After having loaded about 850 liters of fuel and produced the correct bio-ethanol mix ratio, we left Ustnera at around 10 a.m. Temporarily we felt like captains of a ship: With initial 1.2 bar air pressure (lateron we reduced to 0.7 bar due to heavy snow drifts) and a precautionary measure which was going to pay off - we removed the stabilizers - the vehicles were rocking like in rough seas. The reason: Without the stabilizers, the lacing bond is improved. Furthermore, the electric disconnectors - which will freeze when breaking into water - cannot threat us with removed stabilizers.
After driving about 90 kilometers on a winter road towards Magadan, we reached the small, unimpressive junction to Szyrianka. This point marks the beginning of Chukotka's tough winter roads. From here (about 600 m above sea level), we followed our first winter road section towards Sasyr. The 60 kilometers long track lead us over the rivers Burustach and Andigitschan. During this 15 hours long drive, altogether we covered a distance of about 220 kilometers, crossed three mountain passes of up to 1,300 meters above sea level, helped two truck drivers whose truck broke down with an engine damage by making an emergency call to their head office via satellite telephone, drove through the aquarium* and winched my Jeep and trailer several times out of deep snow after getting stuck while breaking through the snowy surface. The winches definitely proved their value with the Jeeps and trailers (weight about eight tons) as well as the special trailer coupling system from Rockinger. These systems ensure the most extreme lacing bonds between vehicle and trailer - which we had often enough. The winter roads are tracks that were cleared by 6x6 or 8x8 trucks.
They lead cross-country, along or through/across rivers, woods, hillsides, plains, etc. Just where the trucks are able to get through. Often we were driving with 6 mph or less and passed through valleys or high plateaus and over passes which were of impressive beauty. On one of the plateaus there must have been a fierce storm not too long ago. It looked like an area after an earthquake. There were jags, ice and snow drifts of several meters everywhere. In the surreal light of the headlights they looked like broken earth.
En route we met truck drivers in their extreme Urals and Kamaz, which were keenly struggling through. They told us about several open rivers that are not freezing due to warm water. We should be cautious when crossing them. After arriving at the open river at 3 a.m. we stopped and prepared ourselves for the night. It was too dangerous to cross the river at night. By good coincidence, we saw a convoy of trucks coming towards us the next morning. The trucks only barely crossed the river. We saw how a Kamaz, that was not able to scale the meters high ice step, was recovered out of the river. Not far from where the trucks were crossing, Kaspar found an old, destroyed bridge. It won't carry the trucks, but we hope that it will bear our vehicles which would save us from a difficult winching action.
*The Aquarium: For truck drivers an infamous little lake close to the third mountain pass on which usually forms a lot of Nalid Ice. In the morning we met truck drivers that told us that it was 5 cm thick. In the afternoon it were already 30 cm and when we arrived we broke into the ice to above our axes. We had to drive through it because we would probably break even deeper in the ice the next morning and damage the vehicles at the wildly upwards pointing ice, broken by trucks. Consequently, we could not - as planned - stay the night at the third pass (temperatures at such altitudes are usually 10 degrees warmer than in the valley), but had to continue driving in order to prevent the wheels, breaks and axes from freezing after driving through the water.
Feeling group: After six hours of sleep and an extensive breakfast in a beautiful landscape at sunrise, the power was back. Before, the exertion was wearing us out.
The little bridge resisted the weight of our Jeeps. Additionally we passed a large area of Nalid Ice without any problems because it was already frozen again. The day was saved. A difficult section was completed.
Along our further way we spotted a basecamp of reindeer shepherds between some trees. It was temporarily abandoned. Nevertheless we were impressed. 1.5 meters above the ground there were some planks of wood tied together. The sheperds usually sleep on them in furs. There is only a makeshift cover for protection. Already yesterday we saw traces of one or more shepherds with a large number of animals. We followed the traces - but without meeting them.
Around 5 p.m. we arrived at the native village Sasyr which is about 85 kilometers away from our resting place for the night. It is mostly inhabited by horse and reindeer shepherd families and has a long tradition. Here you can also find the only museum which shows the history of the Ewene tribe. Less than five minutes after our arrival we were surrounded by approx. 20 children. They were really happy when we bought them chocolate from the little store. Immediately one of the children invited us to his home. Upon arrival, the family served us tea and pastry.
Afterwards we drove around 70 kilometers on the worst humpy earth roads through woods to our current nightly resting place in deep snow at -48° Celsius.
I miscalculated narrowly.
Waking up in the morning was not due to the alarm clock ringing or because we were well-rested, but because of the engine shut down of F1. We did not want to refill the tanks at night and in icy temperatures. I calculated that the leftover fuel in the main tank should be just enough until the morning. It didn't last for the last half hour. It's out of question that a tank-to-tank fuel transfer directly after waking up and in the freezing cold is not really fun and that everybody is abruptly wide awake. The first beams of sunlight and a landscape that no painter could have imagined more beautiful made up for everything.
