Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
There is a risk that I might have to swim some sections in my dry suit, but it is supposed to be a much faster route than the mountainous route marked in green on the map above and since time matters, I will go down by the river….
I am planning to leave around 5pm today once I have posted this report…
I regret but because of the limited internet access that I have, I am still not able to post the pictures that I want.
However, I will do so profusely in the future!
Wednesday April 28th 2010
N 62° 28.074'; E 166° 12.529
Kamenskoye, Koryak Okrug Kamchatka.
Total: 452.2 kms
146.2kms since Slautnoye
First of all, I want to mention that I have added notes to some of my last few posts, because I noticed that some of the posts I have sent through my PDA and satellite phone while on the trail were cut... Maybe the system is trying to tell me to post shorter posts while on the trail!
I especially added a missing last section to the last post where I was describing the trail "my" three dogs and I were on.
On Saturday 24th at 23h30, the four musketeers Dima, Rice, Rex and Dunia (Yes, I found out the names of my three vagabond dogs!) rolled into Kamenskoye, ready to tear the town apart and especially keep every local loose pack of angry territorial dogs at bay!
Not an easy task, I must say!
So, yes, in the end, since these 3 beautiful dogs decided to join me at the fishing camp, 5 kms after Slautnoye, we were able to cover together 141 kms.
The moral of the story: IF YOU DO NOT WANT ANY RANDOM DOGS TO FOLLOW YOU FOR KILOMETERS AND KILOMETERS, RESIST THE TEMPTATION TO EVER FEED THEM, NO MATTER HOW MUCH YOU MAY WANT TO!
Ok, before I go on and talk about “my” three dogs current fate, let me take you back to the beautiful and peaceful time we got to spend together on the Slautnoye - Kamenskoye trail over the last week...
After the last report that I sent a week ago, I realized that I had clearly left the wezdehod trail for good and joined the ural zimnik winter trail.
Wezdehod trails are the trails made by the amphibious wezdehods, military-issued tank type vehicles... They can butcher everything along the way... hills, rivers, bushes, dirt, snow, ice and therefore tend to travel in straighter shorter lines, sometimes leaving quite a bumpy butchered trail to follow.
Ural zimnik trails are the winter trails made by the heavy Ural trucks, and therefore need to work with the landscape, often following river beds, no matter how sinuous the rivers might be, and therefore often adding a great amount of mileage. However, they tend to leave great stable tracks that are most of the time easier/faster to follow on in packed hard snow. It is another story if the snow is fresh/new when one needs to pull a sled in/out/around deep crevasses left behind by the Ural large tires.
I believe I made the right choice on the Slautnoye - Kamenskoye route, where I combined the two:
- the first 60 kms on a somewhat straight wezdehod road along the Penzhina river
- the remaining 86 kms in the Penzhina river bed, when the Penzhina tends to be less sinuous, and progressively more and more "stable" as I was approaching her mouth/delta near Kamenskoye.
By "stable", I mean a frozen river offering more and more large patches of smooth ice easy to travel on and having to cross progressively less and less open water, slush, pebble stones, gravel and dirt patches.
Usually, the further down the river you travel and the more time you have before logically the ice melts!
Going down the Penzhina river also lead me to bypass completely the Oklan village and therefore, I did not have to swim across the potentially dangerous open and fast Oklan river, which tends to remain unfrozen most of the year because of its underwater springs.
I was indeed trying to postpone as long as I could this year, the use of my dry !
So, the three dogs and I took advantage of a beautiful Ural zimnik trail on the wide Penzhina river and progressed our way down, benefiting as well of a wonderful spring weather (-20c at night, up to 0c during the warm afternoons…) leading me to change to lighter “spring clothing attire” and only had to deal with one morning of light snow in an entire week!
The dogs were obviously enjoying themselves, honing their hunting skills along the way, cornering white rabbits from 3 angles which was an intriguing show to watch every time!
The larger one, wolf-like, curiously named “Rice”, enjoyed every time tearing apart my left-over Mountain House dehydrated meals, shredding them to the last bit to get the last drop!
This incredible shredding machine was also keen of any types of tin cans that will come across his way on the trail!
One morning, Rice spent about 2 hours, trotting along my side, while munching to the last bit on a moose lower leg that he had picked up along the way…
The dogs were also amusing to observe at night.
The first few nights, they were simply contented with sleeping in burrowed nests that they made near my tent…
Though starting with the 3rd and 4th nights, the larger dogs Rice and Rex started to want to sleep on my sled which I was quite willing to concede to.
I drew the line though on the 5th night when Rice started to want to sleep inside the tent!
We came to a satisfactory agreement when I finally let him rest in the small space available between the 2 layers of the tent, where he could get a bit of extra warmth.
