A windy river bed on the way to Anadyr...
4/24: Day 10
Leaving Uelkal, and after having completed my school presentation, I was greeted by a local Chukchi who wanted to give me yet another intriguing gift. He insisted on giving me a tie which he received in Canada. I looked at it closely and noticed the fine print stating "Groenland". I figured that an Eskimo from Greenland gave it to him at one of the intercultural exchanges they have amongst Arctic populations. I mentioned to him that I did not really have any use for it on the trail to which he responded, "Keep it for later"....
I was finally able to leave town at 4pm and knew that it was going to be a late night if I wanted to be make it straight to Pietr's fishing cabin where I had stopped on the way to Egvekinot with the wezdehod convoy.
I followed the coast for a while, going south until I entered the mouth of a river going westward. The bed of this river progressively became a narrower beautiful canyon with steep banks. Since the river was curving quite a lot but generally moving towards the south western direction, I decided to try to save on the mileage by going straight and therefore had to climb and descend one steep bank after the next, making the night trek quite exciting!
At around 9:30pm I switched from my "day attire" to my "evening attire", as the temperature was dropping to 0 degrees Fahrenheit (about -17 Celsius) as you can see below.
The two electronic items which I was using at the time (GPS & Ipod) became somewhat affected by the cold. The text was disappearing on the GPS (which made me a little bit anxious for a certain amount of time) and the ipod was no longer working properly. I realized that no matter how impractical this might be, I had to remove them out of their external pouches and place them on the inside of my coat, close to my body, in order to provide to them a sufficient amount of heat.
I finally arrived at 4am at Pietr's camp and was disappointed to find it locked.
Pietr was definitely out of town !
After having covered 13.2 miles in 12 hrs, I camped as the sun was rising and the wind picking up: 65.2403N, 179.3359W
Total since Egvekinot: 75.5 miles
4/25: Day 11
Got up and left some food in a bag attached to the door knob of Pietr's cabin. Items that I bought in Uelkal and were no longer easily edible since they were solidly frozen.... the typical items that your average Frenchman might start to crave after a few weeks: bread, cheese, mustard (!) and even a fresh yet frozen onion, which is sometimes hard to get here!
I continued trekking up the frozen river bed, facing a steady strong wind.
I was then recalling how while racing the Raid Gauloises adventure race in Vietnam with my friend Don Funk, he used to refer to the wind as "my friend", hoping for a cool breeze in the jungle.
Well, as I often experienced in the artic, the wind is often not your friend....
This "special friend" finally tapered down in the evening, allowing me to find a great and stable campsite.
I camped at 65.2385N , 179.5084W, dying to pull out my sat phone and call 'Ilima, definitely feeling a bit lonely on that night...
Trekked from 17:00 until 01:00, and covered 9 miles in 7 hrs.
Total mileage since Egvekinot: 84.5 miles
4/26: Day 12
I woke up with the unusual sound of planes which I continued to hear throughout the day, realizing that I was obviously on the path of the Anadyr-Egvekinot/Providenya/Lavrentiya flying routes, in the middle of a large plateau which separates two mountain ranges.
I started trekking at 2pm and after about 3.5 hrs, I stopped to take the time to commemorate my friend Abby's birthday in Seattle by doing a bit of snow carving...
Suddenly, for the first time since I left Uelkal and for the last time until I reached Anadyr, 7 days later, (with the exception of a wezdehod passing near my tent in the middle of a night),
I saw a fellow human, standing right behind me next to his snowmobile and asking me if I wanted to have my sled pulled all the way to his cabin, located about .5 miles later on the bank of the river and which I could already see from where I was standing.
I refused but agreed that I will meet him for tea.
On the way to his cabin, I started wondering how dangerous it could be to travel alone on a snowmobile, in the event of a breakdown, with a limited amount of survival gear. As I approached the cabin, I noticed two snowmobiles and discovered upon entering the warm cabin, which was not any bigger than a bus stop, a total of 3 fishermen (Artun, Anton and Vova) and their dog.
They invited me to stay with them and I debated with myself, since I had only trekked for 4 hrs, and had covered a meager amount of 4.6 miles for the day. After talking to them, they mentioned that I was most likely not going to see another cabin until I got to Anadyr. This was enough to convince me that it was definitely worth losing a few miles on that day, and enjoy the warmer comfort of a cabin and above all the pleasure to meet 3 young fishermen out and about on their Saturday night, away from wives and kids back in Uelkal. Since there were only two bunk beds in this minimal space, they insisted on letting me having one of them, while two of them slept on the floor on top of reindeer fur with their dog. I did not want to accept their generosity but the leader insisted that I needed a good night sleep and all the strength I could get for the days waiting ahead of me in the tundra.
