Trip Report
Siberian Misadventures In Chukotka Okrug Of Russia

by fgw
Monday September 10, 2018 4:00pm
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:

http://chossclimbers.com/testing/russia/

Not so far as the crow flies; in practice, the distance traveled and the isolation make it feel like Mars:

A layover in Helsinki:

Helsinki:

Kremlin, Moscow:

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:

Around Anadyr:

Not sure about the environmental impacts of this practice:

It was tasty though:

Anadyr:

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:

Pitch 2:

Pitch 3:


Pitch 6ish:

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…

great

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:

Bilibino sights:

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:


  Trip Report Views: 1,865
fgw
About the Author
fgw is a trad climber from portland, or.

Comments
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Comment on this Trip Report
Timid TopRope

Social climber
the land of Pale Ale
  Sep 10, 2018 - 04:18pm PT
Great TR. Loved the photos and story. Looks like you had a full value adventure. Thanks for sharing with us.
Reilly

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
  Sep 10, 2018 - 04:19pm PT
Замичателно! How did you discover this place? (I know where Чукотка is but not those nice faces!)
ydpl8s

Trad climber
Santa Monica, California
  Sep 10, 2018 - 04:18pm PT
Wow, now that's off the beaten path, gorgeous cirque.
skywalker1

Trad climber
co
  Sep 10, 2018 - 04:21pm PT
Holy cow! I felt like I was on Mars! Thanks for taking the time for posting all the beautiful photos.

Thanks again!

S....
Jim Brennan

Trad climber
  Sep 10, 2018 - 07:43pm PT
You must have felt as free as possible. Your landscape photos had this weird effect of filling my lungs with fresh air.

Thanks !
Jon Beck

Trad climber
Oceanside
  Sep 10, 2018 - 04:37pm PT
Didn't even need any climbing to make that a great TR, thanks
hobo_dan

Social climber
Minnesota
  Sep 10, 2018 - 05:01pm PT
That was a cool trip
Dingus Milktoast

Trad climber
Minister of Moderation, Fatcrackistan
  Sep 10, 2018 - 05:12pm PT
That’s a bad ass adventure!

DMT
Pete_N

Trad climber
Santa Cruz, CA
  Sep 10, 2018 - 05:51pm PT
This is fantastic! Sounds like a great adventure. Was it difficult to get the permits you needed? Plans to return? Have you read George Kennan's Tent Life in Siberia?
Ksolem

Trad climber
Monrovia, California
  Sep 10, 2018 - 06:01pm PT
That might be the best trip report I've seen yet. The sequence of the photo's, the concise but fully descriptive comments, and of course the radness. Or perhaps madness of it all. Three cheers.
ontheedgeandscaredtodeath

Social climber
Wilds of New Mexico
  Sep 10, 2018 - 06:24pm PT
Super cool! Thanks for posting this.
FRUMY

Trad climber
Bishop,CA
  Sep 10, 2018 - 07:28pm PT
Amazing
Ghost

climber
A long way from where I started
  Sep 10, 2018 - 07:45pm PT
Great, great TR. This is what Supertopo should be about.
fgw

climber
portland, or
Author's Reply  Sep 10, 2018 - 08:18pm PT
Thank you very much guys.

Pete, regarding your question about the permit. A registered tourist guide (registered w. Chukotkan authorities) has to apply for it in your name. Not hard once you find the right contact - the search & the trust part were the initial obstacles. But if you're interested, we can certainly recommend the right people for this. Looking forward to checking out that book.
Alexey

climber
San Jose, CA
  Sep 11, 2018 - 06:35am PT
thank you for very well written trip report about country I used to live. Choukotka - never been, but traveled a lot from euro part of Russia to Far East [ Magadan, Kamchatka and Amur region] Alway remember when fly across the country most of the time one can see no sign of civilization but only swamps, lakes , rivers , tundra - no sign of humans.
I read long part [ full report] and really enjoy it. I personally would never go for climbing trip there [ to cold and short summer] but your story inspire me to renew my Russian passport
another nickname

Social climber
Yazoo Ms
  Sep 11, 2018 - 06:40am PT
How was the cellphone coverage?
EdwardT

Trad climber
Retired
  Sep 11, 2018 - 07:04am PT
Reading this, I kept thinking of:



Thanks for posting up.
Jan

Mountain climber
Colorado & Nepal
  Sep 11, 2018 - 07:43am PT
Thank you for this wonderful glimpse into a world we know almost nothing about. It made me very happy to know there are still wild places devoid of humans. It gives me hope for our planet.
Winter

climber
  Sep 11, 2018 - 08:08am PT
Awesomeness Chalupas!
selfish man

Gym climber
Austin, TX
  Sep 11, 2018 - 08:15am PT
Amazing!!!
nah000

climber
now/here
  Sep 11, 2018 - 08:42am PT
very cool... one of the most personally interesting tr's that i've seen on here in quite some time...

thanks for putting it together!!!
fgw

climber
portland, or
Author's Reply  Sep 11, 2018 - 08:51am PT
no cell coverage in the mountains - couldn't get the sat phone to work in camp either (probably would have to hike up/out of the valley).

