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"It's the same as going to the moon"

German travelers made an ascent on the Kuriles and filmed a movie about it

Accidentally stumbling upon pictures of the Kuril Islands of unusual shape, two German athletes decided to get acquainted with the Russian Far East personally. Travelers not only made an extreme climb in the Kuriles and first went down in skiing from the Pobeda Mountain, but also shot about their expeditions cinema - now we have a chance to see the island of Onekotan and the Republic of Yakutia through the eyes of foreigners. The extreme skier Matthias Hahnholde told EastRussia about the conquest of the Far Eastern peaks.

"It's the same as going to the moon"
Photos: provided by Matthias Hahnholde

Matthias Hahnholde for his 38 years managed to go everywhere. New Zealand, Alaska, Chile, the Alps, the Caucasus - where the fate of the Austrian skier, in love with the mountain peaks, was not cast. It's time to discover and the Russian Far East - Hahnholde together with his partner Matthias Mayer went first to the Kuril island of Onekotan, and then to Yakutia. For both trips, the friends made colorful films "The Abandoned Island" and "The White Labyrinth", telling about both exciting adventures and the frightening difficulties that have arisen on their way. "Such trips are very difficult," Haunholm told EastRussia. "Apart from the fact that it is difficult to find a person" on the ground "who will help organize everything and agree on everything, it's also hard to count on if you do it: in remote places like the volcano on Onekotan or Victory in Yakutia even rescue expeditions will not reach ".

Nevertheless, both trips, according to Haunholm, were a success and left a lot of impressions. "Beautiful," "bewitching," "magical" - these words during the interview the athlete repeated several times, and each time sincerely. "For an average person, it's like going to the moon," said Haunholde.

Uninhabited island

Hahnholde and Mayer were always drawn to remote, mysterious places, where no one had ever skied before them. "We were looking for a place, a landscape that would fascinate us. And once stumbled upon satellite imagery of the Kuril island of Onekotan on Google Earth, - says Hahnholde. "We fell in love with his uniform and immediately decided that we should go there." The island attracted - also because we found very few photos. This only increased the desire to see him live. "

Together with two videographers and a photographer, the skiers went to Onekotan in April 2014. They were lucky, the travelers say: they knew a man who organizes ski slopes from a helicopter in Kamchatka; he connected athletes with people who were able to organize a trip to the island. "Without them, we would not have managed," recalls Hahnholde. "They found us a boat in advance, helped with all the documents and permits that are required in order to get to the Kuril Islands."

The ferry to the island by boat became the most difficult episode of the expedition. Not only did the boat hire cost the team at 30 thousand euros, so even to sail it was almost 30 hours one way in not the most calm water. "We are people of the mountains, and for us it was still a test," laughs Hahnholde. "For a very long time we tried to get to the shore and at some point nearly broke. The first thought that arose in my head when we were on an island - an uninhabited, incredibly beautiful island! "Oh, finally we are on dry land."

Enjoy the beauty of Onekotan - with a towering volcano in the middle, a circular lake, from which Hahnholde and Mayer were going to go down - it did not happen right away. We broke up the camp for a long time, we were preparing equipment for filming the next day. At night the tent with sleeping sportsmen was demolished by a strong wind - the camp had to be restored in total darkness.

However, when all the difficulties were overcome, the vanity gave way to admiration. "Since there was spring, there was very little snow on the island - much less than in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, to which we arrived," says Haunholde. "But just imagine what kind of picture we saw on the island: the usual sandy beach, in the distance - a snow-covered volcano, and around it a majestic lake."

Extreme climb, for which the team was traveling to the island, was worth it. "It was very difficult to walk on a semi-frozen lake, all the time afraid of falling under the ice," says the skier. "Especially with that huge amount of equipment - two cameras, a camera and the rest that we took with us." All the way there was a strong wind and in general the weather was rather gloomy, despite the fact that it was not very cold. But when we climbed the peak of the volcano, the sun still peered out from behind the clouds for a couple of minutes and lit a stunning view of the whole island. It was the most amazing moment in the whole trip. "

White labyrinth

The range of Chersky - the mountain range in Yakutia - Haunholm and Mayer was seen from the plane when they returned from the expedition to Onekotan. As soon as they landed at home in Austria, the skiers rushed to search for information about what they had seen and plan the next trip - this time to the Victory Peak, from which no one ever went skiing.

