ACROSS THE TOP OF THE WORLD TO WRANGEL AND HERALD ISLANDS
This unique expedition crosses the Arctic Circle and includes the isolated and pristine Wrangel and Herald Islands and a significant section of the wild North Eastern Siberian coastline. It is a journey only made possible in recent years by the thawing in the politics of the region and the retreat of summer pack ice in the Chukchi Sea. The very small distance between Russia and the USA along this border area was known as the Ice Curtain, behind which then and now lies one of the last great undiscovered wilderness areas in the world.
The voyage journeys through the narrow Bering Strait, which separates Russia from the United States of America, and then travels west along the Chukotka coastline before crossing the De Long Strait to Wrangel Island. There we will spend four to five days under the guidance of local rangers on the nature reserve. Untouched by glaciers during the last ice age, this island is a treasure trove of Arctic biodiversity and is perhaps best known for the multitude of Polar Bears that breed here. We hope to catch many glimpses of this beautiful animal. The island also boasts the world's largest population of Pacific Walrus and lies near major feeding grounds for the Gray Whales that migrate thousands of kilometres north from their breeding grounds in Baja, Mexico. Reindeer, Musk Ox and Snow Geese can normally be seen further inland. A visit to massive bird cliffs on nearby Herald Island is also planned. The ‘mammoth steppe' vegetation complex, a rich and diverse relic from the Pleistocene epoch nurtures over 400 plant species and never fails to astound visitors with its sublime beauty. The number and type of endemic plant species, the diversity within plant communities, the presence of relatively recent mammoth tusks and skulls, a range of terrain types and geological formations in the small geographical space are all visible evidence of Wrangel's rich natural history and its unique evolutionary status within the Arctic.
The human history of Wrangel Island is fascinating on its own. Highlights include a 3,400 year old Paleo-Eskimo camp in Krassin Bay, controversy over discovery and ownership of the island, the amazing story of the survivors of the Karluk, Ada Blackjack the heroine of the island, the Soviet occupation and militarisation and more recently, the establishment of this world class nature reserve. A host of similarly enthralling stories hail from several optional landings along the northern coasts of Chukotka. Our expert expedition team will take you on guided walks, Zodiac cruises and provide lectures to help you better understand and appreciate this unique High Arctic landscape.
Exclusive Overland Experience - explore the interior of Wrangel Island by six-wheel Tundra vehicle, exclusive to Heritage Expeditions. The High Arctic environment that few people experience is now accessible on this 3 day- 2 night extension. Read more here.
Pre/Post cruise transfers, all on board ship accommodation, meals and all expedition shore excursions.
All items of a personal nature, laundry, drinks, gratuities. International/domestic flights, visas and travel insurance.
Private charter flight from Nome to Anadyr to Nome $2,000 pp
Overland Traverse $1450 pp
(All prices are per person in USD)
Our ship - The Spirit of Enderby:
The Spirit of Enderby is a fully ice-strengthened expedition vessel, built in 1984 for polar and oceanographic research and is perfect for Expedition Travel.
She carries just 50 passengers and was refurbished in March 2013 to provide comfortable accommodation in twin share cabins approximately half of which have private facilities. All cabins have outside windows or portholes and ample storage space.
On board there is a combined bar/library lounge area and a dedicated lecture room. The cuisine is excellent and is prepared by top NZ and Australian chefs.
The real focus and emphasis of every expedition is getting you ashore as often as possible for as long as possible with maximum safety and comfort. Our Expeditions are accompanied by some of the most experienced naturalists and guides, who have devoted a lifetime to field research in the areas that we visit. The ship is crewed by a very enthusiastic and most experienced Russian Captain and crew.
The name Spirit of Enderby honours the work and the vision of the Enderby Brothers of London. The Enderby Captains were at the forefront of Antarctic exploration for almost 40 years in the early 1800s. It also celebrates Enderby Island, arguably the greatest Subantarctic Island in the world.
Position 0800 / 2000 hrs: 64°42’N 177°37’W / 64°43’N 177°37’W
Places visited: Weighed anchor from Anadyr at 8.45pm
Weather: Light SE breeze, 12-17°C.
Sea conditions: Light chop, seawater 8-11°C
Wildlife highlight: Beluga whales surfacing in Anadyr harbour
Expeditioners from all parts of the planet - Russia, Germany, Switzerland, U.K, U.S.A, Australia and New Zealand - were welcomed on board the Professor Kromov (a.k.a. Spirit of Enderby), shown to our cabins and offered drinks, a cheese platter and fresh baking. Soon after, Rodney Russ our Expedition Leader and the founder of Heritage Expeditions, welcomed us aboard.
Rodney had sketched a map of the region on the whiteboard. Chukotka is one of 88 Autonomous Regions in the Russian Federation and contains 737,000 square kilometres. It is the farthest east part of Eurasia and travel is by permit only. We headed across Anadyr Bay and for our first landing at Preobrazhenia Bay. The plan for the next day was to visit Yttygran Island, the village of Larentiya, then on up the coast to Cape Deshnev and Naukan Village. From there we aim to turn west and head along the coast to Kolyuchin Island, then north to Wrangel Island.
Our 15 day voyage into one of the most remote and wild places left on earth began - Chukotka in the Russian Arctic. Our starting point of Anadyr is a frontier port town without a land-link to the rest of the country, populated largely by coal-miners, administrators, the military and indigenous Chukchi. To the west is a vast and virtually trackless wilderness of tundra, wetlands, lakes and rivers for thousands of kilometres. Moscow is 8 time zones to the west, or as they say locally, “God is a long way off, but Moscow is even further”.
Photo credit: SBlanc
Position 0600 / 1840 hrs: 64°34’N 179°W / 64°50’N 175°25’W
Places visited: The bird cliffs and tundra of Preobrazhenia Bay
Weather: Fine, 17°C
Sea conditions: Calm, water temp. 8-11°C
Nature highlights: Seabird cliffs of Preobrazheniya Bay.
