NP-12: One for all and all for one
Chief of the North Pole-12 drifting station Leonid Belyakov described its life and work by radiotelegraph before the end of its first shift.
Sky, aircraft, ice floe

In early April 1963, the drift participants, polar aviation aircraft and ten tons of cargo were ready to head off to the Arctic. Their goal was to find a suitable multiyear pack ice floe for the station's camp where latitude 76 degrees north crossed longitude 20 degrees west.

The weather was poor for ice reconnaissance with low cloud cover plus fog. The temperature above the ocean did not rise much above minus 28 degrees Сelsius. From the side of the aircraft we could only see black swirls covered in fog. The ice fields were broken up by cracks and hummocks. From up above the ocean looked like an endless floor covered with uneven silvery glazed tiles. After two weeks of exhausting flights we finally found a suitable ice floe.

On the first day we put up a temporary camp on fresh ice. Aircraft were continuously flying in cargo throughout the day and night trying to battle with the blinding sun. Without wearing sunglasses any work was simply out of the question

We proceeded to go and take a closer look at the ice floe. It was shaped like a 4 kilometer by 5 kilometer regular ellipse crisscrossed by rows of hummocks of multiyear ice and standing floes rolled smooth by the wind. There were ridges of solid ice underfoot. It was no easy job to walk due to the fact that our high fur boots didn't have a firm grip on the slippery surface. We decided to put up a camp on the slope of a snow-covered smooth ice ridge. It was 5-7 meters high and the ice was 4-6 meters thick.

It took us just two weeks to put up North Pole-12.

Temporary camp of Severny Polyus-12 station in the Arctic
Temporary camp of Severny Polyus-12 station in the Arctic ©RIA Novosti.B. Golenischev
Just ten remain

The official opening of the station took place on April 31 and our Motherland flag was raised on a mast. We heard a triple salute. The sound was not loud in the icy air and we barely were able to glimpse the rockets in the dazzling sunny sky but we were head-over-heels with joy.

The first weather reports were broadcast. We started on all the observation research programs. Lying ahead of us was a whole year of battling with the elements and bidding farewell to our families and friends. The last aircraft took off for the mainland. There were just ten of us left, fewer than on all drifting stations that were established after the Papanin case.

Calluses on our hands produced by endless construction work started to heal. We listened to broadcasts from Moscow which made it seem like we were not separated by thousands of kilometers of ice from the mainland.

Sun bathing

In early June spring was approaching even at 77 degrees north. The air temperature began to rise above zero around noon. Meltwater appeared in the camp. We had to put on rubber boots instead of our high fur felt ones. There was a lot of trouble regarding groceries. A powerful flow of solar radiation penetrated everything and it was very difficult to stop frozen meat, fish and bread from defrosting.

Radio operator Kirillov is an athlete and a Yoga enthusiast. He was the first to dare to indulge himself in sun bathing which I have to point out to be fair didn't put an extra burden on the work of the doctor.

Polar explorers doing morning exercises
Polar explorers doing morning exercises ©RIA Novosti

Snow buntings — messengers of spring — arrived. Meanwhile, the mainland was over 900 kilometers away. They were flying over the camp and singing. Barking dogs were rushing after them. Later on, sandpipers and lone ducks and sea gulls began to visit our place. On one foggy morning three polar bears approached the camp. They sniffed the air for a long time and then went to the north. The bears started their journey from the coast to the northern areas of the ocean a long time back but only reached our latitudes in early June.


Bears and slippers

Summer has its own charms at the drifting station — the ever blazing sun and the magnificent pure air. The color of the ice and ocean water is amazing. A lake emerged near the station about 300 meters wide and over 500 meters long. It was one meter deep in some places. After supper some of us went sailing on the lake in our rubber boat. A spade was used instead of an oar and there was a singsong to the accompaniment of a guitar. I wouldn't exactly call their singing melodious and the guitar playing was far from in tune.

The 1.5 meter thick ice floe that we used as a runway completely melted away in some places and many seals appeared in thaw holes. On sunny days they laid in the full blaze of the sun for hours on end. Polar bears began to visit us more often. We had to use flare guns to ward them off

Usually they are afraid of the sound of flying rockets but this is not always the case it seems. On July 7, a huge bear walked into our camp. He wandered gloomily around one of the tents, sniffed something on the snow and drank some water from snow swamps. We unleashed our dog Aldan but the bear did not even think of running away and ran after Aldan into the center of the camp. Blank shots did not stop it either. The distance between them was rapidly getting shorter. After a point-blank shot the bear collapsed. He was fatally wounded. There were leftovers of a seal in its stomach, and a thick layer of fat under its skin. Our natural scientists explained its unusually aggressive conduct by a bad tooth.

