Have you ever traveled halfway around the world to a bouldering area that you knew very little about? Have you ever just gone for it, not knowing if the rock was going to be good quality, if you were going to meet people there, if you were going to have bouldering pads, good weather, or the right paperwork to be there legally? These were all the thoughts running through my head as Paige and I prepared for our month long stay in Russia as part of Marmot’s Lead Now Tour. A dream come true if it all works out…
Spas-Na-Krovi Cathedral, St. Petersburg, Russia.
Honestly, I was very unprepared for our trip to Triangular Lake and Russia in general. I found myself in a last minute scramble to find information about the area, doubting that we had made the right choice to come to this unknown part of the world to climb on some rocks. I had done extensive internet research on Triangular Lake and was only able to find some basic videos and a post or two on 27 Crags with basic details about the area. We eventually connected with Russian climbers who guided us to plan our trip for the month of August so that we had the best shot at good conditions with the least amount of rain. Truly, we were going off pure luck in hopes that the granite would be solid and we would connect with the climbing community and experience something truly new.
Paige with her new friend at our cabin by Triangular Lake.
Prior to our departure we organized our Russian visas and with the help of St. Petersburg locals and were able to get the right documents for a legal stay at Triangular Lake. You must have a permit to stay at the lake because of the proximity to Finland, roughly 15km from the boarder. Soldiers patrol this area looking for Russians trying to move across the boarder illegally and if you are caught without the right documentation, the soldiers will take you to the police station for questioning and possibly jail. You have to travel through two check points on the way to the lake showing passports and permits proving that you are there to climb and that you are not Edward Snowden. As first time visitors to the area, Paige and I were a little nervous going through checkpoints and using permits to climb in an unknown and slightly overwhelming country. We don’t speak the language, not even close, and it’s even hard to recognize words, since the Russian language has 33 characters to our simple 26 in the English alphabet. We were overwhelmed and not even thinking about the climbing yet.
Pavel making moves on Oh, Bratan (7C+), Lost Vegas, Russia.
Walking deep into the forest at Triangular Lake.
We were lucky enough to connect with some great climbers from Moscow, Natalia Dobrovolskaya, Pavel Isaev, and Ivan Manaxob who made the 900km drive up from the capital to climb with us and show us the ropes. It’s really amazing how much it helps to have locals show you around in a country you are a little scared of. As a group we made our way into the forest, deeper and deeper on consistently worse roads eventually so far that we were essentially four wheeling into the woods on a dirt track, our GPS long lost in the Russian wilderness. Two hours from anything you might call a town, we found ourselves at our new home, a three level log cabin with no power or running water, equipped with an outhouse and Russian grandmother (Babushka) who welcomed us into her home with open arms.
Our Babushka for the month. She makes a mean pickle…
We settled in and headed to the lake to check out the bouldering at 11:30 pm in full daylight to see what we were in for. First impressions: Whoa, this place is incredibly beautiful. Tall, ancient, sturdy pines reach high above the forest floor with birch trees peppering the open spaces. The forest floor is completely open and carpeted in thick, rich moss as far as the eye can see until disappearing in darkness. Upon closer inspection, the forest floor is littered with mushrooms of all kinds, edible and poisonous as well as a wide variety of frogs hopping to and fro. It is like Squamish on acid. Tucked away in a corner of the lake is a short cliff line and at the base we find a very sizable collection of massive granite blocks that have broken from the cliff and weathered by glaciers. The boulders would likely be swallowed up by the moss had climbers not peeled back the carpet revealing a well-established bouldering area. We are the first foreigners here and it feels pretty special. The lake is surrounded by small encampments that Russian vacationers have built for weekend trips from Moscow or St. Petersburg. Climbers are everywhere, bouldering and sport climbing on the cliffs above. It’s like a private and secret “for Russians only” crag that is one of only a handful of outdoor climbing areas in all of Russia.
Helicopter (7C), Triangular Lake
Helicopter (7C), Triangular Lake
Paige and I get a quick tour of the area and we head home for the night with psyche high and ready to get to work in the morning. There is so much to do! We spent the next week working on established boulders and getting used to the climbing scene and the rock. We ticked through the classics and started to look for more. Once I spend enough time in a climbing area, I always start to see new lines that seem obvious to me but have never been picked out by the locals to climb on. After some deeper research, I set me sights on a handful of tall boulder problems that had yet to be cleaned and prepped. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into but after 3 days of cleaning, project 1 was ready to be climbed. Unlike the boulders of Rocky Mountain National Park where you brush chalk onto the holds and throw pads down before a first ascent, at Triangular Lake you have to spend days brushing and removing moss as well as prepping landing zones. It’s a serious undertaking and one that I became passionate about. Doing this much prep work made a first ascent that much more rewarding. Paige was off working a 8c+ route and I was in my element cleaning, building, and plucking first ascents until my hands were bleeding. It was heaven.
First ascent of Dobre Noch (8A) at Triangular Lake. Crux at 4 meters!
First ascent of Made in America (7C+), Triangular Lake
Sad to leave this project but someone will do it eventually! Sick 8A+ project just waiting for a FA!
All told I was able to add only 3 new boulders to the area: Made in America (7C+), Dobre Noch (8A), and Oh Bratan (7C+). All clean, tall, proud highballs. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed to see that there was not a lifetime of bouldering to be had at Triangular Lake. There are somewhere around 100 established problems in the zone with the majority of lines weighing in around 7c (v9). In fact, there are more 7c boulders here on average then anywhere I have ever been. Maybe ¼ to 1/3 of the boulders are in the v9 range. It’s crazy. The best time to come to Triangular Lake is at the end of August and beginning of September. It can get pretty warm but the evenings offer some crisp conditions that allow harder bouldering. There is an amazing cabin to stay in just 2km from the climbing or you can camp for free at the cliff. The nearest grocery store is over half an hour away by car so you have to arrive prepared to stay for a while and make sure you bring tons of water, you should not drink the lake or tap water there.
Tea by the liter at the lake!
Vodka, fish, and chopping wood is Triangle Life.
Working Made in America (7C+)
Parquet (7A), Triangular Lake
What I have taken away from this bouldering excusion to Russia is that you should only persue a trip there if you are up for an adventure. If you are expecting to arrive in Hueco with established lines from v0-v14 as far as the eye can see, you will be disappointed. There is plenty of climbing to occupy the average climber for a few weeks and the quality of the lines at the lake are top notch. Triangular Lake offers a unique climbing experience that only the master traveler will enjoy with potential to learn about a new culture, meet amazing people, and dive deep into a magical forest to climb on some hidden jems.
Hanging with the RUSSIANS!!!