Running the Yama River in Siberia 1991

Gail Ferris


          My trip on the Yama River in Siberia, that is now called Far Eastern Russia, began July 14th. 1991 on Sunday morning when my brother with my father and my aunt Dorothy drove me to Bradley Airport in Windsor Locks, Connecticut to be there by 8:00 for my flight to Anchorage Alaska on Northwest Airlines. 

          When I arrived with four bags three of that weighed about fifty pounds each there was no one on hand to help me carry the bags into the passenger terminal area.  I was carrying an extra seventy-three pounds of food for my expected total of thirteen companions on the Yama River for twenty-one days. 

          John Lentz who arranged this trip had advised me to bring snacks, spices, desserts and fruit juice for everyone, as these items would most likely be unavailable in Russia or Siberia.

        I hauled everything to the Northwest Airline ticket counter and the agent accepted everything without charging extra when she heard my story.  She was not going to charge anyway.

        During the flight a fellow from Taiwan sat next to me whose delightful, enthusiastic company provided me with the opportunity to discuss aspects of long distance far eastern travel.

          During the Seattle to Anchorage leg of my flight, an Anchorage resident of the last thirty years sat next to me and talked about how many exciting outdoor activities she, her husband and friends do.  They hunt moose and caribou, fish for salmon and halibut and whatever else is running and ride snowmobiles on the glaciers as well as camp out.

        The other people whom I later met and talked with at the Centennial Park in Anchorage who were from everywhere had the same outlook of great vitality and outdoor orientation. Even in Anchorage the cab and livery drivers and even ordinary people were surprisingly vigorous.

July 15th, after a great day of visiting museums in Anchorage and the US Geology Department where I received extensive help and was able to purchase topographical maps of the Barrow area, I boarded the Alaska Airlines plane to Magadan, USSR.


        Flying Alaska Air over cloudy Alaska was interesting because the cloud formations at times reflect the topography below, but I do not fully understand this relationship.





        We flew over the Diomede islands during the crossing. 

        Once our plane was across into Siberia there were some openings in the clouds through that I could see from 31,000 feet a river, possibly the Anadyr River that was typical of a tundra river.  The River wound endlessly across the tundra plain in a complicated pattern with numerous islands in it suggesting that it was flowing through sand and gravel substrate devoid of rock.

Then shrouded in clouds I saw this fascinating view below which I could not believe.




        As we flew south over Siberia to Magadan I saw other rivers that also had this same character.  Once in a while there was evidence of rapids and a possible waterfall.

        The shore of the west side of the Kamchatka peninsula was exciting from the air.  The coast was a combination of gravel and rock escarpments with a similar height of maybe a few hundred feet or higher with waves breaking on sand beaches.  The rock appeared to be sedimentary soft and finely broken in character.  I had a very short glimpse from the air of only a narrow coastal area was without fog. 




view of the sea of Okhotsk near Magadan


The Sea of Okhotsk, true to what I had read, was lost in the cloud cover.  Over Siberia on the west shore of the sea there was clarity inland over a river that may have been the Yama or the Ola.  Once again like the other rivers I saw, this river was dropping gently through gravel substrate without evidence of any hard rock. I knew that this area was formed during the Carboniferous period of metamorphic rock, that would involve sedimentary rock, and igneous intrusions, that contain gold, pegmatite, and geodes of siliceous minerals such as quartz and chalcedony in combination at times with some calcium minerals, as an uncommon association.


        Landing in Magadan Siberia was an ordeal because the Boeing 727 had to land at the lowest air speed possible so as to not bounce too heavily on the military service cement runway surface that was bumpier than the dirt runway at Pond Inlet on Baffin Island.

        The military reception of border guards and police was polite and youthful with a few older officers, whose appearance slightly resembled the tough character cigarette smoking good guy types.  Passport, visa and baggage inspection was not difficult.  I was concerned about my excessive quantity of food but I felt that my talking of this chance was worth it.

        We drove to Magadan from the airport 26 km on a 3 lane paved road passing out slower trucks and vehicles.  Whew talk about crazy driving they would pass on hills corners in blind spots driving like mad bandits as if we had to catch an appointment as fast as possible, I was scared!

        I got to see those soviet military trucks which are excellent, very rugged design, being small to medium size, strong and fast.  Unfortunately they consume huge amounts of fuel such as 35 liters in 100 km. 

        The hotel, that I am guessing was the only hotel in town, was surprisingly nice even including television in each room, a nice restaurant that always served plenty of food and vodka, and a bahnia or sauna bath, although for security reasons one does not go for a walk alone in Magadan.  

        Our day of flying over lost us a calendar day because we had crossed the date line that bisects the Bering Strait.  We had taken off from Anchorage on July 15th. and had arrived in Magadan on July 16th. with a six hour time zone change although the flight took about four hours.  The next two days were spent touring the city.

        I enjoyed seeing a majestic monument to World War II was a beautiful example of majestic cubism that one is unlikely to find in the USA.  The geometric abstractions and integrations of scenes from one side to another of its four sides were made the monument particularly fascinating for me to contemplate.

        The museums were very informative, especially the geology museum at the institute.  In it were examples of mammoth remains, pegmatite, igneous and metamorphic mineral forms dominated by siliceous minerals such as chalcedony etc. 

        Botany was not exhibited but anthropological items were exhibited in another exhibit some of that related to prehistoric local and Arctic cultures including the populations that inhabited both sides of the Bering Strait. 

        There was television coverage of the celebration of Russia's colonization of Alaska that also showed anthropological materials.  In a way I was surprised that Soviet Russia, that had preferred to suggest that all history started with the Revolution, would permit the display of such items.