Our breakfast is always interesting. The crowded space conditions usually ask for acrobatic performances (this also applies to the picture editing that Uli accomplishes while driving, with a lot of dexterity and even more patience - in the front we hardly even hear his slight to medium cursing about another bruise on his head or similar anymore). Considering that breakfast is the only meal that we have in a state of rest - without driving - we try hard. As we are cooking in the vehicles, we have to turn the three sleeping places along with the interior equipment into a kitchen. Accordingly, some modification measures are necessary. :-)
But afterwards it's cuddly. Out of question, that three men can comfortably sleep in the Jeep. :-) This morning, for example, my bread - with a thick layer of jelly - which I had placed on top of my cup which was standing at the edge of the GPS which is mounted next to the radio equipment gave way to gravity. Before reaching its final position with the jelly on the bottom, on top of the hydraulic control, it grazed the radio cable, the steering wheel, then the laptop and finally it slid down along my pants and the seat fur.
By now we mostly drive in rivers or through river beds over driftwood. In one of these narrow river beds we met Vitali and Kirill. Both of them live in a 2.5 x 2.5 m tent. They are working on freeing a 6x6 Urla-truck that broke into Nalid Ice in mid December. The vehicle is one single, gigantic block of ice. The trick is to release the truck as one ice block from the river and to tow the 9 x 3 x 1.5 m block from the river onto land via an ice ramp and with two other supporting trucks.
An enormous task. It will take approximately two weeks. Afterwards it will take another week to get rid of the ice by using large Bunsen burners and get the truck rolling again. Another truck will tow the damaged vehicle 200 kilometers into the next village where the repair can start.
We hope to arrive in Syrianka in around seven hours.
We are crawling forward with 3 mph - actually too slow. The extremely intense, hard, and bumpy winter ways do not allow higher speeds. After approximately 3 days of non-stop driving behind Ustnera (we always slept only few hours in the taiga) we reached Syrianka yesterday afternoon. We immediately started the search for a warm garage and accommodation for the night. Thanks to some friendly helpers, we succeeded in both. The garage was big enough for the vehicles and the trailers and despite Sunday break, we have been allowed to start with the check and repair of cars and trailers. Meanwhile, a part of the team bought supplies for the upcoming 1500 km to Bilibina. Konstantin organized a room for us (5 men in 3,5m x 3,5m) where we finally were able to stretch out (see Ulis notes *). Irina, the friendly, elderly matron cooked for us and in the meantime we were able to wash some things.
Finally a hotel
We had a small, cute apartment with one room and a small kitchen. The bathroom gave an extremely good impression. I had the honor to use it first, which I thankfully accepted - after 3 days of abstinence. In contrast to all past showers, this one had a shower cubicle. This is very helpful, because otherwise the bathroom is always totally flooded. Directly when entering the cubicle I realized my mistake. Firstly, the cubicle was not attached to the shower tray, whereas it was skewed and secondly, it was not possible to close the door completely. Gosh! Flooding again. Much worse was the fact, that the temperature of the small jet of water was only adjustable between burning hot and freezing cold. Finally wet I had to realize, that my shampoo and lotion were frozen, as they have been stored behind the back seat during the last part of the track. While getting out of the shower, I carelessly grabbed the towel bar which broke out of the wall and dashed to pieces. Finally, I left the bathroom dry, clean, and happy.
Another small misfortune was happening to me a little later. We had the opportunity to clean our dirty clothes in a washing machine. Kaspar looked after it and was astonishing quickly finished with washed but wet laundry. The washing time could not have been more than 20 minutes. The heating was not - as usual in Russia - preset to sauna temperature. I intended to change that with a red rotary knob, keeping in mind that normally the heating in Russia are working on full power - the room temperature is only adjusted by opening the windows.
The existence of a red rotary knob should have made me hesitate, but as more or less greenhorn in this area I courageously turned it up. The opening of the fairly big air relief valve resulted in a reasonably amount of really brown mud on the relatively new painted wall. I was totally puzzled, that I closed the valve even after estimated 3 seconds. I was able to clean the wall and left the slop in the room corner as it was. The damage was kept to a limit.
Afterwards we had a quite nice evening in our little kitchen. The lady at the reception made a warm dinner for us with food that we bought for that occasion. Two beers and the warm meal later I was quickly so tired that it was hard for me not to fell asleep at the table. Kaspar and I (as oldest members) have been allowed to share the bed, the others were sleeping on the floor in their sleeping bags. Unfortunately, there was only one blanket for us both, what makes me decide to make my own blanket out of two bedcovers. At the beginning that worked perfectly well as I fell asleep right away, but in the middle of the night I woke up, because I was freezing. After a hard struggle against the well-known inner temptation, I put on my sweater, was continuously freezing at my legs, and had a barely good sleep.
All in all, I was happy to experience civilization again, and about the opportunity to have a shower and sleep in a bed.
There was no time where we didn’t receive hospitality and helpfulness from the Russian population. It will be very difficult up to impossible without those friendly Russian helpers. You suddenly need a special tool, welding equipment, a lathe, a garage or whatsoever. At this point we want to say thank you again to everybody who we were glad to meet and who helped the expedition team directly or indirectly - we are really grateful.
The next evening we continued our journey with a 380 km long and stressful drive on the Kolymar River. This mogul piste covered with ice holes - a result of air blisters which have been crushed by passing trucks – was a challenge. Numerous times the tires broke through, into little razor-sharp ice caps and we drove through them, ran over stones and trunks etc. That we did not have any tire damages so far, neither with our PNY-Jeeps nor with the trailers, encourages my opinion that we definitely have the best off road tire in the world with us on that expedition - The Goodyear Wrangler MT/R.
