Friday, August 22, 2014

Trekol Traverse

Greetings All,
During the afternoon of August 15 we were taken ashore by Zodiac boats to rendezvous with the first overland group.  On the way we spotted a Polar Bear swimming towards shore.

Swimming Polar Bear

The ice has melted and they have no choice but to go ashore. The first overland group had arrived by a Trekol, a Russian made vehicle built to travel across the tundra with minimal impact.  

The Trekol Awaits

We were to follow the same route going in the opposite direction.  We would start at Drum Head (also known as Dream Head) on the northwest coast and cross two passes to reach Doubtful on the southern coast.  Here is a map showing our route.

Trekol Traverse (click to enlarge)

As we approached the beach I was amazed to see an Arctic Fox brazenly approach.  

Hungry Arctic Fox

After we landed we were told that this desperately thin fox had followed the Trekol for the last 10 km.  A big man all bundled up in a parka and accompanying the Trekol on a quad bike tossed a hunk of salami to the hungry fox.  I was surprised to see the wildlife on Wrangel being fed as it is a federally protected wildlife reserve but I was happy to see the starving fox getting some food.  The first overland group had a great trip and I was eager to start.  We piled into the back of the Trekol and set off with our driver Vova and guide Oksana. 

Our group in the Trekol

Oksana told us the man on the quad bike was Sasha, the director of the reserve, and he was to accompany us.  Not long after we started we spotted a Polar Bear on the beach.  He looked a little thin and untidy as we drove past.

Polar Bear on Beach
We entered an area where Snow Geese abound.  Up to 60,000 pairs breed on the island, the only large breeding colony on the Eurasian continent.  This year has been hard on the geese.  Spring came late and many pairs did not breed.  We spotted one pair with 5 gray chicks in tow.

Snow Geese with Chicks
We passed a couple of Arctic Fox dens where the inquisitive kits came to check us out.

Arctic Fox Kit

In the late evening we arrived at Tundra Hut.  It's not clear when the hut was built but over the years it has housed numerous researchers. This year Olga, a park scientist who is studying Snow Geese, lived here.

Trekol and Tundra Hut
The following morning Oksana cooked oatmeal and toast for breakfast to fuel us for the day ahead.

Breakfast at Tundra Hut

We left the Tundra River and entered the Mammoth River Valley.  It's easier for the Trekol to travel along the gravel river beds and causes less damage to the tundra.

Tundra River Valley

A hatch was cut through the roof and Marc and Jens squeezed through to photograph the many birds and animals we encountered.

View from the Trekol Roof Hatch

We passed more Arctic Fox dens but in the morning fewer kits are up as they are too sleepy to play.

Sleepy Arctic Fox Kit

Two Snowy Owls were engaged in a squabble over what we did not know.

Dueling Snowy Owls

Most of their chicks have already fledged but we encountered three.  They could not fly yet and scuttled across the tundra to get away.  They lack the white plumage of their parents and their eyes are a more intense yellow.

Snowy Owl Chick

For lunch we stopped at a hut that was used back in 1975 by scientists introducing muskox to the island.

Muskox Introduction Hut

The corral that once held the 15-20 muskox brought over from Nunivak Island in Alaska remains near the hut. With the coming of winter, the muskox escaped never to return to their enclosure.  Only 6 of the original muskox survived but were prolific breeders.  Today there are 800 muskox on the island.  As we neared Doubtful, our final destination, 6 Arctic Fox kits emerged from their den on top of a river bank.  They stared at us inquisitively before resuming their play.

Arctic Fox Kits at Play
Back at Doubtful we stayed in a new hut under construction.  It lacked the character of Tundra Hut but was more spacious and comfortable.  The next morning we headed out on our last drive toward Doubtful Pass.  Not far from the hut a herd of 8 muskox were grazing on the tundra.  They stopped and assumed the defensive posture at our approach.

We stopped at an abandoned forest rangers hut.  Yes, at one time there was a forestry project being conducted in the island even though there are no trees!  We headed back to the rangers station at Doubtful.  An Arctic Fox approached the Trekol looking for a treat but we had nothing to give.  He was a beautiful healthy fox capable of feeding himself.

Arctic Fox

Back at the station Sasha took us for a tour.  A mammoth tusk had been washed down from the hills and still lay where it had come to rest.  Wrangel Island may have been the last place on Earth where woolly mammoths survived!

Mammoth Tusk

Some of the rangers, inspectors as they are called here, had taken up residence in what appeared to be abandoned cabins.  Many had relics from the Soviet Era and it was like walking back in time.

Kitchen and Sleeping Quarters in one of the Cabins
Brilliantly colored wildflowers were still in bloom amongst the "artifacts" left behind by the Soviets.


We watched as the Spirit of Enderby cruised toward us in the bay and all too soon our overland trip was over.  I can't think of a better way to have spent my birthday then on wondrous Wrangel Island!  

We hope all is well back home,
Peggy and Marc

1 comment:

Paddy Eason said...

Thank you so much for blogging your trip. Wonderful photographs and observations. I, like you, fell in love with Jennifer Niven's two arctic books. I long to visit those beaches to drink in the atmosphere. I wonder if, after all these years (and all the subsequent activity) anything remains of the various camps of the two Stefansson expeditions? Do we know exactly where they were situated? I hunt around in Google Earth and Apple Maps to see what I can find... You're very lucky to have been able to visit. Thanks again for sharing!