In Kamenskoye and getting ready to leave for Manily!
Tuesday April 27, 2010 - 62.28074° N, 166.12529° E
After having discussed this matter at great length with locals, wezdehod drivers and administrative representatives, I have decided to take the river/bay trail between Kamenskoye and Manily since it is still partly frozen!
There is a risk that I might have to swim some sections in my dry suit, but it is supposed to be a much faster route than the mountainous route marked in green on the map above and since time matters, I will go down by the river….
I have luckily been able to send ahead some of my cargo to Manily on a Ural Wartovka Bus Truck, and will therefore only carry 5 days worth of food and fuel, allowing me a certain margin of security since I am planning to complete the ~55kms between Kamenskoye and Manily in 2-3 days.
I am planning to leave around 5pm today once I have posted this report…
I regret but because of the limited internet access that I have, I am still not able to post the pictures that I want.
However, I will do so profusely in the future!
Wednesday April 28th 2010
N 62° 28.074'; E 166° 12.529
Kamenskoye, Koryak Okrug Kamchatka.
Total: 452.2 kms
146.2kms since Slautnoye
First of all, I want to mention that I have added notes to some of my last few posts, because I noticed that some of the posts I have sent through my PDA and satellite phone while on the trail were cut... Maybe the system is trying to tell me to post shorter posts while on the trail!
I especially added a missing last section to the last post where I was describing the trail "my" three dogs and I were on.
On Saturday 24th at 23h30, the four musketeers Dima, Rice, Rex and Dunia (Yes, I found out the names of my three vagabond dogs!) rolled into Kamenskoye, ready to tear the town apart and especially keep every local loose pack of angry territorial dogs at bay!
Not an easy task, I must say!
So, yes, in the end, since these 3 beautiful dogs decided to join me at the fishing camp, 5 kms after Slautnoye, we were able to cover together 141 kms.
The moral of the story: IF YOU DO NOT WANT ANY RANDOM DOGS TO FOLLOW YOU FOR KILOMETERS AND KILOMETERS, RESIST THE TEMPTATION TO EVER FEED THEM, NO MATTER HOW MUCH YOU MAY WANT TO!
Ok, before I go on and talk about “my” three dogs current fate, let me take you back to the beautiful and peaceful time we got to spend together on the Slautnoye - Kamenskoye trail over the last week...
After the last report that I sent a week ago, I realized that I had clearly left the wezdehod trail for good and joined the ural zimnik winter trail.
Wezdehod trails are the trails made by the amphibious wezdehods, military-issued tank type vehicles... They can butcher everything along the way... hills, rivers, bushes, dirt, snow, ice and therefore tend to travel in straighter shorter lines, sometimes leaving quite a bumpy butchered trail to follow.
Ural zimnik trails are the winter trails made by the heavy Ural trucks, and therefore need to work with the landscape, often following river beds, no matter how sinuous the rivers might be, and therefore often adding a great amount of mileage. However, they tend to leave great stable tracks that are most of the time easier/faster to follow on in packed hard snow. It is another story if the snow is fresh/new when one needs to pull a sled in/out/around deep crevasses left behind by the Ural large tires.
I believe I made the right choice on the Slautnoye - Kamenskoye route, where I combined the two:
- the first 60 kms on a somewhat straight wezdehod road along the Penzhina river
- the remaining 86 kms in the Penzhina river bed, when the Penzhina tends to be less sinuous, and progressively more and more "stable" as I was approaching her mouth/delta near Kamenskoye.
By "stable", I mean a frozen river offering more and more large patches of smooth ice easy to travel on and having to cross progressively less and less open water, slush, pebble stones, gravel and dirt patches.
Usually, the further down the river you travel and the more time you have before logically the ice melts!
Going down the Penzhina river also lead me to bypass completely the Oklan village and therefore, I did not have to swim across the potentially dangerous open and fast Oklan river, which tends to remain unfrozen most of the year because of its underwater springs.
I was indeed trying to postpone as long as I could this year, the use of my dry !
So, the three dogs and I took advantage of a beautiful Ural zimnik trail on the wide Penzhina river and progressed our way down, benefiting as well of a wonderful spring weather (-20c at night, up to 0c during the warm afternoons…) leading me to change to lighter “spring clothing attire” and only had to deal with one morning of light snow in an entire week!
The dogs were obviously enjoying themselves, honing their hunting skills along the way, cornering white rabbits from 3 angles which was an intriguing show to watch every time!
The larger one, wolf-like, curiously named “Rice”, enjoyed every time tearing apart my left-over Mountain House dehydrated meals, shredding them to the last bit to get the last drop!
This incredible shredding machine was also keen of any types of tin cans that will come across his way on the trail!
