Opening new routes, trad climbing in Eastern Siberia.
This is the project that Thibault, Clément, Virgile, Théo and Alizée realized by leaving for a month in the region of Yakut. A project driven by a common passion, which required no less than 8 months of preparation. Read their story.
Act 1 - Elanka, the shore of a thousand wonders
Once there, we spent a few days with the local Climbing and Mountaineering Federation. The opportunity to share anecdotes about our best climbing spots and to exchange with the locals, to teach climbing in a local school and to organize the 20 days of self-sufficiency to come.
6 hours later we arrive at our base camp, 20km from the closest house. We settle down at the edge of the water and we begin to prepare our stuff for climbing;
After 2 days of rain, we are ready to face what we came for! Virgile arms himself with all the belays, and starts climbing a very beautiful and pure line, 35 meters high, with good rock. Meanwhile, Alizée and Théo are setting up lines on the pillars. This will give two nice routes, something in the 6a range and something in the 6c range.
We use the rope that I installed on the 2nd day to put a belay above the crack, which will end up becoming a beautiful area for trad climbing. We try the hard line, and we estimate that it will be worth bolting it if the locals are in demand of difficult routes (something like 7b, on brittle micro-edges).
On the 7th day the Yakuts of the mountaineering federation join us, the camp fills up quickly! Quickly the fire is lit, and succulent meals are going to follow one another in the enormous cast iron pots. One evening, after dessert, and to our great astonishment, our hosts prepare pork tournedos on the fire, which are accompanied by multiple toasts of vodka to the Franco-Yakuts friendship. We find unheard of tactics to decline more drinks, and we go to bed still lucid to be fresh the next day!
The locals attack our routes without any hesitation, most often climbing top rope. Even though they have a hard time with technical moves, even in 6a, they love it, and they are very happy that the sector is growing. The young people (Vika, Tima, Sasha) tell us that very few people in the Mountaineering Federation are authorized to open new routes, that the area and climbing really suffer from it.
Act 2 - The Pillars of the Lost World
We go to Bottomai, a typical Siberian village, to get to the foot of the Pillars. The first two days we look at potential climbing lines, study the structure of the rock and the structure of the pillars. This is a very important time in opening new routes in trad climbing. Understanding the rock, we are mainly looking for crack lines, as clean as possible, in areas with good colour and sound rock. We note two Pillars that seem to us as possible. They are about 100 meters high.
After a few days of rain, Virgile could not wait any longer (it's the enthusiasm of youth). Alizée will belay him on his first attempts. Clément and me, we take up viewpoints and film the ascent as best as possible. He launches out to the assault of the first tower, the one which is part of the "Pyramid". The approach is quite short, this tower is one of the first of the sector. The slopes that serve as bases for the towers are composed of scree covered with 20cm of moss and grass.
Climbing is easy, but very risky. Every time he moves a foot or a hand, the part of the rock with which he was in contact crumbles and falls. As it evolves, the holds seem to be held only by pressure. The real problem lies in protection, i.e. in the points he puts to secure himself as he climbs. Hammering in pitons is quite random: one out of three times the rock cracks and falls in small slabs, one out of three times the internal layer seems homogeneous and too compact for the piton to go in fully. Sometimes, the piton sinks properly, shaking the whole tower, and he wonders about its reliability in case of fall... He progresses slowly, but surely, in a vague open crack, earthy and not very compact. He arrives in a small niche, under an overhang, about 15 meters above the ground. There he has to traverse 5 meters to the left, on even worse rock, lacking cracks and unprotected. However, just 10 meters above is a beautiful crack that follows the whole column to its top, and which seems climbable in 2 or 3 pitches. After 10 minutes of reflection, he decides that the danger is too great. He used two pitons and a rope to go back down in safety and retrieve the gear. This first experience is rather alarming, it seems that the first 20 meters of each column forbids any climbing, forcing the climber to advance on delicate and random rock, without any viable protection.
The following days we go back to the pillars in climbing and set up a highline. Set up takes us about 3 hours. We set up around 30 and 70 meters of static ropes on each side of the highline, in order towrap around the huge promontories. Safety is of utmost importance to me, as I am responsible for what will happen.
Luck smiles at us: as I go up on the highline for the first tests, a French couple comes out of the grove in a very lucky way! They are visiting for the day, and have a drone. They accept with great pleasure to film us. Clément, who waits impatiently for the "golden hours", has fun in his turn. The "highline" mission is a great success. A first: the first highline on the Lena's pillars, on natural anchors. And the first highline in Yakutia. The locals are impressed, and congratulate us.
The day of departure arrives, We return to the "inhabited" side of Lena, leaving with emotion the wonderful Lost World, which has fascinated us so much. We join Iakutsk with the help of our friend Sasha, who came especially to help us to return. The last days are composed of press conferences, interviews (as much of the locals, for our film, as of us for the articles of the local newspapers), arrangements, souvenir shopping, visits, etc.
After a month of adventure in Yakut and after having woven very strong inter-cultural bonds of friendship, we leave Yakut and return to France, and tell again and again this marvellous adventure, to develop climbing in a region of the world where the climbing is a forgotten secret and a slender dream...