Russian at Parau ... by Alex Serov



Text: Alex Serov
Foto: Artem Oganov

Russians at Parau

Our trip to Parau began on a warm day in the end of October. Two cars – a minibus Mazda Bongo and a Toyota Prado – took off from Moscow, preparing to cross Russia, Dagestan, Azerbaijan and Northern Iran and get to the town of Kermanshah. We have waited for our visas quite long and were 5 days delayed, that is why we agreed to drive off and meet our leader with two other guys and our passports at the Mahachkala airport. There was another car with 4 cavers from Naberejnie Chelni and Krasnojarsk, waiting for us in Dagestan already, so we were eager to unite with them and become, finally, an expedition of three cars.
Till Astrahan everything went all right, not far from Dagestan border we had to stop to do some repair-works on the Toyota, but that was settled out quite fast. Early in the morning we were at Mahachkala, happily meeting our friend and leader – Yuri Evdokimov – with the visas. Now the way to Iran was free. Some hours later we also met our third car – a small all-road Russian jeep Niva, with 4 people on board.
On the Azerbaijan border we did loose 8 hours, but that was nothing comparing to last years record of 40 hours. Driving through Azerbaijan in the night, we met the morning light at the Iranian border in Astara. This time our team had an official status of the Russian Geographical Society expedition and we possessed all the documents needed, perhaps that fact made it easier to cross borders.
There were 21 people in total, cavers from different clubs and different places of Russia and Ukraine. Krasnoyarsk, Naberejnie Chelni, Kungur, Krasnodar, Moscow, Charkov – many of us knew each other from previous caving expeditions to Crimea and the Caucasus. We also had some very experienced cavers – like Kirill Markovskoy, one of the leaders of Krubera-Voronja project, a member of the Ukrainian Speleological Association and constant participant of caving projects in Abhazia and Turkey. Or our leader – Yuri Evdokimov, who apart from constant caving did some cave-diving in sumps and had in mind to dive the sump 3 of Parau, if we had a chance. And many others, who went caving constantly in Russia, some had worked below the -1000 meter mark several times. All this gave us hope we could tackle Parau quite effectively.
At the Iranian border we spent 1 day, the formalities with our cars took quite long. Still, in this border-town we had some time to get to know the country and the language, to change money and to take a shower after the long drive. Only three of us were in Iran before – Yuri, Sergei and Anna, for all the others it was their first experience.
Two previous expeditions – in 2004 and 2005/2006 were also organized by Yuri. In 2004 he with some friends traveled through Iran by bicycle and last year they drove through the country by minibus, visiting Parau, Sarab, the island of Keshm and Namagdan salt-caves. That winter in Parau they descended to -400, leaving some ropes in the cave and planning to return. There was not so much rigging done, Yuri reports they put in about 20 Petzl Spit anchors that time. They stopped due to the lack of time and equipment, but the idea to come back again – not only to Parau, but to Sarab as well - grew stronger.
Now we drove through Iran without any major stops, the cities of Rasht, Quazvin, Hamadan rushed quickly past. Early in the morning we were at the foot of Parau, not far form Kermanshah. Yuri and others already knew the route to the top of Parau, so for now we only had to plan the carrying of our bags to the cave. Here we were friendly invited by some local people to their house, where we lived and kept our stuff in the few days to come. Also here we were joined by Simon Brooks from Britain and Sharareh Ghazy, who now lives in Germany. Their presence – it is a real pity it was quite short – gave our expedition a flare of “internationality”. And we were left by two Russian members, who wanted to see the salt caves on Keshm Island and were not planning to work on Parau from the very beginning.
Thus, not less in number, we set off for Parau. The massif met us with rain and fog, on the first day we got our rucksacks to the grotto above the spring, some returned down already in darkness, others stayed to make a base camp on the plateau the following day. To tell a long story short, this went on for three days. One group carried loads to the grotto, the other took them up to the plateau. The fourth night we slept comfortably in the warm grotto and in the morning walked finally to our tents, standing next to Parau-entrance. It was foggy and windy, we could not see the top of the mountain, nor the ridges around us. The plateau turned out to be very muddy and after a little walking we carried a few kilos of mud on our shoes. It was decided that our group – 8 people – would live in the hut, while others stay in the tents. By this time there was fewer of us: Simon and Sharry went down the other day. But now we were joined by Yusef from Kermanshah, a local caver and a very strong and fast one – he was to the bottom of Parau many times and holds a record in descending and climbing out of the cave.
As we rigged Parau, we found very few of belays, put it by Yuri’s team last year, so we had to put in new ones. While caving, we are used to use single rope techniques (SRT) methods that are most practiced today in the world. According to SRT there must be safe belays, dividing pits into parts, so that every belay is secured by the upper one. It seems that no teams using SRT had ever worked in Parau, and all the old anchors – left since the cave was explored by the English in 1971-72 – were very unsafe. Since safety is the first thing that we have to think about working in caves, not matter small or very deep, we added some new anchors, especially at smaller pits and traverses.
As we rigged to -400, the end of 2nd traverse, we started to understand our time is elapsing very rapidly and there is far more work to be done, as we have imagined to ourselves before. We had to leave time for Sarab cave and some extra time in case we would have any car registration problems on the way back. After a discussion we decided to unrig and spend the three days we had left for search on the plateau. The weather by that time improved, giving us a chance to walk to the top of Parau plateau and to have a look around. We found many entrances on the plateau and took GPS-readings of them. We did not know how many were checked by cavers before, but the whole picture looked rather exiting and perspective, from the speleological point of view.
On the evening of that day we were joined by Kazem Faridyan from Tehran, on the following day guys at the plateau continued to look for new holes, and the five of us – Kazem, Yuri, Sergei, Alex and Anna – went to Tehran by bus. Sergei was going to fly back to Russia, and the three of us were invited by the Damavand Mountaneering Club to make a report on caves and caving in Russia and our expeditions to Iran. Kazem was very hospitable to invite us to stay at his house, and we are very grateful to him and his wonderful family for making us so comfortable, while we were at Tehran. This report was very important for us as well, because we wanted to make friend with local mountaineers and cavers and to interest them in our work in Russia and the Caucasus. The report by Yuri Evdokimov was translated into English and Farsi, we also showed some pictures from previous expeditions and maps of deep caves in Abhazia, like Krubera-Voronja, Sarma, Pantuhinskaya, Napra, Iljuhinskaya. We tried our best to tell as much as we can about Russian caving in the little time given and we hope the audience liked our report.
On the next day I went by bus to Kermanshah, my friends were there already, managing to take all the stuff down in one go. They told that after two days of clear sky the weather played a bad trick on them, it began to snow and the whole plateau was covered by fog. Everyone had to re-settle to the hut and pack up the rucksacks. During the last day they explored a cave not far from Parau, but it choked at the depth of -100 meters. There were many other promising entrances, but the time was short. In Kermanshah we all stayed at the very hospitable house of Yusef and we would like to thank him and his family for giving shelter to all of us.
Though we did not reach the bottom of Parau and did not have a chance to dive and ascend in the cave, we understood many problems that a caver in Parau has to tackle. Now not three, but many of us know the plateau, the cave and the weather in the region in October/November. And the work for future explorers of Parau would be much easier, since we put in about 50 new Petzl
Spit anchors in the cave. We hope that the exploration of Parau and the whole area would continue, contributing to the knowledge on geology and hydrogeology of this mountain region.

