Translation: "Listen dude, I am in the village of Paren!!!"
Coincidentally, "Paren" in Russian means: "dude, guy, boy, fellow, lad, chap, boyfriend"...
Monday May 17th 2010
N 62° 25.040'; E 163° 05.160'
Paren, Northwestern Kamchatka
Total kilometrage covered
Spring 2010: 707.2 kms
Since Manily: 199.4 kms
Yes, I finally reached the village of Paren (my last village in Kamchatka!) on Friday morning May 14th at 02:30, my 63rd and last day of the 2010 Nexus expedition edition.
I was hoping to be able to continue further with a backpack, and reach the next village of Verkhniy Paren, 60 kms of tundra away...
My local koriak friend and host Yura Chansev was going to bring and drop my sled and remaining gear/supplies/food/fuel via snowmobile on the "tundra trail".
But Mother Nature decided otherwise...
Between here ( Paren) and Verkhniy Paren, they are now a lot of exposed snowless tundra and three rivers to cross which makes now the journey impossible with a snowmobile...
The rivers crossing points are indeed currently 1.8 meters (6 feet) deep, thanks to the large amount of melting snow pouring down neighboring mountains...
And of course, the usual winter alternative "Paren river trail" is obviously now closed to snowmobiles for the season! A few more weeks actually and it will be open to small boat traffic!
So, for now, my only option is to stop my expedition and plan to return next winter in February 2011 so that I can continue forward towards the Magadanskaya Oblast (Verkhniy -Paren, Chaybukha, Evensk, Tavatum, Omsukchan).
Why not return any sooner in the 2010-2011 winter?
Because I need to wait until the later stage of the winter to potentially be able to benefit from stable solidly frozen rivers and consequently established zimnik-winter roads between Verkhniy-Paren and Omsukchan.
This will also give me enough time to find a way to repair my sled which took a beating over the last section of dragging and pulling through dirt, sand and rocks. The two damaged plastic covers of the rudders/fins underneath needs to be replaced if I want to make sure that I can still pull my sled efficiently in 2011.
Now, in the meantime, my next big challenge is to find a way to get home, back in Seattle, USA!
Paren, a koriak village of 62 koriak, white Russians and metisse inhabitants, located in a small forest of birch, poplar and mountain ash trees, near the northwestern coast of the Penzhinskaya Guba/Bay is quite isolated indeed with a very limited amount of transportation available with the outside world.
Especially during the spring snow/ ice melting season when the rivers are already closed to wezdehods/snowmobiles but yet not open to boat traffic.
Therefore, I now need to wait here in Paren, 2-3 weeks until early June, for the ice in the bay to melt sufficiently to allow for the first barge to come and return to Manily, one day of sailing away...
The ice melting process might still take a while considering that it was still snowing here in Paren, 48 hours ago!
The only exception to this long wait would be if I could benefit from getting a ride in a "sanreis" medical emergency helicopter, which is very rare and that I certainly don't wish to happen to anyone!
However, Olesia, my host is 7 months pregnant and gave birth at 7 months for her first child! If she needs to give birth anytime soon, I will be getting a ride on the medical helicopter with her taking her away to Manily!
In any event, from Manily, I will have to wait up to a week to take the weekly helicopter flight to Telichiki.
Then in Telichiki, wait 3-4 days for the helicopter flight to Petropavloski-Kamchatka and then wait potentially a few more days to fly to either Moscow or Khabarovsk to be able to leave Russia either westbound via Europe or eastbound via Asia and from there find a way back to my permanent home in Seattle, USA.
So, the whole repatriation endeavor might take up to a month and a lots and lots of patience!
But, such is life in this forgotten northwestern koriak corner of Kamchatka.
Paren is in deed a poor village, with one of the emptiest Russian store I have seen, where I can only buy a very few products such as pasta, rice, wheat, honey and coffee.
The village used to have up to 500 koriak inhabitants and was for a long time specialized in the blacksmith trade. Local craftsmen hammered out the so-called parenkie knives of metal fragments, which were found on the beach after a shipwreck....
This is definitely no longer the case and the village population has now tremendously dropped to 62 souls, living in a few individual wooden modest homes and a few great banyas where I have thankfully been invited.