A demanding husky I must say!
On our 5th day of trekking after Slautnoye, we were woken up by our first human contact, since koriak Valeria left us six kilometers after Slautnoye.
Two Ural trucks were driving in the opposite northern direction, near my campsite, which reassured me that obviously the kilometers ahead of river bed were still “stable” enough to let through 2 heavy Ural trucks, let alone one man with a sled and his three dogs!
Around 16h00 on the same day, 70 kms from Kamenskoye, we came across along our way a fairly large barge which has been “beached” during the summer months in the middle of the river, most likely thanks to a dangerous underwater sand bar.
An interesting site in the middle of the frozen river which lead me to stop, enjoy a Mountain House meal and partake into a photo shoot with my 3 canine friends!
On our 6th day, we were this time woken up by Aleg, a Gas Ural truck driver who was Kamenskoye bound with my 2 red cargo bags thankfully strapped on top of his cistern. I was quite relieved to see that my gear was on its way promptly to Kamenskoye and should be there before “we” even arrived!
I was also quite pleased to follow the tracks of this truck, able to pack down the fresh snow that had fallen down during the night!
Further on that day, we were suddenly dealing with a lot more traffic!
At 17h30, 1 ural and 1 wezdehod full of koryak passengers came by from the Northeastern port of Telichiki… a 1-2 days journey…
They stopped to check out what was this crazy man doing on the trail alone with his sled and 3 sleds, and of course profusely inundated me with questions starting with the ever-essential one: “ARE YOU A SPY?”
To which I responded ‘Of course, I am, there is so much to report on this Slautnoye-Kamenskoye strategic trail!”
It was for me the opportunity though to turn around and ask them about the trail condition for the kilometers to come and how far did they think I will be able to trek/ski this month through Kamchatka before I completely ran out of snow!
At 19h00, 3 more Ural trucks came by, loaded with wooden logs and bound for Kamenskoye.
I filmed them and they took pictures of me…
A few minutes later, athe mouth of the Oklan river, I arrived at the balok/izbuk/cabin I was counting on for the night, knowing that it was the only known dwelling between Slautnoye and Kamenskoye, besides the locked cabin of the beached barge I came across.
However, it was in a sad dilapidated shape, full of snow and therefore could not housed me for the night… The dogs and I pushed then further on to a section of the trail that left the river for a while (because of an open water section) in order to punch through a bumpy and bushy section.
We finally stopped at 21h00, camped and were woken up around midnight by Aleg’s gas truck on his way back to Slautnoye, followed a few minutes later by two wezdehods which were Kamenskoye bound as well.
A koriak driver, named Gosha, (the brother of Genia, the woman who sold me the tent in Slautnoye!) coiffed with a beautiful koriak hat, popped out of the first wezdehod to exclam:”THOSE ARE MY DOGS!!! AND THEIR NAMES ARE RICE, REX AND DUNIA!”
To which I responded: “Great! Nice to meet you! Can you please take them home in your wezdehod!”
Gosha: “No, I can’t, the wezdehod is full and not supposed to transport dogs! They will have to find their way home themselves!”
I went back inside my tent, shared the news with rhe dogs and quickly felt asleep…
On the next morning which was our 7th and last day of trekking since Slautnoye, we were first woken up by a strange tractor contraption pulling logs along the trail, thankfully smoothing the trail a bit in this bumpy section.
Around noon and 25kms away from Kamenskoye, I came across 3 fishermen parked with 2 snowmobiles on the river and their 2 dogs…The first non-moving humans we saw since the fishermen, five kilometers after Slautnoye.
Craving for a bit of human contact, I decided to stop, park my sled along the side of the trail, and the 4 of us start marching across the frozen river towards their encampment.
After a few standard questions, Sanya, his son-in-law Misha and grandson Kosta decided to invite me for a cup of tea, while taking a break from ice-fishing for Ritons!
A cup of tea led to shashlik kielbasa, bread, chocolate, biscuits and in exchangem I gladly gave them a bit of bottled “southern comfort”!
A great break for the four of us, although I had to keep myself on alert at all times, watching my mercenary dogs and preventing them from stealing any more food than their first ½ loaf of bread and stopping them from threatening/attacking the two smaller dogs present…
Sania in his 50’s, had been a wezdehod driver in the past and was in deed a wealth of information on the region various routes…One thing led to another and soon enough, I realized that I had been 4 hours in their company!
It was 16h00, and time to leave if I still wanted to cover the 25 remaining kilometers to Kamenskoye before my night….Sania invited me to join him the next day in Kamenskoye to spend a few hours in his banya, which of course I accept, especially after having spent a few days on the trail!
The dogs and I finally left , continuing our way, switching back and forth along the river bed between a snowmobile and a wezdehod trail, depending on which one was the best packed at the time!
