided to make a light hike up the ridge toward Mt. The weather in the morning was as beautiful as the day before – the sun was shining. We started in a cheerful mood. The ascent, as it turned out, turned out to be long, but the road turned out to be pleasant. On the ridge there are huge blooming alpine meadows and great views. From above, two ice cirques, overgrown with shingles at the bottom, are clearly visible. There was a lake in one of them, but it was a long walk, so we left this hike for the future.

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Patrinia sibirica in an alpine meadow. Photo: Omelko M.M.

Top of Koh itself protrudes noticeably above the terrain and to get there you have to walk along a very narrow, dangerous-looking ridge. We decided not to take the risk because the ascent to the ridge did not promise much scientific benefit. After climbing up to a height of 1900 meters, we found a pair of Alpine Crested Warblers and later their nest.

Pedicularis oederi is quite numerous in meadows among Rhododendron redowskianum. Photo: Omelko M.M.

After enjoying the alpine meadows and taking pictures we noticed a threatening black cloud approaching and headed for camp. Instantly I remembered that I hadn’t brought my waterproof raincoat today, though it had been in my backpack all the time before. Despite the fact that we were walking quickly, a cloud caught up with us and threw the heaviest cold rain on our heads. All members of the expedition were soaked to the skin in just a couple of minutes. Hiking in the mountains is difficult in any weather, but when you have to walk on slippery rocks in soaking wet clothes it is especially difficult. As we made our way down through another thicket of cedar trees I thought that a flea in wet, hard mammoth fur felt the same way. As usual, the rain ended as soon as we returned to camp and changed into dry clothes. Of course we forgot to cover the firewood with polyethylene, and it got soaked too.

Aquilegia oxysepala is one of the most prominent and beautiful flowers in the foothills of the Ko. Photo: Omelko M.M.

The descent from the mountain took us only two days. On the first day we walked 10 kilometers from base camp to the second winter hut. The distance is not great if we talk about the valley area, but in the mountains we were exhausted to the limit. I walked the last two kilometers on autopilot without having energy to even think. The path from the second winter hut to the first was somewhat shorter, only seven kilometers. It’s not a close road, given the rugged terrain, but compared to the previous day it felt like a resort, as the trail is much better. Upon reaching the site, we found out that Vasily had given the wrong number and we couldn’t reach him. One of the members of the expedition had to walk 20 kilometers along the road to the village and look for a frivolous driver. Well and the further way was quite simple: Vasily drove us to Pereyaslovka, and from there we went by train to Khabarovsk and in the morning left for Vladivostok.

Rhododendron redowsky (Rhododendron redowskianum) is the brightest and most numerous flower of the mountain tundra of Koh. Photo: Omelko M.M.

You can see these and other pictures from Mount Ko in our photo gallery . Other cultural, architectural and natural sights on our map!

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