The wooden rectangular homes are spread apart the middle of a small forest clearing, near the river Paren.
The houses are heated with wooden stoves, which is not always an easy task to follow when one considers that in winter it is not uncommon for temperatures to drop to -50c.
Water is available at a few wells sparsely located in town and electricity is provided by a centralized diesel generator from 08:00 to 13:00 and from 15:00 until 01:00.
The town has a very small school and even an old "Club"-Hall for communal special celebrations/holidays.
Transportation is assured by a few snowmobiles, tractors, dogsleds and small boats.
The paths between the houses are currently quite difficult to navigate by foot, unless you are wearing high overall boots because of the large quantity of snow melting very quickly, inundating/flooding the village.
Each house seems to have at least 3-4 dogs, some charming and others much more guarding and threatening!
It's a good thing I did not try to bring along with me my three canine compadre and left them in Kamenskoye to be shipped back to their homes in Slautnoye! Their lives in Paren could have been very miserable and/or short!
The town only has 2 phones (3 if you now count my satellite phone that I have been loaning from time to time to relief some of my Parenski peers...), of course absolutely no internet access and only one TV channel (Piervere Canal Russia).
I can only say how much the games available on my Ipod have provided some welcomed distraction for my hosts!
I have been looking in vain while in Paren for a computer to allow me to sort off-line through my thousands of pictures... No luck!
I guess someone wants me to focus on higher priorities right now, such as experiencing Parenski life to its fullest and working on my Russian, which badly needs some attention!
Since it is quite challenging and very expensive to bring in any food items, the local population diet rely heavily for proteins on what they are able to fish and hunt... Smoked koruchka, salmon, caribou stew, etc...
Right now, almost everyone is spending their days, hidden in bushes on the coast, waiting for the flocks of big geese and "Juravel" migrating North, to pass by in V formation flight, high above in the sky.
Shooting at the flocks with homemade bullets, one is hoping to shoot a few down to add some protein to their soup... Exciting news in a region where live chicken and any other domestic poultry are non-existent, because of the prohibitive cost of having to feed them during the rude extreme winters!
I have entered a few houses in the village over the last 48 hours, and almost every time, I came face-to-face with a dead big wild goose or "Juravel" laying on the kitchen floor and waiting to be plucked!
My koriak hosts and very welcoming new friends in Paren are Yura and his 7 months pregnant wife Olesia Chansev, both 23 years old, with their charming 3 years old Carina, their 5 years old nephew Mishka (my Russian teacher in-residence!), a cat and three new and intriguing dogs!
But, for now, enough on Paren...
Let me tell you how I got from the brigade to Paren which was yet another 7 epic days adventure, where I encountered wrestling bears, geese hunters and had to navigate my way through melting rivers, ice floes, bare tundra, melting frozen swamps and an overall very edgy coastline!
Back on Saturday May 8th, Sasha, my brigade #8 host kindly asked me how I felt that morning after having eaten some koriak "ramlochka" (raw reindeer bone marrow), telling me finally "post-mortem" that it was not rare for someone with a weaker stomach to feel ill upon its digestion!
Needless to say that I was happy to report that as far as I knew I was in good health and feeling just fine!
Sasha also taught me that morning that reindeers mostly eat "yagel",(moss), which finally explains to me why reindeer herds tend to mostly gravitate in Nordic regions around the planet...
Although I saw my reindeer pal Kalabok make an exception and truly enjoy some smoked salmon as well!
I left Sasha & the Koriak Brigade #8 posse, after having been offered two copious successive breakfasts of reindeer meat & pasta stews, and receiving 3 important gifts: several large slabs of cured and salted smoked salmon, one pair of classic Russian binoculars and one pair of furry/leather homemade sleepers to keep my feet dry and warm on cold winter nights to come in the tundra!
Now that I no longer need to find my way through ice floes, (at least for this season...) I have decided to pass on the binoculars to my hunting Parenski host Yura so that he can in turn better scope incoming geese V formations way up in the sky!
