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Fun for the Whole Family: Free Soloing Madness in Siberia

Jonathan Thesenga
Late Summer 2007

“You do not think this type of climbing is common in your America?”

“Ah ... no, Valeri, this type of climbing is super not common in America.”

Brittany, Burcham and I are climbing with our 68-year-old Russian friend/guide/translator, Valeri. We are unroped, free soloing halfway up a near-vertical 400-foot climb in Siberia’s Stolby Nature Reserve, a collection of 100-plus Joshua Tree-esque domes and pillars sprouting out of the dense taiga forest. One slip, one flubbed foothold, and it’s dirt-nap time. This is as dangerous and serious as rock climbing can get. Yet all around us, there are hundreds of people – an eclectic potpourri of men, women, kids, the elderly, toddlers and partying teens you’d expect to find at a shopping mall – free soloing as well, erratically scrambling up the dome, alongside, above and below each other like ants. If one person falls, they will all be bowling-balled down the steep face to their deaths.

About the Author
Jonathan Thesenga is currently an itinerate climber/traveler/half-assed surfer/writer with a penchant for offending authority figures, ranging from park rangers to airline customer-service representatives. After 10 days of free soloing in Stolby, Jonathan, Brittany Griffith and John Burcham jumped on the Moscow-bound Trans-Siberian railway. Upon setting foot in the city’s famed Red Square, they were accosted by four bribe-hungry police and forced to pay a 6,000-ruble fine.