Forums Trip Reports Balkarian Express aka The Tsar Putin Couloir
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    In the nineteenth century there was a man who developed an in-depth understanding of how a society tends to evolve under capitalism, its future trajectory, and the potential consequences of such a system for negatively effecting, not only, social cohesion and harmony, but also (which is often overlooked in analysis of the man’s thinking), human psychology; the evolution of a culture’s and individual’s worldview in a situation where each of us suffers extreme alienation from ‘the means of production’, or better said, alienation from our material reality; the food, clothes, and shelter which allow us life (more on that later).

    A range of ideas emerged from the man’s thinking (many of them limiting and dis-acknowledging of the true scope of what the foresaid philosopher was actually trying to say), one facet being a series of extrapolations regarding the best way in which to organize human society. The philosophy emerged that the only way a society could achieve justice and equality would be for each member of the society to participate in, and reap the rewards of, the means of production equally. Thus, in a chaotic and increasingly unstable monocratic Europe, new found political movements emerged bolstering the notion of total overthrow of all monopolistic economic and state powers. In the eastern realm a successful revolution against kings occurred and a new-found state emerged; claiming allegiance to the principles developed; monuments were erected to honor the founding philosopher’s ultimate influence, yet the victors of the war took the limelight to their heads; basking in their newly bolstered egos; as always, power superseded the original intent ; dissenters (true social-libertarians) were knocked down, imprisoned, executed;

    …hence the identical scenario of co-optation that seems to occur throughout history as the Alienation suffered from a disconnection with the true ‘means of production’ afflicts (so-called) leaders and they, alongside the more privileged of their constituents, soon learn that they now cannot survive without the support of those ‘less educated’ ‘producers’ of lower status than themselves on the pedestal. Revolutionary against what, I ask; another regurgitation of dependence upon power on a long historical list of false proclamations of ‘change’. Nevertheless we witness just another empire built up (in this instance relatively very recent in history); a modern industrial supra-state had risen…

    …and then, as history has shown true time and time again; it collapsed; decimated in the ruins of its own arrogance and lack of foresight. Yet, I shall be accused of withholding vital information if I did not mention that it is also the arrogance and lack of foresight of the Soviet supra-industrial-state’s competitor supra-industrial-state’s which greatly contributed to fostering it’s demise and meanwhile those competitor states had been, and continue to be, seemingly unknowingly, simultaneously fostering their own decimation. The difference is that being more successful at monopolizing the world’s resources, and having less market regulation to do so, has made for a much longer occurring, drawn out, and likely more heavy hitting and consequential downfall (as we shall likely see in this century). And a final note before moving on; the New Russia is certainly not immune from the consequences; for it faces a second tumult; an event destined to be ever more tumultuous than its comparative trickle of a downsizing event (or, better said, mere re-shifting of wealth) in 1992. However this time, surely to come this century, there may not be the luxury of being without military events involving east, south, and west.

    (Don’t you see; it has always been about (and continues to be about) machines, wires, and turbines; not actually about people; as this classic Soviet mural clearly portrays.
    Look deeper; it is ultimately notions of ‘progress’ being the one and only avenue to human success and happiness which is our actual plague; alongside the industrialism that is always concomitant with such notions, and, as I have attempted to make clear above, the Soviet Union is certainly not the only nation-state who failed (s) to understand such)

    But why does Savage waste our time with such convoluted socio-political dribble you ask? WTF does this have to do with backcountry snowboarding? All too much my friend, all too much, as you shall soon see (or wont see, depending upon your level of attention span and willingness to see, but I warn you; your snow-sliding future, and your future in general depends upon your seeing)

    As always, when one departs for the hinterlands, leaving the culture of consumption and the consumption-freaks behind; beauty begins to emerge; and with beauty comes connection and presence;

    Rivers, canyons of limestone, ancient prairies and floodplains, but most important for our purposes at the moment; people. Mountain villages, cultures that have maintained a presence here in some sense for hundreds, if not thousands of years, retaining place through every current of empire which swept through their beloved valley (the Persians, the Turks, Tsarist Russia, the Nazis, the Red Army, and the now the nouveau Russian militsia)

    And then: Mountains; the Caucasus; a great range of historical consequence, holding a significant place in the history of empire. An alpine refuge from the changes brought on by the emergence of the Fertile Crescent societies, a hunters stronghold against the warring states of Babylonia, and a great migration corridor/barrier from Persia to the vastness of Asia and Europe.

    And into mountain villages; tracts of out of place looking Soviet-era sky rise apartment buildings, once built to supply housing to uranium miners and arms factory workers; factories now closed, broken down, and crumbing away into Iron Curtain oblivion.