At around 18h00, I called my next hosts in Kamenskoye, Kairat and Anna to ask them if it would be OK for me to arrive late in the evening in their abode to which they responded a very kindly:”of course yes! Come on over at anytime, we will be home all night!”
In fact, I have noticed in the past that in the Far Eastern part of Russia, it is quite acceptable for someone who has traveled far by foot, snowmobile or wezdehod to arrive in people’s home at all hours of the day and night, taking into consideration that it is often better to travel at night when the snow tends to be harder and therefore easier to travel on.
At around 20h30, 10 kms away from Kamenskoye, I came across a cute yakut-russian couple fishing out of another ice hole. We exchanged a few words, a few pictures and I tried hard in vain to have them adopt at least one of my dogs!
6kms before Kamenskoye, I was passed by my 3 inviting fishermen Sania, Misha and Kosta who had decided to go home instead of spending a manly Saturday night in a cabin off-trail because they had forgotten their stoves… My two biggest dogs Rex and Rice decided to chase their snowmobiles as they passed us and therefore left Dunia and I in the “dust”…
Dunia and I finished the remaining 6 kms in the night, leap frogging between a few section of water and snow.
When Dunia and I finally arrived on the outskirts of the village at 23:20, we were quickly reunited with Rex and Rice who had been apparently waiting for us to enter the town!
We marched in the town, and immediately Rex, Rice and Dunia rushed to the nearest garbage dump site to feast on any grub they could get their paws on while I took the opportunity to use my sat phone to alert my new host that we had arrived!
Since then, I have spent the last four days in Kamenskoye and was able to:
- enjoy a great deal of homecooked meals by my great hosts , Kairat, a native of Kazakstan and his metisse Koryak wife Anna, who happens to be a fine chef! Reindeer stews, borschs, fishes, buckwheat, stuffed red peppers, etc, etc....
- enjoy a few hours in Sanya’s great banya! A great little and cozy space he built decades ago with any kind of recycled materials he could get his hands on! Enjoyed as well some great local berries compote and succulent semi-dried Koryuchka fishes!
- enjoy the opportunity to give a school presentation to the Kamenskoye students with the help of Lubova, a great local English teacher and been able to answer a large amount of questions submitted by these eager, curious and smart students
- have the pleasure to meet the mayor Igor Anatolevich Sinietzinski and get the latest information on the various routes between here and Paren, my last outpost on the Western front of Northern of Kamchatka, after Manily!
-enjoy a great snowmobile ride on the river with my dogs running by my side in order to go and partake in a few hours of ice fishing in the company of Slav and Maria. Being able to catch my first Riton ever!
- able to withdraw money from the local bank, the only bank hundreds of kilometers around.
Of course, no debit / credit plastic cards allowed here!
To be able to withdraw a reasonable amount of money to cover my expenses between now and the time I need to leave Russia at the end of the month of May, I had to get the help of my US financial advisor aka "sugar daddy", the help of my girlfriend Gulnara with her Moscow bank account, the help of Anna, a local bank account member in Kamenskoye and even the help of the famous Russian pop band Reflex! No joke! (Thank you all for your help indeed!)
- have the pleasure to be interviewed by the local Kamenskoye newspaper “The Polar Star” and being able to answer intriguing questions and in exchange receive a good set of local Koriak cultural dance digital pictures.
- able to convert with the help of a fine local seamstress my tent from a 3 to 4 seasons status, adding a layer of synthetic cloth on top of the mosquito net.
- stash up on antibiotics, Vitamin C and antibiotic cream at the local pharmacy.
Although, I could not get any new medical to cover my frost bitten finger. Need to recycle my old ones when I run out... Will have to see what I can find in Manily!
- Visit the local museum, and tour the town with countless wonderful local kids, showing me the highlights of their towns. Quite a few wanted me to sign some authographs and a teenager girl even offered me to give me some money to get some food for the road!
I must really start to look deprived!
- Had the pleasure to watch local kids cross-country skiing in the streets, a rare site that I have not seen since Anadyr!
- Meet as usual the local police and administration representatives to be able to register and respond to a certain amount of questions on my expedition and current plans /route.
-and finally, but not least worry about MY DOGS FATE!
Since I arrived in Kamenskoye, my great hosts Kairat and his wife Anna were kind enough to give me some left-overs for the dogs to feed on. However Kairat and Anna wanted me to feed them myself since they were now "my" dogs and until recently no one wanted them in this town already oversaturated with dogs...
No potential new owners meant no homes where they could enter and rest, like I gratefully could!
Kairat & Ania already have their own dog Julia who is definitely not looking forward to host any canine company, even for a few minutes...
