SP-9: Fighting the elements
Vladimir Shamontyev, an engineer and oceanologist, was in charge of several expeditions to the Greenland Sea, took part in high-altitude airborne trips and was stationed on the drifting North Pole-3 station. In 1960 and 1961 he headed the North Pole-9 (SP-9) drifting research station and kept a log of the expedition
The first days at the station

The first entry in the logbook was as follows: On April 12, 1960, the Li-2 plane landed on the ice at the 77° 23' north latitude and 163° 00' east longitude. The explorers found an ice flow suitable for the North Pole-9 station.

Comfort wasn’t important during our first days at the station, but it would eventually be an issue. First we had to set up a tent for living and cooking. After an hour, we sat at the table. Petrovich served pelmeni (dumplings), sausages and tea. About 16 hours had passed since we had breakfast in Tiksi but we were so tired that we did not even feel hungry. The six of us just drank a seven-liter pot of tea.

Time for bed. We lie on ordinary folding beds in warm sleeping bags made of wolverine fur. Each of them contained a smaller bag made of fur and eiderdown. It is blistering cold in the tent — it was minus 26 the whole day. To get a little warmer, we switch on a gasoline lamp and fall asleep instantly

At 2 am we wake up. During the night, our clothes had frozen and our fur boots seemed to be made of stone. We could hardly put them on. We eat a quick breakfast and rush to the airfield. We bring a pre-fab house into our temporary camp and start putting it together.

In the meantime, planes keep flying in from Tiksi to our ice floe. More and more people arrive in the ice camp.

Today we met with press and radio journalists, correspondents from TASS, Sovertskaya Rossiya, Komsolmolskaya Pravda, Krasnaya Zvezda and Sovetskaya Aviatsiya. They took lots of photos and interviewed every person on the ice floe. For some reason, the cook was the most popular person with the journalists.

Our camp on the floe is gradually settling in. Several people assemble the house between unloading the planes. By the end of the day, there are ten tents and one house in the camp. When the assembly of the house was finished, we lit a fire and it felt warm and cozy right away.

Petrovich had put his kitchen in apple-pie order. He organized a cookhouse and a common room in a separate tent. Petrovich arranged his store of food outside the tent, made soups and fried hamburger in the cookhouse, and offered us tea and coffee

While on duty in the camp, Anatoly Vorobyev is preoccupied with many things: he helps Petrovich cook lunch, sets the table, washes the dishes, melts ice into water, monitors the ice situation and conducts meteorological observations (during one day, Tiksi receives 16 weather reports). He will have to stay awake all night, allowing his co-workers to have a good sleep.

On the following day, we choose a site for a reserve runway. This is a must because one runway is always under permanent threat of an ice break.


A dangerous situation

Today, the relentless Arctic weather gave us our first unpleasant surprise: our floe split almost in half. The planes are parked on our side but the runway is on the other side. In an hour, the split reached three meters but began to close later on. There appeared small ice hummocks on the edges of the floe. Soon the ice stopped moving apart and the split began to be filled with newly formed ice. If the ice doesn't move, we'll be able to accept planes because the runway is intact. We will just have to wait and see.

Because of the split, we had to take the cargo on thin ice to the temporary camp. By night, only a tractor was still there. A plane will bring fuel for it tomorrow. If the ice starts shifting at night, we'll have to haul the tractor to the pack-ice.

Today, we measured the ocean depth for the first time. It was 121 meters

Four planes left Tiksi for the floe, one by one, on the following day, April 19. The unloading process went so smoothly that a plane could leave after only 10 or 15 minutes, allowing the next one to land.

When the last of the four planes left the flow, the split began to widen, moving us further from the runway. In several hours, the split was 200 meters wide.

Face to face with a bear

One more event took place later in the day. It could have ended in tragedy. About 11 pm, one hour before wakeup time, Petrovich went to the storehouse to get some food. As he left the tent (he's tall and has a hard time leaving the tent) our cook came face to face with a huge polar bear. With surprising dexterity for his size, the cook jumped back inside. On hearing cries for help, our on-duty man, Vorobyev, ran from the common room to help. Ten meters away from the tent he saw the master of the Arctic looking at him sideways. Vorobyev fired into the air, trying to scare off the unwanted guest but instead of retreating the bear came towards him. Vorobyev fired at the bear, and it fell to the ice. When Dima Kirillov skinned it and dressed the carcass, he saw that the bear's stomach was completely empty. The others teased Ivan about his narrow escape from becoming the bear's breakfast for a long time.