    And mosques reminding one of how the ancient Circassians were so pushed by two sides of mass-religion; one from the south and the other from the north, and how today the Chechnyains not far to the east continued to maintain an insurrection against colonial Russia, and all its ‘infidelity’; today backed by the greater global Islamic extremist movement with its imported combatants from the more infamous and numerous insurrectionary movements to the south.

    Nevertheless, in the midst of all this socio-political richness we find wonderful granite walls within reach.

    Dihedrals, cracks, roofs; roadside craggin’ of immense potential on seemingly very quality rock; I wonder if the locals have ever sent these routes….or dreamed of it?

    Not to lose focus on the realities at hand; a monument erected to ‘the mountaineers’ : the Cossack fighters who defended these lands countless times and the famous Caucasian mountain sheep.

    “Aim the gun at the right motherfucker and leave them colder than a prison in Russia or America’s white power structure”….

    I suppose, if I was to be forced to enter prison in Russia, this particular prison would be of optimal locale for the views, if anything. Yet, I shall try to avoid such prospects over the following weeks.

    We must detour to purchase our weekly supply of locally harvested fish and then onward into the heart of the mountains. The snow becomes more prevalent as we go and my thoughts finally complete their transition from history, politics, and culture to considerations of our ultimate purpose; Hesh-the-Nar, the Caucasian Nar that is.

    Immediately upon arrival in this wonderful valley in the heart of Kalbardino-Balkaria province we spied (no pun intended) ourselves a nice little line to set things off with and the following morning it was game on.

    Early in our ascent we reached a small two tiered ice fall which we surmised could be a bit challenging to pass through on the descent. Always fun to keep things interesting.

    After climbing through the little crux the line opened up into a couloir of world-class proportions; the snow was soft and powdery; we kept climbing.

    Earlier our host wanted to explain to us one important rule of his local mountains; everything you see is many, many times bigger than it looks from the valley; be careful not to get in over your head. Savage thus found himself humbled once again as halfway up the couloir he thought looked to be 1500 vertical feet two and a half hours had gone by.

    But I was knee deep in powder so…climb on

    This is starting to look pretty sick kids; but still considerable vertical to travel yet.

    A break in the clouds and we find ourselves with a decent view of Europe’s highest peak; the dual summits of Elbrus, its highest point reaches 5642 meters, some 18,000 feet.

    But not to be distracted by one of the 7 Summits; climb on

    We’ve topped out on a very aesthetic knife edge ridge with surrounding goodness; it sure feels good to be playing in the mountains and starting our 2010 season in style.

    A look down into our line from the ridge; the snow seems to be well set up so we’ll maximize our vert by dropping in here and entering the couloir from a nice steep face off the summit.

    We elect to descend with axes due to the ice flow in the route; but it will be a long, long ways down before they become necessary. For now we’ll score face shots and worry about icy cruxes later.

    Endless. My legs are not usually prepped for this much vert in the first week of January. I’ll take a little rest and enjoy the view before taking on another 1,000 feet of pow turns.

    Finally approaching the crux.

    And Savage comes blasting out of the little ice fall section. Of course, true to the old saying that ‘photos never do it justice’ it was a bit more exciting than this, still very cool, photo portrays. (note the top of the couloir and the summit ridge we rode from in the background; not a line of minor significance in terms of vert and overall depth).

    And following that there were still a bunch more fun turns to be had, all the way out and on to the beautiful valley floor.

    All that alongside a reassuring and happy encounter with the Non-Alienated; aka one of ‘the wild ones’. (Is my socio-political message starting to make sense yet?).

    Happy to be down and excited for a twilight tour of the valley floor Savage came blazing out into the flats, looking back up at the wonderful mountain face Cody-K and himself had just descended.

    But out of the silence came shouts; screams of a threatening nature. As Savage turned to look for the source of commotion what he saw was straight out of his worst nightmares of possible happenings on this journey; Men in camouflage, wearing big furry hats, and clutching AK-47’s we chasing him through the snow field. Savage came to an abrupt stop and threw his hands up as a soldier approached him yelling in Russian. “Vih gavariche po angliski”? replied Savage. “Papers please” an approaching officer spoke calmly in English. I handed him my passport. “Your American?” he asked with a slight hint of incredulity. “Yes” I responded as Cody-K approached holding his papers. “What is the purpose of your visit to Russia”? the soldier asked. “To ski these mountains” I replied. “You have come from the border with Georgia, do you know?” he asked. “We climbed that mountain and then skied down the couloir” I told him. “I know, we watched you. We are border patrol. Our border is the next mountain from where you came”.

