Across the Top of the World: To Wrangel and Herald Islands

Shokalskiy
Shokalskiy
48 Passengers
Northeast Passage

This unique expedition crosses the Arctic Circle and includes the isolated and pristine Wrangel and Herald Islands and a significant section of the wild North Eastern Siberian coastline. It is a journey only made possible in recent years by the thawing in the politics of the region and the retreat of summer pack ice in the Chukchi Sea. The very small distance between Russia and the USA along this border area was known as the Ice Curtain, behind which then and now lies one of the last great undiscovered wilderness areas in the world.

The voyage journeys through the narrow Bering Strait, which separates Russia from the United States of America, and then travels west along the Chukotka coastline before crossing the De Long Strait to Wrangel Island. There we will spend four to five days under the guidance of local rangers on the nature reserve. Untouched by glaciers during the last ice age, this island is a treasure trove of Arctic biodiversity and is perhaps best known for the multitude of Polar Bears that breed here. We hope to catch many glimpses of this beautiful animal. The island also boasts the world's largest population of Pacific Walrus and lies near major feeding grounds for the Gray Whales that migrate thousands of miles north from their breeding grounds in Baja, Mexico. Reindeer, Musk Ox and Snow Geese can normally be seen further inland. A visit to massive bird cliffs on nearby Herald Island is also planned. The ‘mammoth steppe' vegetation complex, a rich and diverse relic from the Pleistocene epoch nurtures over 400 plant species and never fails to astound visitors with its sublime beauty. The number and type of endemic plant species, the diversity within plant communities, the presence of relatively recent mammoth tusks and skulls, a range of terrain types and geological formations in the small geographical space are all visible evidence of Wrangel's rich natural history and its unique evolutionary status within the Arctic.

The human history of Wrangel Island is fascinating on its own. Highlights include a 3,400 year old Paleo-Eskimo camp in Krassin Bay, controversy over discovery and ownership of the island, the amazing story of the survivors of the Karluk, Ada Blackjack the heroine of the island, the Soviet occupation and militarization and more recently, the establishment of this world class nature reserve. A host of similarly enthralling stories hail from several optional landings along the northern coasts of Chukotka. Our expert expedition team will take you on guided walks, Zodiac cruises and provide lectures to help you better understand and appreciate this unique High Arctic landscape.

NOTE: You can join this expedition either in Anadyr or in Nome, Alaska. Those starting in Nome will fly by a charter flight to Anadyr to join the ship and remaining expedition members who have travelled direct to Anadyr.

Brief Itinerary

Day 0 Nome, Alaska
Day 1 Anadyr
Day 2 Anadyrskiy Bay
Day 3 Yttygran Island and Gil’mimyl Hot Springs
Day 4 Lavrentiya and Cape Dezhnev
Day 5 Kolyuchin Island
Days 6 to 10 Wrangel and Herald Islands
Day 11 Kolyuchin Inlet and North Siberian Coast
Day 12 Bering Strait and Chukotka Coast
Day 13 Bukhta Penkingney and Arakamchechen Island
Day 14 At Sea
Day 15 Anadyr - Nome, Alaska

Day 0 — Nome, Alaska

Those departing from Nome, Alaska, should arrive in Nome the day before our charter flight.

During this flight you will cross the International Date Line, arriving into Anadyr on Day 1 of the expedition. You will clear Russian Customs and Immigration.

Day 1 — Anadyr

All expedition members will arrive in Anadyr; depending on your time of arrival you may have the opportunity to explore Anadyr, the administrative centre of the Chukotka region, before getting to know your fellow voyagers and crew on board the ship. As we depart you are invited to join the captain, officers and the expedition team on the bridge. The Anadyr estuary is renowned for its Beluga Whales.

Day 2 — Anadyrskiy Bay

As we sail across Anadyrskiy Bay towards the Bering Strait there will be a chance to relax or enjoy some ‘birding’ with our naturalists and/or settle into ship life and, for many of you, adjust to the time changes. Late this afternoon we will be in the vicinity of Preobrazheniya Bay where there are some outstanding bird cliffs which we plan to Zodiac cruise.

Day 3 ― Yttygran Island and Gil’mimyl Hot Springs

Yttygran Island is home to the monumental ancient aboriginal site known as Whale Bone Alley, where whale bones stretch along the beach for nearly 1/4 mile (.5 km). There are many meat pits used for storage and other remains of a busy whaling camp that united several aboriginal villages at a time. In one location, immense Bowhead Whale jawbones and ribs are placed together in a stunning arch formation.