First walk over the tundra.
Lectures: Introduction to the seabird cliffs by Sarah.
Zodiac boarding and landing briefing.
Safety and lifeboat briefing
Breeding seabirds occupied every possible and many seemingly impossible ledges and crevices of the Preobrazheniya cliffs. Flying seabirds streamed in all directions. Tufted and horned puffins flying to their young with rows of small fish hanging from the sides of their bills. Guillemots carrying theirs back tail frontward one at a time. A colony of inky black pelagic cormorants occupied the top shelves of an isolated tor. Pairs of kittiwakes, delicate grey with black wing tips, protectively cloaked their fledgelings against the rock face from the predations of skuas and glaucous gulls: A glaucous gull stood sentinal on a nearby promomtory flanked by its full-sized fledgeling apprentices, watching and waiting for an unguarded kittiwake nest to rob, or for a chick to lose its footing and tumble down. A cluster of harlequin ducks hugged the surge line at the base of the cliffs, bobbing around like ‘rubber duckies’, their tiny size incongruent with the powerful elements they lived amongst.
We motored around into Preobrazheniya Bay, landed by zodiac on the stony beach, and ambled upstream and inland for a look around. Most people headed for the knob at the eastern end of the beach, overlooking a long shingle spit and lagoon, the ship at anchor, and inland across the tundra to the mountains. Think of an undulating plain of grasses, edible berries and mushrooms, the sharp scent of herbs underfoot, ground-hugging willows and birches, ground squirrels, and a clear stoney stream. Then imagine that it stretches out without fences or roads almost as far as the imagination allows. It is called tundra and it is simply magnificent.
Photo credit: SBlanc
Position 0800 / 1600 : 64°39’N 172°32’W / 64°43’N 172°48’W
Places visited: Yttygran Island: Whale Bone Alley and around the eastern end by zodiac; by zodiac to Nuneagan (‘Bird’) Island; Gilmimyl community, tundra and hot springs.
Weather: Calm and fine, 15-20°C
Sea conditions: Calm, sea temp. 8-11°C
Wildlife highlight: Ground squirrels, a fox, lots of birds.
Landscape highlight: The tundra
Cultural highlight : Meeting a Chukchi family
Lectures: Pre-landing briefing by Rodney on the day’s plan.
the archaelogical site known as ‘Whalebone Alley’.
Other highlights: There she blows: Whales galore!
Pika & ground squirrels
‘Bird club’ in the bar, with a run-down of the day’s wildlife sightings.
A big day! We anchored off Yttygran Island within Biringia National Park and set off by zodiac across the lagoon to Gilmimyl immediately after lunch, with a choice of 3 options:
A: Visit a Chukchi family with Katya and Chris, followed by a soak in the hot pools.
B: Go birding with Agnes and Samuel, followed by a soak in the hot pools.
C: Go directly to the hot pools, led by Rodney.
Gilmimyl, once a permanent Chukchi settlement, is now used by only a handful of Chukchi and Eskimo families as a summer residence. Situated in a spacious basin, it has plentiful food resources available from sea, lagoon, river and tundra with subsistence food gathering still being allowed for in the national park. So while some of our Russian crew scoured the hillsides for mushrooms, the rest of us peered at birds, chatted with a Chukchi family or simply soaked in the large timber-constructed hot pool, which was fed by a thermal spring in the hillside and situated close to an ice-cold river for cooling off.
Photo credit: SBlanc
Position 0630 : 65°35’N 170°60’W
Places visited: Lavrentiya Village. Sea too rough to land at Cape Dezhnev, easternmost point in Eurasia.
Weather: Southerly wind 10-17°. Sea temperature 11°C.
Sea conditions: Calm in morning, 1m swell in the afternoon.
Cultural highlight: Chukchi cultural dancing at Lavrentiya.
Lectures: Katya on Chukotka history and culture.
Samuel on Alcids (puffins, guillemots and auklets)
After 4 days of entirely natural landscapes, the boxey Soviet-era apartment blocks of Lavrentiya seemed sharply incongruent with the gently flowing horizontality of the tundra. We landed on the gravel beach by zodiac to visit the museum, a small outdoor market (postcards, sealskin slippers, walrus-tusk pendants) and to sample the local fare of smoked wild salmon, cloudberry and blueberry jam, gray whale meat (caught under a subsistence quota system) prepared several different ways, including marinated with bitter tundra herbs, and sweet black tea. Elizaveta our guide at the museum was born in a yaranga in Naukan Village at Cape Dezhnev and spent her childhood there before the Soviets disbanded the village during the Cold War. Her life represents a transition from subsistence hunting with whale blubber lamps to apartment living with coal-fired heating and electricity. She talked of the history of the paleo-Eskimo communities around the coastline (the first human settlers there), the later arrival of the Chukchi peoples and the gradual development of reciprocal exchange between their communities; mainly marine mammal products for reindeer products. As a finale, a local troupe performed traditional Chukchi dances, accompanied by singing and walrus-skin drum percussion. The dances represented the every-day reality of a marine-mammal hunting community: walrus behaviour, walrus and whale hunting, the sharply observed behaviour of ravens and gulls, gathering birds’ eggs from the sea-cliffs, friendship and courtship. Expeditioners were kindly invited to join in the last dance.
Conditions at Cape Dezhnev were too rough to land, the sea a mass of white-caps and the Cape wreathed in mist. After rounding the Cape the ship headed west toward Kolyuchin Island in 2-3m swells.
Photo credit: ABreniere
Position 0600 / 1630: 67°27’N 174°34’W / 67°38’N 174°57’W
Places visited: Morning at Kolyuchin Island, afternoon heading towards Wrangel
Weather: Strong NW wind, 6-8C
Sea conditions: 2m swell, sea temperature 8-11C
Wildlife highlight: Walruses in the water around Kolyuchin Island.
Lectures & Briefings: Agnes on Walrus Biology and Behaviour.