So over the last few days, I launched on a major PR campaign on behalf of Dunia, Rex and Rice, mentioning to anyone I could their great merits, especially as hunting dogs!
and I am glad to say that I have finally found an option!
Maria, the Koryak immigration officer with whom I went fishing, and the sister of Gosha, the actual owner of the dogs, has conceded to keep the dogs until they can be sent back to Slautnoye later on this summer by barge!
On the fishing trip, I spent a long time selling to Maria, the hunting merits of ‘my’ dogs, knowing how much of a avid hunter she was, and I am happy to report that it worked!
If I did not take any initiative to find them a new home, I know that the dogs will want to follow me and continue vagabonding with me further down ...
And in fact, they were already following me in every one of my steps, patiently waiting for me outside homes and buildings while I was roaming through town...
The challenge for them, while they are in an town is to try to give themselves a bit of a free zone in this "No Man's Land" where at every corner a pack of hounds is marking their territory as clearly as they can.
Walking through town by their side felt like if I was thrown back in a samurai movie, watching how different factions interact...
This is definitely NOT the land of dogs on leash and prepackaged dog food that can be bought in a store...
Here, each roaming dog needs to clearly guard his "own" garbage dumpsite!
The plan is: since the dogs follow every one of my moves, I am going to lead them into a “getapant”, taking them into a locked stored space where they will stay in for 24 hours until I am way far out of town… and they no longer can follow my tracks!
I would love to keep the dogs on this journey with me but it would not be fair to them because:
-the further west I go, the least chances they will ever get to make it back home in Slautnoye!
-they will most likely not be welcomed in the towns to come and potentially could be attacked/mauled by the local hounds! My next two towns Manily and Paren are known to be towns with a large amount of loose menacing dogs...
-it would be difficult to bring these dogs back to my permanent home in Seattle, where people are naturally less tolerant of wolf-like aggressive dogs behaviours! I am not too eager to end up in people's court after Rice or Rex decides to swallow a barking yankee poodle!
-it would be difficult to carry a reasonable amount of food for the three dogs in addition to my own supply in the remote and challenging Manily-Paren!
So, yes, in a few minutes, I am going have to part myself from Rice, Rex and Dunia, but I will at least have pictures and films to help me cherish the memories of this fun week spent together!
Besides the two days spent traveling with Sasha and Sergei’s reindeers and watching Iditarod dogs passed me by in Alaska, it was the first time I got to spend accidentally or not, a serious amount of time side by side with animals while on an expedition and I must say that going forward, I would consider doing it again and even potentially planning on it, despite the complexity that it might bring along!
Before departing for Manily, I must say that I have quite enjoyed the last 4 days spent in Kamenskoye in company of new friends and acquaintances and I will also cherish the memories of their company. Kairat and Anna, thank you again for your great hospitality!
And finally, for the record, Kamenskoye has a population of about 670 inhabitants, composed of white russians, ukrainians, koryaks, evenks, and chukchis.
It is the regional administrative center for the Penzhina region and is connected to Manily, an old soviet-type port (operating obviously only in summer months!) of 1000 inhabitants with either a gravel inside road or a winter river trail.
According to the traffic police report, the town has only 5 buses, three trucks, and 20 cars!
Similar to what I have seen in Slautnoye, Kamenskoye has numerous 2 floors wooden apartment buildings (with most of them operating without any running water for the last two years and obvious lack of proper garbage collection!) and a few interesting wooden structures such as the library and the local court where I have absolutely no desire to spend anytime soon!
From what I have seen so far, this northwestern forgotten corner of Kamchatka, also known as the Koryak Okrug has been heavily struggling financially since the end of the soviet regime in the early 1990's and has not been able to benefit from more glorious times ever since, to the contrary of neighbouring Chukotka which saw a great amount of investment under oligarch Roman Abramovich's regime in the early 2000's.
Well... in any event, iis grand time for me to hit the road!
So long Kamenskoye and thank you all for the fine hospitality!
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Wednesday morning April 21st 2010
N 62° 55.102'; E 167° 08.416'
On a bend of the Penzhina river, between Slautnoye and Oklan.
Total: 369.7 kms
63.7kms since Slautnoye
After having spent 8 days in Slautnoye, making new friends, doing repairs, healing partly my frostbites, updating the website, waiting for the cyclone to pass and even dancing at the local "disco", I was able to depart on sunday April 18th.
Yes! I was able to purchase a new green tent strangely called "Eldegreen, the green hills of ireland" from friends Genia & Sasha in Slautnoye .
I have rigged it in a way that it can hopefully sustain strong windy blows, but I will need to convert it from a "3 seasons" status to a "4 seasons" status upon landing in kamenskoye, adding/sewing a 2d layer of synthetic cloth to the mosquito screen, to avoid the potential penetration of snow and wind.
