library about Russian climbs:
In quest of Russian Shambala
My train arrived in Barnaul at 8.00 A.M. (5.00 A.M. in Moscow) and
I was not expecting to meet my friend Sergey Zhabrodin, who was
my partner for that trip, on the platform. He was to arrive there
by plane a couple of hours after my arrival, as we had planned two
days before in Moscow. However, due to a mistake in our calculating,
Sergey was in Barnaul before me, and was even able to find a taxi
to Tiungur, the starting point of our expedition. "Itís too
expensive,Ē I thought, when I was informed of the taxi price (170$),
but ten hours and a thousand kilometers later, a third of which
was unpaved road, I agreed that the price was not exaggerated. "You
have brought good weather with you," we were told in Tiungur.
"Today is the first sunny day. For more than one month it has
rained here". "Good," I thought. "Itíll be lucky
for us if it prolongs for some days more". There is no harm
in dreams, especially in mountains, but by the next day it was raining
again. We had made a camp on the shore of Katun, and the next morning
we were visited by a man who offered us horses. We had planned to
do a part of our way on a horseback, and immediately accepted his
offer. We agreed about prices and after an hour of packing started
up the mountains by a small caravan of three horses - two for us
and one for our horse guide. The price was 300 rubles (10$) per
day for one horse, but that sum diminished after drinking two liters
of vodka (our entire stock) with our horse guide. We decided to
go up by the Akem valley but on the second day we discovered that
our path was missing under high water of the flooded Akem River.
It was too dangerous for horses to continue the way. The last drop
for our horse guide was our meeting with a very sad caravan in which
they had lost one horse with its cargo in the wild waters of the
Akem. Our guide refused to go further. So, on the third day of nasty
weather, wet through and through (two days in a saddle under continuous
rain), we put on our rucksacks and in the evening reached camp "Visotnick"
by an absolutely terrible muddy path and almost without accidents
(not counting Sergeís falling into a spring). All the time it rained.
It was really hard even to believe that any improvements in the
situation were possible. The next day we left part of our things
and provisions in the camp and went to the Akem Lake where we made
a formal visit to the rescue station, and then back on the trail
again. It rained again in the evening when we made our camp on the
shore of a small lake near Mt. Ak-Oyuk.
next day we tried to climb that mountain, but having been put in
a rut by terrible rains we returned to our camp. The rain had ceased
by dinnertime and gave us an opportunity to dry our things. After
that, we decided to lose no time and have some ice climbing training.
If you look at the North Face of Mt. Ak-Oyuk, on the left side of
its great glacier you will notice a gigantic ice wall about 80 meters
We used just that wall for our training. The far part of the wall
is vertical with a little declination in the higher part and is
very beautiful for climbing. However, there is a danger of stonefall
in the lower part of this wall. In the closer part, the wall is
smaller but climbing here is more sportive because there are two
cornices of one meter each.
part of the wall is out of the way of stonefall. We were soon having
a lot of fun. The next day, in fantastically good weather, we climbed
Mt. Ak-oyuk, from the top of which in such weather can be seen a
great panorama, especially the massif of Mt. Belukha, the great
crown of Altay and the main purpose of our trip.
The shrill sound of my alarm clock has pulled me out of a half-asleep,
dozing condition, in which Iíve been for the last two hours, having,
as is usual in high mountains, very bright, delirious dreams. I
sit up quickly and I look at my watch - one o'clock in the morning.
I listen for some time, then with caution open an entrance of our
tent and look out. What I see there instantly drives the rest of
sleep from my head and completely mobilizes me. Today we will be
on The Summit; we must be there today. If the weather allowed us
to doubt yesterday, now all doubts have vanished like a dream -
the weather is ideal - neither wind, nor cloud, easy frost, ice
crust and brightly shining moon. I wake my sleeping partner, and
begin to prepare breakfast - tea, chocolate and biscuits - before
hard work it is better not to overfill oneís stomach. Last night
we had gone to sleep completely dressed for climbing and thanks
to this we have saved a full half an hour on the dressing, something
which is always painfully long in our small double tent. It was
also warmer to sleep dressed - our sleeping bags are not for sleeping
on the snow because it is too cold.
the space of one hour the base camp is already far below, black
points on the silver snow, brightly lit by the moon. Some tents
are highlighted from within - people are waking up. But tonight
we have been first to start, and as we will see later, weíve been
go up slowly. The dawn is still very far, but the light of the moon
is reflected by the snow, creating an illumination almost as bright
as daytime, but of rare fantastic beauty. The sky is covered in
stars, the bright band across is the Milky Way. The air is very
clear and transparent, and in the south where the stars are sinking
in darkness, the black ragged line of the horizon is visible. There
is Mongolia. There is the boundless open space of Altay between
the horizon and me, where there are still places untrodden by the
foot of man. Sometimes I turn and walk backwards - what I see around
is so beautiful, that I want to look all around me at once. I canít
escape some feeling of strange mysticism, unreality of everything
that surrounds me. A feeling of indescribable delight and euphoria
grows in my heart. It is very easy to go up, rare thing in mountains.