Ice flow cracks, unloading the planes and camp assembly did not stop the preparations for our regular research. Until now we have only monitored the weather under an abridged program for aviation and have rarely measured the depth of the ocean

April 28. At midnight, we conducted our first observations under the full program. From now on, the meteorologists will record the readings from their instruments every three hours in any weather as long as the station exists. Viktor Voronin transmitted his first weather report to the mainland from the station's radio. In a few hours, his fellow workers at several weather stations on the mainland will receive maps depicting the weather at yet another Soviet meteorological drifting station — SP-9. This was a milestone for us, the official opening of the station. We had a little rally at 6 pm on the ice and raised the national flag of the Soviet Union.

A polar bear
A polar bear ©RIA Novosti
A night incident

A seal climbed onto the ice from a new water-lead tonight. This is a rare guest in such high latitudes. Awkwardly moving on the ice, the seal reached the flag on our former runway and ate it. Baring its teeth he tried to reach out to the spectators that were happy to see such a wondrous beast. Then he plunged into the water and disappeared under the ice.

On June 4, we conducted our usual scientific observations and received a plane that delivered five cameramen from Kiev and Irkutsk and fuel for our camp. Representatives of the most powerful tenth muse — the muse of the cinema — are dominating our life. They are full of energy, running around on our ice floe and filming everything that is of interest to them. Hollywood stars couldn't keep up with many of our staff members.

Another polar bear incident took place during the night: another one showed up in our camp. He was fairly young and thus not experienced or scared. The bear walked near our weather station. We decided not to scare him and woke up the cameramen. "Art requires sacrifice," they mumbled as hey jumped out of the tent with cameras, half-dressed. One of them, Mishin, had a problem with his camera then and ran outside in his underwear and barefoot. It was an interesting scene: the bear's adventures and the wild dances of a barefoot Mishin. He ran around barefoot for at least five minutes until the doctor gave him rubber boots that he put on the wrong feet

Having watched and photographed the unwanted guest long enough, we decided to get him out. Shamontyev interrupted his dignified walk by firing shots from a signal flare pistol. The cameramen, happy about their fortunate encounter, held an improvised news conference in the common room. Loud talking, noise and bursts of laughter continued until morning.

Drifting stations' staff launch a meteorological airship
Drifting stations' staff launch a meteorological airship ©RIA Novosti.Strakhov
Hello from the mainland

On August 29, the radio made us happy with a broadcast for our station. Several minutes before the broadcast, people gathered in groups wherever there were loudspeakers. We heard a familiar voice on the speaker: "This is Radio Moscow. We are beginning our broadcast for the residents of the North Pole-9 drifting research station."

As usual, we first heard the sea song about the flight of the white-winged seagulls. Then we heard the voice of our old friend Matvey Frolov, "My dear friends, my friend Shamontyev. To begin with, I'd like to tell you about the news from Leningrad. It is still summer here; there is a lot of sun. Fruit and berries are being sold in the streets everywhere. An exhibition of flowers and berries opened the other day. Georgy Vorontsov-Velyaminov, Pushkin's great grandson, arrived in our city a few days ago. A number of ships that brought sugar from Cuba are being unloaded in our port. There are American and Norwegian ships at the piers. The new flagship of the whaling fleet, the Yury Dolgoruky, with a displacement of 40,000 tons has been recently set afloat. The premiere of the play "Farewell to White Nights" is being shown at the Leninsky Komsomol Theater. The metro opened a new lobby at Ploshchad Vosstaniya station. Our television station is getting ready for pilot broadcasts of color television…"

After this, our family members came to the microphone one by one. The children's squeaky little voices lack confidence. You should have seen how a dad listens to the changed voice of his child, having forgotten everything else, clinging to the radio with pride. The broadcast ends in an hour

Voronin is tired but content: the quality of the reception was good and the whole broadcast was recorded. Now he switches on the tape recorder and the loudspeakers repeat the broadcast because everyone wants to listen again.