Rodney on Kolyuchin Island and the prospects for the day.
We reached Kolyuchin Island at 0500, anchoring in the lee to protect us from a strengthening nor’west wind. Rodney and Samuel went ahead by zodiac to assess the sea conditions for landing and check the abandoned weather station for resident polar bears. The landing was deemed unsafe so instead we watched a walrus haul-out on a bouldery beach at the northern tip of the island. A group of perhaps 20 walruses, mostly curious young males, rafted out to play ‘chicken’ with our stationary zodiacs, creeping in closer and closer to the boats, their tusked whiskery heads and bloodshot eyes above water watching us closely until each time one would suddenly panic and they would all dive together, emerging again a little farther off each time, before creeping closer again, the bravest to within 2-3 metres. Unable to land, we set off after lunch for Wrangel Island.
Position 0630 / 1600: 6959’N 179W / 7056’N 14949’N
Places visited: Wrangel Island tundra and the abandoned settlement of Doubtful
Weather: Strong NE wind, 3-6C
Sea conditions: Choppy, sea-ice 40-50% approaching Wrangel, sea temperature 3-4C
Wildlife highlight: Groups of walrus mothers and cubs on the ice floes.
First polar bears!
Landscape highlights: First sea ice; combination of seascape, landscape and skyscape approaching Wrangel Island.
Lectures & briefings: Agnes on Sea Ice, the Eighth Continent.
Katya on Safety in Polar Bear Country.
Rodney on Wrangel Island, the condition of the sea ice and prospects for the next 5 days.
The sea approaching Wrangel Island was a milky azure-blue, studded with brilliantly lit ice floes. Some of the smaller floes looked like life-rafts, jam-packed with walrus mothers and calves. Then came an intercom message, ‘Polar bear on the ice to starboard!’, followed immediately by a general stampede to the rail. Australian Sue leaned into the frigid wind, “Oh my God this is so beautiful! Nothing could prepare me for this! I don’t even have any points of reference to take it in!” On the island ahead the tawny tundra plains stretched out to the dark mountains beyond, mist roiling toward us over the ridgeline.
We anchored and went in by zodiac to the mouth of Doubtful Creek, a polar bear mother and large cub running down the beach and entering the sea as we traversed the coastline. We were joined on shore by local rangers Gennady, Anna, Lily and Sasha, who accompanied our 3 walking parties exploring the tundra. Signs of Autumn were everywhere - the frigidity of the north wind; the last of the yellow arctic poppies in bloom; a late straggling ‘V’of snow-geese heading south; the leaves of the tundra-hugging prostrate willow turning golden. A cloud-cap hugged the mountain tops and catabatic mist streamed down the valleys toward the sea, lit up by the late afternoon sun. We left a party of 4 behind to travel overland across the island by 6-wheeler, guided by Katya and 2 of the local rangers. The rest of us, including 4 local park rangers, headed back to the ship through choppy seas for a delectable meal and beautiful sunset.
Photo credit: SBlanc
Position 0800 / 1600: 7054’N 17842’W / 7111’N 17844’W
Places visited: a.m. Unexpected Creek near Cape Thomas
p.m Ptichy Bazaar bird-cliffs and Lake Kmo at the western end of Wrangel Island.
Weather: Light SE wind, 1-4C
Sea conditions: Calm, ice cover 20-60%, sea temp. 2-3C
Wildlife highlight: 10 polar bears and a herd of musk ox.
Landscape highlights: Wrangel island tundra, mountains, ice-floes and sea-cliffs.
It snowed during our very cold zodiac ride through the ice floes to Point Thomas at the western end of Wrangel Island, where we hoped see polar bears. After working our way upwind to the lagoon of Unexpected Creek, we eventually spotted a bear coming our way from several hundred metres up the coast. We landed quietly on the gravel beach and waited. The bear continued toward us, at one stage standing up to shake an old 220 litre drum. It came closer along the top of the beach. The bear strolled down the beach before suddenly noticing us, at which point it walked quickly down the beach, through a line of beached floes, entered the water and swam out towards an ice floe. Some of us then went back to ship to thaw out, the remainder staying for a stroll on the tundra, enjoying beautiful views back over the lagoon to the ice-dotted sea.
The afternoon was so different that it felt like a separate day. The wind dropped off completely as we took a zodiac cruise under the sea cliffs of Ptichy Bazaar and threaded our way through the dense ice floes eddying beneath it. The sky was alive with guillimots, kittiwakes, glaucous gulls, pelagic cormorants and puffins - a deafening cocophany of chicks and parents calling for each other; kittiwakes perched en-masse on transluscent blue ice-floes.
We motored a little further up the coast to Lake Kmo, with options for shorter or longer walks. Some of us walked up the creek a toward a herd of musk-ox we’d spotted on a terrace a couple of kilometres upstream. Once within shouting distance we slowed down and moved more quietly, every now and then stopping to take more photos in case they ran off. They finally sniffed us at about 200 metres and immediately went into a defensive formation; mothers closing ranks and facing outward with their calves behind or beside them; big bulls stepping forward ready to challenge us, not a welcome prospect given their enormous bulk, heavy horns and short tempers. We quietly backed off and whizzed back to the ship through the ice-floes for a beautiful venison stew.
Up on the bridge at dusk Dima steered the ship through a maze of ice floes on a sea of glass, glowing pink and burnished bronze. Captain Alexandr analysed the apparently impassable ice far ahead through binoculars and quietly issued directions. We watched the scene unfold ahead of the bow for ages, mesmerised.
Photo credit: SBlanc
Position 0620 / 1800: 7125’N 179.19E / 71°41’N 179°29’W
Places visited: Komsomol Lake, Dream Head / Drem Khed.
Weather: Moderate SW wind, 2°C
Sea conditions: Moderate swell, ice cover 30-70%, sea temp. 2C.
Geographic highlights: The northernmost point of our expedition, 7140’N around the north coast of Wrangel Island.
