EPIC NORTHEAST PASSAGE
Start of the expedition. Founded in 1889, Anadyr is a port town and the administrative center of Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, Russia. Anadyr is the easternmost town in Russia; more easterly settlements, such as Provideniya and Uelen, do not have town status. We flew there from Anchorage, Alaska and by way of a ferry to our ship, we boarded the Kapitan Khlebnikov and began our expedition.
After leaving Anadyr, our stepping off port in Siberia, we headed through the Bering Strait with a stop in the vast Beringia National Park, 30,532 sq kms,(11,788 sq miles), Russia’s second largest park, it is the size of Poland! The island is 13.5 km (8.39m) long.
Consisting of hundreds of whale bones, mainly jawbones, ribs, and vertebrae, “Whale Bone Alley” is thought to have been created around 600 years ago by a cooperative group of native tribes. Many of the bones were placed in long rows along the shore giving the site its evocative name. The overall effect is of a haunting titan’s boneyard.
Cape Dezhnev is a cape that forms the east most mainland point of Asia. It is located on the Chukchi Peninsula. Semyon Ivanovich Dezhnev c. 1605 – 1673) was a Russian explorer of Siberia and the first European to sail through the Bering Strait, 80 years before Vitus Bering did.
Kolyuchin Island is a small island in the Chukchi Sea. It is only 11 km from the northern shore of the Chukotka Peninsula. Its latitude is 67° 28' N and its longitude 174° 37' W. This island is 4.5 km (2.8m) in length and its maximum width is 1.5 km (.93m). It is covered with tundra vegetation and has colonies of thick-billed murres, kittiwakes, Pelagic or Baird’s cormorants as well as two varieties of puffins.
This was one of our adventures where we left the ship at midnight and explored the island between 1-2AM, full light, land of midnight sun!
Wrangel Island is an island in the Arctic Ocean, between the Chukchi Sea and East Siberian Sea. It lies
astride the 180° meridian. The International Date Line is displaced eastwards at this latitude to avoid the island as well as the Chukchi Peninsula on the Russian mainland. Area: 2,934 mi Elevation: 3,596′ Wrangle Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so named for its diverse flora and habitat for migratory birds as well as being a favorite of polar bears.
The island boasts the world’s largest population of Pacific walrus and the highest density of ancestral polar bear dens. It is a major feeding ground for the grey whale and the northernmost nesting ground for 100 migratory bird species, many endangered.
Currently, 417 species and subspecies of vascular plants have been identified on the island, double that of any other Arctic tundra territory of comparable size and more than any other Arctic island.
CAPES THOMAS AND BLOSSOM
Fill in wildflowers, Russian Park Ranger and CAPE BLOSSOM, with its huge curved beach. It was here that our Polar Bear expert, Nikita Ovsyanikov, has summered for more than 30 years, living on the sparse island studying the bears. We helicoptered to both sites on Wrangle Island.
Helicopter to this beautiful Wrangle Island spot - over sand spits, and a lagoon, with an abundance of wildflowers. Bears in afternoon.
Populated by Chukchi reindeer herders. When we visited there were white out conditions and it was cold. In zodiacs, we traveled in pairs with backup radios, arriving after midnight. There was an impressive school where the children learn English as well as Chukokan. There are computers for those from age 7 on.
We gave them a huge map of the world and some supplies. They gave us a 20 pound bag of freshly caught salmon and char which we enjoyed at the bar the following night. My 77th Birthday!
An unexpected joy. From afar the landing looked the usual black, grey and white. Walking around revealed amazing mounds of brilliant red moss, yellow moss, tiny rivulets and many flowers.
At this landing we were almost caught by the moving ice sheet, It was 1.4 nautical miles from us when we disembarked, only .2 when we rushed back to the ship thus escaping a potential huge problem!
Near here, we passed CAPE CHELYUSKIN, the northernmost point of mainland Russia and of any another continental mainland.
TJÖRNES PENINSULA / ASBYRGI CLIFFS
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“Northern Land,” these are the least accessible islands of the Arctic. Charted in 1933, the archipelago was the last to be formally discovered on the planet.
Another hike with Nikita, groups were divided according to speed of hiking: Chargers, Moderate Fast, Contemplative. I always chose Moderate Fast in order to have time for photography.
It was near here that at 4:00AM one morning (27 July), we watched the nuclear icebreaker, YAMAL, escort a convoy of several huge tankers in the Kara Sea.
A very mountainous group of islands that was a major site for testing of nuclear explosions from 1954-1999. During the period, 132 detonations, at sea, in the atmosphere and underground were conducted. In particular, on 30 October 1961, there was an explosion of the 544 megaton, Tsar Bomba, the largest, most powerful nuclear weapon ever detonated. We were not in danger, being away from the testing site.
We had trouble finding a landing site, but when we did, in MAKA BAY, our zodiacs took us to an area with thousands of little auks and more mossy areas with rivulets.
