Expedition Diaries 2016

June 16. Day 10

June 16. Day 10

Many books write that Russkaya Gavan’ is the most convenient bay for vessel anchorage at the Novaya Zemlya. The sea is smooth, sparkling and of emerald and turquoise colour. And there are no polar bear seen nearby. When AFU-expeditions reached Russkaya Gavan’ during two previous years, polar bears were waiting for them. Two years ago the bear appeared at once, last year it waited for 20 minutes and then, pleased, watched the urgent expedition evacuation. As for today… Well, I don’t want to get so far ahead. It just should be noted that the expedition participants run really fast.

Nails outward

— Be careful, do not catch hold of the nails, all planks here have nails outward, — told us the guard Igor Molodtsov.

The armed guards were first to land in Russkaya Gavan’. There are a lot of buildings, tankers, sheds, abandoned machines and barrels here. So, there are numerous hiding places for polar bears.

Half an hour before it happened

— Irina, how do you feel? — Alexander Cherkasov asked me. I really wanted to be ashore, the time was running out and I understood that again, as soon as I step on land, I would decide to take pictures of everything around me. But it is impossible, so I need to understand that I should leave something behind and I shouldn’t feel sorry about it. Everything is great, the weather is beautiful, the sea is calm, there are no polar bears around. However, it’s a pity, there are no polar bears, maybe they will come as soon as the landing is over and I will be able to take pictures of them…

— How do I feel? I feel that I should work, — I tried to smile. — Can you, please, take a picture of me in Russkaya Gavan’?

Some time before that.

— Don’t do a strip for polar bears! We don’t need the sick here! — the first mate Khokhlov as usual was very stern. Some expedition participants have runny noses. They go out to the deck in a T-shirt and jeans. It is good their mo thers and grandmothers don’t see them.

— If you are not wearing a hat while you are outside, you are not landing, — Konstantin Zaikov wasn’t joking. Today the “hat policy” was very strict.

— I would like to remind you once again that we stick together and do not go far from the guard. If you want to collect seashells, do that with the whole group.

— Colleagues, I would like to ask you, in case of emergency do not panic, — said Silvia.

To shoot an iceberg

The houses at the station used to be connected with good balustered footways. But some planks got broken a long time ago. At some places it was hard to get to the footways, that’s why they are made there of radiators, not wooden planks. There can be seen a lot of radiators here, they were used not for their intended purpose only. They are multifunctional, as well as my tripod which I used today as a staft. Without it I wouldn’t have climbed the footways and the hill behind the station and the piles of abandoned machines and oil barrels.

The meteostation is located at a terrace, 10 or even 15 meters above the sea shore. Behind two rows of houses a field covered with rusty wheels, caterpillar bands, almost whole tractors and even rows of oil barrels, so common in the Arctic. Then we needed to climb up the clay mountain covered with stones to take a look at Shokalskiy glacier.

— Can you hear that? — our group stood still and stared at the ice wall. It was booming and clattering somewhere there, but we couldn’t understand where exactly. There were several fresh blue “wounds” on the white wall as the sun was shining directly at the glacier and it had its consequences.

— They say, that during previous expeditions it was almost pink, — Tamara Alexeevna narrowed her eyelids. — If we take a look, we can see a light shade now.

— Yes, I can see it, — said Sasha Tokarev putting his camera nearby. — Probably, this is because of the sun, isn’t it?

I decided not to install the tripod properly, just put my camera on it and kneeled down near it. It was a right decision. We heard a crash and I pushed the button automatically.

—  Wow, Ira, you managed to shoot it!

The ice crashed right where my camera was facing and at the very time I pushed the button. The crashed piece of ice must have been huge: there were so many splashes, then the waves started, then everything got quiet again and started to sparkle in the sun. We waited a bit, the glacier also was quiet.

— Doesn’t matter, anyway, I can’t watch it forever! — I turned to the glacier with my back and started taking pictures of the station. Somewhere far away behind my back somebody was indistinctly and unwillingly “honking” and a couple of minutes later we heard the crashing sound again. This time a cave which was a dark spot right in the middle of the ice wall started crashing. The pieces of ice were falling down and the arch was increasing.

— It would be great to put a camera here in such weather for at least 24 hours, — exclaimed Tamara Alexeevna. We all nodded with excitement. — Just fancy, glaciologists live right on such glaciers. They put a tent there and hold their research. We had some glaciologists at the Zhelaniya Cape. 

