Primož Jakopin
Evgenij Sakulin - Ženja *
loves caving and travel


On the Chul-Bair mountain, 2021

Who are you, Evgenij Sakulin?
          I was born in Kizel, a small town in Perm region the first of February 1987, in the family of Andrej Stanislavovič Sakulin, a hunting supervisor, and Ljudmila Dmitrievna Sakulina, an accountant. When I was one year old, our family moved to Gubakha (also in Perm region), where my younger brother Ilja was born a year later.
          As a child, I constantly went hiking with my dad in the forest, and my mom involved me in cross-country skiing.
          I studied in primary and secondary school (School #1) in Gubakha from 1994 to 2003. After school I moved to Ekaterinburg (2004), and went to UGGU university (Ural State Mining University), Faculty of Geology and Geophysics, Department of Mineralogy, Applied Geochemistry, Petrography. At the same time I also started working in industrial rope access (I was 17 at the time). This work and passion for industrial mountaineering took so much of my time that in 2007 I quit the study.
What are the most memorable events that happened to you in early youth?
          Traveling. All my youth was a constant movement: my parents took me to my grandmothers to Ekaterinburg and Ukraine; with caving club I used to travel through the Caucasus, the Urals and Central Russia. As part of school life curriculum I visited several All-Russian Olympiads in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
What can you say about Gubakha?
          Gubakha is a cave region, there are 124 caves in the city area, and more than 200 caves within a radius of 50 km around the city.

Cutting branches on top of a birch, Moscow region, 2021, a selfie

And what about Ekaterinburg?
          In Ekaterinburg, I won my first caving competition and earned my first money with industrial climbing. Ekaterinburg has become a city of opportunities for me.
What else attracts you to work at height, besides the fact that you are already familiar with overcoming the depth and height in caves?
          At the height I feel home, at the height there is only me, my experience, my skills and the omnipresent tranquility.
What brought you to speleology?
          In the fourth grade, Ljubov Jurjevna Menših came to our school and suggested pupils to visit a club of young geologists and go to caves. So at the age of 11 I fell in love with speleology.
          About 20 kids, boys and girls, who signed up for the club of young geologists with Ljubov Jurjevna, were taken by her husband Sergej Alekseevič to Kizelovskaja cave in order to weed out those who are not sure about caving. On the eve of the departure, I got a concussion after falling from the horizontal bar on the sports ground, so I didn't get into the Kizelovskaja cave (that time a lot of guys dropped out). But two weeks later I finally visited my first cave - Rossijskaja. In the cave everything turned out to be completely different from what it was on the surface - my curiosity knew no bounds. So at the age of 11 I fell in love with speleology. After almost 14 years, in Rossijskaja cave I managed to discover a new branch. And exactly from Rossijskaja few years later I would carry out bodies of my several fellows.
          I joined the SGS - Ekaterinburg Speleo Club in 2004, and registered as a member officially in 2014.
For some reason it seems to me that your first deep cave was in the Caucasus, is it true?
          Yes. In 2000, at the age of 13, as part of the Urals speleological camp, I spent two weeks on Ahcu massif in the Voroncov caves. During the digging, I fell from a shelf 4 meters deep into a siphon, broke my mining lantern, but survived. After that trip to the Caucasus, I fell in love with speleology even more.
Which cave on Arabika massif do you remember the most?
          In 2013, Denis Provalov invited me to work in Krubera cave. It was the first two-kilometer cave in my life. We carried a rebreather and diving equipment to the bottom, and we repaired a broken cable in a siphon at -1400 m.
When did you first go to Uzbekistan? Was it on Hodja-Gur-Gur-Ata ridge?
          In 2007, Aleksandr Sergeevič Višnevskij invited me to join the expedition to Uzbekistan on the Chul-Bair massif in Boybuloq cave. It was the most expensive and shortest expedition to Asia I've ever been to. We got there by helicopter and worked in the cave for two days, completing all the tasks assigned to us. :)

Three portraits of Ženja: 2018, 2020 and 2021. First and second photo by Evgenij Sakulin, third photo by the author.

