Analysis and Commentary
Nikolai Nakhodkin on the Cold Pole Unites Oceans expedition: “This is real tourism, not your routine trip to Turkey”.

Nikolai Nakhodkin on the Cold Pole Unites Oceans expedition: “This is real tourism, not your routine trip to Turkey”.

In early July, the Russian Geographical Society will launch its lengthy and complicated Cold Pole Unites Oceans expedition. Scientists and rescue workers will sail just under 3,000 kilometers along rivers from the Okhotsk Sea to the Arctic Ocean. The website has interviewed expedition head Nikolai Nakhodkin on what he and his teammates will encounter during their trip, their upcoming meeting with the Indigirs tribe and possible implications for the tourism industry.

Mr. Nakhodkin, when will the expedition begin, and when do you plan to complete it?

On July 6, the expedition will set out from the town of Okhotsk on the Okhotsk Sea coast, and there are plans to complete it August 8 near the town of Russkoye Ustye on the Arctic Ocean coast. But everything will depend on specific weather conditions and water levels. We will focus on safety, and we will not strive to over-fulfill our plan and to meet specific deadlines, no matter what. Some river sections are impassable during torrential rains, and we will have to act very prudently. It appears that we are in for a rainy summer.  

What is your exact itinerary?

We will travel along the Okhota, Delkyu-Okhotskaya, Delkyu-Kuidusunskaya, Kuidusun and Indigirka rivers, eventually reaching the Arctic Ocean.

Why is your expedition called the Cold Pole Unites Oceans?

Our route passes through the town of Oimyakon (Tomtor), notorious for the lowest temperatures on Earth. Nevertheless, people live there all the time. This is a unique place where even pets and domestic animals have adapted to extreme cold weather. Yakut horses graze out in the open all year round. A colt was even born in the snow in January at minus 57 degrees Celsius. 

Do expedition members plan to install an emblem of the Russian Geographical Society? What does it look like, and where will it be installed?

The emblem of the Russian Geographical Society will be installed at the bifurcation point. This is the only place in the world (just like Mount Everest or the Marianas Trench) where one river, the Delkyu River, divides into two streams and simultaneously flows into the Pacific and Arctic oceans. This highly interesting geographic point is located on the border of Russia's Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) and Khabarovsk Territory. It is the only place where you can sail from one ocean to another. The world also has other river bifurcation points, including those of the Amazon and Orinoco rivers flowing into the Atlantic Ocean. We want the people of Russia to love their Motherland and to know that our country has such unique places.

The emblem of the Russian Geographical Society will resemble a pyramid, with arrows pointing toward the oceans. Someday, this will present local travelers with the choice of turning right for the Pacific Ocean or turning left for the Arctic Ocean.

How many people are involved, and what are their professions?

The expedition involves 11 professionals from the Sakha (Yakutia) Republic's rescue service and five representatives of the Russian Geographical Society, the Russian Union of Rescue Workers and the Our Planet television channel. At first, we wanted to organize a training session for Yakutia's rescue workers on the Indigirka mountain river. There are over 700,000 rivers in Yakutia, and rescue teams need to improve their skills on mountain rivers because inbound tourism continues to develop rapidly. But our rescue workers sailed from the bifurcation point toward Okhotsk and Indigirka. Therefore we decided to pool our efforts and to take part in a tender for a Russian Geographical Society grant, and we won.  Hero of Russia Yuri Vorobyov, Deputy Chair of the Federation Council, actively supported us, and he said he was ready to take part. All rescue workers are members of the Russian Union of Rescue Workers and the Russian Geographical Society. They have repeatedly participated in difficult rescue operations along mountain rivers. Most experts of the Yakutia Rescue Service have an advanced degree. Each of them wears at least five different hats. I, for one, have a Ph. D. in Biology, and I'm also an ecologist and an ornithologist. There are marine biologists, geographers, doctors, professional hunters and trackers, and other experts among members of our expedition.

Is it true that every expedition member is not supposed to carry more than ten kilograms of personal belongings? What is their luggage?

They take only essential items with them. The list of personal effects has been minimized to make up ten kilograms, not to mention research equipment, photo and video cameras. Motor fuel accounts for the bulk of our freight because some towns are located over 1,000 kilometers apart and because there are few refueling stations en route. And we have to leave space for scientific samplings.

How will they adapt? Will they take tents, diesel generators and other items with them?

Our rescue workers are having no trouble living out in the open. They will take tents and diesel generators for recharging their photo and video cameras.

What's the scale of the expedition's risks?