On the next day July 19th, after a few hours of waiting for the fog to lift, we flew an Aeroflot helicopter from Magadan northeast flying inland along a river that may have been the Ola River and through mountain valleys with some fog and very warm conditions.



fog over Negev Bay off Magadan


        We landed at one of the gulags or prison camps for gold mining on the river and walked about the premises inspecting the remaining log buildings. 




        The guards’ quarters were insulated beneath the floor with sawdust and were separated from the prisoners’ area by barbed wire fencing. 

        The access was by dirt road from Magadan where prisoners were brought in by ship and then marched to these gulags.  Not hundreds or thousands but millions of Russians died at the hands of Stalin's dictatorship in this area more often from the brutalization of his guards in concert with deadly weather conditions.  And as I stood there on that warm day looking at the lush green grasses I wondered what insidious weather patterns this area had that created such deadly conditions. 

        I thought about the example in Connecticut of the subterranean mining prison at Enfield during the Revolutionary War where conditions were always wet because of the high humidity and constant temperatures of forty degrees. 

        The prisoners here were housed through their own construction in log cabins and forced to sleep in only their underwear to reduce the risk of escape attempts.


this is unglaciated terrain


        I suspect that in these river valleys the weather must tend to funnel in quickly causing people to be caught in storms without warning. 

        Stalin's empire made sure that they provided no adequate warm clothing for the prisoners or sufficient food because the idea was to kill people off indirectly.  Magadan and the settlements near this area were established by prisoners. So many people died there. 

        I wonder how many people are buried there in unknown burial plots or what was done with all those bodies.  I felt uncomfortable as I realized that the Russian people I was now seeing were most likely to be the survivors of Stalin's purges probably for the very reasons that I would have not survived. 

        Life in not valued in Russia and the East the way we value it here in the United States and I briefly realized just how much of a chance I was taking by going on this trip to Siberia. 

        This will be a different sort of chance I will be taking with my life on my next trip I shall take on the open water of Barrow Alaska.

        I knew that I would be where I knew that I had more direct control of my fate because I knew what the dangers of sea kayaking are from years of winter paddling.


        As we flew up the Yama valley I took pictures through the open window of the gray mountains that resembled the Pocono mountains of eastern Pennsylvania but these had more definition most likely because this area was definitely not glaciated during the last period of glaciation in the Northern hemisphere.  The mountains have sharply defined razorbacks that are created by rain, wind and frost erosion that has broken up their finely layered strata.  There is not much soil and most of the mountains are jagged pyramids with tamarack trees in isolated areas.

        In the back of my mind the distinct contrast between this area that is not that far from the actively volcanic Kamchatka Peninsula excited my curiosity.

        The mountains of medium to low height and hills were most often lacking trees.  The trees grew in the protected crevasses and valleys in sharply defined zones revealing the availability of and the water retention and carrying capacity of the soil, but there were solitary tamarack trees Larix laricina and Siberian pine sp. even on the highest ridges.

        From the air were visible large patches of yellow gray green lichens with widely spaced trees in a checkered pattern, most likely tamarack that can survive dry conditions well and fire is necessary to germinate the seeds.  There are fires in the area ignited by lightning.




the inescapable topography of mountains


        We flew over a village and an iced in broad section of the upper river and headed back down river for open water to land on a large island that our trip planners knew of. 





        From our helicopter, the river appeared to have a fast current of about seven to eight knots with few rocks of any size.  The broad, shallow riverbed caused the river to frequently divide making new channels in the innumerable gravel shoals.  This frequent meandering braided channeling of the river indicated that the drop in elevation was most likely moderate and consistent.



the inescapable topography


No sooner than we had abruptly landed and our helicopter crew was rushing us to unload our equipment as quickly as possible out of the impatiently running helicopter with its blades slicing the air not only overhead but on the side of the tail section that caused gruesome thoughts came to my mind as the rotor blades chopped at the air. 

        The helicopter took off just as soon as the doors could be closed but little did I realize that in just moments we were to be descended upon by a vicious downpour complete with thunder and lightning.  



not good a thundershower is rumbling down our way


        The thought came to my mind, what will happen to us should the lightning strike the river.  Will we be electrocuted while we are stranded, soaking wet, on this island because we were avoiding a possible direct confrontation with an Asian brown bear had we camped in the surrounding woods.  Then I wonder how much will the river rise during the night as this deluge continues and other storms further up river embellish the river's flow.  Our island is only one foot above the at that time river level. This situation presented to my mind a dilemma.  

        Then I began to make a comparison of our new accommodations to others available elsewhere.  I thought about our superior room service, here on the Yama in Siberia that was appearing to slightly resemble a visit to hell, perhaps. 

        Yes, we seemed to have immediately available whether we wanted or not thing of the ultimate magnitude in sensory perception.  We had electrical service the most stimulating type that lights you up from head to toe, completely.  And showers are like being fire hosed probably with a few hailstones to embellish the shower massage with cold water for the restoration of health and vigor. 

        Then should the river happen to rise precipitously there would be no lack of water indeed you would find yourself receiving the ultimate flush as you find yourself being carried off as the river flooded our campsite on the island.  Such superb room service I thought as I imagined some exasperating guest at an elegant hotel somewhere else in the world complaining about slow room service while we were now rapidly adjusting to our new environment.

        Hurriedly we unpacked the large blue tarp, supported the front of it with two poles and tied and ballasted it with rocks down to the ground.  We huddled beneath it as the storm momentarily raged. In a short time the localized thunderstorm subsided in our area

        We donned mosquito repellant and put up our tents.  The thunderstorm came through.  After the rain stopped we gathered driftwood for the dinner and breakfast, and tried fishing.  There were no fish biting in the eddies and backwaters and so I contented myself with watching the storms drift through the mountain valleys and the mists drift over the lower mountains. 

