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The Circumpolar Urals

North Face of South Kolokolnja

The Circumpolar Urals are the highest part of the Ural Mountains. The highest point of the whole system, Narodnaya Gora (1894m), is here, together with the other several alpine-looking peaks: Manaraga (1820m), Kolokolnya (1724m), Zatshita (1808m), Mansi-Nyer (1778m), Sverdlova (1800m), Komsomola (1729m). The range interesting for climbers is the Sablinski, at the south-west corner of the area. It stretches from north to south for 30km, Sablya peak being the tallest (1497m).

The range has the asymmetrical east and west slopes, the east one is formed by deep glacial cirques with abrupt walls. As a result of the glacial and weathering processes, many peaks here have rugged, alpine aspect, untypical for northern mountains.

west slopes of peak Naroda - the highest point of Ural

Until now the Circumpolar Urals are not an easy place to get to. Suffice it to say that its highest parts were discovered only in the thirties of the last (20th) century. Yet, thanks to the Northern Railroad skirting the east-northern borders of the area, the approaches are good. Rough tracks go into the mountains from the stations "1952th kilometre" and "Inta" and from the town of Petchora you can fly in a chartered helicopter. In summer-time a motor ship runs along the Petchora river (turning into an ice-road in winter) and from Aranets village there remain to the Sablinski range 60km of walking or skiing. Now the mountains of the area belong to the Petchorski part (its management sitting in Petchora town) of the Yugyd-Va National Park. After the War the Circumpolar Urals were well explored by tourists, especially by skiers. A lot of passes were crossed and easier routes on the major peaks were done by them, but climbers were not in haste to come there.

The place is still a "white spot" on the climbing map of Russia. Nonetheless, routes up to 6A can be found there. So far climbers from Syktyvkar have put in the grading list several 3B routes.

Ascents are possible both in summer and winter (spring). The latter, with its high winds, low temperatures (up to -45C) and avalanche danger demands good climbing experience and equipment. At the same time the approaches are easier in winter, when the rivers turn into good roads open to skis and sledges. Summer means moving without paths through dense taiga thick with wing-fallen trees, incessant fight with mosquitoes, a lot of fords and marches. In return for all that in June and July one can count on very long day-light.

Here is the list of the area's peaks with good climbing potential

1. Manaraga (1820m)

Manaraga, view from Lomes-Vozha valley

The Circumpolar Urals' visiting card, one of the most known peaks. The summit is a jagged ridge crowned with several huge pinnacles (hence its nickname "Bear's paw").

The classic route, from the Studenchesky pass, is graded just 1B, but the whole "saw" was traversed in winter only once, in 1960 (!).

2. Sverdlov peak area

Granichny peak, view from Novy pass

Lies at the head of two rivers - Lomes-Vozh and Khobe-Yu. The heights come to 1800m. In the west the area is bordered by the Nepristupny range, in the north by the interesting massif of Komsomol peak with Granichny peak and Novy pass. Several relatively big glaciers can be found there, the terrain has strongly pronounced alpine, glacial aspect. The ascent of the granite wall of Sverdlov peak itself and of the unexplored neighbouring peaks (the outstanding "needle" on Granichny among them) can be interesting.

3. Komsomola peak (1729m)

Stands at the head of Lomes-Vozh, falling off towards it in a sheer black wall with no attempts registered.

4. Yuzhnaya Kolokolnya peak ("Sverdlovsky Turists'"), 1646m

North Face of South Kolokolnja

Stands in the south part of Kolokolny massif. Easily accessible by a scree slope only from the south, from Manaraga Profile stream. All the other sides fall off steeply. The north wall plus steep ridges going to it are of special climbing interest.

5. Mansi-Nyer (Didkovsky),1778m

Stands in a water-shed between Mansi-Shor and Naroda valleys. Long east wall, dropping to Mansi glacier, is interesting, west and north ones are gentle slopes.

Zatshita and Yugra, standing nearby might be attractive. Also the south wall of Naroda, not climbed yet. Routes of grades 3-4 are possible.

6. Sablinsky Range

Its specific features are mentioned above. Of special interest is its rugged alpine central part and the climbing heart of the regio, the Gofman glacier cirque set in a grandiose rock frame.

The glacier lies at 500-600m, so the height of the north-east wall of Sablya is nearly a kilometre. Its most steep part is about 600m long. By now two routes from the cirque have been done: 3B on North Sablya (team from Syktyvkar led by Mikhail Eryomkin) and on Main Sablya (east spur, about 4B, summer of 2000, rope of two Beketov-Shamalo from St.-Petersburgh). Also this rope reconnoitred the north-east wall's centre but the attempt was stopped by bad weather and lack of equipment. The route was graded approximately 6A. Some more routes of grades 5-6 can be worked out on the wall, on the Minaret including, a huge (300m high) block, chopped off the main summit.

Sablja from north-east

The areas north and south of the Gofman glacier have not been prospected for routes at all. A good place for base (no more than an hour's walk to under the routes) is under the snout, at one of the lakes. Approaches here are either by helicopter, or on foot from Aranets (60km across marshy taiga to the foothills, another 20km over the easy Aranetsky Prokhod pass and further on along the eastern foothills, up the Sedyu valley). There is a possible walk in (20km) from the Ozernaya Base, belonging to the National Park, and to where helicopters go sometimes. Winter opens the fast and easy approach in Snow Cats, chartered with the locals or Park's staff. The above listed places do not exhaust the climbing potential of the Circumpolar Urals. Despite all its severity, the region keeps a lot in store for climbers. The total wilderness and relative nearness to Moscow and St.-Petersburh (2 days in a train) make it very attractive.

To be continued...

Translation: Yuri Kolomiets

Russian difficulty system


Material is provided by Konstantin Beketov, St.Petersburg

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