I started by walking back the first 6 kms to the wezdehod Manily-Paren trail with my filled backpack, wading my way through tundra, bushes and the Mekino river to be reunited on top of a barren hill with my sled/gear/supplies which had been kindly transported and dropped off by wezdehod, from the hunting cabin of Shestakova, 25 kms away while I backpacked this snowless section to the koriak brigade #8.
No snow in sight, I decided to proceed with my alternative plan which was to leave the now snowless wezdehod trail, and go amphibious!
Putting on my dry suit, walking and swimming down with my floating sled in tow the somewhat stable and still partly frozen Mekino river to its estuary in the Penzhinskaya Guba/Bay where I will make my way on the thin line of ice longing the coast!
I was able to thankfully proceed fairly quickly the 10 kilometers down the Mekino river.
Needless to say that after the two close-calls I had two years ago on the Lamutskaya river in Southeast Chukotka while going down a raging river filled with ice shelves, log jams and underwater tows, I was somewhat nervous in anticipation of this section!
This time, closer to its mouth/estuary, the Mekino river was a much more stable river. Therefore, not giving me too many surprises besides the sight of quite a few fresh bear prints, and a few deep holes I had to swim through...
My main concerns while going down the river were:
-managing the current and the river bends without tiping and potentially sinking my fully loaded Akapulka sled, which has a much lower water line than my previous bigger Snowsled sled used to have.
-stopping from time to time to remove the water sipping in my sled.
-removing the ice cold water of my Neos boots often enough to avoid any potential frostbitten toes. My ice cold feet were also exhausting and hurting me prematurely!
-and remembering to stop often enough to still enjoy the scenery and especially the V formation of geese flying above my head as well a filming/photographing some of the most intriguing ice formations coming along the river bed....
Coming to my last river bend, I finally welcomed the smell of the sea, my first ice/sand floes and the apparition of sea clams and sponges laying on the ice shelves...a new spectacle for me, since I neither was able to see sponges nor sea shells while crossing the Bering Straight , further North on Chukotkan and Alaskan shores.
Within minutes, the landscape has completely changed from a partly frozen river bend to a tumultuous and beautiful coastline with ice blocks the size of cars, piled up on top of each other for as far as my eyes could see...
An icy labyrinth that I will have to maneuver through!
At that moment, I also noticed on the eastern side of the river mouth, a few summer fishing cabins which were built by brigade #8 as Sasha had mentioned to me the previous night:
"It's ours, feel free to spend the night there!"
I made my way through, found one of the cabin only 1/2 full of snow, with a working stove, an incredible amount of drift wood, an iron mattress frame and even a skinned animal fur left drying on top of the stove... Plenty enough comfort for me!
I spent a good night in a fishing cabin, enjoying my first sunset on a frozen beach, piled with logs from faraway lands washed ashore on summer stormy days while listening to seagulls!
Besides the ice and snow surrounding me, I would have thought that I had been "transported" to the shores of Washington state, back where I live, in the US...
The next morning, my first day on the coastline started with a very challenging section, pulling my sled back across the Mekino river, moving West and jumping from one ice floe to the next...often having to jump gaps/crevasses 10-12 feet high and a few feet wide as well as having to avoid numerous treacherous deep holes hidden under fresh snow...
It really started to feel like I was back at it, crossing the Bering straight once again!
I spent the next 6 days progressing slowly but surely along the next 86 kms of coastline making my way to Paren, enjoying a few easier sections following either an icy section of a pebble beach or the ledge of a cliff or crossing a few challenging river mouths where water was often gushing out dangerously from under the ice, similar to what one can see at some hot springs.
At a few capes , such as at Mys Entaugyn when there was no longer any ice left on the ledge of the cliff, I had to swim in my dry suit from one ice surge to the next pulling my sled behind me.
Climbing back on top of ice surges after having swam in between represented some challenges as well, for my sled and I.
At one point, I tore off a piece of my essential harness while pulling my sled on top of a ice floe which had washed ashore. Thank god, I had a spare harness! But from then on, I had to operate more carefully...
I was now without a " safety net" since it would have been quasi-impossible to pull my sled without a working harness!
In some of these sections, trying to avoid to have to swim between ice floes, if the landscape allowed, I would drag my sled over the cliff and pull it through that section overland on top of the barren tundra.
