Carolyn and Anthony

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The River Катун

A few weeks ago I had the chance to go rafting down the Катун (Katoon) river. The Катун is in the Altai, a mountainous region on the Russian-Mongolian border. Leaving from Манжерок (Manjerok), we headed up stream a few hours. Purple, lilac-like flowers were in bloom across the hills, creating a beautiful landscape.
Igor and I put together a Catamaran raft and pushed off into the water. Like any other raft, this type was almost impossible to flip, and afforded us amazing views while floating along through the rapids. The rapids themselves were a lot of fun - mostly long, large wave trains.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Столбы - The Pillars

Carolyn and I just returned from a three day trip to the rock pillars of Krasnoyarsk, a neighboring Krai (province). A local friend of ours, Anatoly, agreed to take us and show us around. Though it took twelve hours by train, we traveled at night, sleeping on the way there and back. Krasnayarsk is a pretty city of about one million people, but we left it almost immediately to head about 15 km out to the famous Столбы, or Stolby Pillars. There are maybe five different pillar areas, the most popular of which is located in a national park frequented by as many hikers as climbers. Anatoly, a geologist by day, explained that the local rock is very coarse, alkaline granite, great for climbing. The pillars range from 50 to 150 m in height and are covered in a variety of routes, some which were easily scrambled up and others of which required creeping up smooth, overhung 100 m walls.

The area has a climbing culture with its own explicit traditions and principles. The key facet of Stolbinism, the local culture, is complete concentration and focus when climbing, ignoring any and all distractions. Most notable to outsiders, this results in complete scorn towards any use of a rope; a true Stolbinist free solos all of his or her routes. As we walked around the pillars on our first day (no climbing because it was raining), Anatoly pointed out the several plaques at the base of some climbs memorializing a Stolbinist's fatal accident.

Fortunately for us, though Anatoly had at one time been a local daredevil Stolbinist, he has since gained a healthy appreciation for safety as a father of high schoolers and a high-altitude mountaineering guide. That didn't stop him from climbing almost all of our routes without any roped protection, but he made sure we were on-belay whenever we were above a particularly dangerous fall. As Carolyn and my climbing experience is limited, we all stuck to relatively easy routes, occasionally setting up a top rope belay so that Anatoly could do something more challenging.

The second day of our trip treated us to beautifully sunny weather, and we headed up and climbed a route or two on all of the Stolby in the central region. The toughest one for me was a chimney climb up the Feathers Pillar (photo to the left). It required rotating from one chimney up into the next while about 20 meters off the ground and at a point where the rope was not going to do me a whole lot of good if I fell. And, did I mention we only had sneakers, no climbing shoes? Shudder. There are many reasons I am not cut out to be a serious climber, not the least of which is a fear of heights.

Our final day we headed out from the central collection of pillars to Tak Mal, a region of pillars that only climbers visit. Because the day was extremely windy and slightly rainy, we were alone on the pillars. In the moments where the sun came out, we were treated to the most beautiful views of the surrounding hills peaking between the rock pillars.

/* Removed 2007-02-28