Crossing 180 East/West.
Wildlife highlight: Polar bear heading into the hills, musk oxen on the plains
Zodiac trips: To Komsommol Lake and Dream head.
Lectures: Agnes on ‘Sea Ice, the Eighth Continent’.
Chris on The Last Voyage of the Karluk, a ship crushed by ice off Wrangel Island in 1914.
With much distance to cover to reach Herald Island, we had a quiet day circumnavigating Wrangel Island through the ice, punctuated by a zodiac trip to the tundra to spot wildlife musk ox and polar bears, picking up the passengers who had travelled overland from south to north coast by 6-wheel drive from our landing spot at Doubtful, and dropping off a second group of 5 to return via the same route. Back on ship the ‘overlanders’ talk was all about arctic foxes, snowy owls, and breath-taking landscapes.
Position 0730 / 2000: 71°23’N 175°58’W / 71°10’N 177°12’W
Places visited: Herald Island
Weather: Calm, light SW breeze, 1°C
Sea conditions: Calm, ice cover 40-60%, sea temp 2C
Wildlife highlight: Bears, bears, bears: a 40-bear day!
Landscape highlights: The rugged cliffs and seascapes of Herald Island
Our ship 'Spirit of Enderby' wound her way through innumerable ice floes, finally reaching Herald Island at 5am. We had reached this famously inhospitable intrusion of vertical granite. We launched the zodiacs by 0830 and made for the cliffs, threading our way between floes. Imagine a sea as smooth as mercury, punctuated by ice-floes of deep transluscent blues and greens where the sea has undercut them. A pair of cormorants rest on the ice, etched inky purple-black against a brilliant white canvas. And behind all this, granite cliffs heaving skyward, topped by scree-slopes and crested with a ‘dragon’s back’ ridge disapperaing upward into the mist. Just below the cloud-line a polar bear lay watching us to see if we posed a threat. Puffins and guillemots streamed down off the cliffs, falling at a 45 angle until their too-small wings find purchase in the cold air. A bear and cub lay on a distant ledge half way down a cliff. How on earth did they get there? We backed off in case they panicked, a little disappointed not to get closer, but soon enough we saw another, then a mother with 3 cubs crossing the scree high above; then a mother and cub ‘nesting’ in a snow hollow she has scooped from avalanche debris only 20 metres above the sea, her cub planted between her front legs. She was quickly the main focus in everyones camera lens! We saw another 2 bears on the next beach, one so fat it was surprising she could move so fast. Then another bear high above the bird-cliffs above us, and so the morning went on.
We landed on a little beach at the SE end of the Island and stomped around to warm our feet – and to pose for our landing shots as very few people ever get to Herald Island, the dennng polar bear capital of the Russian Arctic. The beach was also the site where the bodies of 4 members of the Karluk expedition had been found in the 1920’s. They were a reconnaisance party trying to find a route across the sea ice to Wrangel Island, from where their ship the Karluk had been crushed by ice and sunk. Unfortunately they reached Herald Island instead, where it appears they became trapped by open water. A less hospitable place to land would be hard to imagine, with almost impregnable granite cliffs and tors surrounding the whole island.
As if the day hadn’t given us enough, we had a call from the bridge immediately after our lunch back on the ship, “Bear and cubs on starboard side!”. Another bear stampede and what a treat! A beautiful polar bear with 2 half-grown cubs walked fearlessly along the ice flow next to the stationary ship for perhaps 200 metres, the icing on the icing on the cake.
We headed back to Wrangel and made a late afternoon landing at Dragi Bay, ice floes moving quickly in all directions due to the strong current. We had just enough time to visit a new memorial to the crew of the Karluk, shipwrecked on the island in 1913-14, before the First Mate called us back to the ship due to the unpredictable ice conditions. We met more bears on the way back to ship, as well as whales, bringing the day’s tally to 40 - another stunning day in the high Arctic.
Back on board we stowed the zodiacs and set a course back toward Krassin Bay on the south coast of Wrangel Island.
Position 0615 / 2000: 70°50’N 179°58’W / 69°41’N 17811’W
Places visited: Anchored at Krassin Bay, Wrangel Island: Last walk on the Island.
Weather: Wind 5-7 knots from the SE, strengthening in the evening to 14 knots. Temperature 4-5°C, barometer falling
Sea conditions: Ice cover 10-50%, water 4C
Wildlife highlight: What the ‘overlanders’ saw: arctic fox cubs, lemmings, musk ox, snowy owl.
Landscape highlights: Last views of the tundra and mountains of Wrangel.
Lectures: Samuel on Polar Bear Biology and Ecology.
Katya on The Future of Polar Bears in a Changing World.
Today was our chance for a last quiet walk on the tundra of Wrangel Island. Many of us simply sat and reflected and tried to take it all in. Some saw an Arctic fox near its den above the creek, other snow bunting, plovers and the last of the tundra flowers. We welcomed the enthused ‘overlanders’ back, farewelled the park rangers and by lunch-time had weighed anchor and headed south toward Kolyuchin.
Position 0700 / 2000: 68°N 185°86’W / 67°N 174°35W
Places visited: Wrangel Island to Belyaka Spit at the entrance to Kolyuchin Inlet.
Weather: SE wind 8-10 knots, 9°C
Sea conditions: 2-3 metre swells, water 5C.
Wildlife highlights: Humpback whales in high numbers. Pacific loons, emperor geese, ground squirrels and brown bear tracks at Belyaka Spit.
Landscape highlights: Dusk walk in Belyaka wetlands in Kolyuchin Inlet.
Cultural highlight: Memorial cross, reindeer herders’ graves and ancient yaranga mounds on Belyaka Spit.
Lectures : Nikita Ovsyanikov’s documentary ‘Life on the Field of Bones’- about his polar bear research on Wrangel Island.
