It’s your choice!

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Photo from the air, by Evgeny Glazunov

Two years ago, Alyona Panova won the Steel Angel Award for Women’s Alpine Mountaineering Teams for the new line to the Optimist Peak. At the time, skeptics said that the team received the prize in advance. Well, this advance was justified. Now the group of three, with her as a leader, has climbed a new exciting line on the Maps Peak wall.


Text: Alyona Panova
Photo: team archive

The story begins with a description of why The South Muysky Ridge and why Maps Peak? The expedition “The South Muysky Ridge-2020” started a year ago, when Evgeny Glazunov, Pavel Tkachenko, and Nadezhda Olenyova scouted the area and climbed several routes. After that, the guys decided to gather a more mass expedition to these places. I couldn’t choose to go or not to go on this trip for a long time: I wondered if I would be able to cope with the challenges ahead. Literally, on the last day, Zhenya Leontieva decided to follow me, which we were all pleased about, as she is a great photographer, and we just missed a photographer to the full set.

Maps Peak in Evgenia Leontieva’s lens

Whole expedition team: Evgeny Glazunov (leader), Pavel Tkachenko (ideological inspirer and expert in taiga), Alexey Boyko, Anatoly Syshchikov, Alyona Panova (this is me), Dmitry Panov, Andrey Panov, Polina Penkina, Evgenia Leontieva, Grigory Abramov, Anastasia Ramazanova, Daria Sycheva.

Expedition’s region scheme

We met Polina at our first climbs festival in the Ula Gol Gorge (Tunkinskie Goltsy, Eastern Sayan). When I asked why she had come there, she said: “I like the idea of going somewhere far away and going to the summit where no one has ever been before.” I feel close to that position. There we took a simple route with the training section, I saw her eyes sparkling, and it was memorable. When I found out that Polina was going on an expedition, the idea of climbing something together came very quickly: Polina’s experience of climbing is enough to make this idea a reality.

Alyona Panova

When we discussed our plans with other guys, Evgeny advised us to call Evgenia Leontieva. He knew her from the Crimean trip, and she also had enough experience. While approaching Maps Peak, we managed to rub together and decide what we needed to climb the three of us.

Polina Penkina
Line of the route

When we arrived at the camp at the Maps Peak, all eyes, spellbound, looked only at the top; everyone wanted to find a line for them: a beautiful, logical line. Since previously I had only taken part in the first climbs of the fifth category but had not yet led or marked the line of the route of such difficulty, Evgeny has helped to locate where to go on this massive wall, pointing to the central South-West bastion of the North-West ridge, or preferably two large corners on it. The next day we went on a reconnaissance mission and tossed our equipment under the route and looked at the line options. The preparation was complete: the equipment was collected, the weather forecast was good, and we scanned the route through binoculars from all sides. Let’s go!

Zhenya Leontieva

As mentioned above, we left the equipment under the mountain, basically hanging everything that can be chewed up, because a year ago, some small animal had eaten our friend’s climbing shoe. But when we thought that he would not be interested in carabiners and other hard stuff, we left quite a bit lying on the rock. What a surprise it was to find this equipment scattered around when we returned. We knew that something might be missing when we saw just one Rock Fifi. The second was seen in the depths between the rocks. When we got together and decided that we had found everything, we went along the route.

Equipment storage under Maps Peak

The first steps were made as usual with some anxiety: what will happen next? The stress has turned into excitement. You get used to the terrain; the climbing shoes stand well on the rock; the wall is not too steep, and in some places, you choose to move on the slab instead of the wet corners. Girls work at a steady and profitable pace; Evgenia swears at stuck anchor pitons but leaves nothing behind.

Start of the route

It became challenging and exciting when we got to the big inside corner. When you come up to it, you think: “Great climbing! You start climbing, and everything seems to be okay… But then I got into the chimney with bare walls covered in moss. The attempt to climb was unsuccessful because there was no friction.

What could we do about it? We’re going to have to aid climb on the stuck stones inside. And here, too, it’s damp, moss and dirt, and the chimney’s width in the depths is less than the width of my shoulders, very uncomfortable (it’s good that no one heard my thoughts or what I was saying out loud).

