Deep in the Siberian forest, this ancient rock formation has become free climbers’ best kept secret | The Escapist

The Escapist

Where?

Stolby Nature Reserve, 15km from Krasnoyarsk, Russia

What?

If you enjoyed watching climbing documentary Free Solo, then Krasnoyarsk’s stolby rock formations need to be on your bucket list. The nature reserve is named after the stolby (or “columns” in English) of rocks that are scattered across 470 square kilometre stretch in the Eastern Sayan Mountains. Now, it’s quickly becoming an international climbing hub, but historically, the rocks had a different use. First discovered by Russian Cossacks in the 17th century, these rocks have been used as a hiding place for centuries, first for criminals, and more recently for Soviet dissidents and counter-cultural figures hiding from the authorities.

Today, the stolby are a favourite spot for free climbers, who prefer to take on the ascent without using a rope. But don’t worry if you’re not a professional just yet — you won’t be frowned upon for using a full set of equipment. Even if taking to the rock face isn’t your thing, just walking around these ancient rocks and enjoying the clean air is a great way to spend your day. The Krasnoyarsk climbing community has its own unwritten rules for outdoor living, and will usually have a guitar stashed somewhere — you might be able to witness an impromptu post-climb gig.

The bad news is that, according to official figures, some 8,000 visitors head to the stolby on public holidays and weekends, so if you want to see this pristine natural environment before it’s flooded with tourists, then it’s time to start planning your trip now.

What not to miss in the area:

— Pay attention to the huge inscription on one of the columns that proclaims “freedom”. It was painted in 1899 by Russian rebels as a form of protest against the police. Today, local climbers have embraced it as their motto.

— Stay in the reserve’s wooden cabins, where you can also hire a tour guide to show you around the surrounding Siberian fir taiga.

Text: Lucía de la Torre
Images: Marco Fieber under a CC license

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