It's rather high. Imagine that you are sailing upstream to reach the height of 1,500m where the bifurcation point is located. It appears that no one has accomplished this to date. Rafting during floods is even more dangerous. In 2013, Roman Mach, the Czech Republic's rafting champion, suffered death  there, and expedition members organized searching for his body at that time.

How long will you travel in boats, and what's the length of the land stretch?

We will sail on boats all the time, and we'll have to drag them from stream to stream when we encounter felled trees and also shallow sections. Information about the region is pretty scarce. Much depends on the weather conditions this summer.

They say that your expedition may encounter the Indigirs that are the settlers in the town of Russkoye Ustye. Do you plan to stop there?

Yes, we will stop in that town which is quite interesting because local residents still use words and expressions dating to the times of Tsar Ivan the Terrible (1530-1584). This shows how remote and isolated this Arctic town is.

What's so unique about your expedition?

For the first time in history, we will travel from one ocean to another along a natural waterway, without crossing the Bering Strait. We will for the first time ever officially mark the river's bifurcation point between the two oceans, and this point is located in Russia. The expedition is quite unique because we will use Russian-made boats that are specially designed to navigate mountain rivers; and we will also test various technologies for surviving in extreme conditions. For example, we will test suits that protect their wearers from rain, wind and snow and keep them warm in cold water for over two hours. Their widespread introduction could save many lives in northern Russia.

What will scientists do during the expedition? How will they collect various materials and carry them around if the space in boats is so limited?

Numerous research institutes, including those of biology, archaeology, permafrost studies and others, are interested in the expedition. Indeed, this is a little-studied region. It is hard to collect high-quality research data while travelling 100 kilometers daily. Therefore we will combine research projects along the main route with works on radial routes. Considering the difficult route, rookies should account for not more than one-third of expedition members, and professionals will sail the rivers, for the most part. Professional scientists, including glaciologists, ornithologists, zoologists and marine biologists, will work on radial routes. If necessary, they will be escorted by rescue workers and mountain climbers. They will have to work from seven to 30 days in one preset area, and expedition members will collect biochemical samples of plankton, water, precipitation, glaciers, etc. in line with coordinated and standard methods that will be approved by them. Naturally, boat crews can conduct ornithological and biological observations and record their findings. Even the behavior of bears is quite interesting because bear-infested rivers teeming with salmon are located at the beginning of the route. Bears which have never seen humans before live upstream. After that, we will sail through natural deposits, and we will later reach places where people hunt bears, etc. The behavioral patterns of bears may be very different.

Scientists specializing in various fields have met with expedition members and offered their expert advice. Archaeologists are confident that ancient humans who travelled through the region eventually settled in North America. Traces of their culture may remain in these sparsely populated areas. Rescue workers who can conduct search operations should be told what to look for. They should be shown stones that were processed by ancient humans and the possible locations of cliff-side drawings. Chances are they will be able to make various finds. Rescue workers also use up-to-date equipment, including quad-copters with high-quality video cameras, and they can quickly and effectively study residual mountains along their entire height. We will have no problem determining the boundaries of the god-forsaken town of Zashiversk, the former capital of the Indigirka Territory, and compiling is diagram. This will make it possible to list the town among various historical landmarks.

Will tourists find all this interesting? Isn't this route too long and difficult, all the more so as it's impossible to quickly stop and leave the route?

In principle, tourists will be very interested. Pristine nature is located all around. Although there are no cafes and other signs of civilization in the vicinity, untouched wild nature is everywhere. It is possible to divide the route and to travel it stage by stage. One section would include the Okhota River, Okhotsk and the bifurcation point, with people sailing it upstream or downstream. This river provides wonderful fishing opportunities where people can catch chum, pink and blueback salmon, etc. there. Local residents claim that it's possible to walk across the river on the backs of fish during the spawning season.

It is also possible to raft along the Kuidusun River where an airfield is located. During World War II, about 200 planes used to land there from the United States under the Lend Lease Act.) Dozens of planes that either crashed or made emergency landings there remain unaccounted for. Oimyakon, the unique Cold Pole, is located here. The largest gold nugget weighing over nine kilograms was found on the banks of the Indigirka River. In 2015, scientists found well-preserved bodies of cave-lion cubs that looked as if they had perished a week ago. Scientists believe that a large unknown animal lives in Lake Labynkyr. Numerous mammoth remains are located in the lower reaches of the Indigirka River. The unique Kytalyk wildlife sanctuary where extremely rare white cranes nest is also located there. One can talk about this magnificent region for a long time. We would like to raise public awareness of this unique region's wonderful potential. Coming here is real tourism, not your routine trip to Turkey.

The entire route can be divided into approximately seven-day segments among district centers that can be reached by commercial airplane.