Our diet became monotonous. We did not have any fresh meat or fish for a rather long period of time and we had to eat all kinds of canned and concentrated food. Our tireless cook Yura made pancakes and flatbread as well as very often omelets and pies. Everyone missed meat but only a few of us liked bear meat. Our cook was emphatically against it. We tried to persuade him to give it a try and he agreed but on the following day he adamantly rejected it. Later on, we found out why. It appeared that our mechanic put slippers on the feet of the gutted bear. After this joke all of us became enthusiastic fans of canned meat.

The North Pole-12 station's chief Nikolai Kudryavtsev, Ph.D. (Technology), making a round of his estate
The North Pole-12 station's chief making a round of "his estate" ©RIA Novosti.V. Kozlov
First snow storm

In mid-September we were getting ready for the fall delivery. The weather was cooling off. The first snow storm took place in the latter part of September. Gusts of wind reached 24-25 meters per second. We heard rattles and crackles at night. Our man on duty tried to calm everyone down by phone, saying that nothing could threaten the station.

However, in the morning we saw the damage that had been done. The biggest structure on our station – the aerologist's pavilion – had been blown away by the wind. Miserable aerologists Nikonov and Sandulenko were walking around the site of the accident site and collecting firewood. The problem was made even worse by the lack of building materials. After a short meeting we decided to build a new pavilion from ice and snow. We put up a frame from the remaining plywood we had, covered it with fragments of ice and snow and poured a lot of water over it. Eventually we managed to assemble durable 0.5 meter thick walls. We turned the remaining pieces of wood into supporting beams and made a roof from plywood and tarpaulin.

Nights became dark. We were approaching a long polar night. We were looking forward to the forthcoming delivery dates and conducted a lively exchange of cables with Leningrad and Moscow. Finally, on October 17 the first aircraft landed on our runway. We received groceries, coal, gas, a great quantity of diesel fuel, gasoline and thousands of small items required for our work.

Artist Igor Ruban flew to us. He rhapsodizes over the Arctic and Antarctic. He worked without a single break for eight to nine hours although the temperature had already dropped below minus 25 degrees Celsius

Arctic explorers repair a landing strip at the drifting station North Pole 12
Arctic explorers repair a landing strip at the drifting station North Pole 12 ©RIA Novosti.V. Kozlov
Dinner invitation

The 46th anniversary of the Great October Revolution was approaching. We were getting ready to celebrate the occasion. We built a snow rostrum. Igor Ruban was busy working on a newspaper, posters and friendly caricatures. Clouds of steam were rising from the new kitchen. The cook was making various types of jellies, pies and biscuits. Our dogs were waiting by the kitchen for hours, bending their heads to the side. It was clear they were waiting for bones.

It was November 7 on our calendar. Our schedule for that day included a rally. The speakers were illuminated by bright torchlights. Flashes of rockets lit up the banner that was solemnly floating ahead of the column of demonstrators.

We walked around the camp. A festive dinner and a glass of wine were waiting for each of us in the main cabin. A beautifully painted menu with an invitation to dinner hung on the wall. The menu consisted of exotic food but many of us made a wry face upon reading about the bear in slippers.

We remain alone

The polar night covered our ice floe and the sun disappeared behind the horizon. On October 26, we still had a bit of light during the shade of the evening but later on in the middle of the day we could only see a narrow crimson strip. Goodbye, daylight!

The delivery of goods was drawing to a close and we thanked the crews and all the others who took care of us. The last aircraft left on November 17. Swinging its on-board lights the aircraft flew to the south towards a light strip on the horizon. We remained alone.

An Il-14 plane in the Central Arctic
An Il-14 plane in the Central Arctic ©RIA Novosti.B. Vdovenko

We did not even notice how the first half of the year's drift went by. Now the time will pass much slower. The station was ready for winter. A snow storm had already laid high snowdrifts. There was an electric lamp over each cabin and from afar the station looked like a small town.

During the evening hours we gathered in the main cabin. There were new books in our library and many new movies. Here, during a polar night a movie has a much greater effect on each of us than on the mainland. Our best chess player Khlopushin conducts simultaneous displays and our station competes in the chess tournament by radio. Some of us, led by Kirillov and the doctor (and me as well) spend some of our free time doing physical fitness exercises but our workouts are different: some of us prefer bar bells, while others do static exercises like long headstands.

Days began to pass much slower and we are thinking about our far-away homes more and more often. Some winterers, for instance our party boss Nikonov, continue their correspondence course programs at institutes.