After a full day at sea, we landing at Belyaka Spit for a welcome walk around. Local Chukchi staying there warned us of a family of bears in the area and let us know that reindeer-herders were camped about 5 kilometres inland from us. Belyaka Spit forms the entrance to the massive Kolyuchin Inlet. It was long a conjunction between reindeer herder and marine mammal hunter commununities, whose artefacts, graves and dwelling mounds remain in evidence.
We headed out across the tundra in small groups, the ground alternating underfoot between dry sandy ridges (easy travel and populated with the beautifully camouflaged Pacific golden plover) and very wet peat bogs surrounding the numerous ponds. The mournful cry of loons (elsewhere known as divers) drew us toward the open water, where a pair of Pacific loons with chicks were parading up and down the open water, unsure of our approach. Their smart black and white plumage was stunning.
Some of us came across human skulls and bones lying out in the tundra, their owners’ former posessions scattered around them – sled runners, a rusty rifle, a broken cup, a reindeer-herder’s prod. Rodney had asked us at the briefing to leave any such articles well alone, explaining that instead of burying their dead deep in the ground (impossible anyway because of the permafrost), human remains were left exposed on the surface of the tundra, open to the big skies and the elements they had known so well in life.
Position 0800 / 1700: 67°N 174°35’W / 67°29’N 174°38’W
Places visited: Third time lucky! Kolyuchin Island Landing.
Weather: SSE wind 5-7 knots, 8-12C.
Sea conditions: 1m swell, water 9-10C
Wildlife highlight: Photographing and watching the bird-cliffs at Kolyuchin Island.
Between 0530 and 1030hrs the sea was alive with whales - mostly humpbacks with a few bowheads. In every direction they spouted, surfaced and breached, a massive feeding frenzy in these shallow and productive seas.
We arrived back at Kolyuchin Island for one last try at getting ashore. Once Samuel, Rodney & Katya had checked out the abandoned weather station for resident polar bears we finally managed, on this our third visit, to land on the little rocky beach at Kolyuchin Island. Staff in waders held the zodiacs steady in the surf while passengers piled off and on. A second option of cruising the base of the cliffs by zodiac without landing was also popular. Those on shore clambered up a grassy slope to vantage points overlooking the bird cliffs, every ledge crammed with the adults and chicks of gulls, puffins, kittiwakes, guillimots and pelagic cormorants – a bird-watcher’s paradise. The tufted and crested puffins were particularly charismatic with their bright orange feet and beaks; clown-like faces and awkward style of flight, coming in to land on the cliffs with legs and wings splayed wide open, sometimes with fish hanging rakishly from their beaks to feed their young. A number of kittiwake chick carcases floated in the sea beneath the colony, pecked at tentatively by fledgeling glaucous gulls still learning the ropes.
Photo credit: KOvsyanikova
Position 0600 / 1840: 66°N 169°36’W / 64°55’N 172°15’W
Places visited: Cape Dezhnev & Naukan Village.
Weather: Misty, SSW 3-8 knots, 8-10°C
Sea conditions: 1-2m swell, water 9-10C.
Wildlife highlight: Bear tracks and bowhead whale baleen plates on the beach at Cape Dezhnev. Ground squirrels at Naukan.
Cultural feature: The abandoned village of Naukan.
Landscape highlights: Clearing mist at Cape Dezhnev
Lectures: Katya on Cetaceans of Chukotka.
Samuel on the legacy of early naturalist George Steller.
Katya gave us a quick briefing straight after breakfast on the history of Naukan Village and Cape Dezhnev: Naukan was an Eskimo (as they call themselves locally) village of marine mammal subsistence hunters for thousands of years. Its location on a relatively protected terrace overooking the narrowest point of the Bering Strait made it perfect for hunting. The village supported about 400 people living in 83 dwellings, a mixture of yarangas (traditional round houses covered in skins), wooden huts and dugouts. That all changed in 1958 with the Cold War, when Soviet officials forcibly relocated the residents to other villages and towns. The border guard post built only a stone’s throw from the empty village was in its turn abandoned after the demise of the USSR and is now crumbling into the sea. We landed by zodiac and wandered slowly through the ruins, pondering the lives and commmunities whose lives echoed there still; an old pair of boots growing lichen; a copper kettle; a steel bed frame; whale bones.
Position 0525 / 2000: 64°13’N 174°W / 6426’N 179E
Places visited: At sea returning to Anadyr
Weather: SW 5-7 knots, 10-12°C
Sea conditions: 2-3m swell, sea temp. 10C
Wildlife highlight: The ship surrounded by fulmars, short-tailed shearwaters and kittiwakes.
Lectures: Rodney on the (formidable) logistics behind a Heritage Expedition.
Chris on Biodiversity and Conservation in Russia and the R.F.E.
A leisurely day at sea, with breakfast a luxurious 0830hrs. Samuel presented passengers with a photographic and musical slide show representative of the fortnight we’ve had together travelling across the ‘Top of the World’, complete with bears and musk oxen, grey and humpback whales, puffins and guillemots, ground squirrels and lemmings, tundra plants, mountains and plains, sea-scapes and ice-scapes, zodiacs and passengers, hot pools and cold zodiac trips. This was followed up an hour later with a brilliant hemispheric rainbow directly behind the ship and the finest sunset of the fortnight over the bow, embellished perfectly by a surfacing minke whale and a low-flying flock of short-tailed shearwaters – a fitting end to an incredible fortnight.
Position 0600 : 64°43’N 177°37’E
Disembarked at Anadyr for our respective homeward or onward journeys, reluctantly farewelling each other and our beautiful ‘time out of mind’ in the Russian Far East.
