Munku Sardyk - Spring Climbing
by Lukas Bieler
From April 22nd to 26th 2004 I was on my way to the Okinskij Rayon in the Republic of Burjatien with some Russian and American friends and climbed up the highest peak of east Syberia - Munku Sardyk. Among the beautiful countryside with its snow and rocks especially the Russian way of climbing will definitely stay in my mind.
Our crew consisted of an experienced Russian mountaineer, two young Russians from Ulan-Ude, three students and a family father from Irkutsk, two American missionaries and me.
The peak of the Munku-Sardyk is situated at the border of Mongolia and Russia so you are always near the border zone when you go travelling there. A proper border guard is placed at the point where you will leave the street. For people with a foreign nationality it is quite difficult to get a permission for accessing the area near the border. Our guide however achieved somehow a reasonable legal solution for this problem. The climbing up the mountain in spring time is much more difficult than in summer although the snow conditions vary each year. In the time during the May holidays lots of mountaineers go travelling in this territory, then a path emerges which eases the going up (but does not make the route look better). Before the May holidays it will be difficult to have a proper security without the alpine standard equipment, so we decided to take cramps, an ice axe and the rope suite.
On Thursday morning we left Irkutsk with two cars. In Kultuk we met our friends from Ulan-Ude and then drove through the beautiful Tunka. Mondy is the last village where you can take the bus to but we went further up to the border post where we left our cars and started the trip.
Two hours away from the border post the base camp is usually build up at a height of 1827 meters in the village "Strel'ka" which is the mouth of the two rivers "Belij Irkut" and "Muguwjek". The April in Siberia is normally quite cold so we were equipped with warm sleeping bags and slept close together in the tents. We prepared our food in metal boilers over an open fire for which you will need an axe and a saw.It is much better than using a benzin or gas cook.For that you will have to find a solution to keep the wind and the cold air away from the cooker or you wont get any warm water.
For a European an acclimatisation is hardly necessary but it is worth taking some time for the Munku Sardyk and its surroundings. So we took the Friday to get used to the thin air and trained our legs for the going up.
Training for the basics in alpinism
The most of us have never used any of the instruments for climbing up a mountain before. For that reason we were trained on Saturday in going with cramps, in securing ourselves with the ice axe and in various techniques with the rope. Pretty fast I was getting used to go with the cramps and especially on iced slopes it is agreeable. But we had our problems in securing ourselves when falling down with knocking in the ice axe and then using the cramps. But we knew what we would have to do in emergencies.
Going up - Woschoschdenje
On Sunday morning we were ready to start our trip up to the peak of the mountain. From the base camp we would still have to manage 3 passages. The first part went easy upwards along the creek Munguwjek for about three hours. We took the creek which was mostly covered with ice. Only sometimes we were getting wet feet. In May it is probably better to take the path next to the creek.
The second part was leading to a level with a little lake. For that we had to cover approximately 500 high meters and for me it was the most difficult part because the combination of stones and soft snow was unpredictable.
For the last part we had to manage 900 high meters with a rise of round about 45%. We could already see the peak and just had to climb up the slope. At first we had to trudge through the knee-deep snow up to the steep ending that was again covered with ice. Unfortunately one of our member had early a broken cramp which was now going to be a problem. The two friends from Ulan-Ude were going together from the beginning on: So Pawel who had two proper cramps secured the ice axe and the cramps in the ice after he made two steps and let Tschingis follow. At the more dangerous parts I was going behind them and tried to support the shoes from Tschingis with my ice axe. The really thick and hard ice was on the last 100 meters and the going up was tiring so that we reached the peak an hour later then the rest of the group. When we arrived it was already six in the evening and there were two hours left until the dusk would come up. I was surprised of the time schedule. Our team leader probably did not think that we would take much more time.That is why we only started at eight in the morning and left our torches at the base camp, except a few who were taking them by accident.
When going down we realised for the first time how steep the slope was and some of us were getting a bit unwell. We decided to pass the slope with a rope that we fixed in the ice. So relatively fast we could manage the part down to the little lake through the soft snow and then it was getting dark. Where we were climbing up carefully in the morning we were now just jumping over stone and snow with the habit to reach the camp as quick as possible. Two hours we were marching through the dark night over the creek whose ice was giving way on lots of places. Anyhow the group sticked together and the atmosphere stayed good. At one at night we finally reached the base camp and now our tiredness and exhaustion was overwhelming us so we just had some hot tea and the essentials to eat before we fell into our sleeping bags.
On the next morning we had big troubles packing our stuff and take the heavy luggage down. Our drivers too found it difficult to bring us home safely. We were all going up to our limits and the thrill of the peak was only delaying our exhaustion.