The physiological influence of darkness on the human body has not yet been studied well enough but it is perfectly clear that polar nights slow down the rhythm of ordinary life — people feel sleepy, their appetite is not as great as usual, days and nights get all messed up


Christmas tree and New Year

Calm cold weather set in at the end of December. The temperature was about minus 40 degrees Celsius. Aurora flashes appeared in the skies in different places and then disappeared again. Pre-holiday concerts were broadcast over the radio. The year 1964 was fast approaching. A snow storm laid whimsical snow drifts and ice started moving. Our hopes for a New Year flight were destroyed simultaneously with the runways. A decision was made to deliver parcels using parachutes.

On December 26, an aircraft under the command of pilot Maltsev flew to our station. We heard the drone of its motor exactly at the indicated time. Camp fires flared up, dark skies were lit by pistol lights and cupolas of cargo parachutes appeared in the air. They started dropping bags in the center of the site. The parcels contained fresh newspapers, books, presents from friends and families, fresh fruit, fish and a Christmas tree with a whole box of decorations.

Explorers with lamps in a snowstorm
Explorers with lamps in a snowstorm ©RIA Novosti.Yuriy Korolev

The holiday began and we started arguing when to celebrate the coming of the New Year. We were in the Western Hemisphere at 173 degrees west and 80 degrees north. In theory, the New Year comes to us almost a day later than it does in Moscow but we could not accept such injustice and decided to start celebrating it on the morning of December 31 (1 pm Moscow time on the same day).

The Christmas tree looks brilliant in the cozy main cabin. It smells good too of resin. The festive table is laid. Everyone is excited because each of us has a lot of news since we received letters quite recently.

We heard the sound of the popping champagne cork that announced the coming of the New Year. Everyone sums up the results of the year by this holiday but our year will only end in April. By that time we could only sum up results for three quarters of the year. We outstripped our targets in many areas. Each is trying to do his best because if one of us makes a blunder, this will tell on the performance of the whole station. The motto "One for all and all for one" is an unwritten rule of polar explorers. Knowledge and experience are very important but only a friendly well-knit team can really carry out excellent work.

The one who is eager will reach his goal

The polar nights have started to decline since December 22, but we will see the sun only on February 26-27.

A polar fox came close to the station. Kirillov and Paramonov decided to catch it. They checked the traps from time to time. In three days this wonderful agile white animal got caught. The doctor put it to sleep. Its soft white fur became a trophy of the hunters. There is no doubt that with time the size of the fox will increase in their stories.

Mechanic Shandrovsky is tireless. His hands are always busy. He does any work on sheet iron or operates as a professional locksmith or as a carpenter. He does everything decently and simply. Shandrovsky has just finished making a carbide lamp. The bright light competes with that of a searchlight.

The cook is pleased with the results of his efforts — some of us have even put on weight. In fact, everybody gains weight at drift stations. Sound sleep, fresh air, physical labor and the regime are doing their job

We often take walks around the camp beneath the Moon in clear weather. We have got used to the darkness and the light of the Moon seems bright to us. Our eyes easily read book font. The ice landscape is unique. During such walks we recall those whose heart stopped in this Arctic desert. The Arctic has not become warmer or more hospitable. It has remained the same as its nature but people who work there and their methods of exploring it have changed. Tight-knit friendly teams replaced solitary explorers. The homeland supplied them with modern equipment and transport. The nature generously opens up its secrets but as before the Arctic severely punishes those who treat it lightly. But this is a land of spectacular opportunities for those who love its spaces and have lofty goals and good knowledge.

Time is passing by. All the days seem the same. Everyone agrees with this. We send long letters and cables to our relatives and get angry when they delay answering us. Our radio operator is in a better position because he often speaks with the mainland. His cabin is full of receipts sent to him from all parts of the world.

We receive many letters from all over the world with each mail delivery. Domestic stamp collectors are the most persistent. Apparently, their number is growing with every year in geometric sequence and we have to put our station's postal stamp on different envelopes more and more often. Maybe in the future stamps cancelled by our station will be much more in demand among stamp collectors as a rarity. We receive many letters from school students, natural scientists and pensioners. Many people ask us how to become a polar explorer. Many young people want to work in the north as members of expeditions. It is possible to answer all of them with the words from the lyrics of a popular song: "The one who is eager will reach his goal."

We still have three months of drifting ahead. Every day, Belousov determines the coordinates of our station by watching the stars. A tangled line appeared on the map. This is our route with the general direction to the north-west. But it will take our ice floe a lot of time to approach some shores.



Excerpts from the chapter "Drops of our labor from the collection of stories "Twelve Exploits,"
Hydrometeorological Publishers, 1964