Not far from the Sopochnaya Karga weather station


22 July 2013

On the water, instead of drifting ice, there are wood logs. The smell of land mingles with sea air. Tara is going up the Yenisei River, whose mouth is over 150 kms wide. The coast on the horizon appears with partially snow-covered rocky cliffs. We’ll have to wait a few days until the arrival of Russian boat pilots who will accompany us to Dudinka. The anchor has been set. In the distance, the antennas of the Sopochnaya Karga weather station pierce the blue sky and arouse our curiosity.

It’s almost unbelievable that we’re in the Arctic. The sun is a permanent fixture. Day and night, through the boat’s windows, the sunshine constantly warms up Tara’s interior. Shorts and t-shirts have become indispensable. Unhappy are those who had not planned on summer clothing in these high latitudes. The region is undergoing an exceptional heat wave. Yesterday, after a day’s work, Tara’s deck acquired the look of a seaside resort. We put on swimsuits and without hesitation jumped into yellowish 18 degree water. It’s so nice to cool down a bit and enjoy the feeling of summer.

The anchor is set on the river bottom. The arrival of Russian pilots is scheduled in 2 days, so we’ll remain here near the Sopochnaya Karga station. After an initial contact, Sergey Pisarev obtained permission to set foot on land. On board we rush to the zodiacs*! We’re all dreaming of stretching our legs. Lee Karp-Boss and Joannie Ferland even put on their jogging clothes. But our enthusiasm and thirst for adventure quickly abate under the clouds of mosquitoes. Despite inventive outfits that make us look like novice explorers, nobody escapes these greedy insects intent on fresh blood. Visitors are rare here.

The Sopochnaya Karga weather station was built in 1939. For 64 years, men and women have taken turns on this creek, summer and winter, collecting data on salinity, water temperature, strength and direction of wind, waves, etc. Every 3 hours, throughout the day and night, data is recorded. To ensure the weather watch, 4 people live permanently at the station. In the summer, some seasonal help come to lend a hand to the meteorologists, but their support is basically maintenance. It has to be said that the passing years and rugged weather conditions — down to -50º C in the winter — have not spared the station. Sopochnaya Karga is crumbling, and funds are lacking.

Rusty cans and scrap metal litter the flower-covered ground. There’s even an old typewriter, probably abandoned since the advent of the computer. Comfortably surrounded by Arctic cotton, 3 military vehicles seem to have found a peaceful haven here. Near the beach, 2 log cabins have lost their balance. The permafrost ** on which they were built has melted, and the foundations have caved in. Alexei, a young meteorologist who moved here 3 years ago with his wife and son, is hoping that the situation will change very soon. Restoration or relocation, the question remains unanswered. Meanwhile, he diligently continues his work. Between 2 data measurements, he sometimes goes fishing or hunts wild reindeer. The camp is re-supplied only once a year with food. Fortunately, Alexei knows some cargo captains frequenting the river who in passing provide fresh produce. But real visitors are rare. To live here, you have to love solitude.

The Sopochnaya Karga station is now only a speck on the horizon. We said goodbye to Alexei, Oleg and Yulia. The 2 pilots came aboard sooner than expected so we’ve resumed our journey. In 240 nautical miles, we’ll find civilization again, the Russian city of Dudinka.

Anna Deniaud Garcia

* Inflatable boats that can go ashore.
Permafrost **: layer of permanently frozen soil.