In Yakutia travelers traveled twice: in January-February 2015 and a few months later, in the spring. "During the first trip, we all explored and found out, agreed with everyone and everything was planned," explains Hahnholde. - At this time in Yakutia it was very cold - the temperature dropped to -55 degrees. I took with me all the ski clothes that I only had, and put on everything I had. In such a cold, of course, it was impossible to think about getting to the mountain. "

In the spring the athletes returned and went straight to the mountains. They were lucky again: an acquaintance Hahnholde went to Yakutia in the summer to engage in a mountain bike and brought them together with a man who helped organize a trip to the Chersky ridge. "He even found us an interpreter from a German - a man who taught German at a local school," recalls Haunholde. "He was a great enthusiast and came with us almost to the very top."

Most skiers are grateful for the help of local nomadic reindeer breeders who sheltered them in their homes and drove them to the snowmobile ridge. "They were very hospitable, and we made friends with their children, playing football in the cold," laughs the traveler.

Many hours of difficult climbing uphill, fighting wind and cold - and here Hahnholde and Mayer are already at the top. "When we finally reached the peak and could see the whole range of Chersky, it was a very magical moment," says Hahnholde. "Not to mention the very descent."

Behind the scenes

The budget of both films, shot by the team of Haunhold and Meier, was about 100 thousands of euros each - according to Haunhold, this is not so much compared to other similar films. “When we travel, we do not stop at expensive hotels and do not go to expensive restaurants. In addition, as it turned out, the Far East is not such an expensive place for filming, as is customary to think about it, - explains the skier. - Tickets to Petropavlovsk or Yakutsk are much cheaper than tickets to, say, New Zealand, food and accommodation are also inexpensive. In this case, all of excellent quality. "

It's another matter that not every Far Eastern region is suitable for skiing. In Yakutia, for example, the snow is frozen and hard, and almost does not keep contact with the skis, which makes the descent more dangerous and less pleasant. The best place for ski adventures in the Far East is Kamchatka. But only in the spring, according to Haunholde. "In the spring, the snow melts and becomes softer, much more in contact with the skis, so spring skiing in Kamchatka is the most," the athlete explains.

Another difficulty that stands in the way of extreme ski trips is the remoteness of the region. According to Haunhold, even rescuers cannot reach places like Victory Mountain, so athletes had to train intensively in Austria, preparing for the most unexpected situations: avalanches, injuries, and overnight stays in snow caves. “On such expeditions, when you know that you can only rely on yourself, it is extremely important to feel ready for any eventuality,” says Haunhold. “Uncertainty makes you much more vulnerable, and the journey becomes more dangerous.”

In addition, such remote places as the Chersky Range had to not only study in detail in theory, but also organize a preliminary trip to exclude the maximum number of unknowns from the equation. Even this, however, does not insure travelers from all sorts of surprises.

"On the way from the town of Ust-Nera to the Chersky ridge, we were stuck, because it was difficult to name the road that we were traveling on. It would seem a problem! But for several hours we could not move forward or backward. Outside, it was very cold, and the situation began to resemble a horror film, "says Hahnholde.

To the customs and moods of residents of Far Eastern cities and villages, the Austrians had to get used to some time. "Austria is a very tourist country, and we are friendly to the guests, we try to help them when there is a need," says Haunholde. - When I first came to Petropavlovsk, got off the plane and tried to contact the local for help - to show something or explain, no one helped me. With the Russians, as I understand, we need to be friends in order to fully appreciate the breadth of their souls. With those with whom we became friends during our trips, we are still friends. "


Matthias Hahnholde and Matthias Meyer are not the only foreign athletes who have visited the Far East and made films about their expeditions. The famous snowboarder Travis Rice in October 2016 released the film "The Fourth Phase", in which snowboarders also visit Kamchatka and Sakhalin. All three projects - "The Fourth Phase", "Onekotan. Lost Island "and" Snow White Labyrinth "- were carried out with the support of the company Red Bull.

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