03-Jul-2006 -- This is not only my 100th confluence visit, but also the most challenging hike to a degree confluence.
The trip started on the eve of 30 June in London, where we took a flight to Murmansk (Russian: Му́рманск) via Moscow, arriving in the world's only large city beyond the arctic circle in the afternoon of 1 July. Murmansk is one of these places in the world that rarely attract tourists: there is not much historical (founded in 1916) or cultural to see, the entire city consists of buildings made with precast concrete slabs. The environment is polluted due to coal and heavy metal mining and some places around Murmansk are "Closed Administrative Territorial Formations", which cannot be entered by non-residential due to naval bases and nuclear issues.
On 2 July, we left the city heavy loaded with tent, sleeping bags and pads, clothing, dishes, cooker, and food for a week that we had bought in a Murmansk grocery. We hiked out of town until we reached the road leading eastwards to Teriberka/Tumannyy. These remote villages (also belonging to the military restricted zone) are located 5 hours or 100 km away from Murmansk on dirt roads. There are public buses to Teriberka, but they run only twice a week and one of these rare species had just left – so we decided to hitchhike.
Our drivers didn't quite understand what was the purpose of visiting the tundra, which is the landscape found outside of the towns. The tundra is considered as an unpleasant, inaccessible area where one would only go if he has to. The first car brought us from 40 km distance from the CP to 25 km distance, and our second driver let us off in 13 km distance from the confluence – which is as close as one can get from a road.
As soon as we got out of our second car and left the road towards the confluence point, we both experienced something new in life: how many mosquitoes possibly can escort someone. There wasn't any wind, the sun was shining and it was pleasantly warm – but we had to wear jackets, hats and cover all our skin. Some remaining uncovered parts in the face had to be protected with thick layers of mosquito spray. Since there were no mosquitoes in Murmansk, we didn't consider bringing a head-net that could protect us. We considered to abandon the trip, but finally decided to move on a bit further.
Our evening meal was arranged as follows: first we set up the tent where Elionora enjoyed a break from the swarms while I was cooking outside under constant removal of dead mosquitoes that didn't realise how hot water could get. When the meal was ready, I quickly hopped inside the tent. Opening the sip and getting inside also gave approximately 200 mosquitoes the opportunity to also come in. Only after an extensive killing procedure was completed we were able to enjoy our dinner.
After dinner we continued our hike for a couple hours – with 24 hours of sunshine a day it doesn't matter whether it is day or night. However, our bodies needed some sleep. At one o'clock in the night and with a remaining distance of 6 km we camped for the 'night'.
13 km beeline distance doesn't sound a lot in the first instance; this is what I normally cover within 1 hour under optimal conditions. In the tundra however, every step makes you sink down deeply in the boggy soil covered with moss and blueberries. The absence of any roads, tracks, footpaths causes additional challenges: one has to find his own way through the territory. In consideration of the visual topography ahead, we had to head towards the confluence while trying to avoid mountain tops, swamps, rivers, lakes and steep gradients. This kind of orientation is exiting but often causes discussion within the team when different routes are preferred.
A major problem is the water and the saturated soil. We had to cross several swamps, where it is unpredictable how deep we would sink in. I opt for just wearing sandals and letting them get wet – which gave a couple 100 mosquitoes the opportunity to share my blood. Elionora choose to wear boots, which was undoubtedly a smarter solution, but required frequent taking off the shoes depending on the depth of the swamp. Another challenge were river crossings. Some rapid creeks had slippery riverbeds and with 30 kg luggage on the back and facing the force of knee-deep rapid water made us almost turn back at one point.
As we got within 1 km to the Confluence, a major river of 3 m width and 2 m depth was blocking our final approach. Different solutions were discussed: turn back, swim over (with or without luggage) or follow the stream a while and hope for an opportunity to cross it. While "civilized" rivers in developed parts in the world are enjoyable to walk along (one always follows the railing), our river was surrounded by a huge swamp and the actual border between river and swamp fuzzy. Nevertheless, we followed the river a while until it ended up in a huge lake, which we managed to surround.
Finally, after another steep climb up, we exhaustedly reached the Confluence. Before even documenting the point we first set up our tent to have an escape from the flying insects. The Confluence turned out to be relatively featureless, no views, no rivers or lakes in sight, but nevertheless it is a representative piece of tundra-land with blueberries and dwarfism of plants.
Note that the picture showing us has a couple fuzzy spots on it. That's not dirt but mosquitoes flying in front of the lens. Too bad that right when we reached the Confluence, the always shining sun got covered by clouds and it started to rain. We escaped in our tent and fell asleep for a couple of hours (despite it was daytime).
In order not to get stopped by a geographical unknown, we went back the same route as we came, using the waypoints that I had taken. Another camp night and another day's walk later we were back to the road. Unfortunately there wasn't much of traffic so we couldn't find anyone to give us a ride. We walked another couple hours on the road until we reached the next town (which is also the nearest settlement to the Confluence). It is called Severomorsk III and unfortunately closed for foreigners. We had to wait in the rain at a bus stop for another hour, until a Russian couple gave us a ride back to Murmansk – right in time to watch the semi-final in the world cup soccer – Germany versus Italy.
CP visit details:
- Time at the CP: 14:00 p.m.
- Hiking time: 3 days
- Hiking distance: 26 km (beeline)
- Distance to the road: 13 km
- Topography: hilly area
- Minimal distance according to GPS: 0.77 m
- Position accuracy at the CP: 7 m
- GPS height: 221 m
- Vegetation: Predominant are blueberries and tiny birch trees. Also dominant at small scale are different lichens and moss. Typical tundra vegetation.
- Weather: turning from sun to rain, 14° C (felt temperature)
- Description of the CP: In the northern part of Scandinavia and also on the northern part of the Kola Peninsula. Not far from Murmansk, but located extremely remote in the tundra wilderness. In one km distance are some lakes and rivers. The exact spot is located on an elevated plain.
- Given Name: The Mosquito Dominated Confluence
Story continues at 68N 33E.
PS: the neighbouring confluences 69N 35E and 69N 36E should be easier accessible with their 2.1 km and 5.9 km distances from the road.