New Year’s letters

December and January are the worst months of the winter. We all look like walkers on a long uphill road. To avoid giving up, you set a target — a forest, a hut or a tree that must be reached. Having reached the first one, you set another one. This is what we are doing.

We have made it to the beginning of the fall delivery, which is scheduled for October. November 7 was another milestone. Now the nearest target goal is Ivan Fedorov's birthday. Then we will wait for December 22, the middle of the polar night, then the New Year, the beginning of spring twilight and, finally, the blessed Sun. Anyone who hasn't been through a polar night won't understand how difficult it is to live without the Sun.

Low temperatures affect the condition of the ice: it starts to crack. We can hear the sound of the crackling. The polar explorers are always on guard. Many volunteer to be on duty. Given this vigilance, nature will not catch us off guard. We are not casual about it and have to live under constant stress.

December 25. Hurrah! Mazuruk's plane is coming. We'll have to go around and collect the New Year's cargo and mail after it drops, but we are happy anyway. After several hours the plane flies over our ice floe. We see white parachutes in the foggy air. There are lots of letters, newspapers, magazines and provisions in the common room. The plane delivers apples, oranges and a fur tree (how can we celebrate the New Year without it!)

The Baking Industry Institute and workers at the Baking Plant of Leningrad's Moscow District sent us several boxes of bread and buns intended for long-term storage.

There are hundreds of letters. Full of warm sympathy and good wishes, they came from all parts of the country from our friends and from people we don't know. The most excited letters are written by young people that like everything new and romantic.

There are unfamiliar stamps on many envelopes and addresses are written in foreign languages. Yet they contain the warm words from good ordinary people. We have always felt the concern and attention of our many friends and this was the best support in our struggle with the forces of the polar elements over a year.


Evacuation from the ice floe

Ice movement is always a concern for us. Sometimes we think there are cracks under our houses or at least very close to our camp.

Pieces of ice are squeezed on all sides. The small area that supports our station has cracked in half again. The remaining piece is just 150×200 meters.

An emergency move is underway. The building and tents are carried over the crack one by one and placed near the runway. We report this to the officials in charge of our high-latitude expedition.

The order to leave the ice flow came as a surprise. Having spent a year at the station, we have become used to cracks, relocation, emergencies and any surprise. No matter how worrisome it was, we never thought about leaving our fragile but livable ice floe. But, an order is an order

March 29. The last day for the station and our 352nd day on ice. Makartsev came in the morning and an hour later we bid him goodbye for the third time. Our chef Petrovich is leaving with over half a ton of cargo. Only four of us remain on the ice floe.

The last flight. The remaining boxes with instruments are loaded on the plane. At 9 am Yury Kolosov goes to the weather station for the last time.

In several minutes, the weather report is followed by the last radiogram: "On March 29, we complete the transfer of people to Blinov. Anyutin, Voronin, Kolosov and Shamontyev will leave the ice flow in 30 minutes. The work of the first shift at the SP-9 drifting station is complete"

I took four books from the common room and gave them to our pilots, four members of the courageous crew. The following words are written in each book: "My dear friend, leaving the SP-9 drifting station where we lived on ice for a year full of challenges and hard labor, we would like to thank your crew from the bottom of our hearts for your excellent performance and friendly help in the most difficult days of our stay."

The entire crew of this small plane — Captain Yevgeny Makartsev, navigator Yevgeny Nikolayev, mechanic Vladimir Vodopyanov and radio operator Ivan Shalamov — showed great courage during these two days.

We go to the flagpole with the crew. The national flag of the Soviet Union is slowly going down. The station is closed and our work is done. During almost a year our station travelled a wandering route of 2,500 km, having moved 1,000 km forward in its main north-northeast direction.

Goodbye our ice floe!


Excerpts from the chapter "A Year of Struggle Against the Elements" from the collection Twelve Exploits
Hydro-Meteorological Publishers, 1964