18.04.2017 MEDIA ABOUT US

Interview by Lenta.ru reporter with the travelers from Latvia about the trip to Bely Island on Burlak AT vehicle.

At the end of March, the group of travelers from Latvia went to Yamal to get to Bely island in the AT vehicle. The route lay along Nether-Polar Urals through Labytnangi to Bovanenkovo town. From there, the group was going to get across Malygina Strait to Bely island - the closest point to the North Pole which the vehicle could reach. At the beginning of April, the adrenaline junkies reached their goal. After they came back to the mainland the travelers told Lenta.ru about the dangers on the snowed roads and charm of those places, that previously could be reached only by air. 

Lenta.ru: Why do European tourists need to conquer the Russian North? And why by car? 

Oleg Ratachaev: It's impossible to go so far in Latvia which is 64,000 km2. In Russia, there's no such problem. There are some hard-to-reach places, rarely reached by people both on wheeled vehicles and on some other kinds of vehicles. Bely Island is one of such places. Even among inhabitants of Yamal not all of them were there. Lots of people don't even know what is going on there. 

And what is going on there? 

There is nothing but a meteorological station. From time to time ecologists who carry out the researches and clean the island from trash show up there. But this place attracts people somehow. Maybe because this is one of the extreme points, above the 73rd parallel.

The beginning of spring is not the best time to travel north. Especially by vehicle. 

Usually, there is no time for an expedition in summer, that's why we decided to start early in the spring. A year ago we bought Burlak AT vehicle when we were on our way back from the previous expedition. That's how the idea to go to Bely Island came up. The whole crew is travelers from Latvia. But due to the fact that it is quite dangerous to go North by one vehicle, we asked the inventor of the AT vehicle Aleksei Makarov to keep our back covered on a second vehicle. Two more people were going with us in Makar AT vehicle.

This is not your first expedition to the Russian North, right?

The sixth one. Last year we traveled on off-road vehicles from Riga to Vorkuta. About 15,000 kilometers in total. And also two summer expeditions: one was to Murmansk, and another one - to the Altai Republic.

How long did it take to get there this time?

We passed about five thousand kilometers in total on a route Ekaterinburg — Labytnangi — Bely Island and back. The whole road took us three weeks. On March 26th we moved out from the starting point and arrived at the place on April 12th. The expedition ended up on April 16th.

Driving wasn't the only thing we had to do.

We had to sleep, eat and it was also necessary to wash somehow. How was your life arranged? 

The vehicle is designed to live in it. We slept and ate right inside. There are kitchen and seven berths installed inside. We melted snow to extract some water. It was enough for daily hygiene. But to wash ourselves properly we could only at the polar station in the Russian sauna. We were met very warmly there and were provided with a workshop to fix technical problems.

Did you arrange for someone to meet you?

It's all chance. In the North, you can't arrange for anyone in advance, because there is no cell phone coverage. There were some contacts of people from Labytnangi. I arrived there a bit earlier and was waiting for two days for the rest of the guys from the crew. I've met some local drivers, who were engaged in cargo delivery. They told us which roads to take, or rather, what directions are better to choose. There are no real roads as such. 

Probably, it is not possible to drive fast on such off-road, right?

We were driving along so-called winter roads or parallel to them not to ruin the tracks made by Ural trucks. In sections where we cut off the route we were going just across the field, the speed was 20-25 km/h. We were guided by GPS.

There was nobody for hundreds of kilometers away and no service.What if the vehicle got broken or, for example, you got a flat tire?

The vehicle has low-pressure tires, it's quite difficult to get them punctured. They can be cut by small stones and twigs, but this problem can be fixed in the field. You don't even need to remove the tire. But anyway we faced certain difficulties. When we just started our journey all standard shock absorbers broke down. We've received strengthened shock absorbers from Ekaterinburg and promptly replaced them. There were no problems with them from then on. On our way back the transfer case broke down: the studs came unscrewed, some teeth broke down. We fixed everything on our own. We carried out major maintenance in Labytnangi using the parts delivered to us.

After two days of maintenance, the vehicle moved on. The minimal temperature was minus 32 degrees, but this was not the most terrifying thing. The really terrifying thing is when it's minus 25 degrees with wind up to 16 m/s and blizzard. In such conditions it is impossible to move, you need to stop and wait. We got caught in a blizzard on our way to the island and back: we were stuck for one day going there and for one day going back.

And all this time you had to wait and freeze?

To wait — yes, but not to freeze. It was even hot inside the vehicle. In addition to the standard heater, there were two autonomous heaters installed in the vehicle. Also instruments and belongings. Nothing extra. All supplies were bought at the place: in Salekhard and villages. We took more canned meat and regular food: bread, potatoes. Everything was cooked in the vehicle on a gas stove.

Arctic cold, for example, is not a problem for such a vehicle. But what about cracks/holes in the ice? How long the vehicle can stay above water?

Certainly, the vehicle is not designed for long floating. You can't float away for 5-10 kilometers. But, let's say, a hole in the ice or a thaw hole up to 500 meters it will pass easily. The AT vehicle easily holds afloat. Even if is tilted to one side, it keeps balance and doesn't turn upside-down. Besides, it accelerates up to 5 km/h on the water. Before the expedition, we tested it in Latvia, put it in a quarry and floated in it for about three hours. It moves on the water surface regardless of the depth.

Do you think that the goal of the expedition has been achieved?

The goal was to reach Bely Island and try to find polar bears. Unfortunately, we haven't met them. But we can't say that the expedition lost its point. What amazes here first — the endless vastness of Yamal. You can drive a hundred kilometers and see no bushes. Almost nothing but rarely Arctic foxes.

Does that mean you didn't manage to talk to local people?

We did but on the island. We talked to the service staff of Popov's base. We were amazed by how the local people in Yamal were able to live without major problems in harsh climatic conditions. They don't feel any discomfort constantly being in these latitudes. One more thing that amazed is that there is a functioning orthodox church with bells, built just a few years ago.

Source: https://lenta.ru/articles/2017/04/20/arcticexpedition/