Magazine article Russian Life

Crossing Siberia

Magazine article Russian Life

Crossing Siberia

Article excerpt

Russia first began to pull on me back in 2010, while I was in Central Asia on a climbing expedition to make a first ascent in Kyrgyzstan's Tian Shan Mountains. Over the five years that followed, I ventured further into more remote comers of Central Asia and into countries on the perimeter of modern day Russia.

Each place I visited and the unique people I encountered fueled my fascination with the region: a camo-clad Siberian driving through the Western Mongolian town of Olgy, heading towards the Altai Republic with two freshly shot adult wolves lashed to the hood of his UAZ 4x4, blood trickling from their noses onto the streets; two Russians who bombed their way enthusiastically across the Eastern Kazakh steppes in an old beater car to cheerily greet my friend and I with a toast of vodka as we journeyed across Kazakhstan on horseback in 2013; or Radik, a boisterous and good-humored man originally from Russia who decided to become a camel breeder and herder in the Kyzyl Kum desert of northern Uzbekistan. My interest in the world's largest country grew with each new incident.

It was on a trip paddling in the Barents Sea of Arctic Norway, on the tiny Grense Jakobselv River less than 20 meters from the Russian border, that I realized it was time to experience and explore Russia from the inside. I was mesmerized by how big it was, knowing that, from this insignificant point on the Russian-Norwegian border, the coastline ran unbroken for thousands of kilometers all the way to China.

The country's physical size and beauty captivated me with its possibilities, and it was Siberia that particularly drew me in. Unlike Canada, Greenland and Scandinavia, Siberia was truly foreign. Its vast, beautiful and widely varied landscape remains almost untouched by Western culture and language. Five million square miles of outstanding natural beauty stretching from the Ural Mountains to the Bering Strait and home to the world's largest terrestrial biome: the endless taiga forest that wraps itself in and around other equally fascinating local environs like the southern steppes, the Arctic tundra, endless bear-riddled coastlines, and mighty rivers powering their way north. To me it represented a true frontier.

A year before the trip began, I started my research by reading popular books such as Colin Thubron's In Siberia and Anna Reid's The Shaman's Coat. I was excited by the stories of early Russian and indigenous explorers who pioneered the Siberian River Routes as a means to explore Far Eastern Siberia, and to develop trade and build settlements in otherwise hard-to-reach lands. The story of Ivan Moskvitin --the first non-indigenous man to reach the Pacific Ocean--particularly piqued my interest, especially considering that their team completed the journey more than 60 years before the more widely known Lewis and Clark expedition across the western US.

Taking inspiration from Moskvitin's exploratory sojourns down Siberia's waterways, I began to explore the possibility of utilizing the river systems in the modern-era to traverse the true wild extent of Siberia: from the southwest to the most easterly point of the Eurasian Continent, Cape Dezhnev. Thus was the Crossing Siberia project born. The method of tackling the route was to be "multidisciplinary," combining travel on foot, by ski, kayak, and, most crucially, by packraft (lightweight inflatable boat) for travel on the vast river sections.

I was also equally motivated to use the journey as a conduit to create an adventure travel film series that would tell the story of the unique people and places in this expanse of wilderness, to provide an opportunity for a wide inter national audience to learn about the country's fascinating history, its diverse cultural make-up, and gain an understanding of how the socio geographical landscape changes from region to region.

THE FIRST SEGMENT OF MY JOURNEY took me to Tuva, a Russian republic bordering Northern Mongolia. …

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