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The Konyukhov pole

My Travels, a book by the famous sailor, survivalist, mountaineer and polar explorer Fyodor Konyukhov was recently published in Russia. Konyukhov, who has conquered Mt. Everest, been to both poles, sailed around the world and crossed the Atlantic Ocean 16 times, relates what he experienced during his travels. RBTH publishes excerpts from his book here - diary passages written during his last expedition to the North Pole.
The 1990 Expedition Diary

The first individual ski expedition to the North Pole in Russian history

Start: March 3, 1990 from Cape Lokot, Sredny Island

Finish: May 9, 1990

Travel time: 72 days
March 5, 1990

Third day of my journey to the North Pole. Woke up at 6am, made porridge: buckwheat, nuts, raisins and two pieces of deer tongue. Ate without appetite. I'm in a bad mood - I got too far off course. I sense that there's a lot of water up ahead.

March 10, 1990

A snowdrift was blowing in the morning. Slept bad, coughed. Set off at 9:30am. My back hurts. In order to make the backpack lighter, I took out the radio and placed it on the sled. As I walked I thought to myself that I am too old to carry such a heavy load. And this is the third consecutive year I am going to the North Pole – it might be a bit too much. This is probably my last expedition to the crown of the Earth. If everything goes well, I'll start sailing.

As you walk alone along the thin unstable ice, you involuntarily start thinking: "What would you do if your skis broke the gray salty crust and along with your backpack and sled you started sinking into the cold ocean water?"
March 15, 1990

It's cold, my legs are freezing. The road is hummocky [editor's note: a hummock is a hump or ridge in an ice field] all the way to the horizon. As you walk alone along the thin unstable ice, you involuntarily start thinking: "What would you do if your skis broke the gray salty crust and along with your backpack and sled you started sinking into the cold ocean water?"

March 19, 1990

I'm so lucky! I encountered a crack along the way. It was small but it made crossing impossible. And it's difficult to get around it because of the surrounding hummocks.

Walked four minutes ahead, but was blown to the east by an entire degree. Having difficulty getting through these kilometers: hummocks, cracks and endless broken ice obstructions! Want to cry sometimes. But what will tears do? I myself chose this life, this way.

Camping in some kind of death trap, near a crack. Surrounded by hummocks. If the ice starts shifting during the night, that's it for me. Actually, I can't remember having one good night's sleep. Yesterday a snowstorm buried my dwelling. I had to crawl out in the middle of the night and dig it out so that the snow wouldn't break the tent's arcs. There's no snowstorm today but I hear how the ice is cracking. It's going to shift.

Having difficulty getting through these kilometers: hummocks, cracks and endless broken ice obstructions! Want to cry sometimes. But what will tears do? I myself chose this life, this way
March 29, 1990

Haven't moved for two days - remained in my tent. Meanwhile, I was blown to the north. Calling the base in Sredny Island. There's interference, the audibility is bad and there's a cracking sound in the headphones – it hurts my ears. It's hard to be alone in the Arctic: such vastness puts pressure on you, your nerves are constantly tense and the work is exhausting. As I walk I think what's beyond the hummocks? Beyond them are more hummocks and more draining work. Carrying my stuff one piece at a time, first the sled, then the backpack.

April 5, 1990

Encountered many faults along the way today. It was difficult getting over the moving ice: used a canoe to transport my backpack and then the sled. But in the evening I came across a small field. Was able to walk straight for about thirty minutes. But then the ice again - I spent about forty minutes clambering out of it.

April 6, 1990

Today is the 81st anniversary of man reaching the North Pole for the first time. The first to reach it was the American Robert Peary.* I drank a glass of my infusion of cognac, alcohol, lemongrass and honey in his honor. I ate some whitefish. And I thought to myself that perhaps one day someone will drink a glass in my honor. After all, this is my third journey to the pole.

*Robert Peary (May 1856 - February 1920) - American Arctic explorer. In 1909 he announced that he had conquered the North Pole, which engendered much discussion. Officially, he is considered the first man to reach the North Pole after having crossed pack ice (sea ice that is at least three-meters thick and that existed through more than two annual cycles of rising and melting).

I've dreamt of going to the North Pole since childhood. I remember when it snowed, and it snowed rarely where I lived, that I used to make skis out of barrel staves. Then I would ski in the steppe along a plowed field, making believe that I was on the hummocks.

It's already 9pm, but the sun is still high. I put snow bricks around my tent. The night is approaching, I'm afraid that again I'll just be lying and trembling. But I prepared myself in advance for such hardships. Another two months to the pole, but if I sail around the world, it will be more. There are different conditions on a sailboat, however.

The loneliness doesn't weigh on me because I have many things to do. Today, for example, I got up early and didn't loiter around. Mended the tent - it had been ripped a bit. Patched up the sleeves as they had been worn out by the ski poles. Wrapped rope around the metal knife handle, since the metal is very cold.

April 5, 1990. Fortunately, "Magellan" finally caught three satellites, joined the computer to coordinate and showed my location: 84°48' n.l., 95°29' e.l.

April 6, 1990. A signal appeared on the "Magellan" scoreboard, illuminated that the device took all three satellites. And immediately coordinates appeared: 84°55' n.l., 95°19' e.l.. Maybe, God willing, tomorrow I'll be over 85 degrees.

Fifteen minutes until the radio connection, then I'll go to sleep. Or better, I'll just lie there in my sleeping bag and shiver in some kind of oblivion. It's really too cold. My feet freeze so much at night that I must rub one against the other in order to feel that they haven't fallen off.

