Day 35, 17 September: wind on the sandbank
I woke up from a distant thunder stroke. A hissing sound, sand was moving quickly. Rain started bombarding the tent and the wind made it shake violently. Nevertheless I quickly fell asleep again. When I woke up in the morning a layer of fine sand had covered everything inside. Large thunderclouds had gathered at the southern mountain range. I went around a large curve and peddled north against wind that was picking up, creating considerable waves. Passed the mound of the Kuanda River that meanders all the way up into the mountains at the northeast, and went along three houses called Nelyaty. At the end of the day I had come close to edge of a huge area of mountains in the north. Camped on a dry riverbed of hardened mud, which contained many footprints of birds and little mammals.
There is always light above
View to the north
Day 36, 18 September: the Param entrance
Today I had in mind to reach the Param Gorge, where the Vitim leaves the valley behind to head straight into the mountains. The water was very calm and there was no wind. I reached the entrance at about four. The river, still very quiet, entered the mountains. A small curve, the stream became wider. Ahead was the high slope of a mountain that would lead the river to the right. A rushing sound could be heard, although one had to listen carefully. I went to the other side of the river to reach the high sandy shore. Nearing the shore I was surprised by the speed of the water. I was almost being sucked into a narrow stream that would meet the steep wall in twenty meters, and curve sharply to the right to instantly become a fourth category monster. For me there was only one option: tomorrow I would carry all my gear over land to more tranquil waters. It was late in the afternoon when I went up the sandy wall into the forest. Found a good place to stay overnight, and a path that would lead along the rapids. A scout of the path led me through the forest over a clear track, mud pools, a dry riverbed. I went left, and over large rocks to see the rapids from nearby.
A frosty morning in September
Glacier – lioke rocks, Param Gorge
Day 37, 19 September: walking the gear
I estimated it would be about one kilometer to reach more quite water on foot. I started with carrying the kayak and went straight where I had turned left yesterday. It took a while to find the entry to the tranquil water, over the large pebble stones and a large sandy shore. Here I left the boat to get the backpack. When I returned there was one more go for the extra supplies, when I noticed a little motorboat that went upstream the river to clear some fishing nets. I did not dare to leave the boat and the backpack alone, so I waited until the two fishermen had cleared the nets, which took about an hour. One of the Russians invited me to join them camping on the other side of the river, and left to the other side. I felt there was no choise then to do the third and last walk for equipment. I packed the boat, went into the water and saw the Russians waving to me, so I went to meet them. Again there were half cut tomatoes with salt, cucumbers, onions, cooked fish and ofcourse vodka, placed on a wooden improvised table. The atmosphere was cheerful. When it was late I put up my tent, the older man objected and said I would sleep in the back of the truck, which seemed a bad idea to me. After one hour of talking with hands and feet he gave up, and watched me pitching the tent from beginning to end. He became more and more convinced about my idea, especially because he noticed the tent, the sleeping matress filled with down and the lightweight cooking equipment. It seems this equipment rarely reaches Russian hands.
Day 38, 20 September: funnel rapid
That morning my head felt like a pancake. We had breakfast together, and meanwhile I investigated the guns that two of the men showed. I was impressed. Not much later I went into the water to continue the downstream route. I met two of the Russians not much further. They told that, as a rule, I should stay at the left side of the river as much as possible, to go around most of the whitewater. Meanwhile large mountains showed up in front of me and on the left, with fresh snow on top. The weather was drizzly with strokes of sunlight now and then. Then, at a certain point, the river bent to the left, and a smaller stream divided to the right. This stream seemed to narrow and shallow, so I choose the main current. I heard a loud rushing noise, which I believed was just the water hitting the high walls at the left hand side. But the water went faster and then, suddenly, gathered into a narrow stream, a trap I could not escape anymore. The white waves in the corner turned out to be much larger than expected. The kayak slid to the side because of its length and smashed into a huge wave. I was still straight up, but my heart was beating like crazy. There came another one, even larger. With a reflex of my right paddleblade I could just keep up straight. I had succeeded and entered calmer water, but my body was shaking. I had entered the coordinates of this rapid in my GPS device, but completely forgot to take notice. Dumb, dumb.
Day 39, 21 September: all kinds of weather
I took off with good hope of a sunny day, but five minutes later a little blizzard came rushing down the mountains. The lack of a dry suit made me feel quite uncomfortable. There were some strong shivers and capsizing in the water would cause serious problems. Another blizard came over just when the river picked up speed and, and the strong wind almost blew the solar panel from the deck of the kayak. To keep it on the deck I had to paddle straight agains te wind, which meant I was nog able to reach more quiet water. At the same time the wind kept me in the wild side of the river. I was already rather exausted when reaching a camping site at a level spot, a little valley where a river rushed into the Vitim. I found a hut which I didn’t care to open, prefering the warmth of the tent with the safe warmth of the stove. In the evening the temperature already dropped to minus five.
Day 40, 22 September: Oron lake
It had been three days ago since I left the Param rapids behind. I was on my way to the Oron Lake. The first ten kilometres the river was calm. A large mountain showed up in the north. At an Island in the middle of the stream I turned right to pick up some speed. I passed a steep mountain range at the left hand side. The river split into equal sized streams with a large Island ahead. I checked the map to be certain. I had reached the point where to the left the Vitim continues northwards, and to the right the river gathers water directly from the Oron Lake. Both streams would meet again about ten kilometres north. The clear water that gave entrance to the lake was shallow and, as it turned out, flowed with a high speed. I took quite some effort to peddle upstream for a considerable stretch, being careful not to hit the blades on the large pebbles. It was about three when I reached the sandy shore at the edge of the forest. Sheltered from the chilly wind I put up the tent on a nice level surface. Here I would refill the large backpack with supplies for a week, so that for a whole week everything I needed – gear, food, fuel for the stove – was in one bag, stowed in an easy to reach compartment of the kayak. A routine I had been repeating for many weeks.