One morning, Rice spent about 2 hours, trotting along my side, while munching to the last bit on a moose lower leg that he had picked up along the way…
The dogs were also amusing to observe at night.
The first few nights, they were simply contented with sleeping in burrowed nests that they made near my tent…
Though starting with the 3rd and 4th nights, the larger dogs Rice and Rex started to want to sleep on my sled which I was quite willing to concede to.
I drew the line though on the 5th night when Rice started to want to sleep inside the tent!
We came to a satisfactory agreement when I finally let him rest in the small space available between the 2 layers of the tent, where he could get a bit of extra warmth.
A demanding husky I must say!
On our 5th day of trekking after Slautnoye, we were woken up by our first human contact, since koriak Valeria left us six kilometers after Slautnoye.
Two Ural trucks were driving in the opposite northern direction, near my campsite, which reassured me that obviously the kilometers ahead of river bed were still “stable” enough to let through 2 heavy Ural trucks, let alone one man with a sled and his three dogs!
Around 16h00 on the same day, 70 kms from Kamenskoye, we came across along our way a fairly large barge which has been “beached” during the summer months in the middle of the river, most likely thanks to a dangerous underwater sand bar.
An interesting site in the middle of the frozen river which lead me to stop, enjoy a Mountain House meal and partake into a photo shoot with my 3 canine friends!
On our 6th day, we were this time woken up by Aleg, a Gas Ural truck driver who was Kamenskoye bound with my 2 red cargo bags thankfully strapped on top of his cistern. I was quite relieved to see that my gear was on its way promptly to Kamenskoye and should be there before “we” even arrived!
I was also quite pleased to follow the tracks of this truck, able to pack down the fresh snow that had fallen down during the night!
Further on that day, we were suddenly dealing with a lot more traffic!
At 17h30, 1 ural and 1 wezdehod full of koryak passengers came by from the Northeastern port of Telichiki… a 1-2 days journey…
They stopped to check out what was this crazy man doing on the trail alone with his sled and 3 sleds, and of course profusely inundated me with questions starting with the ever-essential one: “ARE YOU A SPY?”
To which I responded ‘Of course, I am, there is so much to report on this Slautnoye-Kamenskoye strategic trail!”
It was for me the opportunity though to turn around and ask them about the trail condition for the kilometers to come and how far did they think I will be able to trek/ski this month through Kamchatka before I completely ran out of snow!
At 19h00, 3 more Ural trucks came by, loaded with wooden logs and bound for Kamenskoye.
I filmed them and they took pictures of me…
A few minutes later, athe mouth of the Oklan river, I arrived at the balok/izbuk/cabin I was counting on for the night, knowing that it was the only known dwelling between Slautnoye and Kamenskoye, besides the locked cabin of the beached barge I came across.
However, it was in a sad dilapidated shape, full of snow and therefore could not housed me for the night… The dogs and I pushed then further on to a section of the trail that left the river for a while (because of an open water section) in order to punch through a bumpy and bushy section.
We finally stopped at 21h00, camped and were woken up around midnight by Aleg’s gas truck on his way back to Slautnoye, followed a few minutes later by two wezdehods which were Kamenskoye bound as well.
A koriak driver, named Gosha, (the brother of Genia, the woman who sold me the tent in Slautnoye!) coiffed with a beautiful koriak hat, popped out of the first wezdehod to exclam:”THOSE ARE MY DOGS!!! AND THEIR NAMES ARE RICE, REX AND DUNIA!”
To which I responded: “Great! Nice to meet you! Can you please take them home in your wezdehod!”
Gosha: “No, I can’t, the wezdehod is full and not supposed to transport dogs! They will have to find their way home themselves!”
I went back inside my tent, shared the news with rhe dogs and quickly felt asleep…
On the next morning which was our 7th and last day of trekking since Slautnoye, we were first woken up by a strange tractor contraption pulling logs along the trail, thankfully smoothing the trail a bit in this bumpy section.
Around noon and 25kms away from Kamenskoye, I came across 3 fishermen parked with 2 snowmobiles on the river and their 2 dogs…The first non-moving humans we saw since the fishermen, five kilometers after Slautnoye.
Craving for a bit of human contact, I decided to stop, park my sled along the side of the trail, and the 4 of us start marching across the frozen river towards their encampment.
After a few standard questions, Sanya, his son-in-law Misha and grandson Kosta decided to invite me for a cup of tea, while taking a break from ice-fishing for Ritons!
A cup of tea led to shashlik kielbasa, bread, chocolate, biscuits and in exchangem I gladly gave them a bit of bottled “southern comfort”!