Gray Whales are frequently seen around the island. After landing at Whale Bone Alley we will take the Zodiacs on a whale-watching excursion. This afternoon we intend to make a landing at the Gil’mimyl Hot Springs. They are a short walk from the coastline, but well worth the effort. There will be a chance to explore the tundra for birds, plants and animals as we walk to and fro. After a soak in the springs we will re-join the ship for a relaxing evening.

Day 4 ― Lavrentiya and Cape Dezhnev

Dropping anchor in beautiful Lavrentiya Bay, we expect to spend the morning exploring its historically and culturally rich village. A former indigenous settlement, this Soviet-planned community was established in the 1920s as an administrative center where local Chukchi and Siberian Yupik were encouraged to move. We plan to visit the Lavrentiya museum, meet local elders and enjoy an authentic taste and slice of village life in the main square.

This afternoon we plan to be at Cape Dezhnev, the north-eastern most point of the Eurasian continent. This cape commemorates the accomplishment of the Cossack Semyon Dezhnev who was the first European to sail through this strait in 1648 (80 years before Bering did). On the cape is a lighthouse, a monument and the remains of a Border Guard base. If the weather and sea conditions are suitable we plan to land here and give you the opportunity to explore the area.

A short distance south of the cape is the former Inuit settlement of Naukan. The Soviet government relocated these people to other Chukotka settlements in the 1950s as it was thought they posed a security risk, supposedly because of the close proximity of Alaska. It is still possible to sense the melancholy in the air because the people never wanted to leave. As the relocation was fairly recent, there is a wealth of historic data and photographs that makes this visit even more poignant.

Day 5 — Kolyuchin Island

This small island was once an important Russian Polar Research Station and one of a number dotted across the Arctic. Sadly with the collapse of the USSR there was no money to maintain them and they were abandoned; the buildings are derelict but the wildlife the men studied is still there. Near the abandoned station at the north-western end of the island are some of the most amazing bird cliffs in the Arctic, where puffins, guillemots, gulls and cormorants can be observed and photographed from just yards away.

At the south-eastern end of the island there is a prominent walrus haul out, if the animals are present it is one of the easiest places to observe them and get some good photographs.

Days 6 to 10 — Wrangel and Herald Islands

Ice and weather conditions permitting, we plan to spend the next few days exploring Wrangel Island and, if possible, we also plan to include a visit to nearby Herald Island.

Wrangel Island is one of those islands that you have to visit to appreciate. The earliest human occupation is dated 3,200 years BC, and it has been established that they were seasonal hunters from Siberia. The island’s presence was speculated about and marked on maps by early Russian explorers, but it wasn’t until 1849 that it was ‘rediscovered’ by the British. A Canadian expedition attempted to establish a permanent settlement and claim the island for Canada, however they were evicted by the Russians who took ownership of the island.

Today it is a Russian Federal Nature Reserve of international importance. A lot of its significance lies in the fact that it is a major Polar Bear denning area. In fact it is sometimes referred to as ‘the world’s Polar Bear maternity ward’ on account of the large numbers of cubs born there. It is also the last landfall for migratory species flying north. Each summer thousands of birds migrate here to breed including Snow Geese, Snowy Owls, skuas, Arctic Terns, and Ross’s, Sabine and Ivory Gulls.

There are many landings that we can make to search out wildlife, wild flowers and Arctic landscapes. Polar Bears will be high on our list of animals to see and with a little patience we should be rewarded with a number of encounters. Musk Oxen and reindeer were introduced to the island in 1975 and 1948 respectively, though reindeer numbers are low. We also have a chance to visit Dragi Harbor where the survivors of the Karluk, which was crushed by ice in 1914, scrambled ashore and lived until they were rescued. If ice conditions permit, we will explore Herald Island to the east of Wrangel Island.

Day 11 ― Kolyuchin Inlet and North Siberian Coast

Today is an expedition day where we expect to visit the Kolyuchin Inlet and cruise the North Siberian Coast. So huge that it is visible from satellite photos, the Kolyuchin Inlet contains vast numbers of waterfowl and migratory waders. We plan to visit Belaka Spit near the mouth of the inlet – a wild, desolate landscape that is strangely beautiful. Here we plan to search the dunes and tidal areas for birdlife including Emperor Geese and Spoon-billed Sandpipers. Gray Whales frequent the area and are sometimes spotted feeding only yards offshore.

Although the North Siberian Coast is well-mapped and charted, there have been very few expedition cruises here and, consequently, there is a lot of scope for expedition landings. Depending on weather and sea conditions we will attempt an expedition landing today.

