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ExWeb interview with Dimitri Kieffer (part 4/4): Completing the Missing Link

Posted: Jul 05, 2011 06:40 pm EDT

(Correne Coetzer) Getting to the start point of this spring section from Paren to Omsukchan in Far Eastern Russia was a mission on its own. Then Dimitri had to deal with time pressure factors, deep, quick-sand snow, and boots that damaged his feet; eventually rapidly disintegrated themselves, pushing him to ski the last few days with ice-biting open toes.

Completing the last 595 km of the Missing Link had its rewards: hospitable people, amazing landscapes, curious foxes and bears, and relaxing hot springs.

ExplorersWeb: You have now done the last part of the missing link. How accessible was it? Did it differ from the other parts of the missing link?

Dimitri: Well To give you an idea, it took me 30 days to get from Moscow to my starting point in Paren (Kamchatka Koryak Okrug) where I stopped last year. I flew from Moscow to Magadan and from Magadan on to Evensk, then rode 105 km in the back of a Kamaz cargo truck, 160 km on top of a sleigh pulled by a tractor and finally the last 50 km on a sled pulled by a snowmobile.

As a result, this was the first year where I was able to see backwards ahead of time approximately half of my route (mostly between Evensk and Omsukchan) before trekking on it. This was because logistically speaking; it was going to be much easier to access my starting point from the West (via Magadan and Evensk) from the East (via Petropavlovsk Kamchatsky and Telichiki).

Consequently, this allowed me to familiarize myself with the route ahead of time, make valuable contacts for when I was planning to arrive in the villages and store efficiently some of my fuel and dehydrated food supplies.

This was also the 2nd year in the row where I was actually being sent on / travelling from one contact to the next, in one village to the next outpost (bear hunting camp, hot springs resort, old mine, etc.) and where I felt an incredible amount of hospitality.

While moving forward this year, I used a mixture of snowmobile trails, snowed-in old tractor trails, ural/kamaz/wezdehod winter/zimnik road, and even walked the last 25 km on a black coal mining road

Between several of these sections, it often felt like I was piercing through a wall of fresh snow, making my own trail/tracks for up to several weeks at a time, going over steep mountain passes, desolate plains and else.

ExplorersWeb: What were the difficulties during this stage?

Dimitri: This year, I struggled once again with my back-country skiing shoes.

Taking into consideration how hard it was for me last year to get out of Paren, the village where I last stopped and where I had to wait 18 days to be transported on a very small boat once the Paren river and the coastline of the sea of Okhotsk had thawed out, I decided in Spring 2010 to leave most of my gear in the village of Paren and bring back this time only new clothes, stove fuel and an ample amount of dehydrated meals.

Therefore, this did not allow me to prepare adequately for the spring, not able to check carefully ahead of time the condition, of my well-worn backcountry ski shoes back at home in Seattle.

So, I started this spring 2011 with clearly inappropriate ski boots which were very quickly doomed. However, along the way, with the help of a few handy and resourceful friends, including a retired cobbler, I tried to fix these damaged ski boots, appending on several occasions, one of its broken lip with metal braces, screws, glue, sewing threads and else.

As a result, my frankensteinish shoes became quite quickly inflexible and painful, bruising my feet deeply and therefore slowing down my progress.

As a close friend of mine accurately stated in an email at the time, it would appear that they started to resemble some of the contractions used by the Spanish inquisition.

Thankfully, I was able to treat myself with a few antibiotics, pain killers and even was given at half point in Evensk, a new pair of lighter spring-like cross-country skiing shoes. Unfortunately, these new shoes were not robust enough to sustain the conditions I was facing while pulling a heavy sled and they rapidly disintegrated themselves, pushing me to ski the last few days skiing with ice-biting open-toes ski boots

This spring, as I got closer to Omsukchan in Magadanskaya Oblast, I also had to deal with a very large amount of fresh deep snow, the deepest I have really ever seen. Even with my wide backcountry skis, I was still trudging through very deep snow, and often needed to wear my large Atlas 12 series snowshoes to set up and take down camp. Without them, I would have been quickly reduced to either crawl or fall up to my waist in these white quick-sands.

These sections of very deep fresh snow slowed down my progress, leading to a great amount of frustration when I was only able to move a few kilometers a day I also had a situation where I accidentally followed the wrong snowmobile trail for a few extra kilometers down and up a steep hill, leading of course to an even greater amount of frustration.

Patiently, I pushed through it and was finally able to make it through my final destination in Omsuckchan.

Once while riding down a hill, sitting on top of my sled, I was projected/airborne off an unseen rivers edge (unfortunately an unseen white relief detail on the white horizon / white on white) in similar fashion to a snowboarder and landed about 6 meters below in deep snow.

Thankfully, mildly soared in the neck, I was not badly hurt and my sled bent hard but did not break. This was however somewhat scary since I was in quite a remote location and led me to become much more careful moving forward especially when the visibility was not the greatest.

