Remote Russia: Expedition to Putorana Plateau, National Geographic

It takes two vans to get everything to the airport. The helicopter is a flying gas tank, carrying nine people and packed with everything for the camp for the first ten days. The pilot is worried that we are overloaded so he makes five or six false starts while hovering five feet above the ground. Apparently, if we crash back onto the tarmac, it means there is too much stuff in the helicopter.

The Russians have brought flats of potatoes, oven mitts stuffed with huge nails, cabbages and cucumbers, vodka, wine and cases of canned goods, including something they really like that is a combination of beets and horseradish, wood stoves, flare guns, big cooking pots, and rifles. We fly for …

Remote Russia: Expedition to Putorana Plateau, National Geographic

It takes two vans to get everything to the airport. The helicopter is a flying gas tank, carrying nine people and packed with everything for the camp for the first ten days. The pilot is worried that we are overloaded so he makes five or six false starts while hovering five feet above the ground. Apparently, if we crash back onto the tarmac, it means there is too much stuff in the helicopter.

The Russians have brought flats of potatoes, oven mitts stuffed with huge nails, cabbages and cucumbers, vodka, wine and cases of canned goods, including something they really like that is a combination of beets and horseradish, wood stoves, flare guns, big cooking pots, and rifles. We fly for hours and the mechanic puts me in a harness and opens the door right before we come to a huge waterfall, which is not as pretty as the expanse of nothing surrounding it. The pilot lands the huge, ancient helicopter on a sandbar and we hike up to the waterfall.

This is my first experience with tundra—it is very spongy, clumpy, and multi-colored. Every square inch looks like an Elliott Porter photograph. Just looking at the way the sediment lays in undisturbed patterns on the rocks just below the water, I realize that I have never been in a pristine environment before.

It’s rough walking. The igneous rock is covered with Yagel moss, spongy lichen that keeps the mud below it moist. Turns out everything – swamps, meadows, and boulder fields – are covered with this stuff. It’s like walking on uneven ground with a top layer of sponge-covered fresh dog shit. It’s the toughest walking I’ve ever done.

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