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North Pole (2006)

   Sunday, July 24

At 8:38, an absolutely calm sea, a cloud cover of ~200 m, no wind. Coordinates: N80°23'; E56°26'. We drift in the inner waters of Franz Josef Land.

The islands, covered with a cap of clouds, the islands are reflected in a mirror of water. We landed on Alger’s Island, next to Camp Ziegler. In the beginning of the last century, William Ziegler, president of the Royal Baking Powder Company (USA), financed two expeditions to the North Pole.                                                                                       

A driftwood on shore terrace
A driftwood on shore terrace View big version
The first of them (1901-1902), led by Evelyn Baldwin, founded this base on the southeastern end of the island. Stockpiles of provisions were also organized on the islands of Greely, Koburg, and Rudolf. The expedition was then wrapped up because of disagreements among its participants.

The second expedition (1903-1905), led by Anthony Fiala, mounted three unsuccessful attempts to reach the Pole, but gathered a broad range of scientific material and compiled the best map of the time of Franz Josef Land. The vessel of the expedition, the yacht “America,” did not survive the first winter, and the expedition was evacuated by the rescue vessel “Terra Nova” in 1905.

In the place of the camp, there are the remains of structures, barrels of rusted granulated iron used for the derivation of hydrogen for meteo-sounding balloons, boards, ropes, steel netting of an unusual weave, scraps of various pieces of equipment. Both the iron and the wood preserves well in this climate.

Alpine azaleas (<i>Loiselauria procumbens</i>)
Alpine azaleas (Loiselauria procumbens) View big version
Possibly <i>Caloplaca feracissima</i>
Possibly Caloplaca feracissima View big version

The shore terrace is a former sea floor: there is sand, small rocks, shells. Fairly high up, we saw a piece of driftwood that had lain here for several hundred years, which bore further witness to the raising of the island.

All the creek beds are blocked by snow. Rivulets can only be seen somewhere.

Like a cutted bread
Like a cutted bread View big version
The sand will cover everything
The sand will cover everything View big version

The sparse alpine azaleas (Loiselauria procumbens) inspire amazement: how can they grow in this lifeless arctic desert? Firedot lichens (possibly Caloplaca feracissima) burn fiery on the rocks. The local basalt is corroded by the frost, creating interesting compositions.

Iceberg in Streltsov Strait
Iceberg in Streltsov Strait View big version
Northern fulmar (<i>Fulmarus glacialis</i>)
Northern fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis) View big version

We were forced to reject our original plan of going south along the narrow Negri Strait because of the thick fog. Along the Aberdare Strait, we moved into the open ocean and approached Cape Flora. Thick fog and strong wind. We decided to try our luck under the protection of the islands.

Shores of McClintock Island
Shores of McClintock Island View big version
Calving glacier
Calving glacier View big version

We met the icebreaker Captain Dranitsyn, which greeted us with a blast of its horn. The Yamal replied in a much more powerful bass.

Little auks (<i>Plautus alle</i>)
Little auks (Plautus alle) View big version
Rendezvous in British Channel
Rendezvous in British Channel View big version

Along the Mayers Strait, we went north.  The mirror-like stillness of the sea, the ripples of clouds, illuminated by the sun, views of unimaginable beauty. Many birds: guillemots, kittiwakes, arctic fulmars.

Northern sky
Northern sky View big version
Reflections View big version

Shortly after dinner, we reached the Tikhaya Bay, where we landed on an abandoned polar station.

Coast of Hooker Island
Coast of Hooker Island View big version
Rubini Rock
Rubini Rock View big version

Next to the helicopter pad, there is a cross dedicated to the two winters spent here by the participants of the expedition led by G. Y. Sedov on the vessel Saint Phocus (Sviatoj Foka 1912-1914).

Cross in Tikhaya Bay
Cross in Tikhaya Bay View big version
The cross was put in place by a Soviet expedition in 1929; the women’s expedition “Metelitsa” put the other cross there.

The station was established in 1929. At that time, it was the northernmost (80°20') polar station. Most of the famous polar explorers of the 30s have been here.

In 1959, the polar observatory was moved to Hayes Island, and in the 90s, the station was closed.

One doesn’t get such a dispiriting impression here as one does on Hayes Island, possibly thanks to the spring flowering.

On this more western island, it seems, the climate is milder – there is an abundance of flowers: arctic poppies, snow buttercups, purple saxifrage, tufted saxifrage (Saxifraga caespitosa).