A great break for the four of us, although I had to keep myself on alert at all times, watching my mercenary dogs and preventing them from stealing any more food than their first ½ loaf of bread and stopping them from threatening/attacking the two smaller dogs present…
Sania in his 50’s, had been a wezdehod driver in the past and was in deed a wealth of information on the region various routes…One thing led to another and soon enough, I realized that I had been 4 hours in their company!
It was 16h00, and time to leave if I still wanted to cover the 25 remaining kilometers to Kamenskoye before my night….Sania invited me to join him the next day in Kamenskoye to spend a few hours in his banya, which of course I accept, especially after having spent a few days on the trail!
The dogs and I finally left , continuing our way, switching back and forth along the river bed between a snowmobile and a wezdehod trail, depending on which one was the best packed at the time!
At around 18h00, I called my next hosts in Kamenskoye, Kairat and Anna to ask them if it would be OK for me to arrive late in the evening in their abode to which they responded a very kindly:”of course yes! Come on over at anytime, we will be home all night!”
In fact, I have noticed in the past that in the Far Eastern part of Russia, it is quite acceptable for someone who has traveled far by foot, snowmobile or wezdehod to arrive in people’s home at all hours of the day and night, taking into consideration that it is often better to travel at night when the snow tends to be harder and therefore easier to travel on.
At around 20h30, 10 kms away from Kamenskoye, I came across a cute yakut-russian couple fishing out of another ice hole. We exchanged a few words, a few pictures and I tried hard in vain to have them adopt at least one of my dogs!
6kms before Kamenskoye, I was passed by my 3 inviting fishermen Sania, Misha and Kosta who had decided to go home instead of spending a manly Saturday night in a cabin off-trail because they had forgotten their stoves… My two biggest dogs Rex and Rice decided to chase their snowmobiles as they passed us and therefore left Dunia and I in the “dust”…
Dunia and I finished the remaining 6 kms in the night, leap frogging between a few section of water and snow.
When Dunia and I finally arrived on the outskirts of the village at 23:20, we were quickly reunited with Rex and Rice who had been apparently waiting for us to enter the town!
We marched in the town, and immediately Rex, Rice and Dunia rushed to the nearest garbage dump site to feast on any grub they could get their paws on while I took the opportunity to use my sat phone to alert my new host that we had arrived!
Since then, I have spent the last four days in Kamenskoye and was able to:
- enjoy a great deal of homecooked meals by my great hosts , Kairat, a native of Kazakstan and his metisse Koryak wife Anna, who happens to be a fine chef! Reindeer stews, borschs, fishes, buckwheat, stuffed red peppers, etc, etc....
- enjoy a few hours in Sanya’s great banya! A great little and cozy space he built decades ago with any kind of recycled materials he could get his hands on! Enjoyed as well some great local berries compote and succulent semi-dried Koryuchka fishes!
- enjoy the opportunity to give a school presentation to the Kamenskoye students with the help of Lubova, a great local English teacher and been able to answer a large amount of questions submitted by these eager, curious and smart students
- have the pleasure to meet the mayor Igor Anatolevich Sinietzinski and get the latest information on the various routes between here and Paren, my last outpost on the Western front of Northern of Kamchatka, after Manily!
-enjoy a great snowmobile ride on the river with my dogs running by my side in order to go and partake in a few hours of ice fishing in the company of Slav and Maria. Being able to catch my first Riton ever!
- able to withdraw money from the local bank, the only bank hundreds of kilometers around.
Of course, no debit / credit plastic cards allowed here!
To be able to withdraw a reasonable amount of money to cover my expenses between now and the time I need to leave Russia at the end of the month of May, I had to get the help of my US financial advisor aka "sugar daddy", the help of my girlfriend Gulnara with her Moscow bank account, the help of Anna, a local bank account member in Kamenskoye and even the help of the famous Russian pop band Reflex! No joke! (Thank you all for your help indeed!)
- have the pleasure to be interviewed by the local Kamenskoye newspaper “The Polar Star” and being able to answer intriguing questions and in exchange receive a good set of local Koriak cultural dance digital pictures.
- able to convert with the help of a fine local seamstress my tent from a 3 to 4 seasons status, adding a layer of synthetic cloth on top of the mosquito net.
- stash up on antibiotics, Vitamin C and antibiotic cream at the local pharmacy.
Although, I could not get any new medical to cover my frost bitten finger. Need to recycle my old ones when I run out... Will have to see what I can find in Manily!
- Visit the local museum, and tour the town with countless wonderful local kids, showing me the highlights of their towns. Quite a few wanted me to sign some authographs and a teenager girl even offered me to give me some money to get some food for the road!
I must really start to look deprived!