Heading to Oron Lake
Day 41, 23 September: Shelter day
A lot of wet snow kept me inside the tent. Without a wetsuit it would be a bad idea to go up the lake. I organised my food, slept, and read a bit.
Day 42, 24 September: Sygygkta River
Early in the morning I cheered the clear blue sky. Yesterday wet snow showers forced me to stay in the tent. The sun was shining over the tops of the mountain range in the west. I had played with the thought to go east over the lake, meanwhile looking for a mountain to walk up and to leave the kayak behind. Bright green water plants hindered progress in the shallow water. Facing a head wind I reached a sheltered bay with fresh bear tracks on the muddy shore. Went round the steep slope to notice that the curve of the earth hided the far eastern shore under water. I realised that the two sounds of thunder I had just heard from far away, may very well be little earthquakes as there where no clouds, and it was followed by ripples in the lake. I followed the cliffs to the left. A tricky swell rocked the boat although there was little wind. A Russian had warned me not to peddle all the way to the eastern shore as the wind could pick up severely. I imagined the waves could easily become spooky and dangerous so near the rocky cliffs. About half way I reached a pretty shore. Tall trees stood at the sandy beaches. Little streams hasted to join the lake. Dead trees had piled up in the deep clear water. It took another two hours to reach the mound of the Sygygta River. A stiff breeze came from the deep valley that lay behind.
A good start of the day
Under water world
East side of the lake
View on a southern valley
Day 43, 25 September: southern Oron
The large dome shaped mountain showing up three days ago, had drawn my attention like a magnet. I imagined to aproach the top, with a widening view on the high peaks of the Kodar Range, a huge mountainous area with a thousand kilometers of deep taiga valleys. I would try to reach the first slopes by peddling upstream the Sygygta River, which has its source in Central Kodar about hundred fifty kilometers southeast. I crossed the very shallow dead arm of the river and went over the lake again to reach the mouth of the Sygygta. The swell and the back wind pushed me at the sandy exit of the river and further upstream. Walked along two shallow rapids until, before the third rapid, I left the kayak behind. I went for a scout into the valley to the right, which seemed quite near. I still had not reached the entrance of the valley after an hour of walking along the edge of a slope, through dense bush and over rocks covered with thick moss. I decided to return. On the way back my eyes where cached by colored stones in a little stream. At about five I reached the lake again. I felt lucky the wind had calmed down. It took an hour peddling along the steep cliffs to reach the valley south from the lake. Went ashore on the edge of the lake, as the mounding streams were too fast and shallow to enter by boat. Moose tracks came from a nearby birch forest that turned out to be a good place to stay for the night. Tomorrow I would walk into the valley to find an even better off track route to the dome mountain. At least, on the roadless map.
Coloured moss on a rock
Day 44, 26 September: into the valley
I carried the kayak into the forest, hung the extra food in the tree and started walking over a dry riverbed where I imediately got caught by a piece of quicksand. I continued for a considerable stretch over round and colorfull rocks not far from the river. I hoped the weather would clear up, heading towards the slopes of the dome shaped mountain. The river was glacier blue. I was making good progress although the riverbank was steep, which forced me to walk through the forest. On occasions there was dense bush and swampy surface to walk over. There were only scattered traces of an animal track. In the sand there was the track of a moose, and more upstream the footprint of a bear. Before a dense willow bush I decided to put up the tent. Meanwhile the drizzle had turned into rain.
Shing lamp on a dead tree
Sophisticated map of the Oron Lake
Day 45, 27 September: 2 – 1 for the Siberian mountains
More frequently the riverbanks became steeper, so I needed to go inland to make any progress along the river. I didn’t care to wear my rainclothes, so after a while I was soaked because of the wet leaves and branches. I reached the point where a smaller river entered the main river. To my discontent I discovered a very unleveled gorge with steep walls of about ten meters. There was no way I could continue. I went more upstream the smaller river to see if I was able to cross it, but the narrow valley was a little gorge itself, surrounded by agonising pine bushes. More uphill the pine bushes became higher, with sturdy branches I was unable to push away from me. There were large and loose rocks, grown with a thick layer of moss. I could have broken my legg a hundred times. My foot slid into a hole, I lost balance and tried to grab a branch that broke immediately. Here I was, hundreds of kilometers from civilisation, soaked to the skin, and pushed to the floor by my own backpack. When this happened a second time, I decided to call it a day, to go back to my previous camping spot. Also this time the Siberian mountains would not let me explore their world: Yuri – Siberian mountains: 0 – 2.
Day 46, 29 September: back to the boat
I walked back through the forest, over sandbanks and the slippery large pebbles. Navigation in the many dry riverbeds was not easy. Finally the lake was closeby. The food was still hanging in the tree, and the boat was also still there. I remembered a book of Jack Vance, the Crazy planet of Chay, where a man is dropped on a large planet and tries hard to find a spaceship to go back to earth. Without the kayak I would not get back to the civilised world.