        Up the river the thunderstorm continued to rumble throughout the night and into the next day seeming to be trapped in a large valley up the river where air currents associated with thunderstorms are forced by the topography become entrapped. 

I was glad we did not happen to choose that particular area.  That area may happen to have a large enough concentration of magnetic anomalous iron ore that acts to attract and retain electrical storms.  There are a few such areas, magnetic anomalies that have been detected by satellite in this general area of the Siberia.

        The fresh food including potatoes and canned goods for the expedition was heavy and by comparison to our boats that were of very lightweight materials. 

        We had one rigid kayak from the United States that was a polyethylene plastic "Dancer," that I paddled on alternating days. 



Yuri and Henry working on assembling the pontoon raft

        Our main boats were a large inflatable PVC raft propelled by oars with an aluminum tubular frame that carried the majority of the cargo for the trip and a catamaran.  There was an additional one-man inflatable rubber raft.

        The catamaran was short about fourteen feet long and I choose to sit bow right with a sixty-inch paddle that was a suitable length because of our height above the water.  The modular frame was a combination of aluminum tubing and plate that was welded and bolted together with telescoping tubing.  The rough ends of any metal piece were covered with foam padding tied in place.  Everything was designed to break down to fit into canvas bags for transportation in an aircraft.  Repair tools, pliers, screw drivers, drills, etc. and the use of capstan method by twisting lines of nylon webbing brought the frame together without breaking the brittle aluminum welds.  This project took up the evening and a few hours into the next day to complete because the frame happened to be a combination of mismatched sections of more than one catamaran that with minor modifications were interchangeable.

        Tamarack, Larix laricina, willows Salix sp. of both the high sandbar type and Arctic type grow along the river, infrequently there was birch Betula sp.

        What was interesting I found was this soft barked tree that colonizes sandbar areas as a bush.  It has soft powdery surfaced silver bark with a vanilla odor and dull green leaves.  The dull green leaves have tiny soft teeth along their edges but not on the ends.  On the underside the leaves there are brilliant red veins running down the center as a spine with branches off to the sides.  This bush develops into a straight-trunk tree with light brown curling scale bark that I believe is a species of willow, Salix sp.



mysterious tree

The woods were interesting I did not go very far into them for fear of encountering a bear but I spotted some wonderful flowers here and there especially exciting were wild flowers that were cultivated in gardens elsewhere in the world such as delphinium.



        The spotted sand pipers, Actitis hypoleucos, were busy darting after metamorphosing midges that were emerging from beneath the cobbles in the riverbed. A pair of Eurasian crows, Corvus corone, watched our campsite activity for a short while and then flew close by down the river.  Because these crows are not particularly afraid of people I was later to video tape another pair of these crows at close range further down the river.  

        As the evening's dew point fell when the sun set the river's course began to become enveloped in a mist that gradually rose until the mist enveloped our camp.  These phenomena, that might suggest that a fourth dimension exists, I had never quite experienced such a discernibly rapid and intimate way before.  This emanation of mist made me realize how these decidedly mystical moments were particularly importantly effective for manipulating audiences in Shakespearian plays.

        Note the extensive amount of driftwood, we always had dry wood for our campfires from all this wood everywhere on the beaches.



        Broad leaf trees were confined along the river shore growing in their greatest height and density where the clay and fine sand, medium brown colored soil had accumulated and each type was limited by available water.  Mosses grew in this moist soil but they did not occur in gravel areas as did lichens.  From the air I saw a peat bog and an elevated lake but by contrast I did not see any peat bog areas along the river.  Gravel was the most common soil type along this river valley especially in the river channel area.



extensive moss and algae in these waters


        July 20th, was our first day on the river. The thunderstorm from the previous day was still rumbling in the valley up river from our camp, but the water level of the river had changed little. 

        To me this constant succession of thunderstorms in the upper valleys was a special weather pattern that might be a common event in this area but I felt that this was a type of unusual weather. This was my first experience with a thunderstorm that seemed to be trapped and I am curious as to why this weather occurred.  

        Gathering up camp and loading it aboard the catamaran and raft after our first breakfast on the river that was complete and hearty I choose to paddle the catamaran.  This was my first experience as a paddler on the catamaran.  I took bow right that is paddled from a sitting position.  The left and right stern positions are paddled with the paddler kneeling.  The paddles were sixty centimeters long.  As we progressed down the river we had to occasionally add air to the sponsons because they had a slight leak.  This was done while underway.

        During our paddling we found that our observations from the air were accurate and that the current in the river was swift at about seven to eight knots with the drop in elevation consistent.  When approaching a bifurcation we strove to choose the largest channel when the river divided to avoid grounding out or getting into too narrow and winding types of channels. The character of the river was such that because of its width, current, and shallow gravel bed there were a few channels usually the narrower channels that had blockages of washed out trees.

        July 21st. our second day of paddling we covered about twenty kilometers the previous day.

        I noticed that there was a geological transition from sedimentary metamorphic rock with calcitic mineralization and mud stone but no schists igneous metamorphic rocks with some quartz and feldspar just beginning to show but the dominant mineral was oxides of iron and other minerals such as beryl and garnet in amorphous small inclusions.  Throughout the area I never saw any type of schist.



        As we were rounding a bend we saw what was later to be our only opportunity to see a small flock of about eight Bean geese, Anser fabalis fly over us and land down river.  They are very dark gray making them hard to see against the dark background and they have a soft low sounding call.

        We also saw some molting Spot billed duck, Anas poecilorhyncha, that resemble mallards and teals because they are in the same family.  The molting ducks could only run over the water to flee from us.

