A week after our hike to Kangalasskiy Mis, we set off on our second hike, which was to Tabaginskiy Mis. This is another cape in the opposite direction overlooking a different part of the Lena River. This time, I left my down jacket at home and instead wore my rain jacket, which is more durable for hiking excursions.
Tabaginskiy Mis was supposed to be a good vantage point from which to watch the ice drift. What’s the ice drift, you ask? Well, as I’ve previously said, every body of water around here freezes over in the winter, and the Lena River is no exception. This river, which is superlative in itself, is the same one on which we drove when we visited the Lena Pillars three months ago. When I say that we drove on it, I mean we drove on the actual frozen river, along with numerous other vehicles that traversed the ice road during winter. Now, with the coming of spring, the river has been melting and the ice was drifting northwards, from its source in the Baikal Mountains all the way to the Laptev Sea and into the Arctic Ocean. On our hike to Tabaginskiy Mis, we wanted to see this ice drift.
For days before, all the local news and local teachers were tracking the ice break. People from villages were posting photos on Instagram showing flooding in their area as the ice broke and started drifting, and those of us who were going on the hike kept praying that the drift would pass our area exactly on the Sunday of our hike. One of our local colleagues kept us updated in our hiking WhatsApp group chat. “The drift is 200 km away…now it’s 120 km away at so-and-so village…at dark o’ clock last night, the drift was 50 km away from Yakutsk.” And so on.
I was excited to see the ice drift with my own eyes, but nature is nature so I went with the expectation that we could miss it altogether. So off I set on Sunday morning, two weeks ago, to the same meeting point that we had used the week before for our hike to Kangalasskiy Mis, to rendezvous with my three other colleagues who were also joining the hike that day, plus the rest of the hiking group. To my delight, I saw Olga the guide again and she came to greet me when she saw me too but, unfortunately, she wasn’t our guide for the day. In fact, she was leading another group back to Kangalass, while our group was lead by someone else. This time, our group was quite large and we had to take two buses. We numbered over forty people and that included at least ten men and teenage boys this time. I suspect that we had that many males this time because everyone was eager to see the ice break.
We set off at 9 am for the forty-five minute drive to our starting point. Five minutes into the hike, I felt like I should burst into song because everything was so idyllic. I came this close to belting out, “The hills are aliiiiiiiiiive with the sound of muuuuuuuuuusic!” In fact, five minutes after that, the urge became even stronger because we crested a ridge and walked right into a field of fresh, new snowdrops (the pretty flowers, not actual drops of snow) overlooking a beautiful part of the melted river, with a small herd of wild horses grazing on the edge of the field. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect scene.
We took a zillion photos then our guide got us moving again. For the next hour and a half or so, we continued going up, walking through hilltop forests still covered in slowly melting snow.
Every now and then, we would stop at an overhang and look at the gorgeous scene spread out as far as our eyes could see.
At around 11:30 am we stopped for a bathroom break (again, behind a convenient tree stump or tree) and our first lunch, which, as usual, was communal; we joined a group of about ten women and sampled some delicious pie one of them had made. After first lunch, we set off through the forest again and some little while later, found ourselves at the cape that was our goal for the day.
The scenery was breathtaking, guys; simply gorgeous. But it was a good thing that I had taken the attitude of no expectation for the ice drift, because nature was not cooperating with our hike that day. We could see that the river to the right was still iced over but the section of the river that we were overlooking was almost completely ice-free. There was definitely no ice drift happening that day. Still, I got that usual joy infusion that I get when I’m in situations like that. Besides, you can’t miss what you don’t know, right?
We continued along the trail, descending a steep slope then making a big push up one last hill that tried its best to steal my breath with its steepness, but I made it pretty well. After that, we tramped through the forest some more, stopped for our second lunch, then started the last leg of our walk, picking our way down a steep slope to a road leading to the village of Tabaga. From there, we walked a short distance to the edge of the village proper to meet our buses.
Again when I got home, I immediately stripped out of my clothes and threw them into the washer. I did the same with my muddy boots afterwards. I also had a warm shower, as I had done the week before, and again I had no soreness from my unaccustomed exertions of the day.
Three days later, one of my foreign colleagues and I hared off back to Tabaga with one of our local colleagues and her family, to see the ice drift which had finally arrived. It was amazing! In the one hour or so that we spent watching the river, we saw literally tonnes of ice drift past us. It was blew my mind a little that this ice would end up in the Arctic Ocean and perhaps melt over the summer.
As we were driving out of Tabaga, our colleague’s husband asked if we wanted to touch the ice and of course we said yes. He drove right down the shore of the tributary we were driving past and we got out and took pictures of us standing on a piece of ice that was stuck up against the bank.
Minutes later, two stern policemen appeared and told us not to do that or we might end up in the Laptev Sea. As we smiled and apologised and climbed back into the van, one of the policemen reportedly muttered, “crazy foreigners.” Ahhhh hahahahahaha! I’m sure it must have seemed crazy but honestly, it was perfectly safe. That piece of ice didn’t move even one centimeter when we stood on it. I kicked it a few times before I stood on it.
So I did get to see the ice drift after all, just not when I thought I would see it.
By the next day, the village of Tabaga was flooded because there was a jam in the ice somewhere upriver. It would remain flooded for several days until engineers finally succeeded in blasting the jam free (yes, with explosives, and after multiple attempts).
All in all, I’d say that I had a great first experience of spring thaw as it was meant to be.
Ask the Lord for rain in the spring of the year. It is the Lord who sends rain clouds and showers, making the fields green for everyone. Zechariah 10:1 (GNT)