There are several choices including Cape Vankarem where there is a seasonal large walrus haul out which may have animals present. Another is the area around the Cape bounded by narrow sand ridges with numerous coastal lagoons and inlets; while nearby there is a small Chukchi village whose residents still make their living hunting walrus, seals and whales. Another option is Chukchi village Nutepelmen, which is situated on a spit at the entrance to Pyngopikhin Lagoon, west of Cape Vankarem.

Day 12 ― Bering Strait and Chukotka Coast

Early morning we will pass through the Bering Strait, the only gateway between the Pacific and Arctic Oceans, and one of the world’s most nutrient-rich stretches of water. Each spring it is the scene of one of the planet’s largest wildlife migrations. Beluga, Bowhead and Gray Whales, walrus, Polar Bears, Ringed and Ribbon Seals and numerous seabirds are all known to frequent the strait. Here we will pass between the Diomede Islands, sometimes called Tomorrow Island and Yesterday Isle because they straddle the International Date Line. Here Russia and America are separated by only 2.3 nautical miles of ocean. We will remain in Russian territory as we cruise south past the islands.

In 1867 when the USA purchased Alaska from Russia the new boundary was drawn between Big (Russian) and Little (USA) Diomede Islands. This makes Big Diomede Island Russia’s eastern-most possession. The island was originally inhabited by Yupik Eskimos but after World War II the native population were relocated to the mainland. Today there are no permanent residents, but Russia still maintains a Border Guard station here. It is an important island for birdlife with spectacular numbers of Black-legged Kittiwakes, Common and Brunnich’s Guillemot and Horned and Tufted Puffin.

Day 13 ― Bukhta Penkingney and Arakamchechen Island

This morning we will be launching our Zodiacs with a planned landing at Bukhta Penkingney, a long fjord cut into the coastline by glaciers and popular spot for whale watching. Here a small braided river, its gravel bed studded with Willow bushes, winds its way down to the sea where we land. Exploring this scenic location we will be looking for Arctic Ground Squirrels and Pikas, Willow Ptarmigan, Sandhill Cranes and brown bears attracted by the berries and salmon-filled river.

This afternoon we plan to cruise over to Arakamchechen Island, just north of Cape Chaplino and separated from the Chukotka mainland by the 5 mile (8 km) wide Senyavina Strait. Having watched Gray Whales feeding here previously, we recommend being out on deck as we slowly cruise through the strait. On Arakamchechen Island we aim to explore the lush tundra and, if they are present, view the prominent walrus haul out from the cliffs.

Day 14 — At Sea

Join the staff for an expedition recap and a disembarkation briefing, and then simply relax as we sail across Anadyrskiy Bay towards Anadyr. Tonight we will enjoy a farewell dinner to celebrate our journey.

Day 15 — Anadyr - Nome, Alaska

After breakfast it will be time to say our farewells. There will be a complimentary transfer to take you to the airport or a hotel of your choice.

Those returning to Nome will join a charter flight that will depart Anadyr around midday and, because of the International Date Line, will arrive back in Nome on the evening of the previous day. Those returning to Moscow can either be transferred to the airport or hotel in Anadyr, depending on their flight times.

Note: During our voyage, circumstances may make it necessary or desirable to deviate from the proposed itinerary. This can include poor weather and/or opportunities for making unplanned excursions. Your expedition leader will keep you fully informed.

* Itinerary may be subject to change

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   Heritage Suite
Large lounge area, separate bedroom with double bed and a sofa in the lounge, writing desk, wardrobe and drawers. Private bathroom with shower, toilet and washbasin. Large forward and side facing windows allow great views.
    Mini Suite
Separate bedroom with a double bed and a sofa in the lounge, writing desk, wardrobe and drawers. Private bathroom with shower, toilet and washbasin. Mini Suites have windows.
  Superior Plus
Two lower berths, writing desk, wardrobe and drawers. Private bathroom with shower, toilet and washbasin. These cabins have windows.
    Superior
One bunk (one upper and one lower berth), writing desk, wardrobe and drawers. Private bathroom with shower, toilet and washbasin. These cabins have windows.
    Main Deck Twin
Two lower berths, writing desk, wardrobe and drawers. Private washbasin. Nearby shower and toilet facilities are shared with other Main Deck cabins. These cabins have a porthole.
    Main Deck Triple
One bunk (one upper and one lower berth) and one additional lower berth, writing desk, wardrobe and drawers. Private washbasin. Nearby shower and toilet facilities are shared with other Main Deck cabins. These cabins have a porthole.