It took us 16 hours for this nonstop driving in -50° C - where we crossed the arctic circle as well - until we finally and totally exhausted reached Schritnikolimsk, a little village in the middle of nowhere. Within minutes after our arrival we were welcomed by townsfolk and journalists. It is a really nice little village built out of wood on the bank of the Kolymar River. It is clean and the tiny little houses are mostly beautifully presented. That this tiny village – where they have winter nine month a year – even has town privileges results from the time of Katharina II as we heard.
Due to the extreme winter tracks that demands everything from us and the PNY-Jeeps we have to stop every couple 100 km for checks and repairs. Luckily we once more had a little garage with a temperature of around 0°C, where we were able to do the necessary work.
If anyone asks about the tracks we are driving, there is only one thing to say: Every ordinary off road vehicle would already have failed at the slope angle without e.g. a broken bumper etc. You can hardly explain how destructive those tracks are. Thousand of holes and bumps, high ripples, trunks and branches, steeply up and down rides in riverbeds and much more while we are additionally dragging the trailers behind us. Everybody knows, that this is not possible until the end without any damages. We just did not know when the first big problem would occur. Of course it was possible any time near under these conditions and then - tonight - it happened. It happened in a narrow pass around 50 km after Schritnikolimsk. High taluses with a height of up to 1m left and right, so narrow that only one PNY-Jeep at a time was able to drive through the way which was covered with high ripples and fractures. We tried to drag our trailers – driving in first gear with gear reduction - as I saw my trailer through the rear-view mirror with the front pointing to the sky. Firstly I thought the trailer coupling broke but that was not the case. It was the frame where a part was broken off. Now we had to improvise very quickly due to the coldness and Ural-trucks waiting behind and in front of us to drive through. We built a kludge out of tension belts and cleared the street within one hour dragging ourselves in the scarp 300 meters further.
After the Ural-trucks passed we had to make a difficult turn in order to drive back slowly towards a small village named Nalimsk which we passed 30 km before. We asked the mayor of that little village where only traditional people from Jakutia live in line with the nature, if he knows somebody who can provide us with welding equipment or maybe directly weld something for us. He told us, that there is only one possibility the next morning and invited us to stay overnight in his mayor room. Ulrich Kaifer, Kaspar Mettler, Marco Schwarzer und Konstantin Savva slept between chairs, flags and tables while I slept in the PNY-Jeep to make sure that the engines ran smoothly in the -50° C cold environment.
The next morning, we received the repair possibility as promised by the mayor. Ivan, an employee of the local coal-fired power plant took us to his place. He had a little transformer to run a welding machine. After he spread furs underneath the trailer and created a frame out of a steel door box he began to weld. It took him the whole day for the repair and the preventive measures – of course outdoor as they do not have any garages there. In the meantime he invited us to tea and cookies even to horsemeat afterwards. Due to the extensive amount on horse intestines in that meat it was not easy for some of our team members to finish the plate off, which the nice mother in law loaded brimful. At around 5 p.m. we were going to leave and when we slowly and carefully drove down the main street of the village more and more children, juveniles and adults showed up. They even waved out of their windows while they were watching us.
We had to stop several times to explain, take pictures or let them sign the PNY-Jeeps. They even baked bread for our 700 km long way to Tscherskie which we will have to drive in walking pace. It just started snowing when we finally left.
February 16, 2009: New short message from the expedition team
Team reached Bilibino after difficult and exaustive track / intense troubles en route / one PNY-Jeep with trailer in snow flurry in the ditch / trailer tumbled down / nevertheless nothing crucial destroyed / no injuries / team in good health / very friendly welcome of all in Bilibino / report follows
It was a tough section to Bilibino with many obstacles. But finally, we made it.
The team is in Bilibino, just like the vehicles and trailer.
Crazy things happened to us on our way behind Shishmaref. F1 had and has no engine power; we had to deal with frozen brakes in Tscherski; we received the news that we were not allowed to enter Tschukotka; Trailer2 lost a complete wheel including brake drum, etc.; wheels on both trailers were blocked by ice and the entire F1 along with its trailer skidded into a ditch.
One step after another:
The tension was huge when we continuously became slower and finally – due to the performance problems of F1 and the resulting additional consumption – had to refuel just 5 kilometers before the city. I was about to explode when I also received the news from Jürgen Graf that we have to stop in Tscherski and will not be allowed to enter Tschukotka - We did not receive the special permission. I was totally mad – what happened? Hastily I called Jürgen and got the information that the authorities did not receive the necessary insurance forms and thus correctly denied our permit. Unfortunately, this had to happen just 40 kilometers before the territory border. We owe the same night's receipt of the permit to people, authorities and institutions that trusted us. Many thanks to all involved people and authorities at this point (when – according to our GPS – reaching the “border to Tschukotka” the next evening, we celebrated and cherished the crossing).
With only 1000 1/min of F1 in gear reduction, we reached Tscherski where the police was already waiting for us. They were expecting us for a long time and were happy to welcome us in sound condition. After the obligatory control and after reporting our expedition to the ones in charge, we were led to a warm garage. There, the team checked and repaired for quite some time, before exhaustedly falling asleep on the seats in the garage. The plan was to sleep for about 2 hours only and get up at 4 a.m. to drive towards Bilibino. However, we were woken up by the first workers at around 10 a.m.