Nyurgun stopped definitely in Slautnoye and from there, he has decided to return to Anadyr via wezdehod, helicopter and planes to resume his work in early May.
After having said goodbye and taking pictures with everyone I knew in slautnoye, I departed with Andrei, Vitte, Ania, her 2 years old son Timothei riding a sled, and her father Valeria.
On the outskirts of the village, I left everyone, except for koriak Valeria who wanted to accompany me for a while.
Upon departing, I promised to send to Vitte an identical pair to my ESS protective goggles with a nose guard, which he was envious of and would love to have for his long and harduous snowmobile rides in the exposed tundra!
After 5 kms, Valeria and I came actross 8 fishermen/women, white russians and koriaks, enjoying some sunday recreational ice fishing,
catching some 40-50 cms long shuka.
They invited me to stop over, sit around the fire and enjoy a cup of tea, which of course, I could not turn down!
In addition to the tea, I was also kindly given some lard, reindeer meat and smoked salmon. Truly a nice treat to receive on the road in fine company!
At the time, I was playing with the 3 dogs present and feeding them my reindeer bones and fish skins, not able to predict the future...
After about 40 minutes of eating, filming and watching the fishermen/women operate in front of their individual ice hole, I departed with koriak Valeria.
While saying goodbye, and sharing frostbiten stories after having seen his own dramatic scars, I asked him if the three dogs that were accompanying us were his, to which he responded "niet!" and departed...
So, here I was, left with 3 dogs: 2 beautiful huskies, and a smaller mutt, thinking that they will turn around and go home soon enough!
3.5 days and 63kms further, they are still with me, enjoying the ride, sleeping by my tent, and devouring my very meager left overs.
I suspect that they have also enjoyed sone road kills, watching one munching on white feather and wayching them chasing mostly invain any of the numerous birds thar we encounter. I am not feeding them except a few larabars which the devour because I surely did not plan in my food rations to feed THREE dogs in this section!
However, I will feed them some of my "extra" food if it becomes critical for them and/or my safety!
I must say that I have very much enjoyed their playful company, watching how they relate to each other, and truly enjoying being on the trail.
The leader, which reminds me of the dog Jack (see "The call of the wild" by Jack London), gets very excited
every time I start again, jumping in joy, barking and quickly running ahead!
Maybe because I am pulling the sled and he gets to play!
I have no idea how far they will travel with me and what would be their destiny upon entering the next village but for the time being once again I am surely enjoying their company and somewhat feel safer with them by my side.
Not sure though what would happen if wolves or a bear come to visit...
"We" have been travelling a minimum of 20 kms a day on a beautiful hard packed combined wezdehod /ural trail where we have seen no one.
I was told that the urals/trucks have mostly finished their seasonal transport work between kamenskoye and slautnoye and only one wezdehod travels this road every 10 days or so.
Saw on the side of the trail an intriguing antique dilapidated wezdehod and a few discarded oil barrels as well as sadly the usual cans and bottles from time to time where the drivers stopped for a snack!
I picked up some of the litter along the way but cannot afford to overload my sled any further!
When time allows, when I come across vodka bottles and small industrial/machinery/wooden pieces that fell off travelling vehicles, I take the time to stop and stand them up straight in the snow as statues... Thinking that it might keep the drivers more alert on their monotonous rides, and strangely adding excitement to my day...
Having said that, I wish I could cover more miles every day, but I am still pulling a fairly heavy sled (although I left extra fuel and food to be transported to Kamenskoye on the wezdehod), and I am still on antibiotics for my frostbiten fingers, which I suspect makes me additionally tired.
For the first 55 kms, we (the 3 dogs and I) travelled on beautiful flat frozen tundra, lakes and smaller river beds and now are travelling on top of the magestic Penzhina river where we slept last night on top of a cracking though safe section.
The weather has been great over the last three days: sunny, windless and hot (up to +2c), leading me to use Neos overall boots on top of my montrail sustina shoes to wade through mushy, wet sections.
I have not had to use my skis once since leaving Slautnoye, 63 kms away, thanks to a hard packed wezdehod trail!
I predict that I am about 2-3 days away from the small village of Oklan (50 inhabitants) and 4-6 days away the larger town of Kamenskoye.
Between here and there, I have been told that I am going to have to use my dry suit and swim with my sled across the Oklan river, an already opened river (because of its geothermal springs) with supposedly strong currents!
Hope "my" dogs are good swimmers!
For now, so long!
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Here is the comprehensive list of some of the pictures I have already been able to post.
If you have browsed through them already, go back and look at them again!
Because, I will continue to post additional pictures progressively to each one of these pages as well as hopefully replace existing ones with higher resolution ones while in Slautnoye and hopefully in subsequent villages as fast as the internet gods allow me to in this somewhat remote part of the world...
