How Russian-Austrian expedition conquered stone pillars in Siberia (PHOTOS)

Corey Rich/Red Bull Content Pool
An Austrian mountaineer did the climbing; a Russian photographer did the shooting.

The Sundrun kekurs are a group of stone pillars standing tall amidst the Yakut tundra in sunny Siberia.

The area is so inaccessible to humans that the first pictures of the granite tables of acceptable quality were published only in 2016.

Russian photographer Sergey Karpukhin called his photo project “Granite cities of Ulakhan-Sis.” However, despite having photographed similar rock formations, he didn’t manage to scale the Sundrun kekurs back in 2016.

After spending two years searching for a way up, in the end Sergey needed a helping hand or two from a team of climbers from Austria.

Austrian mountaineer Kilian Fischhuber set out to carve a route up the Sundrun kekurs in 2018, and took Sergey with him as the lensman.

Although the Austrian knew nothing about the country he was headed, or his volunteer Russian photographer-guide, Fischhuber decided to take a chance: “We had no idea what sort of guy Sergey was, whether he was telling the truth or just fooling around. I found out as much about him as I could, because we had to trust him completely,” Fischhuber is quoted by RedBull.

To reach their target, the climbers had to walk 30 km, which extended into a ten-day hike because of the difficult terrain.

“We asked Sergey if we should take water with us, but he told us not to worry because there would be plenty of water there,” says Fischhuber. That proved to be somewhat optimistic—the mountaineers had to boil and drink melted snow, and on the way back they slurped straight from puddles. “I think we were very lucky no one got sick,” RedBull cites Fischhuber. 

Along the way, the team encountered huge bear tracks and swarms of mosquitoes: “It was like some kind of biblical plague.”

Despite that, the Austrian climbers reached their destination, and in the process blazed a trail up all 12 granite pillars they discovered.

Fischhuber’s future plans might include new expeditions to other uncharted places in Russia: “There are hundreds and hundreds of such stone towers, and judging by the aerial photos, there are places with even more such pillars.”

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