DAY 6-24: Exploring the Russian High Arctic, Siberian Coast, and Russian Far East
In keeping with the nature of an expedition, our day-by-day itinerary will be flexible. We’ll utilize the extensive experience of our captain and crew, as well as of our technological resources and ice-strengthened ship, to chart a course around impenetrable ice, through one of the most remote regions on Earth, and toward once-in-a-lifetime sightings of the Arctic’s abundant wildlife. During our time at sea, enjoy the ship amenities and hear lectures from our naturalists. Listed below are some of the stops that we plan to make during our expedition.
Franz Josef Land
Located just over 550 miles from the North Pole, Franz Josef Land is the world’s northernmost archipelago; its uninhabited islands remain frozen under vast ice sheets for much of the year. In 2013, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala led an expedition in the surrounding Arctic waters as part of the Pristine Seas project, capturing the first deep-sea footage of the rare Greenland shark. Our ship, Zodiacs, and kayaks bring us close to the archipelago’s dramatic icescapes, seldom seen coastlines, and out-of-this-world scenery at the top of the planet. Observe polar bears from the ship deck, and go ashore for naturalist-led walks to search for walruses, arctic seabird colonies, and narwhals.
Watch for Arctic wildlife as we navigate past Ice Harbor, where Dutch explorer Willem Barents spent the winter between 1596 and 1597. Cruise the Barents Sea en route to the heavily glaciated coastlines of the Novaya Zemlya archipelago, a chain of mountainous islands draped in ice that have yet to be thoroughly explored. Seals, walruses, and polar bears may be found on coastal ice floes year-round, and rich birdlife inhabits the shorelines during the summer months.
As we sail under 24 hours of daylight, our naturalists will be on deck, seeking out beluga whales and other marine mammals that inhabit the shallow coastal waters bordering the Severnaya Zemlya archipelago. Discovered only in 1930, this chain of isles—separated from the coast of northern Siberia by the Vil’kitskogo Strait—is one of the planet’s most recently charted territories. Pass Cape Chelyuskin, the most northerly point of the Eurasian continent, on our way west.
New Siberian Islands
Often surrounded by heavy pack ice, the volcanic spires, cliffs, and buttresses of these rocky outposts are a magnificent backdrop for abundant wildlife. We keep a lookout for elusive Ross’s gull, named after the British polar explorer. Walruses haul out on the ice in great numbers and seabirds nest on great cliffs on the De Long Islands, discovered by the 1881 Jeannette expedition in search of the North Pole.
East Siberian Sea
Depending on sailing conditions, explore granite towers, tundra, and ancient ceremonial sites along shores where mammoths once roamed. The surrounding pack ice is an ideal place to find walruses, polar bears, and other wildlife of the circumpolar north.
Spend time exploring the World Heritage–listed Wrangel Island Reserve in the Arctic Ocean. With the world’s largest population of Pacific walruses and the highest density of ancestral polar bear dens, Wrangel Island offers incredible opportunities for wildlife viewing. The island escaped glaciation during the last ice age, and now has the highest level of biodiversity in the high Arctic, with an astonishing variety of plant life. It was also the last refuge of woolly mammoths, whose bones and teeth have been discovered amid the island’s riverbeds, providing intriguing clues to their past existence. As we explore by ship, by Zodiac, and on foot, keep an eye out for gray whales, which can be found in these prime feeding grounds.
Go ashore at Kolyuchin Island and Kolyuchin Inlet on the northern Chukotka coast. An enormous tidal estuary, Kolyuchin Inlet offers excellent hiking and birding opportunities. Nearby, Kolyuchin Island is a high, cliff-lined isle where puffins and guillemots nest, and Pacific walruses occasionally sunbathe on the rocks below. Explore this remote and untouched coastline in a Zodiac, and conditions permitting, head ashore to go hiking with our naturalists.