Which cave is more interesting, Dark Star or Festivalnaja?
          For me, Festivalnaja cave is more interesting, because I have not been there yet.
Was it you who had fallen on the way to the ridge and then spent a few days in Dehibolo?
          No, it was Saša (Aleksandr Alybin), he had been brought to Dehibolo to recover, but he returned to our camp under the mountain wall for the last few days of our expedition and my comrades and I carried him back from the mountain on our backs on a Tatonka backpack. :)
When did you first visit Višnevskij cave?
          For the first time I got to Višnevskij in 2018, I explored the cave with French fellows, we searched for passages from the Hammock camp at -500 m upwards and also made a topographic survey.
Expedition in 2019 was full of surprises. How did you and Anastasija Janina find the siphon bypass at -735 m?
          In 2019, we spent two days getting from the entrance to the underground camp. After a rest we split into two groups - the first group should have dug a perspective passage near the camp, and the second group (Nastja and I) should have tried to wade through the siphon. The siphon turned out to be impassable, and on the way back we decided to look into all the side tunnels of the main passage. In one of the tunnels, where we saw boot traces, the end of the passage was flooded with water and I've heard the sound of a river, so I thought that this was a loop passage, returning to the main one. But Nastja insisted me to climb further. It was narrow, so I took off my climbing gear, broke a few stalactites, swam less than 10 meters and came to an underground stream in a place I have never been to. The cave had a path ahead.

One of Ženja's trademarks is barefoot shoes. Tashkent, 2021, photo by the author

What were your feelings when you got to -1131 m?
          Every time there was an obstacle in front of us in the cave, it seemed to me "this is it, this is the end". But when we had come to the shafts and big water, I realized that this was only the beginning :).
Last year, you and Ženja Rybka reached the first half-siphon, at -1250 m. Why have you decided to wade through? Was there a draft?
          I was in that part of Višnevskij, which gets close to Boybuloq, and when we approached the first half-siphon, I thought that we could dive into Višnevskij, and emerge in Boybuloq. There was no draft, it was clear from the configuration of the cave that everything was going to the siphon. And so it turned out to be. From the second half-siphon to the final siphon there is no more than 30 meters of crawling and swimming. :)
          The siphon is deep, so I think if we bring the diving equipment, it can be dived and then, perhaps, the cave will continue to -2000 m on its own.

Russian-French-Slovenian-Uzbek caving expedition Boybuloq 2021. Ženja is sitting on the left, with blue sunglasses in his hair. Dehibolo, photo by the author.

What can you tell us about caves in your home area, in Kizelovsko-Jajvinski speleological district (Perm region)?
          Since childhood I went to the caves close to home and dreamed of digging and discovering a new branch in one of them. Already being quite experienced, I came to the Bat cave to find the origin of 15-meter column of vapour from the cave entrance in the winter. My friend and I had dug through a rock collapse up to a narrow gap between two large stones. A week later Igor Lavrov arrived with the guys and equipment, and widened this gap, so one week later we could crawl through it. In the cave, previously 15 meters long and 8 meters deep, we immediately descended to -55 meters, to an underground stream. Nowadays this cave is still being explored.
Caves in what countries, besides Russia, Abkhazia and Uzbekistan, have you been to?
          I participated in the exploration of caves in Ukraine, Israel and Moldova, with my friends I visited the caves of Malaysia, Kyrgyzstan and Brazil.
What are your most memorable and most challenging cave experiences?
          I can confidently say that the caves of the Chul-Bair range are some of the most difficult in my career, that the caves of the Hodja-Gur-Gur-Ata ridge are among the most beautiful, and that the caves of central Brazil are probably the most amazing, as they are inhabited by so many endemic organisms.
How many climbing competitions have you participated in?
          There were a lot of competitions in my life, but the best results I had in Israel (the 3rd place) and in Malaysia (the 2nd place).

At the CSKA climbing wall, Moscow, 2021, and at his home in Moscow with 54 competition medals, 2022, both photos by Natalja Sakulina

You have traveled a lot. When and where did you go first?
          My first travel outside of Russia was in my youth. with Gubahinskij club of young geologists. We went to Kyrgyzstan with Gubakha club of young geologists.