I was able to either camp on small sections of pebble beach, between mud/sand rivers/slides and once on top of the cliff, in the exposed tundra where the view of the bay with its birds and its massive amount of ice floes/surges was magnificent!
While camping on pebble beaches, amongst the snow and ice, I was able to observe all types of flotsam washed ashore such as, buoys, mussels, crabs, clams, interestingly shaped sponges and even collected 2 beautiful traditional glass balls used by Japanese fishing boats!
It definitely was a refreshing change after having pulled my sled through mountains, rivers and tundra over the last few winters...
The weather was for the most part very cooperating, sunny and "warm" although I had two mornings of snow falling and menacing stronger winds to deal with, threatening yet once again the structure of my partly broken Chinese "kitaizik" tent...
The "warmth" actually made it very difficult to progress through the early afternoon hours when I would punch through the slurpy/soupy snow patches while walking all the way deep to my thighs...
This is why progressively through the week I continue pulling my sled later and later each evening when the snow/ice was firmer and easier to travel on.
I was also taking advantage of the late spring season, with now a sun setting around 21:30, and therefore having to deal each night with only a few hours of complete darkness from approximately midnight until 04:00.
However, while on the sea ice, I did not want to move during these hours of complete darkness since I needed the best visibility I could get to find my way through the ice floes, watch for deep gushing crevasses, and look out for BEARS!
Throughout the week, I saw quite a large amount of fresh bear prints either following the coast or aiming straight out in direction of the open sea, where they apparently enjoy strolling/fishing/hunting on top of ice surges.
One evening, as I was progressing on the coastline, I saw far away enough in front of me, two bears playing and frolicking in the snow.
I stopped to film them and especially prepare my not-very threatening bear attacks defending weapons!
Since I am travelling alone, not part of a hunting party, and not a Russian citizen, I am not allowed to carry any types of firearms in the Russian federation, even to protect myself in the event of a bear attack.
So, I have with me to defend myself what I am allowed to, which is:
- US made powerful bear pepper spray (which works though only if activated within a few feet of the attacker!)
- a few flares
- a Russian device given to me in Manily by my friend Vova Palmin: a tool that can once detonate a large amount of smoke and once a large amount of noise, supposedly enough to deter attacking bears...
I have also been told many times the comforting news that in spring time, bears just coming out of hibernation, still fat, are less hungry and aggressive than in later summer months....
So, here I was, partly confident, enjoying the wrestling match as long as I was not asked to join in!
Although wondering from time to time if two bears together had more the tendency to attack humans than one alone... In the past, I had encountered numerous bears, but always travelling alone...
So, after a certain amount of time of filming, sitting and waiting, and now properly "armed" with my meager weapons, I decided to move forward carefully on my way which of course also happened to be where the bears wrestling match was taking place!
Thankfully, they quickly ran away up the cliff/hill once they saw me move forward, stopping a few times along the way to observe in their turn, in the distance, the scary bushman that I was!
On my 60th day, after having passed overland/overcliff the challenging Mys Entaugyn, and found a beautiful campsite on top of the cliff, I woke up to the welcoming sound of machinery operating and gunshots!
I was at the time, still 63 kms from Paren and the sound of "human activity" was definitely a welcomed one!
It meant the potentiality of a stable wezdehod or snowmobile trail leading me into Paren!
I packed up and proceeded to find one kilometer further down the beach, four really adventuresome Parenski geese hunters (Arsen, Sanya, Loch & Matvei), somewhat hiding behind logs, sipping their tea, seating on top of their reindeer furs near their campfire while being ready to shoot at the first incoming V geese formations...
I could already see 4 very unfortunate geese laying on the ground, proudly displayed around the campfire!
They had come from Paren for a multi-day hunting trip, travelling along the coast in the opposite direction from me, acrobatically jumping from one big ice surge to the next with their Russian made antiquated yet strongly performing Burran snowmobile. They had gone as far as they could, making it almost to Mys Entaugyn where they had to stop.
They invited me for tea, accompanied with smoked fish, homemade bread and jam which of course I could not refuse!
We spent an hour or two sipping tea, asking each other questions and learning as much as we could on each
They offered me a ride back to town a day or two later, once they had shot down enough geese.