Additional story-related pictures have also been added to multiple last month field posts.
Take the time to peruse through them if you wish.
Video footage from the field will be posted once it has been been post-edited by my supportive friends at 1iOpen Productions
The first few Lanscape shots
The first few shots of the Slautnoye-Kamenskoye section
The first few shots of Kamenskoye
The first few shots of travelling with Sergey & Sasha
The First few shots of Brigade #6!
"Vayegi prologue" first few shots, 1st day back on the trail!
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
34th Day, Tuesday April 15th 2010
Location: N 63° 10.201'; E 167° 58.416'
Slautnoye, Kamchatkan Oblast, Russian Federation
2010 Total: 306kms
Before I forget, I want to send my deepest regards to all of my American procrastinating friends, frantically filing up their taxes on this fatidic April 15th, you got til midnight!
I have been there and I feel your pain!
From where I stand though, I must say that this luckily really feels thousand and thousand miles away....
In my last post on April 8th, (our 27th day), I mentioned that we were taking off with all our gear to cover the 40-50 remaining kilometers that separated us from Slautnoye, our first village in Kamchatka...
Well, so we did!
We left in the afternoon of Thursday April 8th and were only able to cover 7kms on that first day.
Pulling our sleds through a hilly section once again deprived of much snow!
We spent a final night in our makeshift tent and woke up to the sound of a growing and menacing wind, making it very difficult to make our water and cook our meals in a partly exposed ½ tent.. It rapidly started to feel as if we were seating on a very tiny sinking raft in the middle of the ocean, after a shipwreck...
Not quite as dramatic as the painting "Le Radeau de la Méduse" by Théodore Géricault but you get the picture!
Needless to say, we were both eager to get going and try to get to Slautnoye as quickly as we could, as the wind strength was continuing to grow!
Luckily our path was starting to be covered with more and more hard packed snow which tremendously facilitated our skiing and trekking!
After having covered 15 kms in a few hours, we finally came across Vitte's snowmobile prints, who came a few days earlier to look for us and our gear...
I finally found out upon meeting him in Slautnoye, that he was not able to find us because of the different set of Russian maps he was using, which has strangely different coordinates from the one we had...
This still puzzles me but as I have experienced before in Russia (and elsewhere...), they are some matters that are better left unexplained...
In any event, his snowmobile prints leading back to the "stable" in Slautnoye were going to be a great help, allowing us to move even faster...
As we were getting closer to Slautnoye, we thankfully started to come across more and more snow, despite still a few exposed barren sections.
Not travelling at the same speed, and believing at the time that the remaining 25 kms were going to be somewhat of a "straightforward" section following snowmobile prints, I recommended Nyurgun to go ahead so that at least one of us would not have to spend another night tentless...
So, now alone, pushing on, I was progressing at my own rhythm, allowing me to find the time to adjust myself since my back was starting to feel the stretch. I stopped and extended the length of my pulling ropes, and put on a stretching back brace that was recommended to me back in Seattle by my friend Gary McGuire, my ex PT who has been looking after my abused body for years..
Both of these modifications worked, allowing me to reduce the pressure on my back and therefore allowing me to proceed further happily in the wind and now falling snow while enjoying the tunes of Ratatat and a great medley of dub reggae for the next set of 10 hours, stopping once long enough to munch on yet another great dehydrated meal by Mountain House rehydrated with the help of one of my faithful thermos bottles!
Around midnight, the snow falling started to turn into a strong storm/purga but this was not going to stop me...
Tentless, I was determined to push on before I would lose sight of the snowmobile prints, following them carefully every step of the way with the help of my headlamp...
At around 4am, ~5kms from what I was believing to be the location of Slautnoye, (according to my old mid 1980’s American aerial map) in now a very forceful storm hitting me right in the face, I finally lost regrettably completely track of the snowmobile trail...
At that point, I pulled out my Garmin eTrex Legend GPS for the 100th time, (which do not always cooperate very well in x<-20C’s temperatures, when the screen display starts to disappear), aimed at “my” Slautnoye location, lined it with my compass and start aiming as straight as the wind would allow me to, referring to my handy compass from time to time… Having a difficulty to see anything further than the tip of my skis with my headlamp in this “moonless” night, and concerned that I might not be able to see a sheer drop in front of me, I made the mistake to remove ½ way off my face my furry protective hood in -35c stormy weather conditions to increase my vision, feeling the wind burning my skin on my right temple and on my nose. A large amount of mucus (resulting from eating dehydrated meals for a month which contains a lot of dehydrated milk) turning into thick ice was also starting to form underneath my nose. Finally, my fingers were also starting to burn as a result of minuscule holes formed in my 1st layer thermal wool Ibex gloves and 2d layer Polartec gloves resulting from a few weeks of wear and tear. I was wearing a 3d layer thick down mittens but that was apparently not enough to prevent the penetrating cold to come after my fingers! No time to stop and replace any of this clothing, by fear of potentially losing some of them in the forceful wind on what I “believe” was an exposed hill top… All I could do, was to open a pack of iron Grabber hand warmers and stuff them down my gloves the best way I could, knowing though that there was not much they could do to warm up the exposed tips of my fingers which were starting to harden…
I just needed to grind my teeth and push on !
