Tied To Soviet Apartment Block In Pripyat, Chernobyl (003)
Going to the most radioactive place in the world was always going to be different, but what made our trip even more different was abseiling from an apartment block. A place completely uninhabitable because, even 30 years after the nuclear disaster, it is still highly radioactive.
Getting into Chernobyl is by special arrangement only and anyone wishing to visit must have special authorisation and adhere to strict rules and schedules. Abseiling from a block of flats in Pripyat, Chernobyl was never going to make it on any official document, so we had to do it the hard way.
Usual tour groups for Chernobyl get ushered around the zone and generally get told where they may and may not take pictures. We're a little different and have 'contacts' in the zone, which means we get away with a lot more than the regular tourists. We get complete unescorted access to some of the most prestigious tourist sites, so it was just about timing to get these abseils completed. There's still military protecting throughout the zone and 2 guys abseiling from an apartment block, dressed in camouflage and with a full abseiling kit would take a lot of explaining.
Abseiling In Pripyat
Our original plan was to abseil one of the seven 16-storey apartment blocks in Pripyat. But after doing some rough calculations we concluded that we may not have quite enough rope to reach the bottom. Even with the static stretch of our rope, we didn't want to take unnecessary risks or lose valuable time experimenting. It was now or never and we decided to abseil on the second highest building.
Getting to the roof was tougher than when we scaled some of the other buildings in Pripyat. After climbing to the gap between the ceiling and the roof we had to crawl over pipes and beams to reach the access. It goes without saying that by the time we'd reached the roof we were already tired, what with carrying ropes and gear etc.
Luckily, the radiation on the roof that we'd chosen was much lower than the rest of Pripyat and readings were just 0.4 µSv/h, while the rest of Pripyat averaged 1.5 µSv/h. Earlier that day we'd been on the roof of another apartment block and the readings were in excess of 18 µSv/h, so obviously we didn't stay long on that roof. Rooftops are some of the most radioactive places in Chernobyl, so don't forget your Geiger counter.
Finding An Anchor
Surprisingly, rooftops have an abundance of anchor points and this rooftop was no exception. We quickly decided to attach to a steel pipe, remains of a telegraph pole and a small chimney, then run the rope between the gap from the extractors and down the side of the building. This gave the rope plenty of clearance and ensured that the rope would not rub on any surfaces.
Additionally, the rope perfectly lined up between the join in the building's concrete blocks, thus securing the rope and ensuring little movement. Perfect anchor points!
With a little struggle to get the rope protector high-viz in place, the rest of the descent went well. It was great to abseil down an apartment block; looking through the windows and seeing bits of furniture on the way down, we imagined that we're the first people in the world to ever do this in Chernobyl. Though the bliss of the descent quickly ended when we realised that in fact we were landing in the middle of a huge radioactive bush/tree of thorns! Not exactly ideal...
Quickly packing up our equipment and heading back to civilisation, we celebrated with a high five. Only moments later we saw a military vehicle on a routine tour of the zone, so we did what came naturally, we ran!