Kola Camp

Russia The Kola 2013 Part 5

When you sleep in a building the dawn’s light wakes you later than it would through the canvas of the tent so by the time we stirred the day was already warm and bright. After a leisurely breakfast we set off for another day’s adventure.

Today the tracks were an exercise for the ultimate track to come. We were presented with drops into rivers and had to clear trees from tracks that had not been used since our last foray 5 years ago, also some of the wooden bridges were a little shabby to say the least. Rob, Isabella, Kevin and Sue were a little astonished when Steve and I told them that the rickety bridge in the picture was the best that they would cross on this adventure. We even had to use our winch on one sand climb where the track had been washed away after the spring melt.

As we drove along flocks of snow buntings, yellow wagtails and siskin’s flew like autumn leaves in front of the car and over lunch a gyrfalcon shot past, causing panic to the small bird population.

Tonight would be our last camp beside the sea, on the opposite side of the Estuary to our first camp. The nights were cool so a fire was started early so that it would be well established before the cool of the evening. Kevin made a bespoke pan boiling system using a variety of sticks held by logs and successfully cooked tea for Sue. We then cooked the salmon on a stick set above the fire and it was as delicious as the one that we had had the night before.

Just as we were finishing our salmon I happened to mention that the last time that I had camped in this spot a Russian turned up with his Lada slightly the worse for wear. Minutes later a family, in their Lada turned up as if on cue and we enjoyed an entertaining few hours (until past midnight) with them conversing in broken English and sign language. The father, Roman, even went out into the bay for a paddle in my canoe. His daughters gave me some beads and a flower that still adorns the Impala Range Rover to this day. The family stayed until we had all turned in and then roared passed with a loud pip of the horn. We could hear their car slipping and sliding back along the track for a while before the silence of the night returned.

Our journey away from the sea inland to Oktyabrsky was as bright as the days before and we had one more wild camp before two nights in the Yolki Palki Lodge. There are two ways to get there: the lower road (the winter road) that is frozen during the northern winter and therefore easy to drive, but during the summer becomes a very difficult track of mud. To the west is the summer route, but you need to know firstly where it is and secondly which of the myriad of turnings you need to take so as not to end up back in the mud. The first 25km or so is the same route and while we were on this part we met a Swiss team travelling through Russia and they spoke of impassable mud ahead on the track, warning us that it would be very difficult and to take care. I talked for a while and gave them some routes down by the White Sea so that they would not miss out on some great off-roading.

I have the summer route so we set off with the knowledge that we would enjoy an incredible journey across the high ground. The track runs between lakes of clear water and forests of pine, larch and birch that are growing far enough apart to allow the soft carpet of lichen and blue, red and blackberries to grow, (all are edible). Along the way is the occasional rickety bridge and rock tracks that are fine tuning the skills needed for the last adventure between Monchegorsk and Verkhnetulomsky.

Our campsite was reached by 1830 and was set high up amongst trees with views across the immeasurable forest. We pitched our tents on soft Lichen in the company of the mosquitoes, but within an hour or so they had been sent back into the trees by the cooler evening wind so we enjoyed the camp fire insect free. One insect of note that we have seen in abundance was the humble Bumble Bee. I have never seen so many here; they were everywhere, a good sign of a happy nature.

I am always first up in the morning, anytime between 0500 and 0700 so always get the fire going so that when everyone else stirs and leave their tents to see what the weather has in store for the day there is always the welcoming sight of a log fire – a quintessential part of a forest adventure I think.

Coffee is next on the agenda for me and Steve, my support. This is the second time that Steve Pitt has supported in Russia so he now knows it well and enjoys it immensely.

Today the rain is falling gently and we have but 60km to go on sand tracks and with a couple of river crossings to get to the Yolki Palki for the rest day tomorrow.

As we broke camp the rain stopped and the temperature started to rise again. The route passed through two villages, one deserted because after the forest had been harvested in the communist times the government moved people back to the towns and left the villages to rot. Some of the houses are still lived in but if Putin made the decision then they could be bulldozed away and the inhabitants would have to move to towns like Kivorsk or Kandalaksha.

The first long river crossing was tackled successfully, another piece of experience for the ultimate test. The rocks in the tracks also became more numerous, often fiendishly placed to trap the unwary: another training session for Rob and Kevin which they passed with flying colours. There were also a lot of Russians on the tracks, because today was Sunday and everyone heads out into the wilderness to fish and picnic.

By late afternoon we had arrived at Yolki Palki and Frank welcomed us with a Russian beer and his usual superb hospitality. The lodge is in the village of Oktyabrsky, which is another one of the logging villages that is inhabited although the people should be in the flats in Kivorsk. It appears that after the logging finished the inhabitants did not want to spend all their time in the city so the village has become a place to go at the weekend.

After eight days it was good to have the time to wash some clothes and get oneself clean in the sauna before enjoying a fantastic dinner of traditional Russian food. Sleeping inside a building after twelve nights under canvas seemed a little airless, but I did sleep well enough as the bed was very comfortable and it was very quiet outside as the village of Oktyabrsky was still deep in the forest.