At the top of a 78-meter waterfall, Piracicaba, Brazil, 2015, photo by Evgeny Sakulin

You have a very scenic photo at the top of a waterfall in Brazil, taken on a post-competition Petzl Rope Trip. Can you tell more?
         After two months of work in the mountains of Kazakhstan, I flew to my wife in Ufa for four days, and then immediately to Brazil, because I took part in World Championship in industrial rope access - 'Petzl Rope Trip Series Brasil' - as a member of Russian team. There I've first won the individual race, and then, while traveling around the country, learned that my wife was pregnant. :))
         In Brazil, I was struck by the hospitality of the natives.
         About nature, I especially remember Angelica Cave with many kilometers long underground river full of colorless fish crawling over stones. I also remember spiders that looked like tarantulas and worms, which form special luminous threads for catching underground insects. And the Iguazu Falls, with a large number of crocodiles and an anteater crossing the road at night. It was an amazing journey.

Ženja at the Lake Kaindy, Kazakhstan, 2019, photo by Galina Nigaj

I know that your longest trip was autotravel around the former republics of the USSR and Mongolia, except for Turkmenistan? Can you add something interesting about that journey?
          After the expedition to Boybuloq in August 2019, my girlfriend Galina and I decided to drive through the countries of the ex-member countries of the USSR to Mongolia and back by car. We traveled around Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, we saw Altaj. We visited Fergana Valley, Lenin Peak, petroglyphs of Saymaluu-Tash, Song-Köl Lake, Charyn Canyon and many other famous sights of Central Asia. We spent almost a month on the road.

With friends on the road, Bayan Ölgii province, Mongolia, 2019, photo by Galina Nigaj

After the expedition to Chul-Bair last summer (2021), you were planning to go to Turkmenistan. Did you succeed?
          Turkmenistan is still a dream, I hope to visit the famous Kugitang mountain ridge and its caves soon.
Is there any place you want to go back again?
          All countries can be visited again with great pleasure, but even now, I recently returned from Egypt, I want to pay a visit to Ukraine, to my grandmother.

Sailing with red oar on the Red sea, 2022, photo by Natalja Sakulina

What would your ideal home be like if a goldfish brought it to you?
          Since childhood, my dream is a small house on a plot of land with the mouth of the cave I could explore. :) There are such places not far from Gubakha.

In a salt cave, Mount Sodom, Dead Sea, Israel, 2015, photo by Gulnaz Sakulina

Modern life makes great demands on the young couple. What is your experience?
          I have a son growing up, he will be six in 2022, and his beautiful mother, my first wife Gulnaz, is raising him. :)
          Me and my wife Nataša are currently expecting my second child. :)
What advice would you give to all newbies to speleology?
          Speleology is an opportunity to explore yourself, caves and the world around you. Try it! Never try - never know. :)
Let us add three simple questions at the end. What are your favorite films?
          I like Soviet films. For example, The Elusive Avengers, Ivan Vasilievich: Back to the Future, Operation Y and Shurik's Other Adventures.
What is your favorite music?
          I like different music. My playlist has tracks from Coj to Eminem. :)
And what is your favorite color?
          Any vivid bright color.

Eastbound / Footprint in vivid colors, 2022, color composition by the author


Related posts:


  Richard Forster, beauty comes from Switzerland, December 2021     Pierre Strinati, Cave fauna and beyond, December 2022  

* For greater accuracy Cyrillic names were transliterated to the Latin alphabet using the Scientific transliteration of Cyrillic. Therefore it is Ženja instead of Zhenya, peščera instead of peshchera (for cave), Robert Hrabryj instead of Robert Khrabryy (for Robert the Strong).


          This page and images are by Primož Jakopin - Klok, a member of the Ljubljana Society for Cave Exploration (DZRJL), who also owns the image copyright if the author is not listed in the description. In such case the copyright belongs to the photographer. All photos published with permission.
          Send inquiries and comments to primoz jakopin guest arnes si (insert dots and at sign as appropriate). The page in Russian was written in January, 2022. English version, improved by Nata Sakulina, was last changed December 30, 2022.