We were hoping that the performance problems of F1 were due to frozen water from the auxiliary tanks. Unfortunately this was not the case. Thus I decided to continue our slow driving without performance on our upcoming – 380 kilometers long – section towards Tschukotka. Just when we were about to leave Tscherski and attached the trailer, we noticed that my brakes at Trailer 1 were frozen. Therefore we had to unfreeze them with Russian burner lamps*. What a nice work at -50° C. At that time, we did not know that we would have to do it again on this section.
Just out of Tscherski, in the middle of the Kolymar, we found the truck in an accident. It broke into the ice only 10 days ago, even though it was driving on the main lane. Crazy. Fortunately there was another truck that took care of the two wet drivers, who were able to save themselves out of the driver’s cab in the last second. Otherwise they would have frozen to death within minutes.
*) Burner lamps are irreplacable for all acrtic truckers. They burn fuel - in our case also ethanol - in adjustable fire beam which are pointed at the frozen parts. This way it is possible to unfreeze e.g. the oil pan, the gearbox, the axles, the brakes.
February 19, 2009: (2)
Then, the course of the road led us north-east on the Kolymar River and one of its channels for many kilometers. The temperatures were below -50°C when during a pee stop at some point during the night we noticed that a wheel including rim, tire, brake drum and spacer was missing on Kaspar’s trailer (T2).
The route has become a narrow trail about 100 kilometers ago and is difficult to drive. Taking into consideration that the wheel could have been lost anywhere and because there would be no chance to find it at night, we decided to continue our drive on three wheels (that’s what we will do on our upcoming 380 kilometers long section from Bilibino to Pevek as well. In Pevek we expect to receive the necessary spare parts).
It would be better not to stop in this cold atmosphere and the additional occuring wind. The reason why we had to stay for about another 3 hours at this place was due to the fact that when Kaspar was ready to go I noticed two blocked wheels at T2. The breaks were frozen. In order to continue driving without the risk that this would happen again (this was probably also the reason for the loss of the other wheel), without further ado we disabled the brake function of T2 by disassembling the break leverage and removing the brake shoe from the blocked wheels in a tough repair action (key word: burner lamps) on the winter road (later on in Bilibino we removed
each and every part that somehow was a part of the break from T1 and T2).
During the following drive was dedicated to the mistake-diagnosis of F1. We used the diagnosis computer to check all parameters, perform tests and compare data of both vehicles in drive operation. I was just sitting in F2 and evaluated information with Kaspar, when the next obstacle on this rocky way to Bilibino was announced via radio: "Matthias, Sh**, I got stuck." In heavy snow flurry, F1 and its trailer went astray and skidded into a ditch. Thereby, the trailer tipped over and turned on its side. Now it was time to stop thinking and sort things out. We had to retrieve both vehicles as soon as possible. First we detached the trailer from the vehicle and put it back on its wheels by using our winches. Then we pulled it on the street with our Warn winches and idler pulleys. It was a little bit more difficult to retrieve F1 because it was stuck deep in snow and because of the strong inclined position that caused the engine to turn off. We had to recover it first. Then we also pulled this vehicle from the ditch with our Warn winches and idler pulley. It was a great performance of our winches, the team had to admit.
After another 20 kilometers we finally reached Bilibino. Once again we were surprised by the things waiting for us there.
February 19, 2009: (3)
We did not know what to expect in Bilibino. Will we have an accommodation, perhaps a small hotel, a garage? How will the authorities react when we arrive? What will we manage to complete?
We were slowly approaching the city. It is located in a wind still area surrounded by high mountains. Arriving from a snowy pass and after entering the main street we have directly been checked by the traffic police. The officers were very friendly and gave us some additional information. Konstantin already informed his contacts without giving me notice. As the success was not sure he did not tell anything and therefore he and we have all been very happy. Everything was perfectly organized.
We have been expected by friends of Konstantin and the mining company Kupogold. We were welcomed and accommodated in clean, perfectly equipped apartments with shower, toilette, washing machine, etc., which are normally used for company employees who make a stopover on their way to the goldmine which is about 200 km away. Moreover, we were integrated in the daily operation and got breakfast, lunch and dinner. They even did our laundry. It is really great. Many thanks to the management of Kupolgold at this point. Also the garage was organized by Konstantin's contacts. There was enough space for us to store the vehicles and trailers in the warmth - a seldom situation. The highlight was an arriving team of mechanics who worked with us.
Altogether we were eleven people starting with the next big modification mission of the Jeeps and trailers. As the trailers have carried important equipment over the rough track until Bilibino and we now only need less of it, the trailers have been rigorously alleviated and additionally protected against the cold. Additionally we removed the 1000 l tank, removed now unnecessary crates and panels. We already modified the Jeeps with adding the construction for the emergency swimming system (hydraulic adaptors at front and back) and pre-mounted the swimming tires on the trailer tires. That was hand work which means an immense issue of strength and that in total 8 times. Of course there was no balancing. Parallel Marco started to work on the next video clip at his especially equipped cutting place.