It seems that if I ceased moving my legs, the strange mystical force
would carry me upwards anyway. I pass the turn of a glacier, raise
my eyes and am stunned. Here it is, the Russian Shambala, Holy Mount
Belukha. For some time I stand still, from a mountain comes a strong
flow of energy; I feel it almost physically. I recollect the stories
about this mountain, my friend's parting words. I was told that
Belukha is a mystical mountain, but I did not expect to feel it
the ridge of Bierelskiy I wait for my partner, who has lagged behind
considerably. Now it is necessary to use a rope for belaying. All
the magic vanishes, the normal climbing work begins.
The Ridge - the most ďdifficultĒ part of the classical route on
Mt. East Belukha. It is 200-300 meters of easy rocks with snow and
ice. The points of belaying are reliable, and the climbing is simple.
While we climb the ridge, I donít know from where, in the clear
sky appear clouds, which while we climb higher, have become a dense
fog, a very bad thing for orientation. Somehow, almost by touch,
I look for a way to the summit dome, settlement of which I had noticed
from below. Sometimes I occasionally come across faint old traces
on the snow, proof that we are on the correct path.
stars were fading - it was near sunrise, and I hoped to be on the
summit just at the moment of sunrise - a rare lucky person could
observe such a show. But the clouds became more and more dense,
and my hope of seeing something decreased. In the meantime, the
slope on which I went, as Hedgehog in Fog (popular Russian multiplication
film) became more steep, and soon it was necessary to use ice tools.
A few more meters of climbing, a small snow cornice, and I am on
the top! We were right to rise at such an early hour! What I have
seen from there has forced me to clutch with shaking hands my camera.
The clouds were lower than us, the sun had just risen (6.00 A.M.),
and the very low, Western Belukha was represented to us as a dense
cloudy dome of very correct form with tremendous colors of fantastic
beauty. Unfortunately, my abilities as photographer and as writer
donít give me an opportunity to describe that miraculous show. Maybe
there was even something indescribable. To tell you the truth, now
I am disappointed with the results of my photographing on the summit.
the summit a strong wind blew, it was rather cold and humid (because
of clouds) and we quickly became covered by a thin layer of hoarfrost.
The half an hour of sitting on the top was enough to be frozen,
and we decided to head down. This was not so simple, again because
of the poor visibility. As a result, on the summit we lost the way
and began to descend by a wrong ridge. Having descended some ropes,
suddenly I saw in a break of a cloud below us a snow saddle with
a tent buried in snow. Our mistake with the route became obvious,
and having left my partner to sit on a shelf, I climbed down to
the tent. It was three Poles who had lost their way there the previous
day. Fortunately all was OK with them, and quickly having broken
down the camp, they came with us back to the summit, where on the
second attempt I found the correct
way down. We descended without problems, having met on the descent
some teams going to the top. They told us then that no one else
saw anything but fog. So, rise earlier! :)
return road was not marked by any accidents that are worthy of description.
We had three days of descent by a dry path with light rucksacks
(part of our things had gone down on horseback by Kucherla valley),
legs erased up to our knees, bushes of currants and raspberries
remaining behind us(we had no time to stop as we were in a hurry).
The weather continued to be good for us, it only rained at night,
the path was dry, and we ran downwards as if on an asphalt road.
Again we did not hurry for nothing, for as soon as we got under
the roof of base "Visotnic" in Tiugur, there came a strong
rain until the next morning and when we departed it was raining
still. Then one more day of jolting in the car first up to Biysk,
then up to Barnaul. Then three days of dull sitting in Barnaul,
because the was not train (for another two weeks!), nor plane (for
three days)and there were not any tickets available. I departed
on the fourth day (Serge departed earlier), but three days in Barnaul
had much sufficed. The city is absolutely empty, and three days
for acquaintance with it is obviously too much.
acquaintance with Altay, however, was very pleasant to me. I had
been for the first time in these mountains of a stunning beauty,
absolutely unlike any mountains I had been to before. The nature
of Altay has not yet felt on itself the pernicious influence of
civilization. I think that is why it behaves toward the people so
warmly, so kindly. But I canít say that about the local population,
from dialogues of which I have only unpleasant memories. But it
does not spoil general impressions of that trip anyway. It would
be a sin to complain - we were unusually lucky with the weather,
and climbed very beautiful and interesting mountains. Altay has
smiled on us and has allowed us to admire its beauty.
And also these mountains have given to us an acquaintance with very
good people, and I want here, in the end of my story, to say to
them hi and best regards, much hoping that they will read it. BEST
REGARDS FOR ALL OF YOU, I WOULD LOVE TO MEET YOU AGAIN!
It was warm and safe for us on a route due to the high-technological
clothes of Lowe Alpine, the perfect colour dreams we had in down
sleeping bags and tents of CAMP, the American company MSR has taken
care of a duly and high-grade hot meal, our way in darkness was
clear because of the PETZL headlamps. Among other things, the safety
on snow and ice was guaranteed by CHARLET - the manufacturer of
the crampons and ice-axes. Our thanks to all of you for magnificent
quality of production and the soul, which you put into it!