Off Rotation: Going on a 486 km cross-county ski trek to our Kupol mine

Since joining Kinross in 2010, Timur Akhmetov, Deputy Environmental Manager at Kupol has spent his time off rotation taking long treks across the Chukotka tundra that surrounds the mine. This May, he and two friends took a 486 km cross-country ski expedition to our Kupol mine. Timur has documented the trip for Kinross World in words and pictures. 

Preparation for a long expedition can take more time than the expedition itself, but I find it no less fascinating. Studying maps, we choose the best route over mountains and rivers, keeping in mind the possible need for evacuation.

Our trip starts at the Ust-Belaya settlement, about 300km to the East of Anadyr. The only way to get there is by all-terrain vehicle. We also organize a plane pick up at the end of the journey for my two friends who do not work at Kupol.

We’re grateful to Dave Nuburger, Mine Director and the Kinross office at Anadyr for their help with this.

We have to calculate how much food and cooking gas we need. For water, we can melt snow but because that takes time and gas, we try to stop at rivers and lakes where we can cut through the ice with a small axe.

All our equipment – clothes, tents for three people, one little tent for emergency, food and gas – are dragged on sleds. This amounts to about 40 kg per person, which is pretty good. It’s actually hard to choose the right type of clothes because you can get really hot during the day (T shirts!) and the temperature drops to as low as minus 29 degrees Celsius at night.

My friends and I get along well; you have to on an expedition like this! But of course, we have our occasional differences – like opinions on which way to go! Sometimes you look around and everything is white, and even though we have a GPS, compass and maps, it can be hard to get your bearings. 

The diversity of landscapes is amazing. We started out on endless flat tundra, with mountains on the horizon. Four days later we found ourselves in a forest full of magpies flying through thin trees, and woodpeckers knocking on them.

After 130 km of northward hiking, we crossed the Arctic Circle and entered the hills. We kept track of the rivers we crossed, getting to know them by their heads and mouths: they have names like Vanakvaam, Maravaam, Vuskyneiveem, Emungyretveem. With spring arriving we saw more and more melting areas of tundra, over which we had to draw our sleds doing our best. We began to smell the scent of the summer tundra, the mixed aroma of Labrador tea, berries and last year’s grass.

After lunch we often took three or four-hour siestas and resumed our trek in the evenings when the temperature dropped and the snow didn’t stick to the skis. Sometimes we skied on the icy crust of rivers.  

After 13 days of northbound travel, we finally reached Lake Elgygytgyn, the “lake of non-melting ice”, as Chukchis call it. This almost perfectly round lake, about 15 km in diameter, formed in a meteor crater 3.5 million years ago. Being over 170 m deep, it never freezes to the bottom, so the sediment at the bottom contains ancient residues. It’s a natural time machine that attracts researchers from all over the world.   

We spent five days resting in a hunter hut and on May 7, we proceeded into the Ilirney mountain range, where we were surrounded by mountains over 1000 m high. For a moment we wondered if we would be able to find the right path through all these blue giants sparkling under the sun. But by midnight of May 12, we had put the highest peak behind us and had entered the Gorge of Military Topographers, a reference to the military department that was historically responsible for all topographic and geodesic surveying in Russia.

The southbound Tytylvaam River brought us to Lake Tytyl and then to the Utkuveem camp, 50 km from the Kupol mine on the Kupol-Dvoinoye road.

My friends stayed on at Utkuveem for few days waiting for their plane to Anadyr, resting and fishing, while I returned to my desk at Kupol. But that’s fine. Those 24 days and 486 kilometers gave me more energy and inspiration than resting within the four walls of my home in Anadyr could ever do. 

Windy first evening of the trip. We spent the next day in our tents, waiting for the storm to pass

The mountainous landscape between Elgygtgyn and Tytyl Lakes

Enmyvaam River, full of melting snow

Finding our way through the fog

Hunter’s hut on Elgygytgyn Lake, where we rested for five days

Sun halo over Elgygytgyn Lake

Kinross Outfitters!

Evening at the Marvaam River

The first 100 km of our trip: flat tundra

Etched by the wind: this is not easy to walk OR ski on!

A long uphill slog

Along the Enmywaam River. It was too icy to ski so we had to walk, carefully

Spring arrives on the tundra

 Last year’s berries

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