        Our Russian companions decided that this evening was a good time for a bahnia or sauna.  The bahnia construction was carried out by two fellows who were specialists in constructing bahnias in the field. They had brought with them a thick clear polyethylene plastic sheet. This would cover the structure designed for this purpose. They started the procedure by gathering firewood and boulders that were then laid out in the best array to heat up the boulders.  Some of the logs were laid with some kindling to start the fire among them side by side crisscrossing in a couple layers, the boulders were placed on top of the logs and more logs and kindling was placed over the boulders in a couple layers.  As the fire burned the rocks were heated evenly from above and below for a minimum of hour. 


the fire heating the rocks and Yuri is constructing the Bahnia frame


        The base of structure of the square shaped bahnia first laid with large logs forming the base of each side that were for us to sit on.  Then the uprights were constructed from sturdy sticks tied together with line.  The bases of the sticks that formed the four corners were pushed into the dirt and stabilized with more boulders.  The height was about six feet the length was twelve feet and the width was about ten feet.  To prevent the rising heat from melting the plastic roof a piece of cotton was draped across the structure with six inches of slack handing beneath the middle.  




        Once it had been determined that the rocks were ready, special wide aluminum shovels that looked like road signs on a stick were used to balance and carry the rocks over to and place into an indentation that had been dug into the middle of the sand floor.  This required delicate coordination between the two preparers.  One had to assist with getting the rocks to balance on the shovel and then go and open wide the door just at the right time because if a rock were to accidentally brush against the plastic that would melt such a large hole in the plastic that the bahnia could not generate the heat necessary.  After the rocks are positioned inside the doors are sealed, a bucket of fresh water is gotten and some birch branches are gathered if they are available.



the frame of the bahnia before the cover is put over the frame and rocks put inside, we sat on the logs


        When all is prepared everybody carefully files in, seats themselves and water a few cups of water are poured on the blistering hot rocks as needed.  Sweat begins to profusely roll off everyone's faces and bodies as everyone’s skin begins to redden with the absorption to the intense heat and humidity. 

        I tell you there is nothing as nice as a bahnia.

        Just before feeling too light headed we headed out the door and plunged into the nearby icy pool.  Although people in the United States may not realize this tradition is probably the reason why Russian women have such clear and perfect complexions.

        Three rounds in the bahnia were enough for me.  I quickly donned my clothes to avoid my friends the mosquitoes and retreated to the tent for my expected sound night's sleep.



        July 22nd, our third paddling day, having covered another twenty kilometers. I started to see granitic mineralization injected into the sedimentary rock.  These were represented by small pieces of granite, chalcedony, and igneous dikes here and there.  There was more and more granite showing with both pink and white feldspar and dark gray gneiss.  There were no pegmatites, at least none that I spotted anywhere.



cloud coming over mountain


further progress of cloud advancing over mountain


July 23rd. our fourth paddling day, the geology changed to higher temperature igneous intrusions of basalt although the dominant rock is still metamorphosed sedimentary rock that continually erodes into pyramidal mountains of loose scree punctuated by some small basalt outcrops and dikes dark brown in color. 

        One group of mountains had mottling where the granite had mixed with basalt showing pink mottled colors of pink and dark gray that were devoid of vegetation.

        Molting ducks often being Western Grebes were seen more frequently, that were less skittish and let us get fairly close before resorting to diving to escape us and I caught sight of a Common Goldeneye, Bucephala clangula, trying swimming and diving to hide from us. The small Mew gulls, Larus canus, had also become common and they exhibited protective behavior because raise their young on the sand bars of the river, common terns, Sterna hirundo, and Arctic terns, Sterna paradisea, that were also nesting were here and there and there were a few geese.  Eurasian crow, Corvus corone, coal tit, Parus ater, and common sandpiper, Actitis hypoleucos, were in this area as one or two in number.



Arctic tern, Sterna paradisea I was zoomed while taking this photo we were near their nesting area


        Wow what fun, we began to catch salmon, the Chum salmon.  Our guide, Yuri, with years of experience on this river showed us just where to cast our lures and offered us better lures when the lures we were trying did not work.



Valeri with a coho salmon on line


        Valeri demonstrated to us just how to fish with each lure.  For me this was priceless to learn.  Immediately cooking preparations and salting of roe and the fish began.  The fish were salted and placed in a 55 gallon plastic barrel.  We were at last there where we had wanted to be doing what we so excitedly looked forward to doing, catching fish.  They tasted most delicious. 



the Coho Salmon Valeri just caught


        Everyone was avidly trying their luck and one fellow caught his first fish on this trip.  He caught a nice big salmon.



dolly varden


        At this point in the river we had come far enough for the onshore breeze to blow up river starting in this region in the early afternoon but as we progressed further down the river the wind occurred progressively earlier in the day at about 20 to 25 knots as the venturi effect on the on shore breeze from the Sea of Okhotsk that makes paddling the kayak more challenging because it is just strong enough to catch the paddle and flip the kayak. 


        The narrowness of the river valley in its upper regions caused this wind to blow more strongly.  This combination of the strong winds and current made this otherwise easy class I river into almost a class III because it is very hard to swing into an eddy without being carried down and out of it. 

        Submerged rocks had noticeable up stream backwash waves strong enough to surf on and the streams and channels feeding into the main channel have an occasional overfall strong enough to overturn the unwary kayak paddler.  

        I frequently avoided the brunt of the current by paddling along the inside of river bends and sought other areas with slower current because it was more powerful than I was used to paddling in.  I was especially careful to avoid other potentially dangerous obstacles such as submerged trees and overhanging sweeper. 

        Even though I had taken courses and run races in whitewater slalom paddling, in this fast water I found that there were a couple moments when it was too late to avoid a submerged tree, luckily a small tree.