Of course, as in other winters, I was faced on several occasions with a few days of Purga / brutal Far Eastern Russian storms which I was able to wait through while either staying in a remote cabin, in my robust 4 seasons North Face Mountain 25 tent or in one of the few villages/outposts I came across.

ExplorersWeb: What were the highlights?

Dimitri: Of course, the forever very hospitable hosts and persons that I came across this spring: Koryaks, Evens, Uzbeks, White Russians. These friends shared with me countless stories, meals and intriguing gifts that I will cherish for years to come.

Departing Evensk after having waited 20 days for ground transport (a combination of Kamaz truck, tractor and snowmobile) to Giziga-Chaibura-Verhnyy Paren and finally get to my starting point in Paren.

The landscape that I came across this spring. Forever changing as I moved Southwest over plains, mountain passes, beautiful valleys and intriguing forests with multiple types of tall pine trees, including an intriguing large amount of crooked and twisted ones, a testimony to the rough storms/winds these trees have to endure.

The amazing sunsets that I experienced and savored while moving westward. I kept on reminding myself that these were probably going to be some of my last Nexus sunsets in the snow, as I am planning on no longer having to skiing while continuing this circumnavigation /expedition; bicycling on roads and rowing on water.

The few curious single foxes that followed closely my sled and I when we were moving forward on late evenings (dropping temperatures making the snow harder). Some came very close indeed and marauded as well around the tent, on early mornings, in search of scrubs and/or a potential meal.

The awaken brown bears that were kind enough this spring to roam near and around my tent without wanting to bring up my attention

After having completed an arduous mountainous 120 km trail-less section between Evensk and Tavatum, I was able to relax in the fabulous Tavatum Hot Springs in company of the caretaker Genia and his 6 years old son Vova. I have been for years an avid seeker of hot springs in West America, Europe and Asia and I was very keen to finally come across one on my Nexus expedition path.

ExplorersWeb: Tell us about the people you came across people during your trek?

Dimitri: I came across a very wide mix of welcoming and interesting hosts/characters along my way

Bear/moose/skunks hunters, salmon/whales/seals fishermen, poachers, fur traders, reindeer herders, coal miners, log cabin builders, 6X6 vehicles expedition drivers, retired helicopter pilots and lawyers, illegal foreign construction workers, school teachers and directors, sports coaches, engineers, geologists, architects, managers, mayors, policemen and women, immigrations and customs officers, businessmen, journalists, used Japanese car salesmen, lawyers, countless curious kids and adolescents, a Baptist priest, a brawling ex- (famous St Petersburg prison) prisoner reconverted as an engineer, a hot spring caretaker, a Koryak museum caretaker, a dedicated goat herder who had his goats shipped over from Motherland Russia by plane, helicopter and boat, and even the official translator of le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exup챕ry in the Koryak language!

Taking advantage of my somewhat improving Russian, I was able to learn furthermore about the different local ethnic groups that I came across and I also spent more time learning some of the dilemmas, nostalgia, frustration and hardship faced by the 2nd generation of white Russians brought in from the mainland, who grew up in remote regions of Far Eastern Russia, during post-soviet times when well-paid jobs and great soviet benefits very much vanished.

ExplorersWeb: It took you a month to get to your start point, and expedition on its own, it seemed. Then you were pressed for time to finish before your Russian visa expired. How did this time pressure influenced your expedition?

Dimitri: Well in fact, I was under two simultaneously time pressure factors:
1. my Russian 3 months visa permit which was due to expire in early May and above all,

2. the fast melting of snowfields, rivers, lakes and swamps as the longer days of Spring were definitely upon me! The later I was going to stay in the region, the more slush I will have to trudge upon, hindering my progress.

ExplorersWeb: You were alone this time, did you miss a teammate?

Dimitri: No, not at all. As I have stated before, in some case, it can be more dangerous to be with the wrong kind of partner than traveling alone.

I actually welcomed the solitude allowing me to travel at my own pace, enjoy the surrounding strikingly beautiful landscape and nature, and fully taking in what might potentially be my last few cold nights (-30째C) on this Nexus Expedition, since going forward, able to travel on a road, I will no longer be obliged to travel in winters in order to cross frozen lakes, rivers and swamps.

Travelling alone also allowed me to take the time to heal my wounds carefully so that I could keep on trekking

I must also admit that I was able to communicate, with my PDA connected to my satellite phone with my girlfriend, family and closer friends, benefitting from a rudimentary email system allowing me to communicate sufficiently: getting weather reports which facilitated my planning as well as exchanging thought, feelings almost on a daily basis and therefore never feeling lonely!

From time to time, I also listened on my iPod to a very mix of music, old radio podcasts and enjoyed a few audiobooks, such as The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian written by Sherman Alexie and Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins.

[Video in Russian:]

Dimitri Kieffer was born in France and moved to the USA when he was 17. He runs ultra-marathons and participates in adventure races. Since 2005, Dimitri has continued to evolve, transferring from adventure racing to full blown expeditions, like this Circumnavigation around the Globe with only using human power.

