The Colder, the Better

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Some unusual pastimes in Northern Russia

From Nov. 1 through Nov. 19, Norilsk plays host to the Great Argish Festival, which celebrates the traditions and lifestyles of the indigenous peoples of Northern Russia. The festival also promotes tourism opportunities in the Krasnoyarsk Region’s Taimyr Peninsula, one of the most scenic and most difficult-to-reach areas in Russia. Lenta.ru recommends five extreme adventures to undertake in Northern Russia, a mecca for romantics and adrenaline junkies.

Heli-skiing

A form of off-trail downhill skiing, heli-skiing has been around since the early 1960s. This sport is perfect for expert skiers who find generic mountain resorts a bit too bland.

Thrill-seekers are carried to a mountain slope in a helicopter in groups of ten to 15, depending on the helicopter capacity. As a rule, a certified guide accompanies the skiers.

In Russia, heli-skiing is mainly done in the Caucasus Mountains and also in Kamchatka, which offers some of the most difficult slopes in the country. However, this adrenaline-charged experience is not cheap. Prices for a weeklong heli-skiing tour in Kamchatka are over $3,000, not counting the plane tickets to and from Kamchatka. By comparison, a similar tour to the Sayan Mountains in the Krasnoyarsk region will cost only $685 irrespective of the group size.

Dog Sledding

Dog sleds have been used in Northern Russia for eight thousand years. The oldest known sled was found in Russia on the New Siberian Islands in the Arctic Ocean. The indigenous peoples of the North still rely on dog sleds as a form of sport and entertainment.

Russia’s two most popular dog sled races, In the Land of Sampo and Kalevala, take place in Karelia, but it is far more alluring to challenge nature, your own stamina and your dog team in areas with more severe weather conditions.

Husky

Essential dogsledding techniques can be learned in husky parks. A five-kilometre trip in the Khibiny Mountains will cost upwards of $55 (no meal included), whereas a 12-kilometre trip will lighten your wallet by $95. After mastering the basics, you can take a longer husky ride lasting from 24 hours to several days. Dog sledding enthusiasts can embark on a thousand-kilometre adventure across the pristine virgin countryside to the Putorana Plateau, a trip that can take up to 20 days.

Fishing

Unlike in Central Russia, where recreational fishing is ultimately about a good meal in the company of friends, fishing in the North is a test of strength that must be approached with due seriousness. Fishing trips in Siberia are prepared well in advance, with the participants discussing the most minute of details about the routes, fishing lures and equipment on specialised online forums.

Ice fishing

A journey to Lake Taimyr takes several days. The fishermen first take a plane from Norilsk or Krasnoyarsk to Khatanga, the closest village, before being delivered to the lake in a helicopter. The most experienced fishermen, however, prefer to travel the 220-kilometre stretch from Khatanga by land. As there are no roads or any other signs of civilization in the area, the fishermen drift down the rivers in boats or rafts for part of the journey and carry the inflatables on their backs for the rest of the trip.

The return journey normally takes longer as the travellers will have to lug a haul of fish in addition to their equipment. The Krasnoyarsk region hosts numerous competitions for anglers, including the annual Gold Mormyshka ice fishing tournament that takes place in early December on Bolshoye Lake in Parnaya Village, situated 350 kilometres from Krasnoyarsk.

Off-road Adventures

If you have already satisfied your appetite for off-road driving in Central Russia, it’s time to head north and take a trip to Salekhard in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District or Vorkuta in the Komi Republic. The journey starts in Moscow and goes through Yaroslavl, Kostroma, Kirov and Syktyvkar, yet veteran travellers believe that the stretch leading to Vorkuta is where the real action starts. The area is abundant in rivers, lakes and marshes, so the only convenient way to reach Vorkuta is during winter via the ice road used by gas production companies to transport workers and equipment to extraction sites. However, even at this time of year, the 1,400-kilometre journey takes at least two days. In summer, the road washes out and can only be used by off-road vehicles and amphibious ATVs.

Snow

Survival Camping

Few daredevil activities in Northern Russia can match survival camping, which is usually preferred by individuals with years of outdoor experience.

Survival campers spend months in the wilderness, relying entirely on nature and themselves. Unlike recreational campers, survivalists live in dugouts instead of tents and make fishing rods and other essential equipment with their own hands. To get the full idea of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, they even avoid taking any tinned foods with them and subsist mostly on berries and fish.

Andrey Solovyov, a traveller from Voronezh, has been living in the back country in Yakutia for over 100 days. As he was leaving Tomtor, the last village on his route, the traveller refused to take survival gear, a gun or even a radio.

Solovyov came to Yakutia to find the Labynkyr devil, a creature said to inhabit the waters of Lake Labynkyr. The traveller is planning to stay at the lake until spring 2017.

Extreme

Author: Timur Yusupov