The train beats like some great mechanical heart as it rolls jarringly over the rails, the carriage shuddering with each pulse that propels us north. A distance marker...
beats like some great mechanical heart as it rolls jarringly over the rails,
the carriage shuddering with each pulse that propels us north. A distance
marker in the town of Kotlas informs us that we are 1128km from Moscow; just
another thousand to go.
bound for the former gulag town of Vorkuta in the Russian Arctic. “You know
they have free accommodation there, well-guarded,” a man had quipped to us back
I look out
through the window. Dark clouds laden with rain sit over the mountains out of
sight to the east. Mires filled with brilliant white cotton grass roll away
like a vast carpet. Momentarily through the cloud I spot a streak of snow
rising above the spruce-fringed horizon – the first fleeting glimpse of the
Urals in the far distance. I feel a pang of anticipation, but also trepidation.
I’d spent years looking at Soviet-era maps dreaming of this place, inhabiting
its blank squares with the projections of my imagination.
suddenly shaken out of my reverie. “Aren’t you scared of the bears, what about
the wolves … why don’t you want to go somewhere warm like Sochi?” objected
Tanya, a twenty-two-year-old Russian girl we were sharing our train compartment
None of our
answers – above all the desire to experience wild country – seemed to please
her, as we tried to explain our intentions to visit the Polar Urals, the most
northerly part of the Ural mountain chain. She picked up, however, at the
thought of the berries and mushrooms growing on the tundra.
it seemed that getting to the mountains at all would prove a challenge.
Suspicious of our intentions, with some of Russia’s largest gas reserves nearby
in what was classed as a strategic zone, we were promptly escorted back to town
in the back of a police car. We eventually made it, however, spending the next
three weeks traversing this remote range by foot and packraft.
I wrote a feature about the trip for a 2016 issue of TGO Magazine. Now five years ago, it remains one of the most memorable journeys I’ve undertaken. In these times of containment, amidst life’s other commitments which keep us rooted, I now view such trips as a rare privilege. I hope the photos and descriptions below give a small taste of what it was like.