The circumnavigation started on February 26, 2005 at Knik Lake, near Anchorage, Alaska. Dimitri plans to complete the entire Nexus Expedition by 2016.

Stages already completed:

First Section: Knik Lake (near Anchorage, Alaska) - Nome (Alaska)
Feb April 2005, 37 days, 1100 miles 1770 kilometers
Completed by foot (trekking & snowshoeing) the Iditarod Trail Invitational race

Second Section: Nome (Alaska) Wales (Alaska)
Feb 2006, 9 days, 115 miles 185 kilometers
Completed by foot (Trekking & Back Country Skiing)
(with Goliath Expedition - Karl Bushby)

Third Section: Nome (Alaska) Uelen (Russia) Bering Strait Crossing
March 17-31 2006, 14 days, 5 days where swimming was required
200 miles 322 kilometers
Completed by foot (trekking & back country skiing) & swimming
(with Goliath Expedition - Karl Bushby)

Fourth section: Uelen to Egvekinot (Chukotka, Russia)
April 12- May 16 2007, 34 days, 425 miles 684 kilometers
Completed by foot (Back Country Skiing and only trekking after Vastoshisno)
Uelen - Anguema (with Goliath Expedition - Karl Bushby)
Anguema - Uelen (solo)

Fifth section:
Egvekinot to Vayegi (Chukotka, Russia)
April 15 - June 7, 2008
exact amount of trekking days still being tabulated
Approximately 600 miles / 965 km
exact number of miles still being tabulated.

Completed on foot (back country skiing, trekking with a backpack and pulling the sled simultaneously, swimming and using the sled as kayak while going down rivers).

Sixth section:
Vayegi (Chukotka, Russia) - Paren (Kamchatka, Russia)
March 11 - May 13 2010
707 km completed, 63 days.

Location May 17, 2010:
N 62째 25.040'; E 163째 05.160'
Paren, Northwestern Kamchatka
Total kilometers covered Spring 2010: 707.2 km
Manily to Paren 199.4 km

In March 2010, Dimitri return to the village of Vayegi and continued by foot and skis while pulling a sled moving Southwest towards Kamchatka. He completed the first month in company of Yakut trekker Nyurgun Efremov who stopped in the village of Slautnoye, Kamchatka.

From there on, Dimitri completed the next 200 km in company of three beautiful erring dogs and reached Kamenskoye. After having left the 3 canines in good company, he continued solo, mostly following the coastline where he could still find barely enough ice to slide his sled on, swimming and backpacking along the way and was finally able to reach the remote Koryak fishing village of Paren.

Dimitri was also enthused to be able to meet and stay for a few days along the way with two different "brigades" of reindeer herders, a Chukchi one and a Koryak one, where he was able to learn and appreciate their nomadic culture.

Seventh section:
Paren (Kamchatka, Russia) - Omsukchan in Magadanskaya Oblast.
Dimitri is returning in Kamchatka in February 2011 to continue trekking and skiing 423 miles (680 km) from Paren in Kamchtaka Koryak Okrug to Omsukchan in Magadanskaya Oblast. He covered this section on skis and snowshoes, while pulling a sled on tundra, considering the absence of roads in this remote part of the world. His route should take him from Paren to Omsukchan via Verniy Paren, Chaibura, Ghiziga, Evensk, Tavatum and Merenga.

This section completes the missing link. Dimitri: One can drive year around from South America to South Africa on permanent roads except through the Darien gap and between Anchorage and Omsukchan the missing link.

Position: April 25, 2011:
N62째 30.987, E155째 46.342 Omsukchan
595 km travelled

In an article on AskYakutia.com Dimitri gives a detailed description of the route he has taken from the farthest point of Chukotka, Uelen, to Omsukchan in Magadanskaya Oblast.

Dimitri plans to complete the entire expedition by 2016, upon reaching Knik Lake, after having circumnavigated the globe via human power.

Dimitri Kieffers expedition videos.

Dimitri Kieffer is blogging over CONTACT 5

#Polar #interview

"A few curious single foxes followed closely my sled and I when we were moving forward on late evenings."
courtesy Dimitri Kieffer (over Contact5), SOURCE
[The landscape was] forever changing as I moved Southwest over plains, mountain passes, beautiful valleys and intriguing forests with multiple types of tall pine trees...
courtesy Dimitri Kieffer (over Contact5), SOURCE
"I had to deal with a very large amount of fresh deep snow, the deepest I have really ever seen."
courtesy Dimitri Kieffer (over Contact5), SOURCE
"Once while riding down a hill, sitting on top of my sled, I was projected/airborne off an unseen rivers edge."
courtesy Dimitri Kieffer (over Contact5), SOURCE
"It took me 30 days to get from Moscow to my starting point in Paren (Kamchatka Koryak Okrug)."
courtesy Dimitri Kieffer (sent over Contact5), SOURCE