Why Siberia and why that team?
It was brothers Iker and Eneko Pou, two proud Basque old-timers from The North Face team, who came up with the idea to climb in an unknown tundra-region in Siberia. They'd been inspired by pictures they'd seen of the Chukotka walls from an expedition by Australian climbers Chris Fitzgerald and Chris Warners. Because of the big potential for first ascents, the brothers searched for more team members among The North Face's international athlete team. When they asked Jacopo Larcher, Hansjörg Auer and Siebe Vanhee they all jumped at the chance. They knew each other from the international climbing scene and believed the trip would be a lot of fun, with a good atmosphere and an exciting and challenging goal. On top of all that, they would be a climbing team with very different backgrounds, experiences and expertise. Each personality in this diverse international team would bring a unique perspective to climbing into the unknown. So things were clear from the start: the thought of exploring new big walls in a country like Siberia triggered the need for exploration and challenge that was in each and every one of them.
What made you decide to go?
Colourfully dressed, extrovert people like us apparently needed to be brought in for interrogation. That's when the story of endless waiting sessions and Russian bureaucracy started. First of all we dealt with the migration centre of Bilibino. This is where we all got interrogated one by one in the small office of the senior migration officer. I went in first and was placed in front of a big Russian man who looked at me like I was about to steal his wife. A little intimidated I started to explain the reason for our trip and tried to make it clear we were only there for climbing. Thanks to an English school teacher that they called in to translate, I could slowly explain who we were and why we were in Bilibino as tourists. For them it seemed unreal that we'd come all the way from Europe to climb mountains in an - according to them - flat area with just tundra. One by one we went into the office and gave all the information they needed. Apparently we didn’t have a certain permit to enter the Chukotka area and we'd broken Russian law. Not knowing what would be the consequences of our illegal action of entering the area, the police took us to the jail where we had to talk to the head of police. More waiting and explaining followed, but this time they let us go more quickly. After another day of fingerprints and paperwork it was clear we had to pay a fine but luckily they let us stay in the region.
What was the main goal of the expedition?
Like on many of those remote climbing expeditions, the goal was to reach the top of a mountain, to climb a first ascent - several if possible. Because we were a group of five climbers and the walls were around 500m high, we aimed for as many first ascents as possible. Besides having a main objective, the way we would reach it was important to us. We would try to free climb our way up to the top, following the most logical and natural line trying not to leave unnecessary fixed gear. Once in nature, the Pou brothers were aiming for one-push, alpine-style climbs while Jacopo, Hansjörg and I were keen to search for a challenging line that would require more then one day to free climb.
What were your favourite memories?
This was different for all of us - it was the area, the walls, the culture, the mosquitos, the days full of light and the multi-functional team. Climbing in two teams on these walls with an average height of 500m was great. Every possible climbing day the whole team split up in two for their challenges. At the end of the day - which was still light because we were under the midnight sun - we would gather at base camp to cook dinner and share our adventures and challenges from the day. We'd discuss possible lines, ways to approach the climb and climbing styles and ethics - which was a recurring topic at base camp. Coming from different ‘sub’-climbing communities our values and points of view on climbing big walls and exploration were slightly different. Wherever you are, climbing is a social experience and our time in Siberia was no different.