Siberia Sayan 2009

“Into the Unknown”

Few words from Jared Meehan about this trip:

I had never considered kayaking in Russia until being invited on this trip. I thought to myself, well Russia is the biggest country on earth covering over 12 time lines, that is half of the world of course there will be good paddling there, There must be! Its fair to say we didn’t know what to expect on this trip “Into the unknown” was the perfect description of expedition that lay ahead of us. We knew the rivers we wanted to paddle, we had a plan of the logistical side of the trip but nothing could completely prepare us for what we undertook. It was well stated by Olaf at the finish of the trip “We had been to both heaven and hell and now happily back again”

The planned outline for this mission was to fly into Irkutsk and get land transport about 450km south-west. We would then get transported by an ex-military six wheel drive off-road truck another 150kms to the headwaters of our first river. From there we were on our own, self support for 250-300kms of paddling and hiking 5 different rivers taking a total of 16 days.

The travelling to get to our put-in was an expedition in itself. It took us 3 days longer than expected as we got caught in a midsummer snowstorm and on our first night camping found ourselves waking up under a foot of fresh snow. We managed to get some deer meat off some hunters we met which meant our food rations would still last the extra time spent waiting for the storm to pass. Spirits where at an all time low after 3 days of snow, however when we woke up on a Monday morning to clear blue skies and a beautiful emerald colored river all I could see was 5 grinning kayakers all day.

The rivers we paddled where all extremely different from one another. From low to high volume, first descents, great waterfalls and big holes, we had a taste of everything on the 5 rivers during the 16day journey. During the journey we understood the closest help from any of the rivers was 50km untracked hike over a 3000m pass. This was a fact we had to keep in mind when making critical decisions of risky paddling. This coupled with paddling a boat weighed down with survival gear and food does change the way we approach paddling dangerous white-water. In saying this, it is a hard decision to make when trying to decide between paddling a difficult class five rapid for 5 seconds or having to portage for an hour with a heavy boat.

The heavenly part of this trip as stated by Olaf was of course the great paddling in the heart of Sayan Mountains. This is a majestic part of the world that I consider myself very lucky to be one of a handful to have experienced from the seat of our kayaks. For every high however, there is a low. On the flipside of this coin was the hellish time we had hiking. Hiking is not a bad thing at all, but with 40-50kgs of long, hard plastic sitting awkwardly on your spine for days on end it loses its appeal. It was good to see on this trip that we all got on with the job, whilst at times it was hard to see a smile on faces covered with sweat, mud, sticks and ticks they where always there.

I was asked the question of “when do we consider the trip to be a success” at a press conference before the trip. This is not such a simple question as there are so many things that can go wrong. The most important thing to me is that we all make it back without any serious injuries. Secondly that we complete the rivers we set out to paddle and they live up to the expectations that we had. I can say now after completing the expedition that it was an absolute success. Apart from being bombarded by mosquitoes and ticks, a few minor injuries we all made it to the finish line and the white-water we paddled was amongst the best I have experienced. I thank everyone involved with making this trip happen.