Set on the border between Soviet Russia and the USA, the north Siberian coast is known as the “Ice Curtain.” This wild land is the setting for our expedition cruise aboard the 50-guest Spirit of Enderby as we discover a world of spouting whales, huge bird colonies, walrus haul-outs, and native villages. We navigate from Russia through the Bering Strait to Wrangel Island, a treasure trove of Arctic biodiversity and well known for its polar bear population. We hope to catch many glimpses of this magnificent animal as well as walrus, reindeer, snow geese, and migratory bird species that nest here in the brief Arctic summer. The islands’ human histories are fascinating as well, and our expert expedition team presents informative lectures and lends insight to the stupendous landscapes we explore and the fantastic wildlife encounters we enjoy.
Note: This cruise is not exclusive to, nor operated by, Wilderness Travel, who acts solely as agent in booking your reservation with the ship operator. The itinerary, lecturers, and all other arrangements are subject to change at the discretion of the cruise line.
NOTE: You can join this expedition either in Anadyr, Russia, or Nome, Alaska. Those starting in Nome will fly by a Heritage Expeditions charter flight to Anadyr and will join the ship and the expedition members who have traveled directly to Anadyr.
Those departing from Nome, Alaska, should arrive in Nome before midday and preferably the previous night. On arrival, you should check in with Bering Air at the Nome Airport who will have details of our charter flight. During this flight you will cross the International Date Line, arriving into Anadyr on Day 1 of the expedition. You will clear Russian Customs and Immigration.
All expedition members will arrive in Anadyr. If you are traveling directly to Anadyr and require pre or post cruise accommodation or excursions, please contact us. Depending on your arrival time you may have the opportunity to explore Anadyr, the administrative center of the Chukotka region, before getting to know your fellow voyagers and crew aboard the Spirit of Enderby. All meals included aboard the Spirit of Enderby.
We depart Anadyr Harbor in the early morning and you are invited to join the Captain, officers, and the expedition staff on the bridge. The Anadyr estuary is renowned for its beluga whales. As we sail across Anadyrskiy Bay toward the Bering Strait, we will enjoy briefings, introductory lectures, and a chance to relax or enjoy some birding with our naturalist guides.
Yttygran, Nuneangan, and Arakamchechen Islands
Yttygran Island is home to the monumental ancient aboriginal site known as Whale Bone Alley, where whalebones are scattered along the beach for more than 500 yards. There are many meat pits used for storage and other remains of a busy whaling camp that united several aboriginal villages at a time. In one location, immense bowhead whale jawbones and ribs are placed together in a stunning arch formation. After landing at Whale Bone Alley we will take the Zodiacs on a whale-watching excursion (gray whales are frequently seen around the island). We will also cruise close to neighboring Nuneangan Island (Bird Island), where a large number of seabirds nest. On nearby Arakamchechen Island there is a prominent walrus haul-out; if the animals are present we will land and walk across the tundra to view them from the cliffs.
Cape Dezhnev / Uelen Village
Sea conditions permitting, we land at Cape Dezhnev, the northeastern-most point of the Eurasian continent. It is sometimes possible to see the coast of America from this remote and lonely outpost. It is also a historic landmark named after the Siberian Cossack Semyon Dezhnev, who in 1648 became the first European to sail from the Arctic to the Pacific. A steep scramble from the beach brings us to an abandoned border guard base, a monument to Dezhnev, and another to all the sailors who have sailed these seas. Cape Prince of Wales in Alaska lies 55 miles across the Bering Strait. A few nautical miles to the west of Cape Dezhnev we visit Uelen Village, the most northeastern village in Russia. Archaeological work has revealed that walrus, seal, and whale hunters have lived here for over 2,000 years. Today the population is predominantly Chukchi, with some Russians and Inuit. Hunting is still very important but the village is also one of the largest centers for traditional Chukchi and Inuit art in the world. We will be entertained by villagers and visit the bone-carving workshop during our visit. Sculptures from the bone-carving workshop in Uelen can be found in most of the major museums in Russia.