Originally planned was to leave for Pevek on Thursday. Unfortunately that was not possible. We received a warning from the Russian disaster control via the German Embassy not to start. They expect a hurricane/snow storm in that region which will be very intense with a speed of about 37 m/s. Accordingly the temperature will drop to -60°C. Luckily we received that message in Bilibino and not en-route. Therefore everything was fine again and our problems had a protection effect, as we would already have been on track and met the storm otherwise. The negative aspect it that all winter ways to Pevek will be gone after the hurricane.
February 22, 2009: 1st short message
Task force started from Bilibino towards Pevek.
February 22, 2009: 2nd short message
We have direct contact to the roadmaker - Due to heavy snowdrift at two passes, the track to Pevek is not usable - even not for the heavy 8x8 trucks. There are already trucks waiting on the side opposite to Bilibino. According to today's news, the roadmaker will start on Sunday to clean the passes. We try to manage to drive in convoy with the bulldozers. Therefore start is postponed to Sunday morning.
February 22, 2009: 3rd short message
We just reached the timber line. The last Asian trees on our way to America. There will be nothing but busches til Alaska.
February 22, 2009: 4th short message
We arrived at the bulldozer clearance team. Due to the fact that it has to clear the winter road for the trucks and often has to move a lot of snow, we passed it as agreed with the driver. There are two Kamaz trucks following the dozer. F1 reduced air pressure to 0.6 bar. Are driving on snow and with 6 mp/h. F2 follows in our tracks.
GPS-coordinates: N 68 17`03" / E 167 17`12"
February 22, 2009: 5th short message
Just arrived at first pass. Many snow drifts. Not too long before us a GAZ truck broke through, therefore deep tracks and stirred up snow. Reached the top after many attempts. Partially steap and inclined.
GPS-coordinates: N 68 15`34" / E 167 36`12"
February 22, 2009: 6th short message
We are between the first and second pass. Snowfall is getting heavier. Take a break for about 4 hours at GPS-coordinates: N 68 36`49" / E 168 26`16" Team and vehicles are doing well.
February 23, 2009: 7th short message (02:23 a.m. MEZ)
No horizon, no shrub, no more outlines visible, everything white, moderate snowfall, only a wooden bar or an old barrel every couple hundred meters to indicate the direction, always passing on the right side, that's what I expected from this area. We covered appr. 185 km in 20 hours since Bilibino.
GPS cords.: N 68 35`55" E 168 58`17"
February 23, 2009: 8th short message (03:10 a.m. MEZ)
Progress slowing down. Intense snowfall, moderate wind, visibility 0-15 m.
GPS-coordinates: N 68 37`24" E 169 14`09"
February 23, 2009: Lucky charms and the start towards Pevek (05:09 a.m. MEZ)
So many people wished us good luck. Either with words, in writing or presented us with lucky charms. Actually, up to now we have not suffered of anything crucial. Perhaps that is due to all the good blessings we received with all those talismans. We have them all on board: Two roses which we received in Berlin from our partner Pacwolf (meanwhile there are only the sticks left), amulets, horseshoes, icons, special bank notes, money coins, personal ball pens, lucky slogans written on the cars, pennants, buttons, badges, stickers and and and.
In Bilibino we received the biggest lucky charm so far: dear horns. With the horns in my hand I was searching for the best place on Jeep or trailer until it came to my mind that the best place for it to be is on top of the trailer. I held the horns in one hand and climbed on it. Laying it on the hydraulic extension in order to search for the best place to attach them, I realized that the main safety belts of the heavy iron parts are in correct position, but cut by a metal cant. We could possibly have lost those heavy parts in an inclined position. Unimaginable what amount of work that would have been to put them back on the trailer. So much for working lucky charms.
The hospitality in Bilibino was really immense. We were invited to food and beverage, we were introduced to people who have been important for us, and we received special equipment as well as many tips about the region and the streets. The day before our departure, we have been invited to a celebration of the military offspring by Major Garvasin. It was a special act of trustfulness from this man and we were happy to be his guest. We have been introduced as guests of honor and I was allowed to hold a short speech. Many thanks at this point for the trustfulness.
We left until the city border in a convoy after saying good-bye to our friendly mechanics Konstantin, Maxim, Alexey, Ingor, Ignat, Slava and his son as well as the major Garvasin and Vadim, the boss of the ministry of catastrophe protection (MCS). Many cars joined us for accompany, passing waving children and greeting grown-ups, all the time behind the bulldozers.
Bilibino and its people have been really friendly.
After even the last supporting car turned-over we were all alone again and optimally prepared for the most difficult winter track due to weather conditions so far: 380 km from Bilibino to Pevek.
February 23, 2009: 9th short message (06:04 a.m. MEZ)
We crossed the second pass and left the emergency accommodation behind us. After an eating break we are now on the "road" again with heavy storm and snow flurry. Speed appr. 5-10 km/h.
GPS cords: N 68 40`19" / E 169 22`37
February 23, 2009: 10th short message (07:15 a.m. MEZ)
Just now we reached the arctic ocean (outstanding!!) after struggling with the snow and heavy snow drifts with a visibility of 5-10 m.
GPS cords: N 68 45`32" / E 169 41`53"
February 23, 2009: 11th short message (10:55 a.m. MEZ)
We arrived at base camp kupol gold. This partner promised to rescue us in case of an emergency or breakdown on the last 160 km to Pevek. We just started for the last kilometers to Pevek.