After Parau we had only a few days left in Iran, as some of us received shorter visas then others. After visiting Tehran we drove to Sarab cave not far from Hamadan. Our earlier plans to map the cave were now not to mention, we only had time to have a look around the cave. Kazem, Leila, Afshin and their friends came to join us for a day and they took me and Yuri to see the cave. We did not wear any wetsuits and went climbing all the way. For me personally some places overhanging the water were quite difficult, and only thanks to the help of Kazem’s friend, who climbed brilliantly, we managed to come through and get to the lake. The cave itself impresses a lot with its lakes and many dry corridors. We knew that Simon Brooks had mapped it some years ago, but there are still many undiscovered parts. It seems that Sarab could also conceive a few “presents” for its explorers in future. We also visited the famous Alisadr show-cave, which impressed us a lot. There are some show-caves in Russia as well, many of them astonish with capacities or ice inside, but none have so much open water. Alisadr, I am sure, is a unique cave and it makes me happy we had a chance to visit it.
Alas, only two and a half days at Sarab and we have to drive to Astara and then back home. We have not reached our objectives, but none the less, our trip was very interesting and exciting for all of us. In fact, we have gained a lot, and what is more worthy of all – we developed a great sympathy for Iran and made friends with many people in the country. Without their openhearted and always helpful attitude many things would be more difficult for us, and we appreciate their hospitality a lot. During our stay it always fascinated me, how we, sometimes not speaking a common language or speaking it poorly, still managed to communicate, to explain and to laugh together. I believe, that is because we shared common interests - a love for mountaineering and caving and anxiety for our countries and cultures.
So, I hope this is not the end of the story and we would see each other again, in Russia or in Iran, this time as friends. May I use this article and say again “Thank you” from our team to all who helped us in Iran.

Members of expedition “Parau 2006”

Evdokimov Yuri – Moscow
Petrov Sergei - Moscow
Rogal Anna - Moscow
Oganov Artem - Moscow
Gunko Alexei - Nabereznie Chelni
Jakovlev Evgeny – Nabereznie Chelni
Demidov Pavel - Moscow
Parshin Dmitry - Moscow
Ovsjannikova Maria - Moscow
Akhmetshin Ilja - Moscow
Utkin Valeri - Krasnoyarsk
Gushina Julia - Krasnoyarsk
Jmyrova Jekaterina - Moscow
Ostapenko Andrei - Krasnodar
Sivinskih Pavel - Kungur
Markovskoi Kirill – Charkov, Ukraine
Shevchenko Elena – Charkov, Ukraine
Serov Alexei - Moscow
Gusev Sergei - Moscow
Sharareh Ghazy - Germany Simon Brooks - Britain


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