Trailblazing author writes detailed Carpathians guidebook
Like migrant birds, Oleg Yamalov would fly to Ukraine’s Carpathian Mountains every spring.
An entrepreneur and philanthropist who moved to the United States in the 1990s, Yamalov kept returning to his native Zakarpattia Oblast to hike “the mountains of his youth” with some of his best buddies.
But there was another reason for his trips.
With a GPS navigator in hand, Yamalov would mark every peak and turn on his hikes. Later, he would transfer his notes to maps and write what would become the most comprehensive hiking guidebook to the Ukrainian part of the Carpathians.
“This book is my tribute to the Carpathians for sharing with me their infinite beauty and wisdom, endowing me with strength and energy for many years,” Yamalov wrote in a preface to his book in January 2017.
But he didn’t see it published. Yamalov died 10 days after writing that preface and before the book was complete.
His wife finished the book, aided by their daughters and other relatives, and friends who accompanied Yamalov on his hikes.
Fifteen years of Yamalov’s travels and notes in what he called “our Karpaty” became the “Trails of Carpathians” guidebook published in Ukrainian and English last year.
Like many teenagers in Zakarpattia, Yamalov was fascinated by the Carpathians and wanted to cross its Ukrainian part from west to east, and climb its highest Mount Hoverla on the way.
As schoolchildren in the 1960s, he and his friends set out to do so, wearing only canvas sneakers and cotton shirts. But they didn’t get very far — a heavy rain turned them back, and their food ran out.
It was many years later and on another continent that Yamalov started mountaineering regularly with proper equipment. With his son-in-law Nick Rinard, he often hiked the Cascade Range summits near the U.S. state of Oregon, where he lived. They also hiked the Alps every year.
One time, the two studied the ascent to Mount St. Helens from U.S. hiking guidebooks while looking at the snowy peaks of Mount Hood in the Cascades. Yamalov remarked that it’s unfortunate that there are no such detailed guidebooks to the Ukrainian Carpathians.
“Papa, then why wouldn’t you write such a book?” Rinard remembers asking his father-in-law.
And so it began. Since the early 2000s, Yamalov came to Ukraine every spring to work on his book. He brought the best hiking equipment for his old friends, so together they could hike the Carpathians lengthwise and crosswise, marking the best trails.
“He got tired sometimes, and life would take over,” the author’s wife Svetlana Yamalova told the Kyiv Post. “But I supported his passion. And his friends encouraged him by asking ‘Where is the book?’”
Yamalov first published a book with 32 routes in 2004 at his own expense, giving it to schools, libraries, tourist clubs and friends in Zakarpattia, Yamalova says. Later he started expanding it into a refined version with 80 routes, to be also published in English.
He collected all data and wrote a preface with Yamalova on January 15, 2017 after their trip to New Zealand while staying with their younger daughter’s family in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates. After that, Yamalova went to the Netherlands, while her husband stayed a little longer.
On January 25, 2017, he went to the gym, where everyone knew him, took a towel from reception and went to the locker room. There, an exceptionally fit and healthy man of 65, Yamalov died after suffering cardiac arrest. It was a shock for everyone who knew him, his wife says.
After Yamalov was buried in his native Uzhhorod, Yamalova finished his book, combing through hundreds of photos, geographical names and numbers. The family financed the publishing, and now it’s available to all hikers who want to explore the Carpathians in Ukraine.
“Oleg wanted to show the beauty of the Carpathians and how to love them, take care of them,” Yamalova says. “My goal was to continue his legacy.”
Most detailed guide
“Trails of Carpathians” follows Yamalov’s goals of creating a comprehensive guide for hiking and trekking in the Ukrainian Carpathians.
The book offers 80 trails grouped into the northern, eastern (or central) and southern parts of the Ukrainian Carpathians. There is also a handy chart on the difficulty of each route: easy, moderate or difficult based on their length, duration and elevation.
For example, a less experienced hiker can go on a seven-kilometer, one-day ascent to Mount Hoverla from the Zaroslyak tourist complex. A seasoned mountaineer can take that challenge further and traverse the Chornohora ridge all the way to Mount Pip Ivan Marmarosky — the route that stretches for up to 95 kilometers and takes five days.
There is detailed information about each trail, including how to get to the starting point and which summits it covers. Most routes have a description of their distinct features, history, nature and points of interest. Every route has a map, and each turn is marked with GPS coordinates.
“With his physicist’s mind, Oleg was very precise and verified all coordinates again and again,” Yamalova says.
The book’s one flaw is that it’s quite hefty to be carried in a hiker’s backpack. But it’s perfect for choosing and planning a route in advance. After that, a hiker can take pictures of key pages with a smartphone and take it with them to the mountains.
The responsible hiker that he was, Yamalov included recommendations on equipment, safety and mountain etiquette in the book. He also raises the alarm about littering and deforestation in the Carpathians, as well as emphasizes the importance of developing Ukraine’s hiking tourism.
“I remain optimistic, and hope that many problems can be solved if more and more people discover the beauty of the Carpathians,” Yamalov writes.
Buy “Trails of Carpathians” by Oleg Yamalov at www.80trails.com for Hr 950 ($34)