6am: The morning light was starting to come out in the middle of this storm, helping me to somewhat increase my vision.
Progressing slowly but “surely”… I came across a few frozen river arms where my sled pushed by the wind, started to slide ahead of me very quickly, yanking me from behind by the ropes of my attached harness, while I was trying to avoid as many falls as I could on this hurtful exposed blue ice.
7am: I finally came across snowmobile tracks across a riverbed, allowing me to start my search for Slautnoye which according to my GPS was still located 1.5 kms away…
7:30am: I came across a first dumpsite, then a second one and finally a third one, which really started to comfort me, leading me to believe that I was getting very close to a town!
But not quite!
After 1 more hour of further research in all directions I finally came across at the bottom of a hill, the view of the old faithful coal smelter chimney spurting out its black smoke, at a vertical angle thanks to the purga which was continuing to blow fierce fully.
Home, sweet home!I was finally physically close to slautnoye!
I found out a few hours later that the village of Slautnoye, which was constituted in 1932 as a center for the reindeer breeding farms/brigades in the region had been moved in the 1950’s a few kilometers away from its old location, after it had been completely flooded and destroyed by the Slautnoye river.
My old American aerial map of course still points to the old location, near the dumpsites which led to my confusion in the middle of the storm!
Saturday April 10th at 9am, feeling as if I was going through an odd steeple chase race, I managed to pull my sled through several final snow banks and heroically entered town afyter having marched 43kms in the last 22.5 hours!
I proceeded straight to the coal smelter where I was sure to be able to find someone 24/7.
I presented to the first soul I met the handwritten note that Gennady Penichin had given me in Vayegi a month earlier, explaining that Nyurgun and I had a place for us to stay in the home of his friend Andrei Kazanko, with whom we had been in touch by satellite phone ever since we lost our tents to the wind a week earlier…
Offered a cup of tea, I started to remove my clothes and attached layers of frost and ice in the middle of the coal smelter office…
Tired and annoyed with the chunk of ice hanging of my chin, not willing to wait for it to melt, I stupidly decided to yank it, tearing a good chunk of my beard hair with it.
It actually felt like I was skinning part of my freshly newly frostbitten chin!
Not the smartest thing to do, I must say! But then again, I had just been pulling my sled for 22.5 hours with 10 of them in a forceful purga, not necessarily having “it” all together, obviously!
At that time, I also realized that my left hand middle finger was suffering from a new case of frost bite as well, as I have predicted could happen during the night when I noticed the minuscule holes in the glove…
This is the finger that I called “Darky” in 2006, as some of you may recall, during my crossing of the Bering Srait, when I first frost bit it upon departing from Nome, Alaska, leading at the time to its shortening and darkening level 3 frostbite…
And yes, here he was, BACK in full force!
At that point, I was introduced to infamous Vitte, the snowmobile rider, who after a warm greeting proceeded to take me and my sled to the house of Andrei Kazanko…
10am: Here, I was seating in the kitchen of Andrei, surrounded by friendly gawkers, greeted with a beautiful bowl of hearty borsch, lard, homemade bread, a bowl of Okrochka, garlic cloves, pickled tomatoes, Easter eggs and eve some left over Easter cakes that I was glad to get my hands on!
In addition, I was able to sip on a nice cup of tea and of course some of Andrei “whiskey’ as he likes to call it!
The “whiskey” is nothing else than his homemade samagon, slightly amber colored, which some of you would call homemade “bathtub vodka”!
This is when, I was very surprised to find out that Nyurgun had not yet arrived, originally thinking that he would have arrived a few hours ahead of me!
Nyurgun had chosen indeed along the way to stop and bury himself inside his sled during the night, escaping partially the purga and arriving in town around 5pm on Saturday night. I was amazed to find out that, thanks to his smaller corpulence, he was able to not only sleep but especially able to manage to boil himself some water while lying inside his sled fully zipped and cook himself a meal between his legs!
Quite an athletic contortionist feat, I must say!
