Верхнее меню - Travelling notes

Lineal translation by Language Center from:

Text by Philippe Descamps

Montagne Magazine 266, February 2003

Khibiny, the Kola Peninsula

Great slopes in the Russian Arctic

In the Northern Region of Russia, the Kola Peninsula shelters a domain that admires all amateurs of hitch-hiking and ski-tours. The great latitude of the region compensates the low mountains covered with snow during the winter time. Here on the slopes one can also discover the world of the post-Soviet Russia step by step.

Looking through the window of the train going to the region of Murmansk one can see incessant fir trees. This moment reminds me of my childhood when we were watching snowflakes falling on the ground. It seemed it could last forever. Every snowflake resembles the previous one, but we want to see all of them. As if we want to make sure that they are innumerable, that they will cover the whole city. Crossing the region of Karelia we unconsciously want to make sure of the endlessness of the taiga, of this wood-continent that occupies the North of Europe, from Scandinavia to the Siberia. One expects to discover mysterious Russia that obsesses our imagination by its enormous size, its severe climate compensated by its people’s hospitality and also by the tragedies that have taken place in its history, by the pollution of the environment and the courage of its people.

When we are leaving France, we think that the city of Peter the Great is situated somewhere in the North. But when we come to Saint-Petersburg our train goes even further to the North of the country. Train is the best kind of transport to see the land from inside. We have to go more than 1300 kilometers along the double electrified line to come to the town of Apatity. The name of this city tells us about the materialism of the past days. Apatite is a kind of phosphate. Its neighbor is called Titan. The Khibiny Massif is one of the biggest deposits of mines in the world.

The reason, why a German, two young Swiss, a farmer from Michigan and three Russians have gathered here, was carefully located in the upper part of the compartment. It is quite reasonable to visit the region of the Kola Peninsula on skis. The first inhabitants of the region were the Saami, almost all of them perished in the times of the collectivism. This people belong to the community of the inventors of skiing, the Lapons. One can understand it easily looking through the window at different lakes, forests and swamps, almost always covered with snow.

When Dima takes out his guitar to play everyone stays enchanted. A little bit earlier some amount of vodka had brought a little joy into our refuge that turned to be an original Russian izba, with its stone oven and wooden walls. A surgeon from Saint-Petersburg, getting only 200 euros a month, in fact, feels happy when he together with his friend Alexey, a professor of chemistry, goes to the North of the country on the so-called “new Russians’ tours”.


During the time of the Soviet Union the trips on boats in summer and on skis in spring were a little hope for the freedom stolen by the devouring and sinister collectivism. Today, these runaways to the aurora borealis have become something like vacations from the fury of the wild neo-capitalism, which confuses the nation with a great history.

We are in the tundra of Khibina, the eyes of Dima and his girl-friend Zina start shining with joy. Alexey went forward to show us the beautiful slopes he had noticed, understanding that this was the reason why all his guests gathered there. Even though the highest points do not exceed more than 1200 meters, they seem the most difficult ones for us. Two young Swiss, Fred and Mazal, like gorges. And they like the relief of the plateau, intersected by great descents, some of them rather steep.

Speaking about the vegetation, one has to say that there are lots of forests around summits of 3200 m. Here the cold limits all the vegetation to the altitude of 300m, while in the Alps this limit is equal to 2300m. It is spring now. Dozens and hundreds of partridges are billing and cooing in the woods of the taiga. One can hear them all day long; one can see them flying up scared by the approaching people.

We understand the Russian soul better on our way back to the refuge. It was big time for the ceremony of banya, the so-called Russian sauna. Smoke comes out of the chimney of a small house near the river. Inside we walk around three halls that surround the powerful oven. In the hottest hall we are perspiring, in the second one we are taking shower and in the third one we are drinking beer. And then we start this round again, also increasing our blood circulation with birch-tree brooms. When you feel hot enough you can go quenching yourself and swim in the river that flows between two walls of snow.

The Russian Sauna

Banya is not only a place of strong feelings and high temperature shocks. It is also a place where one can talk to each other. Alexey speaks about his climbing to the Caucasus and Tien Shan. Dima is very emotional when telling about his encounter with a skunk bear (a kind of a badger in the taiga) and with a bear on a bank of the river. Life is beautiful in the Kola Peninsula! It is time for getting friends and the moments when everyone can exist as an individual and enjoy living in the nature.

After two or three visits to the river, Dima also talks about the Siberia. Being an ordinary surgeon during several years in Yakoutia, he saw the destruction power of the isolation, cold and alcohol. Visiting his patients on a helicopter, once he also discovered the remains of Soviet concentration camps that are vanishing as the evidence of the huge crimes. Dima has certain reasons not to regret about the end of the Soviets, although the life seemed to be easier before.

The refuge is also a shelter from this world full of troubles. The beauty of the Khibiny may be protected only in case a national park is organized. On the lost summits, on the pleasant slopes, we forget about mines we had to pass to come here. They make a good part of the trip. It is necessary to remember that dozens of thousands of workers who live in these houses belonged to the aristocracy of the working class not long ago. These giant mines in the polar region were the pride of the country. But it is no longer the time for the industry domination. Young people here dream of the South the same way we dream of the North.


In order to understand how indifferent the system was towards the region we need to remind the fact, that two nuclear “civil” underground bombs were tested here. The specialists held testing of lithium bombs in order to make giant galleries inside the mountains. In this region nuclear reactors were thrown to the waters of the Barents Sea. Just before the episode with Kursk, an officer, Alexander Nikitin, was persecuted for having described the disastrous state of the nuclear-powered battleships and submarines. Later he was acquitted. Further to the North the exploitation of the nickel mines destroyed lots of forests. Of course, the country is huge, but in the name of the future of our children we must protect it.

