National Geographic : 1924 Dec
WITH AN EXILE IN ARCTIC SIBERIA The Narrative of a Russian Who Was Compelled to Turn Polar Explorer for Two Years BY VLADIMIR M. ZENZINOV With Illustrationsfrom Photographsby the Author TWELVE years ago I was com pelled to turn polar explorer. Without any trial, by a mere ad ministrative process, I was banished for a term of five years to the Yakutsk Ter ritory of northeastern Siberia. This was the third time that I had been exiled by the Tsarist Government. On the two previous occasions-the first from Archangel, the second from the city of Yakutsk-I had successfully escaped and resumed my political activities. Special precautions were therefore taken this time. I was deported to the farthest possible north, a place to which no one had ever before been sent, and from which, it was generally believed, no escape was possible. The settlement to which I was banished was called Russkoe Ustye. Even in the city of Yakutsk, the capital of the terri tory of that name, there was only a vague knowledge of the existence of this re mote village-forgotten by God and man. It is situated under latitude 71° I' N., and in longitude 149° 26' E., near the point where the Indigirka River enters the Arctic Ocean (see map, page 699). A JOURNEY OF 2,000 MILES BY HORSE, REINDEER, AND DOG-SLEDGE To convey an idea of the remoteness of this place from the rest of the world, I must go into some detail. The distance from Irkutsk, the Siberian metropolis on the Trans-Siberian Railway, to the city of Yakutsk is reckoned at about 2,000 miles. Communication between these points is maintained part of the way in summer by steamship on the Lena, and in winter by horses. The journey requires from 25 to 30 days, and in winter one must travel on horses day and night. About the same distance must be cov ered from Yakutsk to Russkoe Ustye, ex cept that communication on this stretch is far more difficult. Travel is possible here only in winter, when all the rivers, marshes, and innumerable lakes of this region freeze. In spring, summer, and autumn this part of the country is entirely cut off from the rest of the world by countless impassable swamps. I was sent from Yakutsk under the guard of a specially selected Cossack, whose business it was to see that I did not escape again. We started at the be ginning of December, 1912. After trav eling only 130 miles we exchanged our horses for reindeer. These in turn were exchanged for fresh animals from time to time at various nomad camps. Our road lay through the encampments of Yakuts, Tungus, and Yukaghirs, for there are no Russian settlements in this region. We reached the Indigirka River about the middle of February, and this was considered rapid progress. Here we were no longer able to use reindeer, and the rest of the trip had to be made by dog sledge, a distance of more than 60 miles. Thus the entire distance of 2,000 miles was covered, with the aid of horses, rein deer, and dogs, in about two and a half months. The village to which I had been as signed was 4,000 miles from the nearest railway station. As the crow flies, Russ koe Ustye is much closer to the North Pole than by the customary route of travel to the nearest large city, Yakutsk, which is regarded, even in Siberia, as an out-of-the-way place. BURIED IN AN ARCTIC BLIZZARD We traveled north through the still primeval forests (the taiga), such as are found only in Siberia. We passed through deep ravines, winding channels, snow filled beds of rivers, large and small, and crossed tall, rocky, forest-clad mountains.