First Descents in Siberia
March 19-April 10, 1999
Deep in the heart of northern Asia lies a mysterious and mystical mountain range known as the Altai. Join The Mountain Zone as we follow a special expedition that will explore this beautful, remote area and attempt a first descent of Mt. Belukha (14,783ft), the Altai Range's highest peak.
The team consists of photographer Ace Kvale, ski exploration trailblazer Scot Schmidt, world renowned mountain guide John Falkiner, pro snowboarder Jim Zellers, filmmaker and skier Rob DesLauriers, accomplished telemark skier Kasha Rigby and climber, skier and medical designate Kit Katzenbach.
[See maps] There are many legends connected with the Altai. The most popular refers to a mysterious country in the Altai called Shambala, an undiscovered place, which it is said will become the center of a new civilization once mankind, with its current unbridled passion for destruction, wipes itself out. This legend ascribes a miraculous force to Mt. Belukha, which is said to purify man and evoke spiritual enlightenment.
From the Mongolian word for gold ("altan"), this virtually unexplored region stretches for 1200 miles at the crossroads of Siberia, Mongolia, Kazakstan and China. Unspoiled by the environmental damage that has plagued much of Russia, the Altai remains an untouched wilderness of forests, rivers and glaciated peaks. Home to snow leopards and many other endangered species, the Altai is also the center of the forgotten world of Shamanism.
Ace Kvale, the expedition leader, learned of the Altai some years ago while on a trip to Kyrgyzstan. Intrigued by a mountain range that few people had ever heard of, Kvale learned the area opened to foreign travel only as recently as the mid-'80s. Though the main routes have been climbed, no one has ever skied it.
The group plans to fly to St. Petersburg and then travel over land on the Trans-Siberian Express. The trip will not only be as low impact as possible, but also extremely cost effective. Tentative dates are mid-March to mid-April 1999, with a side excursion to the famous Lake Baikal before returning home.
Ace Kvale, Expedition Organizer and Photographer