    The soldiers proceeded to hold us, going over our papers, passports, and visas diligently. Satisfied, the officer offered me his hand “Ok then, be careful” he said. “Thank you, we will, we need to ski a few kilometers down this valley to reach our lodgings, is it ok”? I replied. “Go” he said. With the tension no longer extant, I asked him if I could take their picture (for the TR of course!) “No” he said sternly, his demeanor quickly changing back towards hostility. The Russian soldiers turned and walked back up the snowfield towards the forest from which they had originally emerged. I imagined that they must have noticed movement on the border mountain from some type of lookout and decided we might be smugglers boarder hopping on snowboards. Either way it was quite exciting, I’m sure for both parties involved. We then proceed to enjoy a beautiful twilight ski for a few kilometers down an immense alpine river valley interposed with Birch and Lodgepole forest. Happy about the amazing place we were so privileged to ski through to obtain our nightly lodgings and reminiscing about the spectacular couloir we had just climbed and skied.

    We elected to name the couloir the “Balkarian Express” in honor of the local Balkarian peoples, an ancient ethnic tribe, native to these mountains. Later our host informed us that the couloir had been skied a few times before and had previously been named Tsar Putin, for the Russian Prime Minister. Nevertheless, our host and his Balkarian friend made the decision for the local community to officially adopt our name “Balkarian Express” for the couloir due to it being an honor to the local people.

    The “Balkarski Express”. We suspect that it is over 4,000 vertical feet long.

    A subtle joy of splittin’; taking a long relaxing xc tour, board split, skins off, down a long, slightly downhill rustling river valley, after riding a perfect line, knowing that the hard work is over, I wont be going to Russian prison at gunpoint, and my trusty splitter will be bringing through the forest to a warm meal and a warm bed.

    In this photo the dome shaped peak on the right is what we had just climbed and skied. The higher peak to its left demarcates the Russian/Georgian border.

    And lastly we have a chance to recon some of the terrain we will be exploring over the next few days. Stay tuned.

    So what was Marx right about? And what is that 99.9% of any person who claims to be a Marxist, all nation-states supposedly founded on Marxists principles, and surely all those critical of Marxism as a philosophy are ignorant about? What is it that they fail to understand? I believe that Marx, like Darwin, had a grasp of something of extremely critical importance to our species and our future evolution. Rather than biological evolution Marx’s concept touches on the equally critical concept of cultural evolution. Marx indentified a state of mind which occurs under a certain set of economic circumstances. He referred to that state of mind as Alienation, and its identification is of extreme pertinence to understanding the ever enveloping crisis we are now living through and witnessing occur within our global civilization. More importantly, it is an understanding of this state of mind and how it develops which will allow us to confront the crisis; with action towards confronting it we have hope. Backcountry skiing and snowboarding is one means of confronting and transcending the extreme Alienation we suffer from and this is why we are drawn to it; it provides a direct and almost unmediated psychological, physical, and spiritual connection to several important facets of our material reality. I’ll elaborate another time and for now leave you all to ponder…

    Just remember though, check yourself before you go off and initiate The Red Scare and label Savage a ‘commie’; its deeper, much deeper than that.

    Until next time: Savage out.

    4150 Posts

    That was rad!!!

    Wow, sick mtns, crazy story, thanks for sharing! :thatrocks:

    31 Posts

    loved it……

    Was wondering where you were going with the story initially……but got past the first couple of paragraphs, and ‘got it’.

    All the best, and look forward to more


    570 Posts

    One of the best TR’s I’ve ever seen for giving decent perspective to just how immense the climb & descent really was – even though, I know it still doesn’t do justice to actually achieving it.

    Many debatable points politically but I understand what you’re motives and perspectives are.

    For now though I’ll just appreciate that you’re back to sharing these incredible adventures that you do. Incredible shots of a truely unique place in the world & can’t wait for more to come. I can only wish I had the balls, stamina, and vision to pull off what you do, and immensely appreciate the opportunity to live a little vicariously through some of your adventures.


    570 Posts

    :scratch: can’t seem to get my double post to delete

    709 Posts

    Savage your a trip buddy… rippin report. Here’s to hopin’ JNP works out.

    Welcome back holmes! :headbang:

    1114 Posts

    Epic TR! Thanks for sharing it with us. Too bad you werent wearing a helmet cam during the encounter.

    1382 Posts

    Epic shit!!! :rock:
    Encounters w/ AK-47’s always make great TR’s.

    Great TR Jamie. I hope the Brooks range caribou hunt/splitboard adventure comes true.

    947 Posts

    Let’s see international travel? Check. Epic Wilderness? Check. Remote steep and knarly terrain? Check. Border Patrol and Kalashnikovs? Check. Foreign Prisons? Check. Splitboards? CHECK!!!!!


