ExplorersWeb have covered hundreds of expeditions in 2004. It's difficult to choose the best, as they all contributed in their own way, sharing their story - their very soul in fact - with us and the world.
And yet, there are those who continue to linger in our minds long after their final debrief. We have chosen 8 expeditions who have contributed in an extraordinary way to the Spirit of Adventure in the year of 2005.
Today number 8: Expedition Siberia
"This part of the world is one of the few remaining places on earth that is virgin territory. This is a genuine journey of discovery. We believe that it is in this untouched area that the answers to many of the questions asked by modern men are to be found."
This was the introduction that Mikael Strandberg, Titti Strandberg and Johan "Delta" Ivarsson presented when they announced their expedition.
The main aim is to use words, pictures and film to make a record of this unknown part of our world, as not even the Russians or the Siberians themselves have a comprehensive picture of the area along the Kolyma River," the guys said. And that was exactly what they did. In a ten month, 3500km long odyssey, the expedition traveled through deepest Siberia, along the infamous Kolymna river, the feared place of the Kolyma Gulag.
Trip from bad to worse
They would face among the lowest temperatures on Earth, following the River Kolyma in northeast Siberia. There, the permafrost is one and a half kilometers deep and the remains of mammoths over 10,000 years old have been found, almost perfectly intact. Daylight is nothing more than a faint glow on the horizon in the middle of the day. They headed to a very isolated research station: the Northeast Siberian Research Station in Cherskii, near Ambarchik Bay. This is where Expedition Siberia ended.
Hunt for food and nearsighted bears
The trip had begun late summer, and had a tough start. First the men were rendered "too fat" by the Russian Doctors and then Micke's wife left the expedition altogether*. But a short stroll was all that was necessary to turn the tides, "...we went out and took a walk in the surroundings of our camp. Our mental state went directly from 0 up to the top of the scale. We came across fresh tracks from bears and moose and we realized once again, that this really is pure wilderness and were we want to be. Once again we enjoyed life! wrote Micke and Johan one of the first days.
Mosquitoes made their life miserable and nearsighted bears showed up in camp, scaring the hell out of the two: "I knew bears had bad eyesight, but not that it was this bad," they wrote. But Johan, the "kid" was ecstatic: "To live as a trapper, to survive on hunting and fishing. I have now seen that I'm capable of doing just that. What an enormous sense of freedom that gives!"
It was a different story when their dinner depended on it: "Fire - it's food" urged Mikael. And next: "you missed again!" But the hunting picked up: "It took us over an hour to get the fire going in the stove. Good firewood is scarce. We've got two hares hung up in a tree just outside the cot and fish for drying."
The Siberians and the rats
"The Siberian is a true fighter and survivor," dispatched the explorers, determined to paint a more positive picture of Siberia than the usual gloomy version offered by media. "Get real," was the Siberians' response. And then they too learned some Russian reality. As the guys were testing their technology (Contact 3.0) they were accused of spying and terrorism, and arrested by local police passing by in a dark vehicle. A phone call to the teams old friend Sergei the mayor sorted it out, and the guys went on a rat hunt to calm down. They got 15 big ones and had a nice soup.
The Siberian single mother
Now they started to cybercast virtual books. The story of a single mother made top story on ExWeb: "It isn't easy being a teenage mother", explained Violetta to them, "sometimes I pull my hair in frustration! Other visitor's have said that the women of Zyryanka are very modern, have a good knowledge how to use cosmetics and that our fur coats are spectacular. But, then again, having said that, if I could, I would leave Zyryanka right away."
Into the cold
End November it was time to leave the villages for good and face the cold. The trip to the half-point of Srednekolymsk went from bad to worse each day. The average winter temperature is minus 35 degrees Celsius, but it often dips to minus 60 degrees. At such times mercury freezes solid and brandy becomes the consistency of syrup.
It is so cold that trees explode, blue sparks fly from falling timber and when somebody exhales, their breath is transformed into a shower of ice crystals, followed by a tinkling sound referred to as the whispers of the stars. This icy whisper was experienced by almost three million prisoners deported to the most feared of Stalins work camps: the Kolyma Gulag, the Auschwitz of the Soviet Union.
"What, are you going to wear that? No fur? You are going to freeze to death!" said the locals. Already the first day out in the cold, the guys found themselves by the fire in a tiny hunting cabin "with these fantastically friendly Siberian bush men."
But they couldn't stay in the cabins forever. The virtual book novels ended abruptly, and the dispatches were cut short:
"-41F and wolf tracks: "There's so much to tell, but not now!"
The guys were stunned by the cold and ran for their lives: "It is truly cold"... "almost unbearably cold"... "terrifyingly cold"... came their desperate dispatches. "I can't handle the cold anymore, it is so cold right now, but I like to add, I think we're beginning to get things under safe control. We think."