Alexey, there are other nice looking climbing options in Russia. There's Stolby by Krasnoyarsk (mostly short routes) and there is a place called Ergaki a few hours further. There's even a new guidebook for that one. Thanks again guys.
le_bruce

climber
Oakland, CA
  Sep 11, 2018 - 10:36am PT


...

incredible
donini

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
  Sep 11, 2018 - 02:44pm PT
Thanks...I love hearing about remote places, especially ones I never new existed.
socialclimber

climber
CA
  Sep 11, 2018 - 03:28pm PT
True adventure out there! E Robinson would enjoy this I think...

Charles
Ney Grant

Trad climber
Pollock Pines
  Sep 11, 2018 - 04:49pm PT
Oh man I can't believe you had to leave two days early!! I guess its like weather - what can you do? Great effort though and great trip report.
Scole

Trad climber
Zapopan
  Sep 11, 2018 - 05:19pm PT
How was the fishing?
fgw

climber
portland, or
Author's Reply  Sep 12, 2018 - 08:39am PT
How was the fishing?
not really our thing but even looking at our drivers' catch, didn't seem worth an all nighter.
Charlie D.

Trad climber
Western Slope, Tahoe Sierra
  Oct 12, 2018 - 11:21am PT
So great to see such a remote place left on this planet....what beautiful empty space. Thanks for posting!!!
another nickname

Social climber
Yazoo Ms
  Oct 12, 2018 - 12:19pm PT
Fabulous trip report!!!!!

A slightly relevant, Soviet adventure film about Siberia which I HIGHLY recommend:

"Letter Never Sent" 1960, director Mikhail Kalatozov, cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky.

https://www.criterion.com/current/posts/2207-letter-never-sent-refining-fire
okay, whatever

climber
  Oct 12, 2018 - 12:25pm PT
Thanks! Very interesting, particularly since many of us (well, me anyway) carry a mental image of Siberia as more or less flat, desolate wasteland in the south, and lonely sub-Arctic forest and tundra in the north. Clearly it is more than that!
Marlow

Sport climber
OSLO
  Oct 12, 2018 - 12:29pm PT

Thanks. That's true adventure - with unpredictability on so many levels... and hospitality too...
micronut

Trad climber
Fresno/Clovis, ca
  Oct 12, 2018 - 11:00pm PT

Amazing adventure. Can't imagine how out there you must have felt right at this moment, on the cusp of committment, ready to send, but that "whoah man we are a long way way from home" demon whispering insecurities in your ear.

Well done and thank you so much for posting up!

Scott
lars johansen

Trad climber
West Marin, CA
  Oct 13, 2018 - 08:34am PT
Fascinating, thanks so much for posting.-lars
Happy Cowboy

Social climber
Boz MT
  Oct 13, 2018 - 08:54am PT
Rad TR, thanks for the great pics and story!
Fritz

Social climber
Choss Creek, ID
  Oct 13, 2018 - 12:07pm PT
Thank you for taking the time to post all those photos & your adventure report. I vastly enjoyed all of it!

(I'm sorry you got screwed out of 2 days of the best part of the adventure.)
Peter_H

Mountain climber
Chugiak, Alaska
  Oct 17, 2018 - 10:20am PT
Great TR! Living on the other side of the Bering Strait, I've always wondered what those mountains looked like. I had no idea there was anything that looked a bit like the Cirque of the Unclimbables. And your comments about Russian hospitality fit those of some sailors we crossed paths with this summer, who had followed the coastline around from Japan, Russia, and to Alaska. Anyway, great adventure - thanks for sharing!
Babushka

Trad climber
CT
  Oct 18, 2018 - 04:52am PT
Great trip report !
I was born and lived in Rassia till 30 , traveled a lot, been around Lake Baikal , Altay mountains , but have never been in that part of the country .

Thank you for your story and amaizing pictures !

If anyone likes crazy adventures——-There is one place in Central Siberia which is really enigmatic and most isolated mountain range - Putorana Plateau.
yanqui

climber
Balcarce, Argentina
  Oct 18, 2018 - 09:45am PT
Loved the photos! Way to get out there and experience the world you live in!
tradmanclimbs

Ice climber
Pomfert VT
  Oct 18, 2018 - 01:24pm PT
Super cool! at least you got one climb in. We always wont morde but I usually call the trip a success if we get at least one climb in :)
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