Photo credit: SBlanc
Monday, 17 August , 2015
Tuesday, 18 August, 2015
Wednesday, 19 August, 2015
Thursday, 20 August, 2015
Friday, 21 August, 2015
Saturday, 22 August, 2015
Wrangel Island; Doubtful Bay
Sunday, 23 August, 2015
Wrangel Island; Dream-Head, Ptichiy Bazar
Monday , 24 August, 2015
Wrangel Island; Komsomol Lake
Tuesday; 25 August, 2015
Wednesday, 26 August, 2015
Leaving Wrangel Island; At sea
Thursday, 27 August, 2015
At sea; Kolyuchin Inlet
Friday, 28 August, 2015
Saturday, 29 August, 2015
Ratmanova Island; Lavrentiya
Sunday, 30 August, 2015
Monday, 31 August, 2015
Disembarking in Anadyr
MV Spirit of Enderby/Professor Khromov
Aug 21 - Day 1
After making our way to Anadyr from all over the world, we finally settled in on the Spirit of Enderby for the evening. An introduction from Rodney and an opportunity to meet the staff was followed by dinner, a drink in the bar, and then a bit of rest, relaxation and unpacking. Our first night on the ship, our new home for the next couple of weeks, was a calm and restful one as we looked forward to our big adventure.
Aug 22 - Day 2
The next morning we woke to calm seas and overcast skies. After a good breakfast some chose to explore the ship while others settled in for some bird watching from the bridge. An introductory ship briefing and a Zodiac safety briefing rounded out the activities for the morning. After a hearty lunch we participated in the all-important life boat drill and then got ready for our afternoon Zodiac excursion to explore the extensive and impressive bird cliffs near Cape Kekilin. A high diversity of seabirds take advantage of the varied terrain here, with murres and kittiwakes sharing the ledges along the towering cliff faces while unusually high numbers of Tufted and Horned Puffins take advantage of several large grass-covered boulder fields to make their burrow nests. Parakeet and Crested Auklets also nest here, and we saw vast flocks of the latter gathering as dusk approached. We made our first official landing on the Chukotka coast when we landed briefly in a lagoon near the back of the bay to stretch our legs.
Aug 23 - Day 3
Yttygran Island and Gilmilmyl Bay
We woke to blue skies and quickly mobilized for a trip to Yttygran Island to visit ‘Whale Bone Alley’. This is an important archaeological site consisting of the remains of an extensive and elaborate corridor of whale skulls and jawbones arranged along the long gravel beach. It was here that the ancient Chukchi whale hunters would butcher their catch and express their thanks to the whale spirits. Though now largely overgrown with grass, most of the many hundreds of bones are still clearly visible, with some still sticking straight up into the sky as they were originally placed. Many of us enjoyed a stroll down the beach towards some small but easily accessed bird cliffs where fantastic close-range looks at a number of species were to be had. Although these cliffs only support a population of mere hundreds of birds, the opportunity to study Tufted and Horned Puffins as well as Thick-billed Murres, Pelagic Cormorants and Kittiwakes at a leisurely pace was a real highlight, especially for those wishing to take full-frame photographs of these species at the nest.
After lunch the weather took a turn for the worse, but we still went ahead with our plan to visit Gilmilmyl Bay and explore the small river which ran down from the hills. We were joined by a number of crew members from the Spirit of Enderby armed with mushroom collecting buckets, and set off to explore. Some crisscrossed the braided channels of the river in search of birds while others headed directly towards the main attraction – the hot springs and the promise of a long relaxing soak. After a few hours of rambling (and/or soaking), we worked our way back to the Zodiacs and ‘home’ for dinner.
Day 4 - August 24
We steamed north through the evening and the dawn found us just south of Cape Dezhnev. A light swell breaking onto the narrow landing beach was countered by favourable offshore winds, and so we all loaded into the Zodiacs and headed in towards this major geographical and historical landmark. The remains of an old village as well as a more modern lighthouse stood in marked contrast to the rugged wilderness extending all around. After a few hours of exploring the cape, we headed north in hopes of visiting the village of Uelen, but a rising swell and increasing winds quickly took that option off the table. Following Rodney's oft-repeated maxim of 'remaining rigidly flexible' we changed plans as well as course and decided to head directly to Wrangel Island. There was however some consolation (particularly for the birders on the bridge) as we enjoyed the spectacular sight of tens of thousands of Short-tailed Shearwaters, Crested Auklets and other seabirds moving past the easternmost point of Chukotka, as well a large group of Humpback Whales feeding off the coast near Uelen.
Day 5 - August 25
Excellent conditions allowed us to make good speed towards Wrangel Island and a day at sea gave many a chance to dry their boots, download their memory cards and enjoy some quiet time on the ship. Birding from the bridge was at times slow, at times quite rewarding, and as always, those who put in their time 'on watch' were rewarded with some great sightings. Today these included Minke and Humpback Whales, the rare and beautiful Sabine's Gull, many good looks at Short-tailed Shearwaters and other seabirds, and towards evening, lots of beautiful ice. Around mid afternoon we entered a thicker band of ice southeast of Wrangel and all eyes were out looking for Polar Bears and walrus. We enjoyed great close-range looks at no fewer than five Polar Bears, several of which barely took notice of the ship quietly drifting less than a hundred metres away. Walrus were also seen swimming among the ice. After some lectures and briefings concerning the birds, history and people of Chukotka, we headed to our cabins to prepare for our first day ashore on Wrangel Island.
Day 6 - Aug 26
We made our first landing on Wrangel Island at Rodgers Cove, the site of a former village and now a virtual ghost-town. There we wandered amongst the old buildings and houses of what was once a bustling community and dropped off our first group of overland explorers, entrusting them to the care of the Wrangel Island rangers who came to meet us. After lunch we enjoyed some relaxed birding from the bridge as we headed northeast and out of the ice. Towards evening we anchored off Komsomol Lake, a lagoon off the northern coast of the island which often attracts bears. Even from the ship we could see several on the shoreline and despite the strong wind and waves, we managed to approach and drift downwind. Two bears approached to investigate and for about half an hour we enjoyed spectacular views of them from only a few dozen metres away. This was definitely one of the best bear encounters one could hope for!