Located well above the Arctic Circle, between 70 73˚- 81 93˚N and 44˚0 - 65.50˚E, only 10 degrees from the North Pole. is a Russian archipelago, inhabited only by military personnel, located in the Arctic Ocean, Barents Sea, Kara Sea and constituting the northernmost part of Arkhangelsk Oblast. It consists of 192 islands, which cover an area of 16,134 square km (6,229 sq mi), stretching 375 km (233 mi) from east to west and 234 km (145 mi) from north to south.
Eighty-five percent of the archipelago is glaciated. The islands have been a nature sanctuary since 1994 and became part of the Russian Arctic National Park in 2012.
Russia in 2009 declared the High Arctic archipelago Franz Josef Land, including a former nature reserve in the same area as well as the Northern part of Novaya Zemlya, as "Russian Arctic National Park". Its total area is 14,260 km2, including 6,320 km2 on the land and 7,940 km2 of the Arctic Ocean, which makes it the third largest national park in Russia and the largest marine protected area in the Arctic.
5:00AM for our first excursion, our introduction to Franz Josef Land, the iconic images of CAPE TEGETTHOFF. It is a stunning place consisting of massive effusive rocks made up of basaltic sheets separated by volcanic ashes and tuffs, mixed with terrigenous rocks with layers of coal. This area was a highlight in Franz Josef Land.
We had helicopter rides over the glacier. Rivulets running through it made us aware of Global Warming. After our rides, we had a BBQ lunch on the bow. I thought it was crazy, that we would freeze. But it was wonderful! Very hot soup, all kinds of great grilled food, lamb chops, cray fish, sausages, pork, steaks, corn on the cob, salads, baked apples with creme anglaise for dessert. We enjoyed these BBQs at the end of each of the four legs of the expedition.
A former research station with many people, it is now down to about 4-5 during the summer. It has a Post Office where I sent three post cards, 500 rubles each, about $5. None of them ever arrived but it was fun. The settlement had manifold dog houses and a very beautiful cemetery. In the summer, there are scientists at the ongoing research station. There are beautiful graves, ruins of dog shelters, buildings and boats.
This is the most spectacular bird cliffs in the archipelago. There are vast numbers of Kittiwakes and Brünnich’s Guillemots (thick billed murres). The geology, it is a volcanic plug and has vast basalt column, is particularly interesting.
We arrived in a total fog which, thankfully, lifted so we could see a huge walrus haul-out. Nikita told us it was a maternal group, hundreds of mothers and their cubs. We also saw Ivory Gulls here. They are one of the iconic birds of the Arctic.
Cape Flora, located in an unglacierized area in the Southwest of Northbrook Island (79°57′N 50°05′E) camp is historically significant. Norwegian explorer, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Fridtjof Nansen (10/10/1861 – 13 May 1930) led an expedition aboard the FRAM (1893–1896) attempting to reach the geographical North Pole, reaching 86˚14’N before having to turn back with the ship’s stoker, Fredrik Johansen (15/5/1867 – 3/1/1913). On 17 June 1896, during a stop for repairs after the kayaks had been attacked by a walrus, Nansen thought he heard a dog barking as well as human voices. He went to investigate, and a few minutes later saw the figure of a man approaching. It was the British explorer Frederick Jackson, who was leading an expedition to Franz Josef Land and was camped at Cape Flora on nearby Northbrook Island. The two were equally astonished by their encounter; after some awkward hesitation Jackson asked: "You are Nansen, aren't you?", and received the reply "Yes, I am Nansen." Their lives saved, after regaining strength, they headed back to Norway, and were reunited with the comrades on the Fram which had also survived.
While there, we viewed a huge walrus haul-out.... Nikita said it was a maternal group, hundreds of mothers and their cubs, at first totally hidden by fog but it lifted and we had amazing views. Also iconic North Pole Ivory Gulls.
Unable to clear customs as we had planned in TIKHAYA BUKTA, we detoured to Murmansk where we also took on 1,900 tons of fuel. Population about 303,754. According to purists, unless you have been to Murmansk, you have not completed the Northeast Passage. So I am glad we had to go there, to pass through customs and immigration as we were leaving Russia and to pick up fuel.
We were in Murmask for two days… On a tour of the city, we saw the LENIN, the first atomic icebreaker, built 1957, worked for 30 years and is now a museum.
While in Murmansk, we visited their museum, the Russian Orthodox Church of our Savior on Waters, the landmark lighthouse, the Kursk Memorial to commemorate the death of 118 sailors who died 12 August 2000 in the Barents Sea. The Memorial was unveiled 26 July 2009.
The most well known monument in Murmansk is the enormous statue, ALYOSHA, honoring the “Defenders off the Soviet Arctic during the Great Patriotic War. It is a monument to Soviet soldiers, sailors and airmen of WWII. The height off the pedestal in 7m (23’), the statue is 35.5m (116’). It is the second tallest statue in Russia, dedicated 19 October 1974.
We took on 1,900 tons of fueling in 7 hours!
End First Leg: 25 days, 4,691 nautical miles.