In the north of the Urals, “movement” and “life” are exclusively equivalent concepts. When the trees crackle from frost in the forest, and the windows of cars that are peacefully standing in the parking lot of the camp site break by themselves, the cessation of movement can easily lead to a halt in life. A snowmobiler who ventured out of a heated hut in such weather and has in the future 450 kilometers through the frozen taiga, is distinguished by a noble resemblance to a suicide. But only in such harsh conditions do you begin to truly appreciate life.
Some time ago I had the opportunity to travel on a snowmobile in Lapland. By and large, there was nothing special about this trip, with the exception of one circumstance, which may shock an initiated person.
It turned out that the northern regions of Scandinavia are literally riddled with full-fledged snowmobile roads, which there are equated in status with automobile roads.
For Scandinavians, a snowmobile is exactly the same everyday means of transportation, so snowmobilers have their own roads and intersections, their own road signs and even their own police.
Later, when I changed to a car, I regularly noticed narrow, but carefully cleared snow trails along the traditional highways, along which “snowmobiles” moved quietly. We were told that in Finland, a snowmobiler who left the official road for the sake of virgin forest snow could run into serious problems with the police if he does not invent a sufficiently serious reason for this act – well, let’s say, to see how his deer feel there, living on free grazing. … In general, snowmobiling in northern Europe looks extremely orderly.
And what about the Urals? Our winter forests are plowed mainly by wild adventurers who have deliberately exchanged the benefits of civilization for the notorious “unity with nature.” Specially paved snowmobile tracks in the mind of the Ural snowmobiler have the same status as honest traffic cops – that is, comparable to the absurd. Meanwhile, the forests and mountains of the Ural north are an amazing natural and tourist resource, for the competent development of which almost no one undertook. Konstantin Kuznetsov, head of the Adventurers’ Club and a distinguished traveler to places far from the sofa and TV, undertook to correct this disdainful attitude towards extreme tourism lovers.
Konstantin’s global plan is to lay a monstrously long snowmobile track that would connect Yekaterinburg and Salekhard, that is, it would lead directly to the coast of the Arctic Ocean. According to the snowmobile strategist, the Sever project is slowly being implemented, and a certain number of kilometers have already been explored. And now, in fact, it will become clear why there was such a long introduction. Konstantin invited us to take part in laying – more precisely, reconnaissance – a part of this very snowmobile “road of joy”.
For three days of travel, we had to go just almost half a thousand kilometers, drawing with caterpillars on the snow of the Northern Urals a kind of isosceles triangle.
The fun began in the evening before the start, when the thermometers of the Serebryansky Kamen tourist center began to fall steadily and inevitably. However, in the evening by the warm stove behind a wall of thick logs, which fenders you from the frost, this behavior of the mercury column served only as an excuse for jokes of varying degrees of severity. However, when in the morning the fall not only did not stop, but continued, there was no time for fun.
Going out at dawn into the courtyard of the camp site, turned into an impromptu technical park, I displayed the magic number “-39″ on the frosty glass of my car. After an hour of fiddling with snowmobiles, passing by, I noticed that one of the group members added an optimistic “Fuck! -42! ” Who had the time to break away from the procedure for starting and warming up the equipment, I never found out.
Everyone was busy as hell.
It turned out that starting a carburetor two-stroke engine in such cold weather as simple as an ax and a damn hardy Yamaha is a whole science. A process that consists of a strictly defined set of actions performed in the proper order, and you get tired of them from being unaccustomed just damn it. But, according to Konstantin, for an experienced traveler, this is just something like morning exercises, although it takes a lot of time.
However, how can anyone do it: the group got together quite motley, with equipment of different levels. In total, 12 crews were supposed to help Konstantin in laying the next section of the route, which subsequently planned to take part in even more extreme expeditions. And in the current three-day trip, it was supposed to get acquainted, rub in and find contact – snowmobilers call it “rolling.”
The more difficult the journey, the more confidence everyone should feel in their columnmate.
