Find the wildest paddling in the world in Siberia

Wild waterfalls and vodka – washing machines and mayonnaise! What else do you expect in Siberia?
The big truck on the Siberian paddle tour
Not a bad view © Olaf Obsommer
By Sissi Pärsch

It's a wild story: adventure paddler Philip Baues, filmmaker Olaf Obsommer and 14 other kayakers take to the Sayan Mountains in Sibera. The goal? Paddle where no one has paddled before. What happened? Well, we can tell you it involved army trucks, vodka, candy bars – and the first descent of a 15m waterfall.

So, Philip... Siberia.
We wanted to paddle the Onot, a river in the Sayan Mountains. It's in a rather empty area. You could say it's the 'ass-end of Siberia'. But it's a pretty ass-end! My trip to Siberia in 2010 was the highlight of my paddle career, but I wasn't sure if I wanted to go back... 

But you knew of an un-paddled line.
Yes, we'd heard of a big waterfall and an entire canyon which were still untouched. So we were all ears!
 

And did you make it?
Yes! The night before our paddle it rained all night, and the waterflow through the canyon was twice as high, allowing us to pull off a 15m first descent. We were a little lucky!

Other things didn't go so well...
The journey was rough. Moscow to Irkutsk, then 500km to the edge of Sajan, and all on pothole-filled roads. We weren't quick. But in the end, after we rode in a rich guy's car, and an army truck that ended up breaking down, we made it.

Then it was 'gypsy-lifestyle'. Collect wood, cook, drink, sleep. We were a really international squad! Russians, Germans, Latvians, Australians, Scots, Czechs, French and Canadians – all in the wilderness. It actually worked really well!

Food and supplies required by the kayakers
Food for thought? Not so much © Timo Köster

And you were completely 'self-supported'?
We brought everything in that we needed on the boat, and shared someof the supplies amongst the team.

You had a really healthy diet, huh?
Potatoes, canned meat, cabbage, a few bottles of 'Russian soul', and for the first few days, some chickens! We also had vast, vast amounts of mayonnaise, which was well received by calorie-hungry stomachs.


 

White water action from a Siberian waterfall
Getting wild in the wild © Phil Gibbins

So in the end, how was the trip?
With expeditions into uncharted territory, you don't expect such incredible whitewater. We were able to paddle almost everything in the 180km river, having to portage our gear around only a few heavy canyons and run them in lightweight boats.

Other than the river, what risks were there?
None with wild animals. With 16 wild, smelly guys on colourful plastic boats, they stayed away. But just as scary as the rapids and waterfalls were three drunken Russians!

On the water?!
Yep. On a hovercraft, 60km above the village we were to be picked up at – one with a Kalishnikov at the ready, the other with a shotgun, and three lights-out drunk.

Fishing for their dinner in Siberia
Searching for Siberian sushi © Phil Gibbins

So did it end with a smile?
After we shared a drink, yes, and in the end we were even taking a few shots with the guns. You don't get that experience on a normal holiday!

Once the trip was over, you partied...

We plunged right into the nightlife of Irkutsk! It's always amusing getting back to civilisation...

OK, as an experienced visitor to Siberia, what do we need to know?
Bring a fishing rod. Don't try to take pictures of Russians with guns, especially if they are drunk. And get a local guide – whether you find him at the checkpoints or at the door to the disco!

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