We spent a few hours talking and in the morning, I prepared them a meal with my great Mountain House dehydrated meals which they were eager to try out. They were also apparently excited to bring back home to their daughters some of my nutritious Larabars.
Camped at 65.2166N, 179.5714W.
Total mileage since Egvekinot: 89.1 miles
4/27: Day 13
A beautiful sunny day with no wind !
Temperature rose up to 0 Celcius.
Trekked through a vast plain, nestled between a Northern and a Southern mountain range.
Enjoyed on my ipod a book on the history of Russia and the Soviet Union and some eclectic music such as Gogol Bordello and Tiger Lillies...
Camped at 65.1347N, 179.4105E
11:20 hrs (10:15-21:35), 15 miles
Total mileage since Egvekinot: 104.1 miles
4/28: Day 14
Sunny morning until the fog moved in...
Followed wezdehod tracks, going over multiple hills and plateaus.
Saw a beautiful little white fox.
Also saw two of the last few tripods perched on the highest points of the plateau to indicate the "wezdehod route" similar to the tripods one can see in some sections of Alaska, such as between Nikolai and Mc Grawth.
Less pleasing eyesight were the bottles of vodka and beer discarded on the trail by some of the drivers.
Camped at 65.0717N, 179.1527E where I spent a late evening repairing gear, fixing rotten laces in ski boots.
Heard one wezdehod driving by my tent around 3am.
As mentioned before, the only one I heard between Uelkal and Anadyr.
8:45 hrs (11:30-21:15), 15.2 miles
Total mileage since Egvekinot: 120.3 miles
4/29: Day 15
Sunny morning, woken up by beautiful little white birds with black under wings called "Kuropatka" which make a sound similar to cranes.
Marks left by the birds as they take off...
Listened to French radio podcasts, and progressively felt very tired during the day.
After a few hours, I called 'Ilima on my sat phone to try to get an uplift!
I informed her of what I thought was an incomprehensible tiredness and she advised me to stop and camp right away. I mentioned that I could not afford to stop after having completed only 5 miles and needed to move on.
After 10 miles, having trekked for 8 hrs and 45 minutes (12:15-21:00), I finally decided to stop and kept my ipod on while setting up camp to fight tiredness.
This is when, while listening to the comedian Chris Rock, distracted that I really blew it!
I was using my MSR stove and did not realize that more liquid was leaking out of the pump, even though I had closed one of the two valves. When I lighted a match to prep the stove, I realized then that I had way too much fuel to burn... A large flame gushed out and caught the tent on fire.
I immediately threw the stove out of the tent which allowed me to save approximatively 70% of my tent, and 95% of the rain fly.
I felt quite shocked, knowing that I could have burned myself and my entire tent in this remote location.
I felt quite ashamed as well for not having demonstrated any more precaution while using a highly combustible fuel inside a tent, knowing the risks involved.
Definitely a wake-up call !
Yes, I know, some of you might argue that no one should ever use a stove inside a polyester tent but that is not a very practical option in an artic environment. I just need to demonstrate much more carefulness in the future and know when to stop on the trail.
As this experience reminded me, progressing in the remote tundra is quite different from some of my past experiences in adventure races for example. You can't afford to go beyond exhaustion, lay down a few hours, then get up and go. Setting up camp definitely takes a certain amount of effort and attention requiring a substantial amount of energy that cannot be overlooked.
That night, I left a message with 'Ilima looking for a bit of comfort through her kind and familiar voice (I must admit!) and to inform her of what has happened. We spent a substantial amount of time the next morning trying to find a way for me to get a replacement tent while in Chuklotka.
In the end, knowing that the choice of tent in Anadyr is quite limited, we decided to purchase the same type of tent (The North Face, Mountain 25) which 'Ilima purchased used but in mint conditions from our friends at 2d Ascent in Seattle.
The tent was then shipped via USPS express mail to Nome, Alaska where it made the next flight to Anadyr on May 7th.
I ended up picking it up in Anadyr on May 8th, after having had to pay a hefty 40% tax to the Russian customs.
In the end, I managed to spend that first night in my tent, trying to arrange as much of a shelter as I could with the rain fly and a bivouac bag, covering most of the section that had been burned down.
"Camped"at 65.0419N, 178.5735E
8:45 hrs (12:15-21:00), 10 miles
Total mileage since Egvekinot: 130.3 miles
4/30: Day 16
Rolling hills, climbing up to 500 feet.
