Dimitri Kieffer completed what he calls, The Missing Link, from Knik Lake near Anchorage, Alaska, USA to Omsukchan, Russia which he has accomplished over the course of 6 winters (2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2011) while trekking, snowshoeing, skiing, swimming and even sledding.
He tells ExWeb's Correne Coetzer about his experiences the past two Spring seasons in Russia. In this first part, he starts with last years trek; the route, his early stop, the challenging areas after his team mate left and coping with his physical problems.
ExplorersWeb: How do you feel about the fact that you have to stop before your planned destination?
Dimitri: Fine! It really comes with the territory over here! When it can take anywhere from 2 weeks to 1 month to just get to your starting point or extract yourself from your end point (or at least the point where you had to stop such as Vayegi in 2008 and Paren in 2010), you do the best you can with the 3 months allocated time that you have!
Indeed, my current visa for the Russian Federation stipulates that I can only be in Russia 3 months out of every 6 months period and this is why I have to leave and return to my home in Seattle every time or at least leave the Russian Federation.
This rule is by the way, very similar to what countless Russians experience when traveling through Europe or United States.
Furthermore, until I get to a permanent road in Omsukchan, I am in a part of the country where I can only travel during the winter and early spring months since I have to often travel on kilometers and kilometers of frozen rivers, swamps and lakes.
The rivers often run in opposite direction of mine, and either at a dangerous speed and/or are clogged with killer logjams, waiting at every bend. This matter alone would preclude me from being able to progress while wading/kayaking through them in summer months.
ExplorersWeb: When you started, did you plan that Nyurgun would accompany you all the way in this expedition?
Dimitri: For reasons, I have explained in above, it was very difficult to predict the future We both thought we will try to go as far as we could together, knowing though that Nyurgun had to return to his work as a postal employee in Anadyr in early May.
Consequently, when we arrived in Slautnoye in mid-April, and when we saw that at that point, he had the rare opportunity to be able to return home via wezdehod to Telichiki and then on a plane (via Korf through Petropavlosk-Kamchatsky and finally Anadyr), Nyurgun took the opportunity and jumped on the wezdehod to return home.
ExplorersWeb: The last push from Brigade #8 to Paren seemed physically challenging and with crevassed areas. Did you miss a team mate?
Dimitri: No, I simply realized then how clearly focused I needed to be along every step, making sure that neither my sled nor I would disappear in a 15 feet crevasse.
By that point, I had been trekking for about 1.5 months and was very much in tune with my body and gear, allowing me to progress efficiently, although still quite slowly!
B.t.w., I chose to progress along the coastline jumping from one ice block to the next (as I had previously been accustomed to do while crossing the Bering Strait in 2006) in my kayaking semi-dry suit because I was told by the Koryak herders at Brigade #8 that my only chance to still being able to pull my sled forward in late April / early May in the then snow less region was to progress along the coast where I could find indeed a narrow sliver of ice that I could follow along the coast almost all the way to Paren.
ExplorersWeb: How did your body feel, in particular your back that kept you home the previous year?
Dimitri: In spring 2010, the biggest health related problems that I had were very painful large blisters on both of my ankles, which were not eager to heel quickly. This was partly because of their location on the back of my ankles where they were constantly exposed to moving friction while progressing by foot and by skis.
I tried multiple gazes, antibiotic pills, and creams (some were even given to me at the first brigade I came across by my kind friend Sasha, a Chukchi reindeer herder). I was especially frustrated with these gaping blisters because I believed that they could have been to some extent prevented if I would have taken the time to stop and treat them more carefully during my first days of trekking out of Vayegi. Sadly, trying to keep up with a healthier impatient partner, I did not take a sufficient amount of time to do so.
I believe that these blisters were partly caused by a new type of back country ski boots which I was using and to which, my feet did not have enough time to get accustomed to.
My repaired and screwed in tight back miraculously did not cause me too much pain despite the heavy load I was pulling (130-150 kg).
However, from time to time to smoothen the ride, I would stretch it in my tent at night following the exercises that were recommended to me by an ex-physical therapist friend Gary McGuire. I also used from time to time a back brace when I would feel a pull in my lower back. This brace seems to be able to alleviate the pain quite tremendously.
The main reason why I have to pull a much heavier load in Russia than I did while crossing Alaska is because I am operating in an environment where I must be much more self-reliant and have a greater autonomy.
Indeed, villages can be as far apart as 400-500 km with no distinct trail to follow in between, which means that I have to carry enough dehydrated meals and fuel (to make my water out of snow) for a period that can be as long as a month long.
For example, in 2008, when I progressed from Krasneno to Vayegi, I saw only one tin can in one month! No other sign of civilization I was definitely not alone thoughI came across countless bears, foxes and birds. Beautiful!
ExplorersWeb: Looking back at this section, do you think you could have done something differently or planned better, or taken another route?
Dimitri: Back in 2007, when Karl Bushby and I split in Anguema, Chukotka, because in part he wanted to progress along the Northern winter road via Pevek, Bilibino, Omolon, etc. and I wanted to take a southern route via Egvekinot, Anadyr, Vayegi, Evensk and Omsukchan.
The southern route seemed mileage wise much shorter on the map and according to the 20+ years old American maps I had, I could see drawn on it old trails/roads connecting almost all the way to Magadan and the Kalima road of bones
However, I progressively discovered along the way that these winter roads were neither existent nor easy to follow!
