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00:56 | Jan 19 | 2013

Battle with the elements

Yakut thrill-seekers fear neither frost nor storm.

Yakutia is considered one of the harshest places on the planet: even coming here equates to extreme travel to many foreigners. However, there are those for whom daily challenges are not enough and who are ready to challenge the elements and their capabilities. A participant of super-complex bicycle and ski races Vitaly Mironov is one of such thrill-seekers.

First trips
Working his way up from a simple geologist technician to a head of a searching party (engaged in search of mineral deposits), Vitaly, a geologist with 23 years of experience, became head of the Verkhoyansk Inspection of Environmental Protection in 1999. He spent more than 30 years in the mountains and forests of the Verkhoyansk region due to the specifics of his work, a place having the reputation of the coldest in the northern hemisphere (-67.7 degrees Celsius).
It is in the Yanskaya geological exploration expedition (YANGEE) appeared the first extreme lovers of Verkhoyansk. In the seventies of the last century, the Soviet Union experienced an industrial growth, and extensive production required resources. Across the country, thousands of geologists were looking for new mineral deposits, even in the most adverse conditions and locations. Thus, above mentioned YANGEE was based in a settlement of Batagay, the administrative center of the Verkhoyansk region.
Vitaly Mironov recalled, “In those years, our multinational team of geologists amounted to fifteen hundred men. Most of them were young, healthy guys. Sport was extremely popular, we held various competitions, games etc. – geologists tried to participate in everything. Our senior fellow workers, such experienced geologists as Sergey Bulatov, Stepan Lytkin, Alexander Buyankin, conceived and carried out the first of these races – a ski tour from Batagay to Verkhoyansk (about one hundred kilometers) in the midst of the harsh polar winter.”
Geologists also found out that another more extreme action was committed in 1945. Seven men went on a super long ski run from Verkhoyansk to Yakutsk (and back) in honor of the liberation of the Soviet Union from the invaders. The length of the route was 2254 kilometers, and it took them only 16 days. Having learned of this, senior geologist Alexander Buyankin, mine foreman Sergey Sobolev, technician geologist Tatyana Romashchenko and Vitaly Mironov decided to travel the same way.

When the brakes get frozen
The team got off from Yakutsk on April 17, 1983. Here is how Vitaly described part of the way in his travel journal: “sweaty clothes turned into a shell of ice and was congealed in those states and forms in which you were bent over riding a bike. Falls frequented, the road was almost invisible. It was so cold that feet shod in hiking boots did not feel anything at all, and standing in the cold in streaming with perspiration clothes was even worse, that is why we had to get off the bike and run, rolling our two-wheeled miracles of technology.”
On the way the team stayed in small settlements where they met people and talked about the run and promoted youth sports. The cyclists arrived in Batagay in time for the parade. Vitaly Mironov remembers the thrill of meeting with the locals: “I realized that the brakes of the bike got frozen. I squeeze the brake levers with all my might, desperately trying to slow down while people were getting closer and closer. There is nothing to do but just fall and slide right under the feet of cheering Batagay citizens. But just then, I was picked up and lifted up.”
A new trip took place two years later. Almost the same route – Yakutsk – Verkhoyansk, but this time skiing. The road that the skiers took was sadly famous because it was the one that exiles of imperial Russia first and then the prisoners of the Gulag were led. Our heroes noted it for the hospitality of local people. Mining villages, herders’ camps, small villages and hunter huts - the guests were welcomed everywhere like old friends and provided with warm bed and meal. It should be added that the route of 1100 km was covered in just 18 days.

Target – Alaska
In different teams and different routes, extreme trips became quite popular in the north. In those years the Yakuts “conquered” Magadan, worked up river run routes. But a combined ski and bike trip Verkhoyansk – Alaska became the most important and complex. With crossing the Bering Strait which was yet to be crossed on foot (still not crossed). Already considerably experienced athletes faced a new trial – an extremely complicated route through taiga thickets, mountain valleys and windswept coast of the Bering Strait.
The group got off on March 10, 1990. Vitaly Mironov describes the difficulties encountered: “The most arduous moment was when we were caught up in a blizzard in Chukotka. Yuzhak as it is called is a really scary and dangerous natural phenomenon. Chilling wind, continuous whirl of snow, zero visibility at arm's length. And it can last for weeks. Many were killed by such yuzhaks. But it was meant to help us in some way. After all, the Bering Strait rarely freezes as it is, but the time when yuzhaks rage is the only time when ice forms in the strait. Another critical moment was when we passed along the coast of the Chukchi Sea. We skied along the cliffs and suddenly saw: there is no way forward, open sea to the right, unscalable cliffs to the left. What's the next move? We decided to move along a tiny ice build-up on the cliffs. Icy sea underneath, and we were crawling and waiting for that bench to collapse. But it was ok, we got away with it...”
It's almost at the end of the road, at the most eastern settlement of the country - Uelen village, came an unexpected finish. Promised visa documents did not arrive on time and this trip to Alaska was over. It was a record of some kind, yet to be repeated. Overcoming 4100 km in 52 days, sometimes skiing 100 kilometers a day, and over 200 kilometers by bicycles. Seven brave men from Yakutia assayed almost the impossible. Of course, it is a pity that the endpoint could not be reached; however, it was not a defeat, but a lead, an idea for young successors of the present day Yakut extreme.

Nikolay Tatarinov