        To my horror I was swept over it so fast that I had no chance to react with any sort of corrective moves. 

I had to make any eddy turns into quiet backwaters with resolution and an anticipatory lean because despite the large volume well rounded cross sectioned hull design of the kayak, it could easily be flipped by this swift current.




Siberian elm seedling



lush moss and bluegreen algae indicating highly enriched soil


        Our food consisted of fresh vegetables mostly flown into Magadan from Barnaule in the Altai region that is several thousand miles away in southern Siberia, such as potatoes, tomatoes, parsley, dill, onions, garlic, cabbage, and carrots. 

        Meat was very tasty kielbasa made-up of smoked reindeer and canned beef. In addition we had canned evaporated milk, squash sauce, and peas for various meals.  We also had a very delicious two-foot diameter wheel of cheese was great eating in large hunks. 

Our occasional dessert was made up of prunes, cherries, apricots that were boiled for fifteen minutes in sweetened water until thoroughly soft as a dilute mixture of stewed fruit called compote.  Also tea, coffee, sugar, salt, pepper, mustard sauce, cooking oil, salt pork, cocoa, sugar candies, honey, jam of raspberries and black currants, and butter were brought.

        Among the spices Yuri brought mint and bay leaves that were part of what went into his pilaf that had canned beef, rice, dry fruit and butter. Yuri's pilaf was very delicious and not like the other pilafs I have eaten. 

        The food items I had brought were not needed but on occasion I was able to offer them.  The most pleasing food I had brought were individual bags of nut and dried fruit mixture with a few pieces of candy in each heat-sealed plastic bags.  The plastic bags were a product of "Dazey Seal-A-Meal" that I choose to use because they are highly puncture and pressure resistant as well as can be used for boiling food within and can be cut and sealed to accommodate variable sizes.

        Cooking was done over an open wood fire on the abundant dry washed up wood. The pots were a three-gallon pail, cast iron two-gallon pot with lid, three nesting deep rectangular pots that ranged in size from about one to two gallons. 



this was an absolute hilarious moment, we had such a great time!  I still laugh about our master chefs, who would believe this out in the middle of nowhere and I mean nowhere.


        Two heavy-duty hatchets, one "Sven" folding saw and a two man saw for large logs were used for cutting up the wood.  The cooking pots were suspended from a counterbalanced cantilevered thick stick by pothooks.  Unfortunately these handy pothooks were inadvertently left behind because when we discovered that a brown bear was making its way toward our lunch area we decided to leave in a hurry.  Since we did not know if the bear might happen to be an aggressive female with cubs we decided that we did not want to stay around and find out.




During those first four days on the upper section of the Yama I saw the following plants; blue iris, Iris setosa, that had several large brilliant blue flowers on each stalk and resembled cultivated a Japanese type of iris that had multiple blossoms on the stem and grew on the banks of the river. 

blue iris, Iris setosa


Iris in their forest glen.




I saw some wild geraniums, Geranium Bicknellii, that looked unmistakably like the wild geraniums that commonly grow and flower profusely in Litchfield Connecticut woods in May.


Geranium Bicknellii


There was a relative of the tansy, Chrysanthemum bipinnatum subsp. Bipinnatum, that was topped with clusters of brilliant golden yellow flowers that had no petals and with the typical turpentine scent when a leaf is crushed. 


Tansy buttons

To my delight I found the progenitor of a majestic old garden favorite with its spectacularly beautiful brilliant blue flowers on its thin tall stem growing sheltered among the tall grasses of the margin of the woods we call larkspur or delphinium  Digitalis Delphinium nelsoni .  This was just such a thrill for me to see.


Delphinium nelsoni


The trees were aspen, poplar, willows, birch and tamarack. 




Growing on the gravel island was one of the tallest forms of cinquefoil, the shrubby cinquefoil, Potentilla fruticosa, with its typical bright yellow five pedaled flowers.

        In the same area of the gravel island I noticed Yellow Dot or Spotted Saxifrage  Saxifraga bronchialis  that flowers had an unusual combination that I had never seen before of large white flowers with yellow spots as a cluster on an upright stem emanating from a dense cluster of gray green tiny leaves.  This looked to me like a plant that was most suited to high mountains and open tundra and not to be found in the protection of a wooded area. 








Also in the periphery of the woods grew large numbers, almost as a solid mat of plants, the pink Pyrola, Pyrola asarifolia  that had rows of pink round shaped flowers on the upper quarter of its stem that grew from the center of a whorl of shiny dark green leathery leaves.

There was some bog whortleberry Vaccinium membranaceum whose tasty blue berries I sampled. 



Bog Whortleberry


A small creeping plant the twinflower, Linnaea borealis, with distinctive long singular stems that had leathery medium green oval leaves grew over the ground.  From its stems grew shorter upright shoots topped with two white bell shaped flowers.  This was a pretty plant that could compliment any rock garden. 



Linnaea borealis


A type of aster that may be Erigeron peregrinus  or may be another similar species of aster looks like a New England aster and has light purple flowers. 

        Marsh Marigold



Marsh Marigold note all of the algae around the roots


        I came across a plant that resembled mint by having square stems but no odor with pendulous flowers and lanceolate leaves I am not sure of its identity. 

        Some of the many members of the legume family I generally identified as Astragalus sp. and Oxytropis sp. 

        Among the smallest low growing plants more typically found in the tundra were Empetrum nigrum ssp. hermaphroditum whose very tiny black berries I sampled. 

        I found two species of cloudberry Rubus camaemorus Rubus strigosus  that also had delicious fruit. 