Alyona at the station at the end of the third pitch

At the top, this chimney started to narrow and hang out – a great place, in general. Evgeny managed to catch this moment from the air (the drone), and then it was great to look at me! Otherwise, aids and climbing on dry rocks were alternating; we belayed ourselves on the solid terrain. Sometimes there were no places to organize protection, so a psychological factor was added to the average difficulty of climbing, and Polina sometimes looked at me reproachfully, and I diluted with my hands, saying, “there’s nothing you can do.”

Start of the first big corner

When we get to the second corner, we turn with Polina. The girls are tired of working on fixed lines and want to climb. After climbing one pitch, Polina changes with Evgenia. And here, everyone actively activates their brains. Zhenya approached the inner corner with smooth, smooth walls, where protection is only possible in the heart of the corner with very large Camalots. The expedition’s format implies that you can’t get a vast amount of gear, and on the whole, it was enough for us, but there are routes where you need an extended set of large Camalots, and this time we pulled out the ‘short straw.’

Zhenya while leading

Zhenya tried to get out on the wall on the right – she didn’t like it, but I’m heading her up the corner, pulling out a part of the station to get some gear. Moving two equally-sized Camalots for protection, Zhenya passes 10 meters and finds herself uncomfortable for climbing a chimney where you can only sit and stay still. She decides to see what is on the left and right. She finds no happiness on either side and realizes that she has to continue along with the chimney. We decide to lift the station underneath it because you can make it on smaller Cams. The station is as inconvenient as it can be, it is hanging, and you still have to start with this chimney, where the protection points are about a meter deep, and the aids climbing is not acceptable here either. After a couple of tries and Zhenya’s slipping out of the chimney, I recollect a great way – to put my shoulder to a friend – and hooray! Zhenya overcomes a problematic section (it’s never easy to keep another person on top of you, one thought in your head: “All the dust!” – but no other options were foreseen), then the work went faster, and we finally finished climbing the wall part.

Polina is leading

It’s already 9 p.m., and I wanted to get if not the whole route as much as possible during the day. I change with Zhenya with an attitude: “You have to climb fast before it gets dark.”

The last station on the wall part of the route

The terrain is already smoothed out, and climbing on the maximums turns out, the rocks are mainly reels, in some places corners and layback cracks. Climbing became a little more complicated when the darkness changed at dusk. It came in handy that I looked at the route very precisely, I knew where the loose section would be and where to go. Then I climbed along a section of deaf rocks with a minimum of protection and 6a – 6a+ grade in total darkness with a headlamp: there were psychologically challenging 15 meters from point to point, but thanks to Stolby, is not the first time to climb without protection.

Alyona in the middle of the route

Down in the valley, they start to worry about where we are. It’s night, and we’re not at the bivouac yet. They suggest from the camp that the ledge is close by. The climbing that day ends there; we decide to continue work at 4 a.m.

Climbing “at maximum” at twilight

Morning. It’s cold. We get dressed and pack up, and after 1.5 rope length, we got to the ridge, where a stunning sunrise opened up before us! We spend a few minutes observing: this is the first time we see the mountains where the second part of the expedition will take place. All the pictures we have seen before do not reflect reality: dozens of vertical walls against the morning dawn’s backdrop!

Dawn over The South Muysky Ridge

But we have to go on. We also had a plan to walk along the ridge to the top, “drawing” a beautiful line of the route. When we came up and looked at the headwall’s crest, we saw nothing logical and went around the same way as Panov brothers had gone before us after getting to the ridge from their route.

At the summit, from left to right: Zhenya, Polina, Alyona

It’s warm. We climb to the top in a good mood. We look at the clock. Precisely one day has passed since we started. Are we tired? Very tired! But we were satisfied because we climbed well and completed the exciting tasks. The most relaxed feeling is when you realize that the route’s beauty and logic, the style of the route, depended on you, and you did everything to make it the right way!

I love to climb. But I also like to return to my friends at the camp. They meet you with joy, and you share all your experiences and discuss climbing, they take care of you and send to take a rest.

Declared route category 5B. The length of 1071 m, the steepness of the main part is 75–85 °.

The route got the name ” It’s your choice.” Each of us made an individual choice in favor of teamwork on climbing, it was not always easy, but thanks to this, we succeeded!

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