Returning to the valley of Petreliousa, one has an impression of being protected from this chaos. Alexey can speak for hours about the potential of the massif. Very often Russian teams climb the Northern slopes. The fissures are innumerable. Now it is also time to distinguish between the Russians and other peoples of the East, when more than ten years passed after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and their “return” to the same world.

The Lanes of Khibiny

To discover the massif one would better set up a camp near Kouelporr, the starting place of many routes. Here you can even find some conveniences. These mountains begin with a horse-shoe shaped plateau which appeared after the Ice Age. This shape gives a very particular plain relief to the massif and one can descend from the upper platform by very gentle slopes as well as by steep precipices.

All the routes go between the valley of Kukisvoum situated at the average altitude of 250m and the summits with the altitude from 1000 and 1200m. It is simple to make several routes on the same day. In April the sun shines longer without giving too much warmth and it lets people start quite late in the evening. The given routes are presented for reference only – much has to be done with one ski-track and with the opening of a new slope available for the experienced skiers. There still exist several bypass routes for the less experienced.

Day 1

The access to the refuge can be done either by caterpillar conveyers or by snowmobiles from Kirovsk (Koukisvoutchor). This place, which consists of four main wooden buildings, is guarded by two Mikhails on two shifts. On arrival there was an excursion to the slopes of the Western Rischorr, close to the refuge.

Day 2

Climbing to the crossing of Tchorzor (1080m), which finishes by a rocky gorge. From there, descent directly by the route of the ascension or the possibility to go to the Northern summit of Poutelitcnorr (1111m) to reach one of the most beautiful slopes (45°), which Alexey calls the Black Killy.

Day 3

Climbing to the South-Eastern valley of Rischok, then along the mountain ridge to the west from the Peak of Marchenko (1032). The two Swedes descended by the Northwestern slope (45°) to return to the valley, while I  managed to find fresh snow on the northern slope (begins with more than 40°) to get to the crossing of Rischor. The rest of the group ascended the summit of Kaskasniounchorrd (1032) overlooking the magnificent landscapes of the taiga. The good snow and sun made us reach Rischor (1070m) bypassing the gorge of the crossing bearing the same name by southwest. Rischor is the archetype of the ascensions to Khibiny with almost completely flat summit, but with the possibility to descend from it using the southern slope with the magnificent view at the angle of more than 45°.

Day 4

Climbing by the eastern slopes of Tchorzoren to the south in order to reach the summit plateau, which finishes by Rinditchvoumtchorr (1178m), overlooking the magnificent view over the lake of Imandra. Descent by the eastern slope under the summit (begins with more than 45°).

Day 5

Skiing back to Kirovsk. Mikhail led the group pulling us behind his snowmobile to the entrance of the valley of Petreliousa. Ascension to the foot of the northern slope of Petreliousa, which one bypasses from the right side to reach the top of Fersmana (lots of different routes are possible in this region) and the gorge Petrelioussa that separates this summit from Yudychvoumctiorr (1200 m), the highest point of the massif. Then we entered the valley of MalaTa Belai'a (“Little White”) that touches a little town of Khibiny on the bank of lake Imandra. Everyone quickly left this valley and went to the north of the gorge and to the defile of Ramzai’a. This interesting gorge bears the name of geologist Wilhem Ramzai'a, who discovered the riches of this massif at the end of the 19th century. From the gorge everyone gets down to the lake of Boudiavre, which is crossed by Ton to gain the route to Kirovsk. A longer stay with spending the night in the tents can let us discover other slopes of the massif and especially Partomtchorr, Lyavotchorr or the Northern slope of Putelitchorr.


The site can be used for kite-skiing, especially on the lakes covered with ice and on the windy plateaus.

The Alpine Skiing

The slopes over Kirovsk are equipped with mechanical lifts and two ski-jumps. There people can go skiing from October to May. The “Soviet” atmosphere is guaranteed, there is no slope preparation, and the lifts are rotten. Avoid training periods.

Strategic Plans for Developing the Massif and the Region

As big as a quarter of France the Kola Peninsula was inhabited only by several fishermen and some Lapons, the Saami, before 1914.Today it accounts for more than 1 million citizens living in the north of the Polar Circle (the half of the population lives in Murmansk). The civil war and two world wars evidenced the importance of the port of Murmansk. For the USSR it was the only way to the Atlantics without a channel and operating all over the year. This port has become vital for the fleet (especially for the nuclear submarines) and for the Russian economy. This statement is still correct since that time (in the Soviet Union with the estrangement of the brother countries or the Baltic countries and their marine enterprises).

The resources of the Peninsula, especially in the region of Khibiny massif, are extremely rich. These abyssal rocks originated from the very old volcano of more than 380 millions years old that was abundant in minerals, later decreased during the ice cap in the Ice Age. The massif was rising again after the end of the Ice Age during more than 10000 years. Discovered in 1921, the giant deposit of apatite (calcium phosphate with the addition of fluorine and chlore) started being exploited from 1929. These phosphates of Kola are extracted in the biggest open mines of the world (more than 900 meters deep) and are used as fertilizers in the most regions of Russia and the Ukraine. They also mine nephelines (sodium and potassium aluminosilicates) from which people extract aluminum, as well as many other minerals, several of which are less common.

Thousands of workers gathered in the cities of Kirovsk, Titan and Apatity, thus forming the biggest mining center in Europe with the population of 150000 people.  The nuclear centers  were constructed in the neighborhood for providing electric power necessary for those installations. There should be built a heating and power station, and then entertaining centers for people who will work at the plant and who show interest to those mountains, covered with snow eight months a year.