I of course turned this offer down but mentioned that I would be glad to entrust them with some of my extra cargo (food, fuel, etc...) if I saw them again on their return to Paren.
Less cargo to pull would of course facilitate my work while jumping from one ice floe to the next and even potentially increase my speed, especially now that I had a badly twisted ankle after having been caught by surprise by a hidden treacherous deep hole in the ice, hidden under the fresh snow!
The next morning, as I was scouting my route, walking ahead of pulling my sled through a particularly challenging section, Matvei and Arsen appeared on their Burran snowmobile offering to relief me from some of my cargo.
I jumped on the opportunity and give them a heavy duffel bag to bring back to Paren, especially since the sea "trail" was definitely not getting easier as I was "approaching" town...
They invited me for tea once again at their hunting base camp which was located 2 kms away at the next river mouth.
I pushed forward on these 2 challenging kilometers, pulling my sled over the cliff and overland, wondering once again how could these antiquated snowmobiles manage to pass through these cliffs and especially through the long sections of snowless tundra land while pulling heavy loads!
I finally made it to their base camp, where I met 3 additional hunters, a young boy and about 10 dogs, sitting around a fire and a tent and enjoying some tasty freshly made goose soup!
They invited me to stay over during these midday hours when the snow was the hardest to travel on, enjoy some tasty soup, warm and dry my wet feet near the fire and take a nap inside an open log frame, wrapped up in a comfy reindeer kukul!
An offer I could definitely not refuse!
Around 5 PM, while most of them were gone on a search & rescue mission to retrieve one of their riders stuck on an ice floe in one of the gnarliest sections; I departed the camp, well fed and rested, for an evening of sled pulling...
I woke up on my last and 62d day, packing my camp, this time located on a small pebble "beach"/shore, somewhat dangerously located right below a threatening recent mud slide and I proceeded forward under the falling snow...
In the early afternoon, wanting to finish as quickly as possible the remaining 30 kms which were still separating me from Paren, I was once again, pulling my sled during the wrong warmer hours of the day...
Exhausted and barely making any progress, I came across two more and last hunters, hidden and checking out for geese V formations. I stopped for tea, and had the pleasure to meet my future welcoming host Yura Chansev and his older friend Pietr.
I warmed my feet a little too close to the fire for the sake of my synthetic dry suit ... and took a quick nap!
I woke up, eager to go and determined to finish the remaining 25 kms that same night, now able to follow backwards the great hardened snowmobile trail that Yura and Pietr had left behind!
I stopped in the evening, after having crossed my last difficult river mouth, in front of dilapidated fishing cabins to enjoy an energy boosting Mountain House sugary meal of blueberries cheesecake [normally good for 4 servings!], dressed warmer for the night walk and push on!
At midnight, and 9 kms from the village, moving over a pass inland, I was happily able to see the light of 6 street lamp posts, appearing in the distant horizon.
This was a very welcoming sign of civilization!
At 01:00, Yura and Pietr, on their way back to town from their geese hunting trip, sadly goose-less, stopped by and offered to tow my sled, which I gladly offered! I was definitely committed to finish the remaining 6 kms that night, since I was now left without neither a sled nor a backpack with nothing to sleep with or on!
I finally marched through town at 02:30 where I was greeted by an armada of barking dogs and Yura, patiently waiting for me to welcome me in his modest home where a warm caribou stew and a bed with sheets were kindly waiting for me!
Since arriving in town, I have been making new koriak friends, as well as adapting myself to Parenski life , as well as cleaning/sorting/storing away my gear for the summer season...
And for now, I actually need to go on and pluck my first goose!
Note: I expect to be able to post within a week or so, an additional report on my slice of life in Paren and want to expand on some of my recent background notes which I did not have time to post while I was on the trail, expanding especially on:
- What intriguing characters I had the pleasure to meet along the way.
-What discussion I was engaged in and what did I learn from them.
- What local delicacy I received from whom to take on the trail.
-Who provided me the most help, feeding me, hosting me and helping me to transport via wezdehod /snowmobile my gear from where to where...
Once again, as my Koriak friends would say...