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. You will travel by special tundra buggy, camp in field huts and enjoy wildlife encounters and photographic opportunities that professionals dream about. 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 Nome to Anadyr to Nome $2,000 pp
Overland Traverse $1,450pp
Nome to Nome
#1930 4th to 18th August 2019
Anadyr to Anadyr
#1930 5th to 19th August 2019
Our Ship: Kapitan Khlebnikov
The latest addition to Heritage Expeditions' fleet, legendary Russian icebreaker and former research vessel Kapitan Khlebnikov holds the passenger ship record for the most crossings of the Northwest Passage and has famously circumnavigated Antarctica - twice.
Built in 1981 by Finland's Wärtsilä Company and one of four Kapitan Sorokin-class icebreakers, Kapitan Khlebnikov wraps comfortable surrounds in a formidable, ice-reinforced vessel powered by 24,000 horsepower diesel-electric engines and is capable of breaking ice as thick as two metres.
Recently refurbished, Kapitan Khlebnikov comfortably accommodates up to 110 guests in well-appointed and spacious cabins and suites all featuring large windows that can be opened and en suite facilities. Common areas include large open decks, two dining rooms, a digitally equipped theatre-style lecture room, heated indoor pool, sauna, gymnasium, fully-stocked library, bar, lounge and four-person elevator.
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, botanists, historians and guides, who have devoted a lifetime to field research in the areas that we visit. The ship is crewed by an enthusiastic and experienced Russian Captain and crew.
Expedition Staff & Crew: 70
Guests: up to 110
Gross Tonnage: 12,288gt
Engine: 24,000 horsepower
Ice Class: LL3
Cruising speed: 12/14 knots
Heritage Suites: Large lounge area, separate bedroom with double bed and a single bed in the lounge, writing desk, wardrobe and drawers. Private bathroom with shower, toilet and washbasin. Large forward and side facing windows allow great views.
Mini Suites: Separate bedroom with a double bed and a single bed or sofa in the lounge, writing desk, wardrobe and drawers. Private bathroom with shower, toilet and washbasin. A large window offers great views.
Superior Plus cabins: Two lower berths, writing desk, wardrobe and drawers. Private bathroom with shower, toilet and washbasin. A large window offers great views.
Superior Plus Triple: One bunk (one upper and one lower berth) and one additional lower berth, writing desk, wardrobe and drawers. Private bathroom with shower, toilet and washbasin. A large window offers great views.
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
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" 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. "