GPS cords.: N 68 46`45" / E 170 07`33"
February 23, 2009: 12th short message (02:36 p.m. MEZ)
Difficult and extreme track. We have to bash into snow drifts in full speed from time to time in order to come through them. In between deep snow and old snow blurred tracks vom Urals or Kamaz trucks in which we suddenly broke into. All of that at night with snow flurries. Since leaving the base camp we approx. covered 95 km.
GPS cords: N 69 25`22" / E 170 47`03"
February 23, 2009: 13th short message (05:00 p.m. MEZ)
Team is in good health but tired approx. 50 km before Pevek. Time for rest.
GPS Cords: N 69 28`29" E 170 46`47"
February 24, 2009: 14th short message (05:26 a.m. MEZ)
We slept at the high plateau, and just started again. Behind us, two trucks got stuck at an inclination. In front us a convoy of 6 trucks got stuck in the deep snow of the high plateau. We reduced the air pressure of the tires once more. We reduced the air pressure several times. We crossed the truck onto the snow with 0.3 and 0.5 bar. Leaving the trucks behind we reached the road service at the GPS cords: N 69 30`32" / E 170 46`22". They are currently cleaning the track after the blizzard
February 26, 2009: 16th short message (08:53 a.m. MEZ)
Fantastic weather due to ridge of high pressure. Amazingly beautiful landscape. An impressive arctic desert. 2 hours ago we arrived at the gold minig city Komsomolsk. About 200 very friendly people of a mining company are still living there. Anton Iwanowitsch Jukna, the manager, invited us for a meal, organized fuel 500 km away for us to produce the next fuel/bio-ethanol mixture and informed us about the road conditions on the upcoming 500 km. Thank you very much.
Due to corresponding reports and statements, we expect another low-pressure system with lots of snow during the next days, that we have to pass. We are curious to find out when we will be able to start.
GPS-cords: N 69 05´47“ / E 172 49´18“
February 26, 2009: 17th short message (02:58 p.m. MEZ)
Had to stop. Extremely tough section, huge snowdrifts, snowfall and strong wind. We were able to get through some of them. Others were just too high. It took us 5 hours to manage 14 km. Within minutes our own traces disappeared. It’s crazy to see that sometimes within 5 minutes, 30-40 cm high drifts are back again. For safety reasons we returned to a nearby mine and will try to get through again tomorrow. Team alright but tired.
GPS-cords: N 68 58´25“ / E 173 41‘47“
February 27, 2009: 18th short message (02:14 a.m. MEZ)
Even more snow and strong wind. In more detail: I drive in the lead with F1, Kaspar is appr. 15m behind me (the length of one of our jeeps with trailer). He can hardly see my tracks which I left in the snow 30s before. We move forward with 0-5 km/h and air pressure of 0.4 bar. Even now we met three water trucks of the mine. They got stuck and were not able to reach the standpipe of the mine at that day - probably the very place where we have been yesterday.
GPS cords: N 68 51´56" / E 173 43´40"
February 27, 2009: 19th short message (11:19 a.m. MEZ)
A really hard fight. We started today at 10 a.m. after a coordination about the way together with the mining company. Afterwards it took us 9 hours, whereas 7 hours at one point (uphill, inclination to the right and gradient to the right for a rollover). We pulled out all the stops at this inclination where we additionally faced 3 huge snowdrifts (2-3m high and 40 to 100m long). We dismounted the trailers, put on fourfold tires and everyone helped to get rid of the snow, but then we decided for a 1-2 day long break and to wait for the road service in order to safe our equipment for parts where nobody will help us. As the snow drifts are built within shortest time periods, there was also the danger that a vehicle and trailer could get stuck in between two of them. There would be no more chance. We just set up an emergency camp on a little ledge above an flank of the hill (trailer as wind protection, cloth on top of the cars as tent) when the road service arrived, accompanied by the three water trucks. As the mine necessarily needs water, they had to drive once more. In lightning speed we cancelled everything and followed them. They are appr. 15 min in front of us.
GPS cords: N 68 44`13" / E 173 50`17"
February 27, 2009: 20th short message (01:16 p.m. MEZ)
Difficult hill incident with continuous winching action directly followed after the formerly mentioned circumstances at the inclination. From time to time we have to pull the trailers, the cars, or even both out of deep snow. If we would not be so well equipped (Warn winches at front and rear), the expedition would have to be cancelled at several points so far. After great efforts we reached a small weather station. We are safe, team is well and happy to manage the way so far. We are currently 250km behind Pevek. Vehicles suffered, Several fenders ragged or damaged, safety belts cracked.
GPS Cords: N 68 31`27" / E 174 08`38"
February 27, 2009: 21st short message (03:35 p.m MEZ)
We just saw the aurora borealis for the first time on the expedition. It looks like god made the sky burn in green flames. Amazing to see.
February 28, 2009: 22nd short message (03:16 a.m. MEZ)
We are already driving since 700 km with 0.4 - 0.6 bar with the Wrangler MT/R. Average speed 5-25 km/h. Vehicle weight appr. 3.5 t plus trailer. No damage or weakening at all. Current position in a narrow valley after the weather station. Advancement is good.