        Other small flowers were Saxifraga punctata exquisite little gray green with star shaped white flowers growing only on the most sterile gravel was Stellaria laeta. 


Stellaria longipipes


Ranunculus eschscholtzii low growing brilliant yellow flowers typical of the buttercup.



Ranunculus eschscholtzii


And I thought that it was rather unusual to find that there numerous grain bearing grasses that certainly attract ducks.  Aside from nature it almost seemed as if they are purposefully promoted because of their relative abundance just along the banks of the river that were within a hundred mile long nature preserve. 




        I noticed that there were some Achilia that had interesting light pink flowers in the upper reaches of the Yama but reverted to the more common white flowered Achilia, Achilia sibericus, down river.  This plant I immediately recognized because the flower and general plant structure resembles Yarrow, a common New England weed but that has much thicker less pinnately dissected leaves resembling saw teeth.



Achilia sibericus




        Among some of the birds that I saw in the upper section of the river were a medium sized plover the Mongolian Plover, Charadrius mongolus, and the Northern Three toed Woodpecker, Picoides tridactylus. Terns and gulls were still active when it was twilight that I thought was not usual in other areas such as Long Island Sound I have not seen this behavior in these birds. 



the woods


        Flying among the wet low land plants were large dragon flies, the Common Amberwing  Perithemis tenera , that had wings that looked like they were made of fine brass mesh with green and brown bodies with large legs folded under and in front of their body.  They are quite beautiful and I noticed that they mate in the usual fashion of the species. How they are able retain their normal capability of flight while mating is an interesting question.  It certainly looks like a good barnstormer's trick.  

        There were a type of Pine Sawyer beetle one of the Monochamus sp. was a strikingly large jet black wood boring beetle with a one and a half inch long body and with long semicircular one and a quarter inch jointed curved back antennae.  These strange antennae are carried beneath the body during flight creating the comical most awkward resemblance as a strange huge wasp that has fluttery buzzing awkward style of flying.  This beetle's flight immediately suggested itself as being some more material for barnstormer tricks.  Also there appears to be an orange area somewhere beneath its wings that becomes exposed during flight. I believe that this is the insect that can be heard making a loud rasping noise beneath tamarack tree bark and excavates a rounded rectangular quarter inch wide hole in the wood leaving a large amount of sawdust outside the hole.  I did not find out how deep the hole is made or if indeed this is actually the insect responsible for the loud rasping noise every fifteen seconds.  


        There were wood boring flies Ichneumons possibly being  Dolichometus  sp. with long straight ovipositors and large black flies and green headed flies  Tabanidae  that resemble a midsummer livestock fly that bites. 

        Along the edges of the water and under rocks in the water there were various midges with forked tails that were probably larvae of Caddis flies  Trichoptera , Stoneflies  Perlidae and Mayflies  Ephemeroptera  and small beetles  Dryopoidea  with elliptical not quite round like ladybug body and shiny black wings, and there was a species of Ladybug  Adalia bipunctata  that had two spots on its back.  There were ants that I did not identify.




        Among the types of Wasps and Bees,  Hymenoptera , I saw a wasp with orange legs and black and brown body.  The Hornets  Vespinae  were large black with yellow coloration.  The Bumble Bees  Bombini  were an assortment of colors whitish yellow, yellow, orange and orange brown. 




Iris setosa with bumble bee

Representing Arachnids or Spiders, the most common were the  Lycosidae  that were  Geolycosa  sp. large slightly hairy black and brown ground spiders, some unidentified dwarf spiders  Micryphantinae ,  wolf spiders  Pirata  sp. and  Paradosas  sp. living in the gravel, Red Mites  Trombidiidae  on rocks and orb weavers  Araneidae  sp. or  Argiopidae  sp. with very strong long stranded webs. 

        When I was walking through wooded areas these long connecting strands of webs that were easily more than six feet long felt almost like wire when my face broke through them. 


wolf spider on my solar panel



        A crab spider Misumenops  sp., I happened to find sitting on my tent long enough for me to take a picture of and it did not stay there long enough to start to change its color from light brown to the blue color of the tent.  I wondered if it had decided that the huge light blue flat surface of the tent was not a flower blossom and that it had better move to less conspicuous ground to avoid becoming dinner for a hungry bird.





        I spotted the hoof tracks of what was either and elk or a moose.  I tend to suspect that because I saw no areas of submerged aquatic vegetation that was large enough to feed a population of moose, the ungulate must have been an elk.

        Storm clouds were frequently quite visible passing rapidly by the mountaintops to the east.




        July 25th, gulls and terns were becoming increasingly abundant suggesting that more returning fish had reached the middle section of the river offered larger supply of food and suitable nesting sites.  We experienced the typical protective strategies of repeated strafing and cries of alarm typical of gulls and terns that are nesting.


        We began catching two types of salmon, one was a Coho salmon


coho salmon caught by Alexie


        The other salmon was a was long bodied, brown backed, green to light blue green with bright pink dots, that survive cooking, and a brownish white belly that was spectacularly beautiful sea run Dolly Varden trout.  The salmon had grayling minnows in their stomachs. 


Dolly Varden


        While investigating surroundings on our island campsite I came across these web footed tracks of a river otter.  Later in town I bought a nice hat made of that fur.


Otter Tracks


        There are four species of Grayling, Thymallus sp. that occur in Asia and I believe only one in North America.  They stay in the same water at the edges of the deep pools where the salmon are just below the rapids in the slow backwaters but the graylings do not associate with the salmon.  They are found just down river from the salmon probably avoiding possible confrontation by the salmon.  There is a commercial fishery for Grayling in Siberia, Russia and with one of notable size on Lake Baikal.