But only the next day, Micke got another 6 frostbites: "I've never in my whole life experienced such a cold!"
-57F 'Nuff said!
Yet through it all, they cybercasted everything. The brutally cold nights in the tent, the temperatures falling by each day: -45F and pitch black at 10 am. Their gear falling apart, and only so many huts to beg at for food, Johan and Micke continued their trip, into Siberias freezing winter darkness. At these temperatures, the thermometers bottom out. The guys own unit broke, and they got the temps over sms from the national weather institute in Moscow. And then, the final dispatch before Srednekolymsk - and the shortest yet:
"-57F 'Nuff said."
Finally, the guys reached Srednekolymsk. The worst part of their journey was over. A month later they headed back out for their final destination: The Northeast Siberian Research Station in Cherskii. "In comparison with our trip between Zyryanka and Srednekolymsk, after only 3 days of skiing, we've discovered two major and important differences! Namely daylight and the arrival of the sun!"
Yet this is when some of their greatest dispatches were made, sprung from conversations with the locals. Anna and Piotr, a reindeer herder couple, offered advice on how to stay married for 50 years:
"You have to have fun together," Piotr said and Anna nodded agreeingly, "If you can't laugh together every day, it will not work."
The son of two murdered Gulag prisoners tells his story
The most powerful story though, was Stanislaws tale.
"Both my parents died in the camp here in Chersky", Stanislaw told the explorers, as they sat in a jeep together overlooking a blood red sunset over the Kolyma river. "My mother was Polish and came from an aristocrat family. That was enough to be considered an enemy of the Communist State and they were therefore taken prisoners during the Second World War and eventually ended up here in Chersky."
"My dad owned a pig farm in Western Siberia. And that was obviously enough to be considered as an enemy of the State. He also ended up here in Chersky, where he met my mother in the camp. That's were I was born," Stanislaw told Micke almost in a whisper.
Micke relayed the story like few explorers can: "Almost bald, his face is hard and rough almost as if chiseled out of granite - a face totally void of feelings. He's always smoking. He always has a scornful and challenging gaze. He's one of those guys you don't want to run into in a dark corner of a street."
"One long slog to be stronger then the rest"
Stan continued his tale, "Both my parents perished in the camp, well, yes, my whole family on my mothers side disappeared and were murdered in Stalin's camps and that name doesn't exist anymore. As a result I ended up as an orphan at a local orphanage. A very difficult time of my life. A place where only the strongest and fittest survived. And I was strong. You had to be. That's why I also survived my years in the military service. I was used to the hard life in the orphanage and knew how to take care of myself. My whole life as a youngster was one long slog to survive and be stronger then the rest."
"Things are the way they are"
Micke and Johan are some of those people who other people trust, and open up to. Stanislaw finished the story in the jeep, as the sun set over the Siberian river:
"Things are the way they are. The past cannot be undone. These were measures which had to be taken at the time, to construct the land we have today. Our Motherland. I understand it fully and agree. I am not doing too bad today. I have a Chukchi wife and two children. And I have a job, which most people don't have right now in Chersky. I shouldn't complain."
Micke ended the chat:
"What's the reaction of your children when you tell them of your exceedingly hard upbringing?" I finally ask Stanislaw, but as usual I get a surprising answer: "I haven't told them. One cannot change the past, but we have to look ahead and forget. Their lives dont get any better just by knowing this."
"But," I exclaim, "if nobody tells about this inhumane and horrendous time, then the knowledge gets lost with your generation and what do we humans then learn from it? If it gets forgotten, it can happen again!"
"I don't care" Stanislaw replies at the same time he's squeezing my hand hard, but with warmth and ends our conversation with these words: "I have to thank you intensely for having spared the time and energy to listen to my complaints."
Shortly after, April 21 2005 the team skied into Ambarchik Bay. The ten month long odyssey of Expedition Siberia was complete.
Johan and Micke stay in our memory for their heart and Shackleton Spirit.
By their performance, the awarded expeditions have proved themselves outstanding in all or most of the following:
- Self reliance
- Respect towards competition
An additional 4 expeditions have received a special mention award:
Marcin Miotk - for his self-sufficiency and courage to speak up.
Minoru Saito - for his humble life of great adventures.
Pavel Rezvoy - for his power of will and refusal to retire.
Fedor Konyukhov, the Renaissance explorer - for his pursuit of fairness.
More about Expedition Siberia
*Husband and wife adventurers Mikael and Titti Strandberg, planned embarking upon an epic journey through Siberia stretching over 3500km. Joining them was a young outdoor talent and hunter, Johan "Delta" Ivarsson. Before the expedition started, however, Titti decided to abort as previous medical conditions rendered a prolonged stay under such cold conditions very unsafe.
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