Trip ReportSiberian Misadventures In Chukotka Okrug Of Russia
I hesitated to post this trip report since it’s very light on the actual climbing; for all the lame excuses (weather, language barrier/miscommunications), we ended up climbing (repeating) one easy route. On the upside, we were the 5th set of climbers to visit this compact and remote mountain range whose climbing potential was first discovered by Australians in 2014 (remaining 3 teams visited the following summer); and we were the first ones to do so legally, armed with the correct “border zone entry permits.” Securing those takes a bit of effort or at least a leap of faith. If others find this place appealing, the write up of our little misadventure might serve as a source of logistical beta which will be a lot easier to find here than on our obscure site. And frankly just being able to visit that part of the Russian Far East is a special treat and it was a big adventure for us.
Though we’ve climbed in a few places that we had considered remote, there has always been some connection to the outside world: our porter, John, waiting for us in basecamp in Namibia; our driver, Salvador, being around in a nearby village in Mali (this one being more sketchy than remote); or some cell reception in the mountains of Oman. None of those talismans were available to us in that far northeast corner of Russia. Don’t think we’ve ever felt that isolated from the rest of humanity.
Chukotka Okrug, though not a hotbed of tourism (the required paperwork is a significant barrier), does see some foreigners. For example, in the capital town of Anadyr, we ran into a trio of European anthropologists on their way to some remote indigenous village as well as a couple of American Nat. Geo. photographers. Things were very different in the mining outpost of Bilibino – an isolated island of some 5K people in the middle of the taiga.
We pretty much had zero concerns going to Russia (despite the many stares and “be carefuls” we got from some people) and that turned out to be well justified. In fact, we were shown incredible hospitality, including by random strangers. The Russian people we interacted with went out of their ways to be helpful and to make us feel welcome. This and the severe beauty of Chukotka were the highlights of the trip.
Some (lots!) more verbiage and more photos/video clips are on our site for those interested:
Not so far as the crow flies; in practice, the distance traveled and the isolation make it feel like Mars:
A layover in Helsinki:
Tomb Of The Unknown Soldier:
The Red Square:
St. Basil’s Cathedral:
An 8.5 hour flight from Moscow to Anadyr in the Russian Far (far!) East. Utair makes United’s basic economy feel like first class…
Welcome to Chukota. Where are you papers? This is where you’d be stopped if you had not arranged the special “border zone entry permits”:
Andyr’s airport was built as a military air base I believe. As such, it’s located across an estuary from the town itself.
Anadyr. A coastal town of about 14K people and the capital of Chukotka Okrug:
Not sure about the environmental impacts of this practice:
It was tasty though:
More sightseeing around the area, including some abandoned (one turned out to be not so abandoned) military installations:
After about a 36h layover, it was time to move on to Bilibino, some 3h away by air. Back on the airport ferry:
Beluga whales frolicking in the estuary:
Anadyr airport. Not this one:
Not this one either:
Thank goodness it’s this one:
Chukotka from the air. Bit larger than Texas but with only 50K people and those are concentrated in a handful of towns. No roads, no infrastructure.
Keperveyem Airport some 35km from Bilibino:
Welcome to Bilibino:
Bilibino – an isolated island in the middle of a wild taiga:
…but with its own nuclear power plant (only one above the Arctic Circle!):
Following morning we set off for the final leg of the journey: some 7h, mostly off-road drive into the mountains in a 6wd, 10 ton Kamaz:
The first hour of the long drive. Still along the main (only) road:
Into the hills:
Up and over ridges, across rivers, up scree and boulder fields. Despite their initial claims to knowing where to drop us off, things were not so clear. After 7 hours, they were getting sick of looking for the right valley and just dropped us off:
A shared tea with our drivers Uktam and Sergei and a promise to pick us up in 7 days. Hope these guys have good memories because they’re our only way out and the only ones who know where the hell we are.
Alone in Siberia:
We suspected (hoped) that we were looking at the back sides of The General & The Commander formations – in the distance at the head of the valley:
Next morning we hiked up to scout things out. What looks like a nice open, rolling terrain is really a boulder hopping affair all the way:
Our base camp is in the lowest visible (green) part of the valley:
We were in fact looking at the backside of The General. The correct approach & place we wanted to be in is the cirque on the right:
Beef or dairy product?
After that first day, temps went down a lot:
Following morning we hiked back up the valley (2hrs) and found a scramble descent into the cirque.
In some shitty 3rd glass approach gully. We were keenly aware of how alone and isolated we are – any minor mishap could turn epic pretty quickly:
Don’t know if this is typical but ice fields were covering the opening pitches of the routes we saw. Trying to climb around it:
Siberian splitter low on a route established by Australians in 2014:
Stacked blocks on pitch7:
Endless boulder hopping. From afar, the terrain looks like nice, open, sandy tundra. This is the reality though:
Got rained on the next day:
Back up the valley and into the cirque the following day (4h):
Chickened out from doing our iced over route though:
Were shocked to see a truck approaching our camp as we were hiking back down:
Turned out to be our drivers having showed up 2 days too early. After semi-heated two one-way discussions, it seemed we had no choice but to join them.
Karma too her revenge (well, though we got a piece of it too) & we got a flat. No Russian off-roading experience would be complete without having to change a wheel on a 10 ton Kamaz:
Fortunately, a car stopped by and we got some…spectators:
A few hours of driving later, we realized that they picked us up early in order to go fishing…
24 hour fishing marathon ensued:
Prematurely back in Bilibino. Unloading gear at Sergei’s compound:
The language barrier cost us 2 days in the mountains and a compulsory day of fishing. On the upside we got to experience some extreme Russian hospitality. Posing with Vladimir and Natasha at their compound. On our final day in Bilibino, our driver Vanya took us on a tour of the town which included knocking on Vladimir’s door (whom he does not know) in order to see the only cow in the Arctic town. We were invited in and treated to a 5-course meal of homemade cheese, meats, fried fish and fresh veggies. 2.5 hours and a liter of Russian brandy later – my Russian having improved considerably along the way – we learned that Vladimir is an ex-freestyle fighter who had served in the Red Army in East Germany which apparently included having wrestled with Putin:
The long journey home begins:
Back in Anadyr. Dedushka Lenin preaching to the native peoples of Chukotka:
More Dedushka Lenin in Anadyr:
With our fixer, Alexander, in Anadyr:
Moscow on the way home:
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