I caught a grayling


        The lower third of the Yama has a different group of plants that indicates warmer climate most likely due to the lower elevation and proximity to the sea that acts as a heat sink. 

        I saw silver birch, more ducks and small insect feeding birds, warblers, whereas in the upper more mountainous region there were only ravens, chickadees and sand pipers. 

        The trees are now much larger in size.  The poplars and willows are not six inches in diameter but in this area are commonly fifteen to twenty inches in diameter.  The willows are some type of vertical narrow short-branched tree, tamaracks are growing on the less fertile soil.  The plants are larger, more broad leaved varieties, and taller as well. 

        There is the same wild mustard that is in Connecticut  Crucifera sp. and some cotton grass  Eriophorum sp. on the banks as well as the lovely low flowering spires of  Pedicularis lapponica

        The Herring gulls Larus argentatus  are now in this area that I noticed were gradually replacing the smaller, softer voiced Mew gulls as we progressed further down the river.  I think that this replacement of one species of gull to another was related to food type and availability.  The White Wagtail, Kamchatka form, Motacilla alba was a very curious and flamboyantly talkative, showy bird always comical company. 

        It was wonderful to see the lovely Common Oyster Catcher Haematopus ostralegus had its typical larger lower beak drawn back in flight, long pointed tail combination with its short square tail, pointed wings like a tern but larger and coloration of some black on the head and shoulders.  Sighting of this bird in flight is always most exquisitely graceful and they always have their distinctive cry.

        Among the insect food for grayling were small ladybug sized black beetles, caddis flies, and forked tailed midges.  The grayling minnows are food for some of the salmon.  To date we had caught three species of salmon. 


        A new species of salmon was caught today that was an Arctic char.  It was silver gray with small bright pink spots like the green one caught earlier.  I was the size of a trout with brilliant orange red flesh.  The graylings have eggs as well as the salmon that are seen jumping in the rip currents. 



the arctic char photo from wikipedia


        The graylings are being caught on Mepps spinner lures one to two feet below the surface at the edge of the current and to get the lure down deeper in the water to where the fish were we put a 1/2 oz. lead weight on the line. 


Yuri with the grayling he caught


        It was critical to cast in to the current at a right angle and to follow the lure as it was carried down river with the row so that the hook could be set efficiently in a straight line with the rod.  I had to keep the lure at the proper depth and not to pump the lure unless I felt a bite.  The water makes the lure spin not the fisherman.  The best fishing area is where a current feeds into a back water deep area, the fish hang out in the current and go for lures in the current more often that in the quiet area.  This is similar behavior to small sized blue fish.

        We not only were eating lots of fish head stew for lunch and baked fish for dinner but we were putting salted fish in a barrel to take back to Barnaule for our friends who could not be with us on this Altour trip.  In a week the salted fish had become nicely preserved with clear softened flesh and easy to remove bones.  They were delicious eating.



sunset back from where we have come


        That evening the sunset and the full moon arose at the same time with such brightness that from the open landscape of our island I was able to take pictures of both of them.


there is the moon peaking through


On July 27th. the next morning I awoke to find that we were shrouded in a layer of mist.  Everything was grey a silver grey as the sun began to climb and the colors of green, brown, yellow and red begin to reappear.  The mystical layer of river mist became thinner and thinner until it gave way to the sun.



foggy morning


        When we were underway I spotted an a huge predatory bird soaring on the air currents over the trees easily as large as a bald eagle that Yeri identified as a Steller's Sea eagle Haliaeetus pelagicus that had a wing span of 85 cm and the distinctive coloration of a black head and back but with black and white shoulders and with a white wedge-shaped tail.  This is by contrast to the other area birds, which were busily engaged in the typical behavior toward large predators of harassing it, quite startling to see on the wing not only because of its great size but its contrasting coloration.  The herring gull attacking was easily half its size.

        I noticed a small olive yellow warbler like bird that I believe may have been a Yellow Backed Wagtail  Motacilla flava  flying among the bushes along the river.  It was a small bird with the most spectacularly bright coloration of all the birds I saw on the trip.  There was another white wagtail that was busy keeping an eye on every move I made reminding me of all the attention you suddenly find you are getting when you are in the nesting area of the catbird in New England.  There were numerous common sand pipers, many gulls and terns, some horned and Black Necked Grebes  Podiceps nigricollis , common golden eye ducks that indicated an abundance of small fish, most likely the abundant grayling minnows, to eat in the area.



salmon smolt in a shallow quiet part of the river


        Among the new plants was an Astilbe that is the exact same plant I have in my garden at home in Connecticut.  This astilbe has the same brittle stems, and scraggly appearance. 

        There are a type of tree possibly cottonwood that is shedding seeds that are carried on the wind by their individual cotton tufts cottonwood.



The Astilbe


        Similar to the rivers along the Alaskan and Northwest coast where the annual migrations of anadromous salmon occur here in Siberia the Asian brown bears come to the rivers to catch fish.  There are young and old Asian brown bears commonly seen on the river edge because of the fish in the river.  I wondered how bears went about catching these salmon. 

        The salmon were not as numerous and as visible as those in Alaska.  These fish could most often be seen waiting in the deep areas of the river where converging currents met at the fold or on eddy lines that formed along deep backwater areas.  The bears I saw frequently were a comical sight as they were rather precariously perched rather delicately out on undercut trees lying on the water just hanging by their roots on the outside curve of a river bank. 

        The bears were attentively waiting for just the right moment to scoop up these migrating salmon that were lined up, hanging in the current waiting to head up stream.  These bears despite their imposing size have a well developed sense of balance that makes them appear as though they were well practiced at tight rope walking as they walked on the narrow trunks of precariously positioned trees.  When they saw our rafts coming down the river they scrambled for the safety of the woods. 