Madonna in the North

We also had a chance to walk around the abandoned machines field. It was sometimes even picturesque, for example, a whole tractor lying on the ground near a puddle in which it was reflecting. I tried to take a beautiful picture of it. We went around the polar station from the right. Some windows are broken, some are nailed with wooden planks in a very creative way: the planks form letters. Almost all snow has melted in the houses, of course, there is some, but its amount can be neglected.

The historical and cultural module explored every building. In their work they were following the rules: the first was the guard to check the building, than the group started searching for the artifacts. Their task was to find the polar station archive. It hasn’t been found anywhere yet, so there are two possible options: it either disappeared (burnt or got lost), or still remains somewhere in the Russkaya Gavan’. Well, there is a third possible option: someone has found it and decided to keep it.

Equipment, documents and other stuff were taken from the polar station not in a rush, but gradually. And still some things remained here. We managed to find a journal of meteorological observations dating back to 1956, some books from the library and an order which concerns a military unit. We also found a portrait of Madonna. The last employees left Russkaya Gavan’ in 1993-94.

We had enough time to visit the meteostation. The meteoground with antennae and other stuff is still intact. It is unusual that it hasn’t been destroyed by polar bears as they are very curious. Probably, there is enough interesting stuff for them in Russkaya Gavan’.

Again we heard the honking and sniffing sounds from the ice, though this time the sounds were much louder. At a certain moment we even thought that we heard the dog barking. I believe there are walruses here…

There are two geodetic instruments located not far from the meteoground. Silvia Kostovska said that according to the rules, the one which has an “N”-sign on it should be pointing to the North. And it is so, or more or less so as to define the North-direction in high latitudes a compass is not enough. It is necessary to adjust the results due to the dissimilarity of the geographical and magnetic poles.

I started rushing around again. I wanted to take pictures of flowers, stones and people working, to take a look at the house interior, to find some artifacts. I found rusty lock and key on the shore. I will take them with me, and a seashell which I found nearby. Today I am really short of time.

— It is so convenient to have a quay. We can go ashore like decent people, — noted Dmitry Kovalev. Yes, you don’t need to step from the motorboat right in the water which is knee-high. In case your rubber-boots get wet, at first, you feel cold and uncomfortable, then it takes a lot of time to dry it, and if they haven’t dried up till the next landing, you will have blisters on your feet. So I left my rubber-boots on board to get dry and went to the next landing wearing boots. This landing just hadn’t been planned.

The Bogatyi Island

The sea was still almost calm and very beautiful, so we headed for the Bagatyi Island. There is a beach on the island which is really suitable for the walrus rookery, but this time there were no walruses. The nearby rocks were also inhabited: kittiwakes live at the lower and upper parts, guillemots – in the middle. We expected to see little auks, but there were none at the Bogatyi. The station employees used to come here to get fresh eggs and they always came back with full baskets of them, probably that’s why this island is called Bogatyi (in Russian “boratyi” means rich).

Birds mostly settle at the northern slopes of the island.

— Do they get enough sunshine here, at the northern side? Don’t they feel cold? — asked Katya.

— No, — smiled Irina Pokrovskaya. — They pay no attention to it. They appreciate food much more than warmth, and there is more fish on this side of the island.

Guillemots are pretty fat here, I do not understand how they manage to fly. Some do not even try, by the way, they continue sitting on the water surface after a substantial lunch.

There were too many pieces of ice in the water for us. They were partly covered with water and had sharp edges reminding us of planks with nails ashore. So we were moving slowly. Besides, there were stones underwater.

— It’s strange, the snow is dark and grey, but still not melting, — said Silvia.

And then the snow pile started moving

Of course, I wanted to take part in the landing to the Bogatyi Island. There is a cross or its remains which might be of interest, and I also wanted to take a look at the rookery. But I had my hand injured – somebody stepped on it (though it sounds weird), that’s why now I cure my hurt little finger. It looks scary but almost doesn’t hurt. That’s why I started writing the diary only after midnight. But the day isn’t over yet. Some groups are still ashore, thanks to the polar day it is light outside. We want to come closer to the Shokalkiy glacier.

The group got back from the Bogatyi. They went 50 meters away from the boat, and Dmitry Kovalev spotted the steps, and then something yellowish started moving nearby. It was a bear cub!

— Everyone! Get back to the boat!

Until its mother has appeared.

— We are lucky she didn’t see us, — said Liudmila Drachkova. — Probably, she was waiting for a walrus.

And I wasn’t there!

It seems impossible to come to Russkaya Gavan’ and not to see a polar bear. At least, a bear cub. I watched a video of the group running away, they were very team-minded.

The last group got back to the vessel at 3 am.


June 16. Day 10
June 16. Day 10
June 16. Day 10
June 16. Day 10
June 16. Day 10

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Updated 20.06.2016