Reindeer lichen (Cladonia rangiferina), which was not found on the other islands, also grows here

Arctic poppies (<i>Papaver radicatum</i>)
Arctic poppies (Papaver radicatum) View big version
Northern colours
Northern colours 

We did not immediately understand the nature of the current, which carried the ice floes and small icebergs from the bay with great speed; it is probably caused by the low tide.

Desolation View big version
Tikhaya Bay
Tikhaya Bay View big version

Next to the bay stands the Rubini cliff, on which a great many birds nest: guillemots, kittiwakes, fulmars, little auks (Plautus alle), glaucous gulls (Larus hyperboreus).

Rubini Rock
Rubini Rock View big version
Rookery View big version

Birds fly out of and return to their nests, there is an unimaginable din, and the smell is strong as well.

   Monday, July 25

At 8:28, fog, a temperature of 1 °С, no wind. Coordinates: N79°58'; E49°06'. We drift in the inner waters of Franz Josef land. We await the appropriate weather for a landing on Bell Island. There is always a chance that the fog will sink, and we will be stuck on the shore. The decision to make an overflight of the islands without landing is made.

Bell Island
Bell Island View big version
Aira House
Aira House View big version

On the northern end of the island there stands a house built by the expedition of Benjamin Leigh Smith in 1881 to serve as a base. As a result of the labors of the expedition, Aleksandra Land, George Land, the British (Britansky) Channel, and a set of small islands were discovered, and valuable scientific collections were gathered.

Glacier on Maybell Island
Glacier on Maybell Island View big version
Aira Strait
Aira Strait View big version

In August of 1881, the yacht was crushed by ice floes near Cape Flora, and the difficult circumstances did not allow the crew to reach its prepared encampment. They had to spend the winter in a refuge built from wreckage and rocks. In the summer of the following year, the expedition successfully reached Novaya Zemlya on lifeboats.

Cape Flora
Cape Flora View big version
Cross on Cape Flora
Cross on Cape Flora View big version

And so we also drew up to the historic Cape Flora on Northbrook Island. The wind did not permit us to make a landing, but we came close enough to get a good look at the memorial cross and the remains of the structures of the base of the expedition of Frederick George Jackson (1894—1896). It was here that Fridtjof Nansen and Frederick Johansen landed after their unsuccessful attempt to reach the Pole and half a year of wandering about the drifting ice floes and wintering in the north part of Franz Josef Land. In 1914, this base saved the life of the navigator Valerian Albanov and the sailor Alexander Konrad – the two surviving participants of the expedition on the schooner St. Anne…

   Tuesday, July 26

At 8:39, we sail on the open sea, 2 °С, the wind is north-northeast 8m/s, the sky is gray, the visibility is good . Coordinates are N76°47'; E43°14'. Speed is 19 knots; direction, 200°.

Head mechanic Aleksandr Kuz’min led an excursion through the “bowels” of the ship… Not even in our most audacious dreams could we suppose that we would get to see a nuclear reactor with all its control elements!

Welcome into machine!
Welcome into machine! View big version
Steering mechanism
Steering mechanism View big version

Everything is gigantic: the boilers, the generators, the axles of the propellers, the bearings that are greased and cooled with seawater, the colossal mechanism of the steerage…

That evening, a charity auction was conducted for the project of preservation of polar bears organized by the World Wildlife Fund. The most expensive lot – a map of the Arctic with our route superimposed on it and with drawings by Lucia de Leiris and a bunch of signatures and stamps – went for $17,000!  We had never seen such a thing before…

   Wednesday, July 27

At 8:47, we sail on the open sea, the sky is the same gray, the wind has shifted to the north with a speed of 11 m/s. In spite of that, the temperature has risen to 6 °С. Coordinates: N71°00'; E34°42'.  Speed is 14 knots; direction, 201°.

Missile cruiser Marshall Ustinov
Missile cruiser Marshall Ustinov View big version
At 18:40, at the entrance to the Kola Bay, we brought the pilot aboard. We move alongside the ships of the Northern Fleet, which have lined up as though on parade: the large nuclear cruiser Peter the Great (Petr Velikij), the missile cruiser Marshall Ustinov, the large antisubmarine ships Severomorsk and Admiral Chabanenko, the destroyer Admiral Ushakov, the submarines… The heavy aircraft carrier Admiral Kurnetsov was here as well, but unfortunately, it was docked. It’s strange that when we were heading north, we didn’t see them.

We moored the ship with the help of two tugboats. Farewell dinner, time to pack our things – the night is so short.

   Wednesday,July 27

In the morning, we loaded our baggage into the bus that carried us beyond the gatehouse. With a group, leaving is easier. Yuri Kalabin kindly drove us to the hotel, where we left our things. A stroll through the city, a marvelous sauna – and then, home…

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