Furthermore, I also found out that the in-between sections where I would have to pierce from one bit of existing trail to the next were actually more challenging that they first appear on the map. Indeed, for example, once I arrived in southern Chukotka, I quickly realized that I could no longer travel in a straight line, but needed to follow for the most part frozen river beds because of the omnipresence of bushes and brushy vegetation everywhere else, which I needed to pierce through with my sled, often using a machete
However, once I was already down in southern Chukotka, having already covered quite a few kilometers since Anguema, I realized that I was indeed fully committed to my southern route. It was by then too late to ever consider changing my mind, back track through Anguema and going through the Northern route.
ExplorersWeb: Did you regret having made that decisive choice in Anguema?
Dimitri: No, not at all, I went through a beautiful part of the world at my own pace, came across isolated villages, two intriguing reindeer brigades, met fascinating persons and I believe that I will cherish the experience I have lived over the last few years for the years to come
In 2010, I could have chosen to depart a little bit earlier such as in January rather than February but then again, at that time, I would have faced some of the coldest temperatures, reaching potentially 55째C, which become dangerous to operate in, especially when I have fingers that have previously suffered from frostbites.
Also, looking back, I believe that if I would have known better, I would have chosen to depart from Vayegi alone rather than with an unknown entity such as a trekking partner that I barely knew. Of course, trekking alone through a remote and cold part of the world is not the safest method to progress but neither is traveling with the wrong risk-taking partner.
[Click here to hear what Dimitri learned from the local people in Far Eastern Russia.]
Dimitri Kieffer was born in France and moved to the USA when he was 17. He runs ultra-marathons and participates in adventure races. Since 2005, Dimitri has continued to evolve, transferring from adventure racing to full blown expeditions, like this Circumnavigation around the Globe with only using human power.
The circumnavigation started on February 26, 2005 at Knik Lake, near Anchorage, Alaska. Dimitri plans to complete the entire Nexus Expedition by 2016.
Stages already completed:
First Section: Knik Lake (near Anchorage, Alaska) - Nome (Alaska)
Feb April 2005, 37 days, 1100 miles 1770 kilometers
Completed by foot (trekking & snowshoeing) the Iditarod Trail Invitational race
Second Section: Nome (Alaska) Wales (Alaska)
Feb 2006, 9 days, 115 miles 185 kilometers
Completed by foot (Trekking & Back Country Skiing)
(with Goliath Expedition - Karl Bushby)
Third Section: Nome (Alaska) Uelen (Russia) Bering Strait Crossing
March 17-31 2006, 14 days, 5 days where swimming was required
200 miles 322 kilometers
Completed by foot (trekking & back country skiing) & swimming
(with Goliath Expedition - Karl Bushby)
Fourth section: Uelen to Egvekinot (Chukotka, Russia)
April 12- May 16 2007, 34 days, 425 miles 684 kilometers
Completed by foot (Back Country Skiing and only trekking after Vastoshisno)
Uelen - Anguema (with Goliath Expedition - Karl Bushby)
Anguema - Uelen (solo)
Egvekinot to Vayegi (Chukotka, Russia)
April 15 - June 7, 2008
exact amount of trekking days still being tabulated
Approximately 600 miles / 965 km
exact number of miles still being tabulated.
Completed on foot (back country skiing, trekking with a backpack and pulling the sled simultaneously, swimming and using the sled as kayak while going down rivers).
Vayegi (Chukotka, Russia) - Paren (Kamchatka, Russia)
March 11 - May 13 2010
707 km completed, 63 days.
Location May 17, 2010:
N 62째 25.040'; E 163째 05.160'
Paren, Northwestern Kamchatka
Total kilometers covered Spring 2010: 707.2 km
Manily to Paren 199.4 km
In March 2010, Dimitri return to the village of Vayegi and continued by foot and skis while pulling a sled moving Southwest towards Kamchatka. He completed the first month in company of Yakut trekker Nyurgun Efremov who stopped in the village of Slautnoye, Kamchatka.
From there on, Dimitri completed the next 200 km in company of three beautiful erring dogs and reached Kamenskoye. After having left the 3 canines in good company, he continued solo, mostly following the coastline where he could still find barely enough ice to slide his sled on, swimming and backpacking along the way and was finally able to reach the remote Koryak fishing village of Paren.
Dimitri was also enthused to be able to meet and stay for a few days along the way with two different "brigades" of reindeer herders, a Chukchi one and a Koryak one, where he was able to learn and appreciate their nomadic culture.
Paren (Kamchatka, Russia) - Omsukchan in Magadanskaya Oblast.
Dimitri is returning in Kamchatka in February 2011 to continue trekking and skiing 423 miles (680 km) from Paren in Kamchtaka Koryak Okrug to Omsukchan in Magadanskaya Oblast. He plans to cover this section by skis and snowshoes, while pulling a sled on tundra, considering the absence of roads in this remote part of the world. His route should take him from Paren to Omsukchan via Verniy Paren, Chaibura, Ghiziga, Evensk, Tavatum and Merenga.
Position: April 25, 2011:
N62째 30.987, E155째 46.342 Omsukchan
595 km travelled
Dimitri plans to have completed the entire expedition by 2016, upon reaching Knik Lake, after having circumnavigated the globe via human power.
Dimitri Kieffers expedition videos.
Dimitri Kieffer is blogging over CONTACT 5
British Karl Bushby, an ex-paratrooper, born in 1969, has already walked through South, Central and North America, Alaska, across the Bearing Strait (with Kieffer) and through a part of North-eastern Russia where he stopped on May 18, 2008 at Bilibino, Chukotka, and continued in 2011.
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