Bear tracks and my tracks


        In the upper part of the river the first salmon we caught were Chum Salmon  Oncorhynchus keta  and Pink Salmon  Oncorhynchus gorbuscha that were about two feet long and the females had eggs. 


Chum Salmon caught by Velodia with Victor looking on


        As we worked our way down the river we began to catch Coho Salmon  Oncorhynchus kisutch , Dolly Varden  Salvelineus malma , Arctic char  Salvelineus alpinus  and near the end we caught Cherry Salmon  Oncorhynchus  sp., and we saw but did not catch Red Salmon  Oncorhynchus nerka . 



Cherry Salmon caught by Velodia


        Here and there we caught Grayling and frequently saw grayling minnows in shallow areas.  The grayling spawn earlier than salmon such that their growth cycle coincides with the spawning of salmon and are known both as minnows and adult graylings to eat salmon eggs.

        We had a bahnia that evening that did wonders to the body.  The hot steam extracted all possible dirt from our pores and cleared our heads.  The intermittent dunkings in the river's waters rejuvenated our vitality.  When we could stand the heat no longer we donned our clothes as rapidly as possible before the mosquitoes ravaged us.

        On July 28th. I awoke to find that the full moon was just showing through edge of the tamaracks on the north slope of the mountain across the river from our camp.  The early morning light at 4:00 was rendering the background sky blue and the tamaracks black with a tinge of green.  I retrieved my video and still cameras and captured this unique moment.

        There was just one little problem, I had forgotten to put on my shoes while I was busily engaged in taking these pictures.  The mosquitoes absolutely feasted on my feet.  When I crawled back into my tent my feet were in agony from the innumerable mosquito bites they had gotten.

        Here in this section we were beginning to notice that the river current velocity was beginning to slow down and that there were more places to catch salmon and greyling.  We were catching some new varieties of salmon and there was an especially unusual salmon that had large white spots outlined with gray and the upper back or dorsal area was dark gray blending into silver gray to white on its stomach or ventral area with very little red coloration.


        Some new grasses I saw were Gramineae,  Carex aquatilis , and areas of  Equisetum arvense  on land and  Equisetum fluviatilis  in the river bottom.  I saw the fern  Dryopteris fragans  in the river area near the sea that was twelve inches high with pale green leaves.  The Eyelash Cup  Scutellinia scutellata  a Pyronemataceae was a tiny scarlet red one eight inch diameter round cup shaped  stalked fungus with black hairy edges growing on damp wood. 

A Barbarea othoceras, with yellow flower, a  Caltha palustris  in the brook with very fleshy leaves, a Barbarea  sp. with small white flowers, an  Arabis arenicola ? with leaves like Barbarea with small six-inch clump of yellow flowers and bud shaped seed pods like Cochlearia.


A Petasites sagittatus that was two inches tall with large deep green shiny leathery leaves on the river bottom. 


Petasites sagittatus



noisy spotter plane flying over


On July 29th. the Aeroflot helicopter came and picked us up.  Once again I was able to take pictures from the open window.  We flew inland above the river and followed the valleys back to Magadan.  The ecology of the area where there were high mountains had distinctly defined tree lines and vegetation limits that were narrowly confined to the percolation of water through the soil. 


flying over the Jama river delta area by helicopter





Where the mountains reduced in size becoming hills the colonization of low growing vegetation, possibly grasses, increased to such an extent that they entirely covered hilly areas.


        We drank some tasty local beer on our way back and I eagerly looked forward to a day on the Sea of Ohkotsk.



Sea of Ohkotsk Nagev bay rock far out has puffin colony


        When we were in Magadan we went out fishing on a coaster similar to a coastguard cutter on the Sea of Ohkotsk and our last was catching Thorny Crabs in ring nets from a small boat complete with a tour of the Puffin islands.

        I found that taking pictures of puffins in flight next to impossible with my Olympus OM-1 35 mm camera.  I did take some video footage.  Puffins are very fast fliers.


all you see is lots of black backed gulls, the puffins have flown away


We went out on the water in a small motorboat and pulled up round traps that caught thorny crabs


fish we caught, very good tasting too


our all we could eat feast on those thorny crabs in the box at the end of the table



assorted shell fish I picked up, nice clams, blue mussels, snails


The entire sea is loaded with shellfish.




Gail E. Ferris, 1 Bowhay Hill, Stony Creek, CT 06405

Reference list: The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms, Gary h. Lincoff 1984 ed. Mosses Lichens & Ferns of Northwest North America, Dale H. Vitt, Janet E.

        Marsh, Robin B. Bovey, 1988. Peterson Field Guides Pacific Coast Fishes, Eschmeyer, Herald, Hammann 1983. Peterson Field Guides Insects, Donald J. Borror, Richard E. White, 1970. Peterson Field Guides Rocky Mountain Wildflowers, Craighead, Craighead, Davis,

        1963. Flora of Alaska and Neighboring Territories, a manual of the vascular plants,

        Eric Hulten, 1968 Vascular Plants of Continental Northwest Territories, Canada, A.E.Porsild,

        W.J.Cody, 1980. A Field Guide to Birds of the USSR, V.E.Flint, R.L. Boehme, Y.V.Kostin,

        A.A.Kuznetsov, english translation, 1984 A Golden Guide Spiders and Their

        Kin, Herbert w. Levi, Lorna R. Levi, 1968. American Arctic Lichens 1. The Macrolichens, John W. Thompson, 1984. Performance Kayaking, Stephen B. U'Ren, 1990. The Audubon Society Nature Guide Eastern Forests, Ann Sutton, Myron Sutton, 1986. The Arctic & its Wildlife, Bryan Sage 1986.