This small island was once an important Russian Polar Research Station and one of a number dotted across the Arctic. With the collapse of the USSR, there was no money to maintain them and they were abandoned; the buildings are derelict but the wildlife the men studied is still here. Near the abandoned station at the northwestern end of the island are some of the most amazing bird cliffs in the Arctic; puffins, guillemots, gulls, and cormorants can be observed and photographed from just yards away. At the southeastern end of the island there is a prominent walrus haul out, if the animals are present it is one of the easiest places to observe them and get some good photographs.
Wrangel and Herald Islands
Ice and weather conditions permitting, we spend the next few days on Wrangel Island, with a visit to nearby Herald Island. The earliest human occupation on Wrangel Island dates back to 3200 BC and it has been established they were seasonal hunters from Siberia. The island’s presence was speculated about and marked on maps by early Russian explorers but it wasn’t until 1849 that it was “rediscovered” by the British. A Canadian expedition attempted to establish a settlement and claim the Island for Canada, but they were evicted by the Russians who claimed the island. Today it is a Russian Federal Nature Reserve of international significance and importance. A lot of its significance lies in the fact that it is a major polar bear denning area. In fact, it is sometimes referred to as a polar bear maternity ward because of the large numbers of pups born here. It is also the last landfall for migratory species flying north. Each summer thousands of birds migrate here to breed, including snow geese, snowy owls, skuas, Arctic terns, and Ross’s, Sabine’s, and ivory gulls. There are many landings that we can make to search out wildlife, wildflowers, and Arctic landscapes. Polar bears will be high on our list of animals to see and with a little patience we should be rewarded with a number of encounters. Musk oxen and reindeer were introduced to the island in 1975 and 1948 respectively, though reindeer numbers are low. We also have a chance to visit Dragi Harbor where the survivors of the Karluk, crushed by ice in 1914, scrambled ashore and lived until they were rescued. Ice conditions permitting, we will explore Herald Island to the east of Wrangel Island.
North Siberian Coast
Although this area is well mapped and charted, there have been very few expedition cruises and consequently there is a lot of scope for expedition landings. There are several choices, including a purported large walrus haul out at Cape Vankarem. The area around the Cape is bounded by narrow sand ridges with numerous coastal lagoons and inlets; nearby there is a small Chukchi village whose residents still make their living hunting walrus, seals, and whales. A smaller Chukchi village, Nutepelmen, is situated on a spit at the entrance to Pyngopikhin Lagoon, farther west of Cape Vankarem.
So huge that it is visible from satellite photos, the Kolyuchin Inlet contains vast numbers of waterfowl and migratory waders. We concentrate our visit on the spit near the mouth of the inlet, a wild, desolate and strangely beautiful landscape. We search the dunes and tidal areas for birdlife including emperor geese and spoon-billed sandpipers. Gray whales frequent the area and are sometimes spotted feeding just yards offshore.
Bering Strait and Chukotka Coast
In the early morning we pass the Diomede Islands, sometimes called Tomorrow Island and Yesterday Isle because they straddle the International Date Line. Here Russia and America are separated by only 2.3 nautical miles of ocean. We remain in Russian territory as we cruise south past the islands. When the USA purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867, the new boundary was drawn between Big (Russian) and Little (USA) Diomede Islands. This makes Big Diomede Island Russia’s easternmost possession. The island was originally inhabited by Yupik Eskimos, but after World War II the native population was relocated to the mainland. Today there are no permanent residents but the Russians maintain a border guard station here. It is an important island for birdlife with good numbers of blacklegged kittiwakes, common and Brunnich’s guillemot, and horned and tufted puffin. Later this afternoon we make an expedition landing on the Chukotka coast—our last chance to enjoy the wildlife and tundra landscape.
We join the staff for an expedition recap and a disembarkation briefing, then simply relax as we sail across Anadyrskiy Bay toward Anadyr.
We disembark after breakfast. There will be a complimentary transfer to the airport or to a hotel of your choice. Those returning to Nome will join a charter flight that will depart Anadyr around midday and, because of the dateline, arrive back in Nome on the evening of the previous day. However, we strongly advise that you do not book any onward travel from Nome until the following day to allow for possible delays in the charter flight. Those returning to Moscow can either be transferred to the airport or hotel in Anadyr, depending on their flight times.