February 28, 2009: 23rd short message (08:00 a.m. MEZ)
I lost my chassis snow protection while breaking through a big snow drift. We just finished a 5 hour repairing period. Naff. We continue at starting snowfall. Team strained. Vehicles ready for use.
GPS cords: N 68 22´51" / E 174 58`12"
February 28, 2009: 24th short message (04:01 p.m. MEZ)
We struggeld through most dense snow flurry, kilometer after kilometer. So far, we were not able to stop, otherwise we would be totally covered in snow by tomorrow morning. We tried to reach the emergency shelter appr. 200km away from the weather station, without success. The snow drifts are too intense. We just shoveled ourselves through an inclination which took us two hours. Now the team is sleeping and I try to break through snow flurries with F1 without trailer in order not get totally covered in snow. Air pressure 0.2 bar. fuel reserve ok, food ok, team/vehicles ok.
GPS cords: N 67 52´45" / E 176 05´46"
March 01, 2009: 25th short message (02:19 a.m. MEZ)
After four hours of sleep, we had a lot of drudgery at the next difficult inclinations. We are currently appr. 500m away from the pass summit, shoveling and winching for hours. The only possible way: trying to bring F1 backwards on top, if successful trace breaking, then T1 upwards, then F1 back to protext F2 + trailer or upward winching...
News obsolete before sending: together with both cars and trailers we just reached the first pass summit! The Pacific Ocean watershed!
GPS cords: N 67 52´23" / E 176 05´51"
March 01, 2009: 26th short message (06:08 a.m. MEZ)
We crossed the second mountain pass. We are currently in front of the third pass. Weather cleared off and exactly as predicted by the German Weather Service, we had a short influence of a high pressure area on our driving route today. More precisely, that means sunshine again after a long time. We still have not reached the emergency shelter.
GPS cords: N 67 40´11" / E 176 39´53"
March 01, 2009: 27th short message (10:18 a.m. MEZ)
We reached the emergency shelter 30 km before the third mountain pass, where a bulldozer is positioned. We had to debate how to go on. The pass is totally covered in snow. "No chance to come through" said the dozer driver. He cleaned the pass this morning with a snow height of more than 5m, but directly after him, due to a strong wind, everything was covered in snow again. The remaining fuel is just enough to keep the dozer running, but no chance to clean the pass again. Next fuel delivery is arriving in appr. 5 days time. Shi***.
The two men living here in loneliness were really friendly. We received warm food and exchanged information. Two trucks, who left some days before us, containing 20 people in total, have still not reached Valonisti (mine appr. 170km in direction of Egvekinot from this emergency shelter). They try to find out where they are. A commision who started from Egvekinot in direction of Pevek also got stuck appr. 250km away from here with no possibility to move on. We will stay the night here and try to reach the mountain pass tomorrow. Then we will see what is possible or not. Worst case would be, that we have to wait here due to the storms.
This area is really amazing. Gigantic widths, partially snow drifts in a height of houses.
Otherwise: Team exhausted but in good health, fuel reserve 500 liters plus two half-full main tanks, food reserve ok, vehicles also ok although I had a hard impact on F1 today when I slipped into a rift in a snow drift.
GPS cords: N 67 29´57" / E 176 41´49"
March 02, 2009: 28th short message (00:09 a.m. MEZ)
The team of the emergency shelter had radio contact to Valonisti this morning. Yesterday evening the contact permanently broke off. We heard that a rescue team is on the way to the two trucks which got stuck in the snow ahead of us. The rescue team left at 4 a.m. this morning and managed 30 km in 5 hours.
We leave now to take the chance. There is a rescue team nearby if we do not succeed. There are 170km ahead of us until we reach Valonisti. During the radio contact we were requested to contact the rescue team via satellite phone when we reach the people in the snow earlier in order to get an impression of their condition.
March 02, 2009: 29th short message (06:37 a.m. MEZ)
After 6.5 hours of shoveling and winching, we just reached the pass summit (19km away from the emergency shelter) of the so-called third pass to Pevek. Awesome!
An unbelievable beautiful panorama up here! The tracks of the dozer were covered in snow. Only the deep tunnels (app. 3-4m meters) that it dug were visible. Air pressure F1 rear and front was 0.2 bar. Temperature appr. -35°C. We still have a fuel reserve of 500l plus half a tank left due to our last decanting action. With an inclined F1 we got nearly everything out of both roof tanks and my rear tank.
GPS Cords: N 67 21´07'' / E 176 49´0''
March 02, 2009: 30th short message (03:57 p.m. MEZ)
We just passed the thousandth kilometer of most difficult offrad track, snow, and ice with temperatures never above -20° and minimum -56°C with 0.5 bar air pressure or less with 8 MT/R tires on each vehicle - without any damage!!!! Thanks Goodyear!
We made it to the point, where the trucks must have been covered in snow. The tracks indicate that a Russian chain-driven transportation vehicle reached them first. Appr. 10km further we met the biggest CAT chain-driven vehicle of the world, a D10. Unimaginable dimensions. Even the driver cabin is located 4m above the ground. Pragmatically it pulled a sledge behind, which is a house, a big tank farm, and a snow plow at the same time.