Day 7 -Aug 27
This morning when we awoke the ship was anchored not far from Ptichy Bazaar, a major bird colony on the island. After breakfast we piled into the Zodiacs and headed out under blue skies for a cruise along the cliffs. There we marvelled at the sheer number of birds crowding into the clefts and ledges along the sheer rock faces. There were excellent views of Puffins, Murres, Kittiwakes and Shags, and we also enjoyed getting up close and personal with many birds on the water around the Zodiacs. Although breeding success appeared low, activity was still high and everywhere we looked we saw something else to attract our attention. Here a pair of Kittiwakes fought in the air, tumbling towards the water together; there a Murre was trying to squeeze in amongst its neighbours with a fish still in its bill, a meal for some hungry chick hidden away. This colony was an spectacular sight which offered a fantastic opportunity to get some great photographs.
Day 8 - Aug 28
We woke at the crack of dawn this morning and made for Cape Thomas where we split up into several groups to explore the tundra. Some hiked up into the hills and enjoyed watching Snowy Owls, while others strolled around the beach and lagoons, and also enjoyed good looks at Snowy Owls. When conditions are right, these iconic tundra raptors are easily spotted even from a great distance. Although lemming numbers this year were not high, there were still several successful nesting pairs in the area. We welcomed back the first overland excursion group and sent off the second group for their inland experience.
Day 9 - Aug 29
Herald Island and Cape Waring
We woke this morning under the magnificent snow-dusted cliffs of Herald Island. Despite sub-zero temperatures we headed out for a morning cruise under the bird cliffs along the southern shore. Great looks at a number of now familiar species were had by all and the sun soon came out turning a chilly morning into a glorious, balmy day. As we rounded a rocky headland a group of walrus was spotted near shore, with some already hauled out on the beach, while others bobbed around in the water. With the wind at our backs we shut down the engines and slowly drifted into their midst. The light was perfect and most of us managed to get at least a few (hundred) once-in-a-lifetime photos of these curious and charismatic creatures. We continued our exploration of the bird cliffs and even squeezed in a brief landing which allowed some folk the opportunity to join the very select group lucky enough to set foot on this remarkable island. A few hours later we were back at Wrangel Island for our second cruise of the day around Dragi Bay, protected from the somewhat confused seas by dramatic Cape Waring, the north-western point of the island. On this excursion we got spectacular looks at a mother Polar Bear with her cubs as well as a bear hunkered down in a snowdrift. Then as we slowly meandered through the ice towards the bird cliffs at the cape we all got good looks at a family of foxes that had infiltrated the bird colony, much to the chagrin of the kittiwakes which loudly voiced their displeasure.
Day 10 - Aug 30
A foggy morning greeted us as we awoke for a late breakfast. With a few hours to spare before heading back south, the decision was made to cruise slowly along the coastline to the southwest of Rodger's Cove in the hope of seeing a Musk Ox, a species that has thus far eluded us (except for the overland groups that both enjoyed good looks). After several hours of searching in the fog, our hard work was eventually rewarded. Off on a low hillside near a dry river bed we saw a small herd of about a dozen Musk Oxen. We quickly launched the Zodiacs and headed for shore, although from the ship it wasn’t possible to tell whether we could make it through the thick band of ice washed up on the beach. We managed to find an opening and beach the boats so we could slowly advance up the river towards the herd. Eventually we crept close enough for some fantastic looks and great photos, which satisfied our wish to connect with the last of the "big three" target species of the trip. We left Wrangel behind us in the afternoon and headed south towards Kolyuchin Island. The huge flocks of thousands of Short-tailed Shearwaters we watched in the evening were an indication of what was to come when we arrived at the highly productive Kolyuchin Inlet the next morning.
Aug 31 - Day 11
Morning saw us at the mouth of Kolyuchin Inlet just off Kolyuchin Island. The sloppy sea conditions we experienced yesterday had followed us, but we decided to try and find some shelter in the lee of the island while we searched for walrus. They often haul out on the low gravel spits extending from the otherwise steep cliffs of the island. Sadly there were no walrus to be found there so we were content to enjoy the thousands of shearwaters milling around for the rest of the morning. After lunch, Rodney announced an impromptu plan to try and find a group of nomadic Chukchi reindeer herders that may have moved their herd to the shores of the inlet. In the late afternoon we found the herders, but there were no reindeer in sight. After conferring with one of the herders, we made a plan to wait at the temporary camp his family had set up near the beach while some of his party drove the reindeer closer to the shore. And so the waiting began. It was a true meeting of cultures. We watched the herders prepare a fire to boil some tea and get some dinner going, then some of us decided lie down on the soft tundra mosses and soak up the warmth of the sun. A couple of hours slid by and we passed the time in companionable silence. Finally a long row of antlers appeared on the horizon. These were followed by heads, which in turn were followed by reindeer. The herders had brought their entire herd of around 2,500 deer to the camp. The animals walked slowly towards us until we were eventually surrounded by them. The clicking of antlers and camera shutters was the only sound to be heard as we soaked up this surreal experience. We were amazed at how docile the animals were despite our presence as they simply milled around us. As the sun sank slowly behind the hills, we reluctantly packed up and returned to the ship happy to have enjoyed this remarkable experience in such a beautiful setting.
Sept 1 - Day 12
Weather-wise, today was one of the nicest days of the voyage, and the warm sun and light breeze lured many of us out onto the decks even before breakfast. As we approached Cape Kekurnyi and the village of Uelen, we began to see whale spouts off in the distance. The closer we got, the more we saw and by the time the captain slowed the ship a few kilometres off shore we were virtually surrounded by Humpback Whales. A huge group several hundred strong, was feeding and relaxing in the shallow water off the cape. Thousands of Crested Auklets streamed amongst them, and we also got good looks at shearwaters, puffins, gulls and more. We drifted slowly with the whales until after lunch, when we were briefed in anticipation of our visit to Uelen. Once ashore we split up and headed off in two groups to explore the village. We had a tour of the school and learned about the Chukchi language and cultural programmes on offer there. At the museum we learned about walrus ivory carving and saw many marvellous examples of this local art. Some of the group picked some up as souvenirs to take home. Once the tour was over we were treated to a performance of songs and dances which showcased the unique culture of these hospitable people. It was an enlightening visit to this town, which is in some ways completely familiar yet in others completely foreign. After a short (and wet for some!) run back to the ship it was time for a late dinner and a chance to trade stories.