The wind started picking up at night around 23:30, which prevented me from keeping snow outside the tent. Several times in the night, I had to sweep snow out of the tent.
"Camped"at 65.0111N, 178.2919E
10 hrs (11:30-21:30), 14.5 miles
Total mileage since Egvekinot: 144.8 miles
May 1st: Day 17
Rolling hills, more down hills, starting to move towards the lowlands, near Anadyr.
Came across a white rabbit, quite a few bushes and more and more alarming patches of dirt...
Managed to "bury" the tent, somewhat setting it up like an igloo to prevent any snow from coming in. Thankfully, there was no wind during that night.
Serious amount of traffic in the neighborhood!
"Camped"at 64.5536N, 178.0347E
8 hrs (13:30-21:30), 14.6 miles
Total mileage since Egvekinot: 159.4 miles
May 2: Day 18
Walking through steppes which felt like walking through sand dunes.
Played hide and seek with a red fox for a while.
5 miles from Anadyr....
Over the last few hours, as I was getting closer to civilization, I started to see more and more animal tracks as well as human activities (one helicopter and one plane overhead).
I started to see as well more wezdehod tracks and even some snowmobile tracks which are often the smoothest ones to follow.
As I approached Anadyr's bay, at around 23:30, the darkness finally came down and I crossed the frozen bay, away from any traffic, in the most direct line aiming at the city. As I was approaching the city, because of the intense fog, the city started to appear and disappear alternatively in front of my eyes. Somewhat of a quite, peaceful, magic moment.
What was less than magic was the fact that neither the GPS location nor the map coordinates that I have corresponds to the exact location of Anadyr. Apparently for historical reasons that one can imagine, this was done on purpose. The coordinates were pointing to a location in the middle of the bay which added about 2 miles to my trek at the end of my day...
At 02:00, I finally arrived in the port and was welcomed by a guard and his dogs. Not completely clear on what was this foreigner doing in his port at 02:00, he proceeded to call the borderguards. They arrived by taxi a few minutes later and helped me pull my sled up the steep snowless hill road to take me to their post where they proceeded to take my mug shot. to question me on my intentions and review all of my documents. At 04:00, I was finally free to go.
Learning from this experience as well, in the future, I will try to prevent a late night arrival in a Russian town to avoid any complications, even if it is tempting to do so when you are so close to the target!
13 hrs (11-2), 22 miles
Total mileage since Egvekinot: 181.4 miles
Arrived in Anadyr: 64.4436N, 177.3049E
May 3d-9th, Day 19-25
Over the last 6 days, while waiting for my replacement tent to be shipped to Anadyr, I have had to take care of some of the following matters which is not always easy to coordinate in such an outpost:
- Coordinate the shipping of all my remaining supplies to:
+Markova with the help of ChukotkaDiscovery who offered to ship my supplies via snowmobiles, since they are on a reconnaissance tour to Markova
+Magadan on May 22d via Chukotavia Airlines where some of it will have to be re-dispatched to Kamenskoye and Evensk with the help of Kulu Safaris.
- Repair gear (boots, poles, ski skins, sleeping bag)
- Conduct interviews with Chukotka Radio and TV, Russia TV
- Meet with Markova hunters and fishermen to learn what is going to be the best route to follow fo the weeks to come between Anadyr and Markova
- Set up contacts in Krasneno, Vayegi and Markova
- Work on processing documents required for the next few stages
- Obtain new and more detailed Chukotka maps (1 cm=1 km)
- Test replacement tent in Anadyr after I was able to test it, set up anchors and drying clothe lines inside.
- Met with old and new friends in Anadyr that I have now known since 2006 and will dearly miss after my departure.
Once again, I want to thank everyone that has been so kind to me in Anadyr, going out of their way to help this struggling stranger, often gesticulating to make up for his lack of vocabulary to get what he needed to continue this expedition.
Going forward, I am planning to leave Anadyr in the next few hours on May 9th, the Russian holiday which commemorates the end of WWII.
I will proceed west towards Krasneno.
Anadyr- Krasneno (64.38N, 174.45E)
Krasneno(going south west through the mountain range) - Vayegi (64.1N, 171.02E)
Vayegi-Penzhino (63.32N, 168E)-Kamenskoye (62.3N, 165.10E)
The last two towns that I am planning to cross in Chukotka are therefore Krasneno (pop: 60) and Vayegi (pop: 200).
Because of the current melting of the snow and ice, I am no longer planning to go through Markova which is surrounded by water and swamps.
However, I am planning to have my supplies in Markova sent to Vayegi via air, which is currently the only mode of transportation between these two towns.
For now, signing off in Anadyr!