4 guys, 12 days, thousands miles from home.

It was an eye opening and an inspiring trip.
Where should I start… Through out the whole trip we were breaking everything into stages. Why would I stop now…

Stage 1: Civilisation to Wilderness

Packing is almost done. Ok, we are 12kg over the limit and we refine our list of things we are taking.

We agreed not to compromise on climbing gear. What can we ditch then?..

Dual fuel burner? Yeah we can leave it, we won’t have time to get petrol for it anyway no chance of getting gas either.

Small burners? Just incase we need them, they are light…Keep them.

Water filter pump and a filter bag? The lighter one comes with us the other one stays in the van.

Food? Trek’N’Eat expedition meals and Olly bars? Russians mentioned that they will take some food for us, but to be safe let’s take it.

We agreed not to ditch climbing gear, but there was nothing else of substantial weight apart from our ropes. We have two sets of 80m twin ropes. Can we climb with one set? Will we even climb at all? O.K. one set will have to do… Which one though?… LOWE 8.4mm or MASTER 7.8mm

Thicker! It can take more beating!

We are packed I guess?!..(If only I knew, that I left my spork behind…)

Airport shuffle: Kaunas – Moscow, Moscow – Perm.

7pm Perm. What should we do? Go to the hotel or straight to the pick up point from where we will be going to Nyrob, where our helicopter will be waiting for us?

Hotel. But I cancelled the reservation, because we had ‘only’ 8 hours to hang around before our transfer bus.

We get to the pick up point via couple of hotels incase we can stay somewhere… Dmitrij is the leader/guide of our group. To get where we wanted we had to chose him. Only 1500 people a year are allowed to the plateau of Manpupuner. The reason is that the rock formations are one of the 7 wonders of Russia.

Ok the chances to climb are getting slimmer and slimmer. Are we going on a very expensive camping trip half way across the globe? I hope not… All of us hope not…

It started to rain, great. The 5 hour bus trip got even more dull. We tried to sleep, but the roads were so bumpy that it was almost impossible. We managed eventually. It felt like all the fillings will be rattled out of my teeth.

I woke up just as we were arriving to Nyrob – a little village in the middle of nowhere. We drove past high security prison with 5 layers of barbed and razor wired fences. Security guards with Ak47s looked at us as we drove past. Are we going to a concentration camp?

At this stage we did not know much about our Russian friends, nor did they know much about us either.

Stage 1 was almost complete. Now we are waiting for our helicopter pilot to give us a thumbs up next time we ask about flying.

Another helicopter lands. Police, ambulance, soldiers they are all here. What the hell had happened? They pull a dead body on the stretcher out of the fuselage. We were warned not to take photos or film. We obeyed – too early to cock up the whole trip.

Are we staying here over night? I asked myself.

We did… In the middle of the night I heard somebody shouting ‘Stoy! Militia! Ya budu stryliat!’ (Stop! Police! I will shoot!) I asked the other guys in the morning, they heard it too. Someone was running from the police and got to the airfield. Gladly It did not affect us.

Helicopter is loaded! Our basecamp, planks for the bridges, metal poles, tools and a lot more stuff than we thought there will be.

We are on the helicopter! Bye civilisation! 1.5h flight was loud, shaky and the windows were positioned behind, thus looking through one of them would get your back stiff in no time. Basically – Ryanair! 🙂

Stage 2: Don’t get eaten by a bear or a hungry Russian.

‘Chetyre cheloveka. Vyydite iz vertoleta!’ Shouts Dima, looking at the back of the MI-8T where we sat.

‘Us I believe’ I said to myself.

We jump out of helicopter with some rangers who will be stationed on that peak. Dima told us to follow the path for 5km and we will reach our Base Camp. Whistling and singing marching songs we went through the taiga. There was another guy walking with us – a filmmaker who was there to document the bridge building process.

That brings us to the stage number three.