Since our arrival five days ago, Nyurgun and I have been able to enjoy thanks to the incredible generous hospitality of Andrei and his Koryak “daughter” Ania, copious amount of homemade meals, borsch, okrochka, great reindeer stews mixed with buckwheat, smoked fish and lard, homemade blueberry jams and the best ikra I have ever tasted! The tastiest and freshest salmon eggs mixed with a drop of oil and minced garlic!
A delight that I was offered to take in a jar safely secured in my sled and brings home in Seattle to enjoy with my girlfriend and closest friends!
Tasty reindeer stew on a bed of buckwheat and delicious Ikra!
Over the last few days, we spent part of our time, sorting and repairing our gear, trying to source a replacement tent (believe it or not, we may have actually several options to choose from, thanks to the kind and generous local inhabitants in this small village!).
We also spent some time taking care of our “wounds”.
Besides taking antibiotics and using an healing antibiotic cream (that thankfully I brought over since they are not available locally in the depleted local infirmary/pharmacy), I have also been using bear Fat/Oil to heal my frost bites as it has been recommended by the locals.
We were hoping to lighten our load between here and Kamenskoye, entrusting some of our heaviest back up gear and extra stove fuel/white gas in the hands of a wezdehod driver but this has regrettably failed. The wezdehod came into town last night, called us on the phone, got his scheduled cargo, turned around and zoomed back towards Kamenskoye quickly, wanting to avoid the heaviest part of the storm, and forgetting in the process to come and pick up our own cargo…
Well…. if we cannot find another option (i-e: another wezdehod) I guess, I will be to continue to bare my cross along the way!
This should help to remind me once again the crucial benefits to pack lightly in the future sections of the expedition!
Slautnoye is one of the most remote villages in Northern Chukotka and one can usually access it by boat (in summer time), wezdehod (in winter time) and via helicopters in the event of an emergency. Unless of course, one is demented enough to get there by foot…
In Soviet times, Slautnoye population grew up to 800 inhabitants but as in many other parts of Far Eastern Russia, the numbers have tremendously dropped since the dismantlement of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s… Lesser financial support from Moscow meant less jobs and therefore leading to an exodus back to the mainland/ materik.
The village now has 350 inhabitants and still subsists as the center for the surrounding reindeer brigades. Inhabitants enjoy a great amount of reindeer meat, fishes, ikra (succulent salmon eggs!), potatoes and vegetables that they grow in greenhouses very quickly during the intense 24 hrs few but powerful summer days…
3 registered and 2 speakeasy stores carry additional products with astronomical prices because a large amount of these products are brought in from Western Russia, Vladivostok or Magadan by plane to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatski where they are then transferred to Kamenskoye on another cargo plane to finally finish their last 200 kms journey by qas guzzling wezdehods… Not a cheap solution here!
48 years old Andrei has tragically lost his wife of more than 20 years due to a cancer in early February. It feels like the whole village takes turn to come and visit him and help him with his sorrow in his spacious 3 bedroom apartment where he is welcoming us. At all hours of the day and night, when he is not working as an electrician at the coal/electric town center, one can see in his kitchen, enjoying copious amount of food, tea and various types of samagons, a wide spectrum of intriguing characters who seem to also very much enjoy the temporary presence of a Yakut and Franco-Yankee… the inquisitive older Koryak shamanka lady, the koryak younger men and girls, the materik “mainland” older Russians, the Ukrainians, etc…
It amuses me to see them so intrigued, inundating us with countless questions and loving to check any of the sport, electronic, medical or food items we brought along.
Thirsty for new music and pictures (no radio in town and only 2 TV channels) they also love to see and/or copy anything we can share…
The weather report (for the Kamenskoye/Slautnoye region) predicts that the last strong phase of this cyclone will be tomorrow, Friday 16th, with winds up to 15meters / second and -40c temperatures.
It should be finished by Saturday morning, allowing us to leave, although pending on whether or not we will have a tent by then!
Well, after having pulled our sleds through the Chukotkan and Kamchatkan tundra for a month, I am definitely glad to have the opportunity to be here for a few days and share a slice of Slautnoye inhabitants’ life and maybe, just maybe, being able to contribute a bit to help my new friend Andrei to ease his mourning pain with a welcomed foreign yakut-franco-yankee invasion!
Dimka in Slautnoye…
Sergey, Dima, Sasha
Brigade #6, Southwest Chukotka
Sergey, Nyurgun, Sasha
Brigade #6, Southwest Chukotka
The convoy ready to leave Brigade #6 !
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Monday, April 12, 2010
I will send a full report on this latest section in the next few hours and will post pictures as soon as the internet gods allow!
For the time being, if you are a Russian reader, check this if you want to learn a little bit about what life entails in Слаутное - Slautnoye , one of the most remote village in Kamchatka...
English and other foreign readers, feel free to use Promt or any other automated translation tool to get the translation in your native language.