As the D10 has already driven on that track we decided to overtake him like the rescued trucks. We now got stuck in an extremely strong snow storm appr. 25km in front of Valonisti. Not single 1-2m visibility. We just struggled in the "Whiteout" up a last inclination in order to reach a safe position and not to get totally covered in snow masses. There is no way to go further, as the Ural trucks got stuck in front of us, blocking the track. We have to wait for the dozers, which will free the trucks. We have a safe position on the ridge, fuel reserve 320l and 2 half-full tanks, food reserve ok, the storm is blowing that one can hardly stand. One is blown down or tumbling immediately. Unbelievable. Team is exhausted and stiff but we considerably increased our safety. The decision to decamp today turned out to be absolutely correct. In my opinion we took the only chance to reach Valonisti. No chance before and after it.
The storm is raging in such a strong way, that snow is coming through closed doors. We have -24°C, but together with a wind speed of appr. 35-38 km/h it feels like -60°C. Gloves, jackets, caps frozen to stiff in minutes and covered in a thick ice crust. We are standing at that location for about 15 minutes. On my left there is already a snow drift of 50cm height and 3m length.
GPS Cords: N 66 30´33" / E 177 16´45"
March 03, 2009: 31st short message (00:49 a.m. MEZ)
The expedition got stuck in an intense snow flurry together with other people. The driver of the D10 tried the whole night to break through the snow masses and gave up at 7 a.m. Even these experienced drivers have seen such a storm only once in their lives. It was and still is unbelievable strong. Now it seems that the wind is only blowing fallen snow around rather than new snow. They came from a mine which is located 20km away and informed us that they cannot tell us how long we have to wait until they try to continue. There is no visibility at all. Everything really everything is white. "White out" is the name of this frightening situation.
There were some unbelievable situations yesterday night. One of them was that the truck bus, in which we assumed 20 people, was left behind. We do not know if there were people in it. It was not able to rescue it out of the snow masses. Another 8x8 truck was pushed out of the snow. In order to cross the huge snow crater which it left with this action, the D10 drove a loop through the deep snow. There, he also towed his sledge and behind of it a Ural truck 6x6, which fell onto its left side. I was running, falling, and crawling forward through the channel in order to literally feel by touching if we could manage to come through. Luckily the broad sledge of the snow clean dozer made so much space on the right side, that our vehicles were falling in the channel, which was the fatality for the Ural truck. As we totally strained tried to follow the cat - which was only possible in gear reduction and in first or second gear, our engines suddenly became hot. During the storm we opened the bonnet and realized that the engine compartment - although especially isolated from all sides - was totally covered in ice. As through our doors, the storm pushed into the engine compartment. The accumulated ice was responsible for our frozen electronic fans. We continued in order not to lose contact to the Cat, always on the edge to the red area. Currently my fan is working again, in contrast to the one from F2. That's just about the limit.
Current position: estimated 4-6 km behind the last position in direction towards Valonisti. Total amount of people locked in at this point: 10 in 5 vehicles, no injured ones or similar, fuel reserve of the Jeeps in total 320 l, food reserve of Extrem Events team for 7-8 days, existing communication with the mine which is 20km away through the Cat driver, existing satellite communication to head office through own system.
GPS Cords: N 66 29´20" / E 177 23´13"
March 03, 2009: 32nd short message (08:23 a.m. MEZ)
Still no progess. No movement for the last 12 hours. Force of storm has increased once more. We needed to refuel. Therefore we have 2 full main tanks appr. 200 l reserve at the moment, which means one additional refueling of the main tanks + rest for driving. Enough fuel for 96 hours, food reserve ok, beverage is getting scarce. We are melting snow. We just built an emergency tent out of Russian canvas, which we brought with us for worst cases. We mounted it over the vehicle bonnets as there is more and more snow getting into the engine compartment and passenger cabin.
March 03, 2009: 33rd short message (12:01 p.m. MEZ)
The fuel reserve of the bulldozer is getting scarce. The dozer team decided to decamp. After 20 hours of stagnation we started again. F2 is permanently getting hot due to the damaged fan. We removed the isolation at the radiator grill, but it will be difficult to manage the pass like that.
March 03, 2009: 34th short message (05:45 p.m. MEZ)
We made it. We reached the mine of Valonisti. The small community, built due to the situation of being stuck in the snow just started to prepare for difficult days (food was gathered und divided, we provided the pot/the men of the other team melted snow, we cooked together, and so on) as it was already disbanded again. We respectfully bid farewell keeping in mind that everyone managed this situation very good. We covered the last 18 km which separated us from civilization in 9 hours. Meter after meter. 2m forwards = clearing of 1-2m snow height... sometimes the CAT crawls that deep into the snow that his roof was totally covered. I pulled Kaspars Jeep and trailer with F1 and trailer over appr. Half the distance. The rest of the track he tried to manage it on his own somehow, every time marginal below the red area. He is a really good and reasonable driver. Luckily, the weather has meanwhile also improved a little bit. It is still windy, but comparably weak with moderate snowfall. We are looking forward to a shower now after 6 exhausting days and nights in the car.
GPS cords: N 66 24´55" / E 177 34´59"
March 05, 2009: 35th short message (00:54 a.m. MEZ)
We are currently trying to fix Kaspar's fan. No continuation without fan. I am not able to tow F2 and trailer for hundreds of kms. We fixed everything on the vehicles so far. Due to the damages of the storm (removed all the ice out of the engine compartments, fans, induction pipes and so on) we hope to start over again today.