    34 Posts

    Great TR!!!I was in the area in 07, climbed Kazbek (in Georgia), and in 04 in Russia (Krasnaia Polyana), and I want to go back. WHere exactly was this? Maybe pinpoint on Google maps? WHere did you stay? And last but not least, what kind of snowpack is there? Continental or maritime? I am thinking of course of avie conditions.

    Thanks a lot

    bones get broke
    298 Posts

    Shit man, I got nothin’. A grand slam is what this is………..Thank you for sharing, now I’m going to go and try to figure out why I’m such a poser.


    24 Posts

    what an epic report. well done!
    this area is actually one of my dreams….. … a roadtrip(!) maybe in two or three years.

    snowpack should be maritime because of the nearby black sea if i’m not mistaken?
    how did you get there? flight to mineralye vody and then from there by car? by yourself? do you happen to know somebody there or was your “host” some hotel that helped you get the visas?

    sorry for the questions. but russia ain’t easy on your own from what i’ve been told. would appreciate some insight

    1514 Posts

    Holy Crap! What an awesome climb! And you got it in such good condition too. Wow nice job. :drool:

    Putting the poo in swimming pool since 1968.

    358 Posts

    Makes me want to go poach Mt. Hermon. On second thought I’m too scared of the IDF 😉

    411 Posts

    SICK! :bow:

    I was wondering when you would pop up again and bring the Gnar. Amazing trip, I’m looking forward to seeing more this winter!

    254 Posts

    :bow: Wow

    312 Posts

    Lots to repsond to here;

    First thank you all greatly for your commentary and for taking the time to view our photos. You all keep me inspired and motivated!

    Steve and BC; right on for checkin it.

    LewMT; nice to hear from ya. Dont discount yourself, You go it in ya; you shoulda see how slow I was climbing that day! sick as a dog; but just committed and stuck with it.

    Trippin; oh yeah forgot to tell you about the girls; hopefully we’ll discuss that at Couloir Shopping Camp in Rockies this spring.

    Hike4T’s; no doubt, that woulda been ideal!! A helmet cam would have been rad; hauling has on a traverse and turning around to see the Russian army chasing you…woulda been a hit for sure.

    BG;Hope your season is going well; looks as if you all got some serious snow lately; I am working on making the Arctic Splitter Caribou Hunt happen right now; was out sightin in my rifle yesterday; way too damn cold yet though. Its the next thing on the agenda; you gotta come ride the Brooks with me sometime, since they named a whole range after you…

    Jbay; hell yeah; you know how we do!

    Rod; sounds like you get around; the location of this particualr line should be easy enough for you; its right at the base of Terskol, just across from the first tram station at Elbrus; i.e ‘slackcountry’; its an easy hit to access once your there; the trouple is getting there in the first place.

    Bones; I know you send it; you cant fool me…

    Averell; Yeah, I guess you could make a road trip out of it; but that’ll be a haul for you coming from DE and once your in the Caucasus the road system gets quite difficult to handle. If you can speak Russian and read Cryllic you will make it no worries, even solo. But if you cant than you are very correct, it will be extremely challenging, even with other freinds with me it was still quite difficult, epsecially if you go into the interior less developed areas and bail on the sochi area, as we did. I was originally going to go alone but was able to recruit one of my most solid partners to rally, and also made a connection with 3 tahoe brothers before going, between the 5 of us we made things happen, but it was only because we aquired good local friends to help us that we made it without tons of trouble.
    Sounds like you know your stuff about the area; this was a 12 hour train ride from sochi to minera vadye and then a pick up by our friend who lives in Cheget. He rents a room out and picks you up for a very decent price. He is also a mountain guide and can show you many sick lines. If you want his info than PM me and I am sure he would be happy to work something out with you. You could easily go alone if you aquire his services.

    Lastly; yes a maritime snowpack, yet potentially a little more sensitive in the higher mountains of the interior regions; we saw a lot of old crowns, but had perfectly stable conditions for seven days at this location. During that time; it snowed a meter and it was barely even sloughing; it set up just like the Sierras and you could ski anything you wanted to safely. But rumor is that they can have big instability problems. Like any maritime pack, when its bad its really bad for a few days, and then it sets up. Let me know what other info you need.

    525 Posts

    inspirational. savage again takes it to the next level. amazing line. looking at all the pics it did/does look like a really long asthetic line.

    thanks for the time and efforts you put into this, nice job writing this one up.

    564 Posts

    Epic TR dude. :drool:

    That was Pontus

    21 Posts

    That was a very entertaining report…I mean TR. Reminded me of all the sociology classes I have taken and forgot about. Glad to hear you made it back to the states alive. Looks like you were able to rally some people for this trip. Nice line.

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