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Slideshow: Unclimbed Big Walls of Siberia

Inspired by a friend’s photo, during summer of 2014, Australians Chris Fitzgerald and Chris Warner traveled to northeastern Russia to climb untouched remote walls in the arctic’s Chuvan Mountains. They navigated past signs of the fallen Soviet Union, including aging hammer-and-sickle symbols, abandoned prison camps, barbwire, and along an unpaved road to town of Bilibino in the region of Chukotka. The small town was built in the 1950s to mine gold. From 1965 to 1974, workers built the world’s northern-most nuclear power plant there, which is still in operation today. It was a photo taken by Evgeny Turilov, who works as a nuclear engineer at the plant, that lured the team to visit these walls.

The team completed the final 60 kilometers of travel by quad bike, ending with a stretch of soaked tundra. In a valley hidden from view even to the townspeople of Bilibino, they spent 23 days ascending six new free routes on four sweeping, sheer walls up to 500 meters tall. Some routes were climbed bolt-free in a day, with the team following a single crack system from bottom to top, while others required bolts and multiple days to complete. They shared vodka with people they met, and when that became low, they added ethanol to their drink. The conversation continued like the constant drizzle of rain. –Chris Van Leuven

The General wall as seen from?Komandnaya?(“Commander”) Peak. Basil Brush (7a [5.11c]), climbed over five days by Fitzgerald and Warner, ascends the center of the face. [Photo] Chris Warner

Chris Warner following Pitch 3 (7a [5.11c]) on Basil Brush on The General. The team used their nut tool to excavate gear placements. They also cleared moss clumps out of the cracks in order to make progress. [Photo] Chris Fitzgerald

Route-less walls as seen from the top of Dome Peak. [Photo] Chris Warner

(Top) Unclimbed cracks above Hidden Lake. | (Bottom) Several of Bilibino’s still-unclimbed walls–some up to 300m high–above Hidden Lake. The walls are split by many vertical cracks. [Photos] Chris Warner (Both)

Chris Fitzgerald and Chris Warner exploring new-route potential on a rainy day. [Photo] Evgeny Turilov

The 500m north wall of Komandnaya?Peak. The team reached halfway up the wall before being rained off. Their attempted line takes the obvious diagonal weakness in the center of the wall. [Photo] Chris Warner

Chris Fitzgerald in the next valley over from their base camp. The team’s route, Gardening Australia, on Launch Peak, ascends the center of the wall on the far right. [Photo] Chris Warner

Scoping out lines from the base of?Komandnaya?Peak. Nuclear engineer Evgeny Turilov spent several days with the team hiking around the area. Turilov inspired Fitzgerald and Warner to mix stove fuel, ethanol, into their vodka–which they did–in order to stretch it out. [Photo] Evgeny Turilov