- Had the pleasure to watch local kids cross-country skiing in the streets, a rare site that I have not seen since Anadyr!
- Meet as usual the local police and administration representatives to be able to register and respond to a certain amount of questions on my expedition and current plans /route.
-and finally, but not least worry about MY DOGS FATE!
Since I arrived in Kamenskoye, my great hosts Kairat and his wife Anna were kind enough to give me some left-overs for the dogs to feed on. However Kairat and Anna wanted me to feed them myself since they were now "my" dogs and until recently no one wanted them in this town already oversaturated with dogs...
No potential new owners meant no homes where they could enter and rest, like I gratefully could!
Kairat & Ania already have their own dog Julia who is definitely not looking forward to host any canine company, even for a few minutes...
So over the last few days, I launched on a major PR campaign on behalf of Dunia, Rex and Rice, mentioning to anyone I could their great merits, especially as hunting dogs!
and I am glad to say that I have finally found an option!
Maria, the Koryak immigration officer with whom I went fishing, and the sister of Gosha, the actual owner of the dogs, has conceded to keep the dogs until they can be sent back to Slautnoye later on this summer by barge!
On the fishing trip, I spent a long time selling to Maria, the hunting merits of ‘my’ dogs, knowing how much of a avid hunter she was, and I am happy to report that it worked!
If I did not take any initiative to find them a new home, I know that the dogs will want to follow me and continue vagabonding with me further down ...
And in fact, they were already following me in every one of my steps, patiently waiting for me outside homes and buildings while I was roaming through town...
The challenge for them, while they are in an town is to try to give themselves a bit of a free zone in this "No Man's Land" where at every corner a pack of hounds is marking their territory as clearly as they can.
Walking through town by their side felt like if I was thrown back in a samurai movie, watching how different factions interact...
This is definitely NOT the land of dogs on leash and prepackaged dog food that can be bought in a store...
Here, each roaming dog needs to clearly guard his "own" garbage dumpsite!
The plan is: since the dogs follow every one of my moves, I am going to lead them into a “getapant”, taking them into a locked stored space where they will stay in for 24 hours until I am way far out of town… and they no longer can follow my tracks!
I would love to keep the dogs on this journey with me but it would not be fair to them because:
-the further west I go, the least chances they will ever get to make it back home in Slautnoye!
-they will most likely not be welcomed in the towns to come and potentially could be attacked/mauled by the local hounds! My next two towns Manily and Paren are known to be towns with a large amount of loose menacing dogs...
-it would be difficult to bring these dogs back to my permanent home in Seattle, where people are naturally less tolerant of wolf-like aggressive dogs behaviours! I am not too eager to end up in people's court after Rice or Rex decides to swallow a barking yankee poodle!
-it would be difficult to carry a reasonable amount of food for the three dogs in addition to my own supply in the remote and challenging Manily-Paren!
So, yes, in a few minutes, I am going have to part myself from Rice, Rex and Dunia, but I will at least have pictures and films to help me cherish the memories of this fun week spent together!
Besides the two days spent traveling with Sasha and Sergei’s reindeers and watching Iditarod dogs passed me by in Alaska, it was the first time I got to spend accidentally or not, a serious amount of time side by side with animals while on an expedition and I must say that going forward, I would consider doing it again and even potentially planning on it, despite the complexity that it might bring along!
Before departing for Manily, I must say that I have quite enjoyed the last 4 days spent in Kamenskoye in company of new friends and acquaintances and I will also cherish the memories of their company. Kairat and Anna, thank you again for your great hospitality!
And finally, for the record, Kamenskoye has a population of about 670 inhabitants, composed of white russians, ukrainians, koryaks, evenks, and chukchis.
It is the regional administrative center for the Penzhina region and is connected to Manily, an old soviet-type port (operating obviously only in summer months!) of 1000 inhabitants with either a gravel inside road or a winter river trail.
According to the traffic police report, the town has only 5 buses, three trucks, and 20 cars!
Similar to what I have seen in Slautnoye, Kamenskoye has numerous 2 floors wooden apartment buildings (with most of them operating without any running water for the last two years and obvious lack of proper garbage collection!) and a few interesting wooden structures such as the library and the local court where I have absolutely no desire to spend anytime soon!
From what I have seen so far, this northwestern forgotten corner of Kamchatka, also known as the Koryak Okrug has been heavily struggling financially since the end of the soviet regime in the early 1990's and has not been able to benefit from more glorious times ever since, to the contrary of neighbouring Chukotka which saw a great amount of investment under oligarch Roman Abramovich's regime in the early 2000's.
Well... in any event, iis grand time for me to hit the road!
So long Kamenskoye and thank you all for the fine hospitality!