September 2 - Day 13
Masik Village Site
Late last night after consulting with the staff and crew, Rodney decided to take advantage of the good weather and check out an ancient (and seldom-visited) village site further south along the coast in Mechigmen Bay. According to Rodney it is almost impossible to reach by Zodiac in anything but the lightest winds, so very few have had the good fortune to see what is widely considered to be one of the most important and spectacular archeological sites in Chukotka. On a narrow gravel spit we found a sprawling version of the site we saw earlier on Yttygran Island. The remains of many yarangas as well as hundreds of huge whale bones were arranged around the ridges behind the beach stretching for over a kilometre along the shore. We tried to imagine what it must have been like to live here amidst this beautiful scenery and could feel a tangible energy around the place. The opposite side of the spit had a marshy area of small lakes and lagoons which offered some excellent birding as well as berry picking opportunities. Once back aboard, we reluctantly left this amazing site behind and headed off with the sun still shining down on us towards Anadyr. A strong but favourable wind began to build offshore and we enjoyed a spectacular sunset over the rising (but following) seas.
September 3 - Day 14
Our final day aboard the ship was bittersweet. Our adventure was almost over and we were preparing to return to the real world. We would leave our new friends behind, but were secure in the knowledge that we had had a truly amazing expedition with enough memories to last a lifetime. A relaxed morning featured some lectures on wildlife and history and in the late afternoon we gathered for one final briefing. After recapping our trip, Rodney shared a slideshow of images taken by both staff and passengers highlighting our marvellous experiences. Any chance to visit this remarkable part of the world is special, but this particular trip seemed to bring everything together in a way that few others could. We had shared the amazing morning with the whales, the incredible evening with the reindeer, the birds, the bears, the scenery and the sunshine. While we were entertained in the Lecture Room, Jeremy and Bruce were hard at work preparing a true feast in the galley. After a few drinks in the bar and a final read-through of the species list, we gathered in the restaurant for our final dinner together, a gala buffet that could have fed an army of hungry of Polar Bears!
From the staff and crew of the Spirit of Enderby:
“Thank you for joining this expedition, sharing our adventures and making so many wonderful memories. Happy travels wherever life may take you!"
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" A big Thank You to Rodney and staff and crew for a fantastic trip to Wrangel and North Eastern Siberia. Amazing wildlife and fascinating culture in an area that get very few visitors. Everything was run very professionally by Rodney and his staff and crew. Already looking forward to my next trip with Heritage... "
" I had a great trip, seeing Horned and Tufted Puffins and 3 species of Auklets which I'd really hoped to see. We had an amazing experience with a Gray Whale and saw many Polar Bears. The staff worked really hard to make our experience a special one and the passengers were friendly and interesting. I also enjoyed the lectures getting to know some Russian people and seeing a little of the very different life some of them live. "
" Dear Rodney and staff and crew,
We now have our feet on the ground after being literally and metaphorically on top of the world on the Wrangel Island trip. Thank you so much for all that you put into it, both on the ship and behind the scenes. It is obvious to us that you live and breathe a love of the natural environment and that, like the Enderby family, the Russ family has found a way to nurture this spirit in others and awaken the world to the need to cherish and preserve its treasures.
Thank you to the guides, Katya, Samuel, Agnès, Elena and Alex, and to Meghan who greeted us each morning, to Conor, Ralf, Eleni and Katya in the kitchen, to the cabin staff and finally to Cam, whose services we were fortunate enough not to need but whose company we enjoyed.
The polar bear encounters were something you would wait a lifetime to have. There is no doubt that up close their habits are fascinating, and we were so grateful for the sensitive method of approaching these beautiful creatures when advisable and giving them a wide berth (for their sakes) when not. We also appreciated the contact with the Chukchi people and their hospitality and entertainment. Then there were the snowy owls, snow geese, the myriad of shearwaters feeding in a sea full of whales, not to mention the walrus, seals and the tundra itself.
Thank you to the captain and crew for their seamanship and for keeping us safe when embarking and disembarking from the zodiacs.
It's impossible to mention everything, but - what a trip!!
Paul and Jacquie Pryor "
" ....."Heritage's administration is peerless, the best that we have seen in around 25 year of this type of travel. We cannot thank Lorna for enough her help and efficiency in handling all the arrangements our requests. Her liaison with Asiana to sort out some last minute problems with our return flight to was exemplary. Thank you very much.
On the trip, we appreciate the ship's crew and the efforts of all the expedition staff who worked diligently and very hard to make our experience worthwhile. Rodney, we appreciate your passion and contacts which frankly make this experience possible at all - we came to appreciate the practical difficulties of travelling in this remote part of the world. we know it could not happen without your efforts".....
" Best ever!
AAAAAAAAAAAABSOLUTELY STUNNING !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
16 000 photos taken …
" Good crew, good ship, very knowledgeable guides and backup, well organised in difficult circumstances; incredible wildlife and environment you just couldn't see anywhere else. An unparalleled experience. "
" This was my second expedition under Rodney's leadership (also Kamchatka 2011). It was a fascinating trip. The guides were excellent during outings and in lecture mode. The sea ice hues, influenced by varying weather and light conditions, were spectacular. The ship staff constantly and consistently adapted activities to fit nature's whims. This is a trip for people who love nature on it's on terms -- unpredictable and amazing. "
" We once again want to thank you for the great experience on our Across the Top of the World expedition. We had a marvellous time and were well looked after - both in hospitality and Polar Bears. "