Ideally, the entire convoy, all the crews should work as a single organism, together punching a path through rails, fallen trees, stones, and together helping those lagging behind. To test compatibility, resistance to stress and the ability to help each other, such “rolls” are organized. But for myself the main goal of the trip I defined differently, calling it “self-testing”. By the way, I did not pass the test, but more on that later.
Having lost a lot of time to reanimate the equipment, a team of crazy winter forest lovers nevertheless set out on the route. Going on such an unpredictable journey, snowmobilers usually take with them a supply of fuel and food – so in our column, three snowmobiles dragged behind them voluminous flat-bottomed drags filled with cans of gasoline, bags of food, felt boots, axes, ropes, spare parts for “snowballs” … For the first fifteen kilometers, the column moved, as they say, with jokes, because the road literally lay along the road – through the nearby village of Kytlym and further along the road. When the time came to turn into the virgin snow, personally, my enthusiasm diminished greatly.
Suddenly, it turns out that heavy tail dragging limits the agility and dynamics of the snowmobile tremendously, and every turn turns into a separate little adventure. One has only to stop and start with big problems, risking drowning the “goose” in the fluffy snow. That this snow has literally piled up to the chest over the past weeks, so that, getting off the snowmobile, first you have to dig yourself out. And in general, descent from a snowmobile is more like a jump into the water in an unfamiliar place with a blindfold.
Snowmobile trail reconnaissance (snowmobilers use the capacious slang verb “trail” – from the word “trail”) is really hard work that has nothing to do with entertainment. A man’s work, which was greatly complicated by nature itself, as if it had specially dumped several wagons of snow onto the Northern Urals and turned it into the insides of a refrigerator.
For the first time in my life, I personally observed the procedure of changing a variator belt in an open field under a bush in conditions where fingers freeze to the iron in a few seconds.
For the first time I realized that snow turns into ice very easily. When snow is packed into the engine compartment of the snowmobile, it naturally melts there, while the water flows down into the plastic “sump” between the skis. And already there it freezes safely, depriving the steering rods of mobility. It is almost impossible to control such a snowmobile, and the loss of mobility, as we already know, is fraught with unpleasant consequences. The problem is solved with a banal hammer, but it takes time …
In short, the first day of the trip for most of the group, with the exception of the most experienced and most inexperienced (they chipped in the first couple of tens of kilometers, returning to the warm starting point), consisted mainly of fighting nature. Therefore, there is nothing surprising in the fact that we met an unexpected insurmountable obstacle almost at sunset, having covered only forty-five kilometers from Kytlym to Rassolny (and this is already in the Perm Territory) instead of the planned 150 kilometers.
In a thoroughly frozen forest, we ran into a ford!
The planned route was crossed by a small unfrozen river, which theoretically could have been crossed by snowmobiles, but no one would have undertaken to predict the consequences of such a rash step. To wet your feet and equipment in the forty-degree frost would mean at least staying for the forest overnight, for which the expedition was not at all ready – neither physically nor mentally. In addition, it was simply dangerous to continue driving in a situation when an hour and a half was left before dark, and about a hundred kilometers to the finish line.
Therefore, Konstantin made a strategic decision to return the group to the starting point. For which, by the way, he is honored and praised: not every leader of a group of travelers will decide to admit defeat in front of northern nature and retreat to prepared positions. But, as the head of the project himself said, the priority is safety. And, sitting without clear perspectives in the middle of a dense forest, God knows how far from civilization, it is difficult to disagree with this thesis.
Strictly speaking, the return to the Serebryanskiy Kamen camp site, which was to become our warm home for the coming days, did not in any way reduce the pressure in the furnace of sensations. But we found out about this only in the morning, and the readers of Uralweb.RU will find out in the next part of the story.
To be continued. In the meantime – look how it was.
Photo: © Dmitry Elizarov
Video: Dmitry Elizarov, Dmitry Antonenkov, Anna Rybakova
The editors would like to thank the Adventurers’ Club and personally Konstantin Kuznetsov for the indescribable emotions and invaluable experience