Stage 3: Earn Your Climbing

Earlier we thought that we were on a very expensive camping trip. The situation improved a bit. We were in the environment where just a simple thing as walking through was making a lot impact. Constantly muddy ground gets easily destroyed – we witnessed the damage 4 guys can make going up and down the mountain. The river banks are even more prone to collapsing. We joined our forces with Dmitrij and improved the infrastructure so the next group of people can enjoy the nature with as little direct impact as possible. I imagine how strange it might be for someone going in the middle of nowhere and finding a well made wooden bridge/walkway. After we brought the planks from the top of the mountain, as a celebration that we did not get attacked by a bear Dmitrij filled a thermal camping mug with vodka and sent it around. The next day it started going around a bit earlier and on the last day of work ‘The Mug’ started to make rounds at lunch time. Russians do drink. The stereotype is right. All for the good cause. We only made 80m of bridges, but a lot more is needed.

However, we were running out of time and climbing had to be done.

Stage 4: The Mammoth Wall

We walked around the towers. Even though it was windy and cold the fingertips were sweating. The mind was going crazy too. The only word I could think, say and hear was – CLIMB(ing). Withdrawal from not climbing for over a week is obvious

When we finished the first day of work Dmitrij told us that we can climb after we finish with the bridges. It was enough to motivate us to almost run up the mountain to bring more planks down to the valley.

We brought the planks, we cut them, hammered them. The bridges were done!

We walked around the mammoth wall to pick our routes. The boys were kind to let me climb first. I chose the line which was the zigzagging crack system.

I topped out. I was overfilled with joy to finally climb something, somewhere in the middle of Russia. ‘WHO’S SECONDING?!’ – I shouted.

Arunas tied in, I had so much rope drag that just pulling was fruitless. I had to do squats to pull the rope. I pulled all of the rope. Now I had to get him on belay. I started laughing aloud. I had been sport climbing so much recently, that I totally forgot to grab my belay device. ‘Italian hitch it is then…’ I thought.

As Arunas was getting to the top the sun was hiding behind the horizon. Rokas and Matthias went back to the ranger’s hut.

We tied our ropes together, threw them to opposite sides of the rock wall and started to abseil. Not the most orthodox way of descending, but we were not allowed to leave anything on the rocks.

We packed up and rushed to the hut. Then the most amazing sauna followed our eventful climb.

Next day Arunas led a route dedicated to our Russian friend Nikita and named it after him. Rokas lead a variation of that route and named it ‘Easy Peasy’. That was the first ever trad climb for him. Cams on one side, nuts on the other. ‘I put them in the crack and they should hold, right?’- he asks just as he steps on the rock.

Then we set a top rope four Nikita and Maxim who had never climbed before. They were ecstatic when they got to the top of the smaller mammoth wall. To get Nikita down was easy, even though he expressed his concern for going down on such thin ropes. 8.4mm twin ropes. We reassured that we have even thinner ones and he relaxed.

To get Maxim down was a lot more interesting. Our Russian skills were limited to everyday chats and not to technical abseiling vocabulary. I shouted to Nikita who was on the ground and he shouted back to Maxim in Russian.

The first words Nikita told us when we got down that he is signing up to the local climbing gym in Perm as soon as he gets back. Did he? I don’t know. I should ask.

Matthias climbed his route with a nasty chimney requiring a ‘Tight Squeeze’ and that became the name for it too. Again we did not learn to put slings to create extensions to reduce the rope drag. None of the boys were too inspired by the route so I took one for the team whilst Arunas belayed me half way from where Matthias took over. There was so much rope drag that it could not have been done over-wise.

The next day was the last one…

We chose the longest line. All four of us topped out and celebrated the successful trip.

We made friends, we experienced new culture, we helped the locals, we did something for the environment and we climbed.

Now it is time to get back to the reality and train hard for big climbing goals next summer.

Thanks to all of the friends and family for the advice, help and worrying.

A massive thanks to all of the companies who had faith in us and helped us make our little expedition happen.

Montis Magia, Osprey Packs, Petzl, Tendon, Olly Bars, Katadyn and The Reach Climbing wall. 

We will be doing a little tour with presentations and film screening in December. So keep your eyes opened for more info.

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