All my joints freeze through. I have cramps in my knees. The part of the body on which I lie almost becomes frozen. I can't breathe in the sleeping bag as the inside would freeze from the warm breathing. But as soon as I feel myself falling asleep, I involuntarily try to hide my head in the sleeping bag. It's not very pleasant breathing the cold air. My mouth, nose and face are freezing. It's 36 below zero inside the tent, even though I covered it up with ice bricks to protect it from the wind.

«I have to wait until the frost strengthens the broken ice. But judging by the color of the sky, cold weather will not arrive for a while. It's become warm after the snowstorm»
April 24, 1990

Walked 11 kilometers in seven hours. Not bad. They told me on the radio that Fiennes's* English expedition has been removed from the itinerary. It could have gone up to the 88th degree. Yes, it's too bad that they just couldn't reach the North Pole. No one has ever reached it without help. Last year we made it to the pole, but it doesn't count because we were helped two times by a helicopter. The first time on March 28 it came to pick up our three sick crewmembers, and then the second time on April 28 it picked up the deceased Sasha Rybakov and the infirm Vasily Zhukovsky and Tanya Chukova.

April 27, 1990

Walked out of the tent and saw that the snowstorm had broken the ice during the night. My camp turned out to be on a small floe, swimming among slush of small broken ice. Up ahead, northeast, where I must be heading, I could see a chain of high hummocks. But they can't be reached. I have to wait until the frost strengthens the broken ice. But judging by the color of the sky, cold weather will not arrive for a while. It's become warm after the snowstorm. The temperature has heated up to 15 below zero, and in order for the ice to be thick and solid it must be at least 25-30 degrees below zero.

*Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes (born March 7, 1944) - British traveler, holder of several endurance records. In 1984 he was named "the greatest world explorer alive" by the Guinness Book of World Records.

April 28, 1990

Thank God! With His help I was able to make it to some firm ice. It took me the entire day. I transported the sled on the unstable ice from one floe to another. Sometimes I had to crawl on my stomach through narrow cracks with thin, faltering ice - it could hold my weight only. I had to leave the backpack and the sled behind. Then, after having reaching firm ice, I used rope to pull my belongings after me, meter by meter. But once I fell into the water - it was up to my chest. This incident could have been fatal if there hadn't been a solid piece of ice nearby.

April 30, 1990

Towards the evening I descended from a ridge of hummocks and suddenly felt a void under my feet. My sleeves filled with sludge, which can't be held onto, and my legs submerged into the water. Like a balloon the backpack kept me afloat, and the sled, which was stuck in the hummocks, would not allow me to sink.

Fyodor Konyukhov was born on December 12, 1951 on the shore of the Sea of Azov, in the settlement of Chkalovo (Ukraine). His father was a descendent of Pomor fishermen from the Arkhangelsk Governorate and his mother was a native of Bessarabia (located in present day Moldova and Ukraine). He graduated from a nautical school as a skipper and then an Arctic institute with the profession of nautical engineer. A sea and yacht captain, he has lived in Moscow since 1995. Married with two adult sons and a daughter, he is also an artist, having painted more than 3,000 works. He has also authored twelve books and in 2010 he was ordained as a priest.

Fyodor Konyukhov has had a passion for traveling since childhood. When he was 15 years old he crossed the Sea of Azov on a rowboat. He has sailed around the world four times, sailed across the Atlantic Ocean 15 times, including once on a rowboat. He is the first person in the world to have reached five of the planet's poles: the geographical North Pole (three times), the geographical South Pole, the Pole of Relative Inaccessibility in the Arctic Ocean, Mount Everest (height pole) and Cape Horn (pole for yachtsmen). He is the first Russian to have accomplished the Seven Summits program by climbing the highest point on each of the seven continents. In 2014 he crossed the Pacific Ocean on a rowboat in 160 days - a total of 17,000 kilometers.

A soft, unrecognizable voice escaped from my chest: "God, what have I done to deserve this? Is this really the end?"

And the pole was so close! Water had penetrated the boilersuit and my underclothing, and a burning cold seized my body up to my chest. I grabbed the edge of the floe with my left hand and with my right I grabbed the belt that had me tied to the sled. And, just as I felt the imminent end closing in on me, I pulled myself out onto the firm floe with all my strength.
May 6, 1990

I'm close to the North Pole. The wind is terrible. Every hour and a half I must dig my tent out of the snow. The snowstorm has been raging for two days now. Over these two days I've reflected on a lot of things. It's good that I've brought along the New Testament. I can reread it endlessly. The wind is now blowing from the south. Maybe God will have mercy on me and the wind will die down.
May 9, 1990

I'm on the North Pole. Throughout the entire journey I only had myself to deal with. I reflected upon myself, tested myself, experimented with myself, excavated my past, built expectations about the future. People who are busy with material life usually look at each other, analyze the other's life, judge and try to change the life of people close to them and never try to look at themselves from a distance. This solitary journey has given me the opportunity to do so.

Extracts of the diary were used for this material. The full diary is collected in the book My Travel by Fyodor Konyukhov, published by Mann, Ivanov and Ferber.

This material was prepared by Ilya Krol, RBTH
Photo credits : Vladimir Medvedev / ITAR-TASS, Dmitri Kozlov / RIA Novosti, Alamy / Legion Media, AP,
Images by Fedor Konukhov
Main photo by press service.
Design and layout by Ekaterina Chipurenko.
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