A trip to the Shantar Islands, without any doubts, will be a real adventure for you. Here are the answers to all the questions you may have before a trip to the Russian Far East.
It is almost impossible to get here on your own. The easiest way is to join a tourist group. Trips to the Shantar Islands are organized by several companies. One of them is "Russia Discovery". First, you have to fly to Khabarovsk, from there you‘ll need to get to the village of Briakan by an old rusty bus. Then, take a 2 hour flight by helicopter to the Ongachan Airbase. And from Ongachan, take a speed boat. Depending on the weather, after a couple of hours you’ll arrive at Wrangel Bay.
There is absolutely no infrastructure - neither on the Shantar Islands, nor in the bays on the mainland - except for Camp Ongachan. In the summertime, this camp is set up on the islands, with a field kitchen and a bathhouse. You have to sleep in tents or on a catamaran. In Wrangel Bay there is an opportunity to stay in a wooden hut which can accommodate up to 16 people. But it’s more comfortable, of course, to live without neighbours. Traveling between the islands is possible only by water - on a comfortable catamaran, which, however, can’t protect you from icy splashes, especially in a storm. For these water trips, you should wear a waterproof bright orange fisherman's suit. You can rent one at the camp in Ongachan.
Summer on Shantars is like a capricious woman, whose mood changes a hundred times a day. Either the sun shines so bright that it burns your nose and blinds your eyes, a storm begins, or everything is hidden by a thick layer of fog. It’s always cold in the mornings, it can be either cold in the afternoons or it can get («hurray») pretty warm. The tourist season at Shantars is so short that a spontaneous flight for just a weekend is not an option. Please plan your trip to the Sea of Okhotsk in advance and the best time is in August. It can easily snow there in June, and the ice melts in July. In September, the navigation season is over. In October, the archipelago is covered with ice.
You will have to take a lot of things with you: starting with a swimsuit and all the way to a warm down jacket and a pile of warm socks. But the main thing is waterproof clothes: trousers, a raincoat, rubber boots. Also a hat, gloves, a windbreaker, two sets of thermal underwear. For my trip, for example, I've chosen clothes by «Bergans of Norway». A warm sleeping bag, pads and tents can be rented right there on the island, but you have to take your own «second skin» to line the sleeping bag. The morning dew can get equipment pretty wet. So, stock up with hermetic water-resistant bags, in which you will need to keep all your photo equipment, gadgets and clothes.
You will need a flashlight for sure, spare batteries and power banks, best of all are portable solar battery chargers. In the camp you can recharge your equipment, of course, but you should know that there is only an electric generator. It often automatically shuts off, because there are always a lot of people who want to use electricity. You will also need camping pads and some flasks with booze for hanging out on the rocks. You need to take a first aid kit and repellents. Some of your favourite snacks will be helpful, too. But, be ready to hide them carefully from the bears.
No. If you want to be in touch, take a satellite phone with. If you don’t have one - well, you will enjoy a total digital detox.
The local chef is responsible for the food in the camp. He comes up with a varied menu made of shelf-stable food. Therefore, do not expect scrambled eggs for breakfast and Panna cotta for dessert there. It will be a pretty tough experience for vegetarians. But everyone else will find it delicious. There will be porridge in the morning, moose meat soups, pasta with ground meat, fried fish, potatos with canned stew. If it was a successful fishing day, there will be fish and mussels on the table. And of course, hot tea with sweets. But you have to forget about good brewed coffee until you get back to Khabarovsk.
You will wash your face and brush your teeth, or even clean some clothes, in the river. You even have to drink the water from the river. It is the only source of clean water. Water from the river is also used for cooking. There is no shower, of course, so you can wash with soap and a bathing sponge only in wooden bathhouses. There are only a few of them: at Camp Ongachan, on Big Shantar Island and in Wrangel Bay. By the way, there are not any fresh water sources on Big Shantar Island and the sea water contains some reddish impurities that can dye blond hair into a strange rusty color. So it is better not to wash dyed blond hair with sea water. It makes no sense to take a hair dryer there, you will have to dry your hair with a towel, which you have to bring with, as well as other personal hygiene products. Stock up with wet wipes, they help a lot.
The best way to watch whales is from a catamaran. But whales are sensitive to sound and will leave if they hear engine noise. So the best chance to watch the animals is while the boat is drifting. Another way is on a paddle board. On the board you can swim for hours in the water, and if you are lucky, you will see a whale just a meter away from you. This is an unforgettable experience. For such activity, a neoprene suit and a life jacket will be required, as well as a paddle board, of course. You can also get closer to the whales on an inflatable rowboat. In our case, the only boat that was available had a broken oar, so this option was no longer needed. A guaranteed, but not the most convenient option to watch bowhead whales, is to wait for them to appear while sitting on the coastal boulders. You can get there by boat or by foot by climbing the stones.
Yes, there are bears there. You should carefully hide food and sweets, and it is strictly forbidden to take bags into the tent. It is not difficult to see a brown bear during a walk to the forest or even coastal bushes. So, the main rule for a guest in Shantars is: do not go anywhere without a man with a gun. But if you are a rule breaker, and run into a bear somewhere on the path, just scream as loud as possible, and do not run! But I have to say - it’s a bad, a very bad option.
The Four Seasons of Russia project is supported by the Russian geographical society www.rgo.ru
The route to the Shantar Islands is recommended by the Russian geographical society.
ou can buy a tour to the Shantar Islands on the site "Russia Discovery" www.russiadiscovery.ru