Wrangel Island - discover the beauty of a true explorer's paradise
Written by 56th Parallel
Closer to Alaska than you might think, you can encounter an unparalleled travel experience, taking you all the way to the top of the world. John Muir, the first visitor to describe it to the world as the land in the “topmost, frost-killed end of creation”. This is Russia’s most exclusive, and alluring place – Wrangel Island.
Sheltered from human development, this federal managed UNESCO World Heritage Site was unknown, until not long ago. Before being determined an island, Wrangel Island was nothing but a myth, a land that Chukchi hunters in the 1820’s claimed they would see when the atmospheric climate was just right. Upon hearing these claims, Russian explorer Ferdinand Von Wrangel set sail for the anagogical land only to be thwarted by ice and failing to even catch a glimpse of this mass-claimed island. It was not until 1881 when a group of Americans, abroad the steamer, Thomas L.Corwin first set foot on the island, proving it’s hard-soil existence.
Lying astride the 180th meridian, this island is still very remote, requiring several government permits and is only accessed by an Ice breaker in Summer. This makes Wrangel Island, one of the world’s least frequented, most restricted reserves, and protected wilderness in the world.
This 2,900 square-mile land, possesses an extraordinary biosphere, giving you the chance to expose yourself to the home of the world’s largest Pacific Walrus’ population, the highest density of ancestral polar bear dens. It is often referred to as the polar bear ‘maternity ward’, with about 500 mother bears giving birth there every year.
Wrangel Island is the nesting ground for 100’s of endangered migratory bird species, the breeding habitat of Asia’s only snow goose population, home of killer whales, feeding ground of grey whales, and finally, a paradise of the most impressive collection of plant species. A destination, not for the faint-hearted, but for the most dedicated travellers, there is no better place to meet the denizens of the Arctic, simply, a discovery experience that will unveil some of the nature’s best-kept secrets.
If you do get lucky and end up going on this expedition cruise, you will board a fully ice-strengthened expedition icebreaker. You will start off by squeezing through the narrow Bering Strait, on our way to Wrangel Island. You will also sail past giant cliffs that shelter the summer nests of puffins, guillemots, snowy owls, skuas, Arctic terns and ivory gulls in Preobrazheniya Bay.
You will experience magnificent cetacean sightings on the Yttygran, Nuneangan and the Arakamchechen Islands. Later during the day, enjoy a traditional night away dancing and bone carving in the historical village, Uluen, with the Indigenous Chukchi people, encompassing the largest centre for traditional Chukchi and Inuit art in the world – better than your sessions of watching discovery channel.
Upon arriving at Wrangel Island, our much-anticipated destination, you will put on your trekking boots for 5-6 days, depending on the weather, as you will be walking amongst ghosts of Mammoths. Exploring this mystical island, you will encounter the most magnificent coming together of wildlife on this journey – as if they were awaiting your presence. Get ready for Polar bears, Walrus’, Musk ox’s, reindeer’s, Arctic foxes, and more bird cliffs on neighbouring Herald Island.
Just when you think there cannot possibly be any more to manifest on a single trip, you will be happy to know that the island was never fully glaciated during recent ice ages. This means you will get to envelop into the freshness of the undisturbed tundra that comes to life during the summer giving you the chance to stop, take a moment, and breathe in, the scent of the vividly coloured alpine flowers that spray along the grassy slopes and streams.
As you walk around, discovering the island watch out for artefacts from another epoch, as palaeontologists believe, that this island was the last place where woolly mammoths lived. They believed that a dwarfed sub-species remained here up to 17,000 B.C, a good 6,000 years after the mammoth population elsewhere became extinct. So, be careful as you might stumble on a couple of curved tusks that they may have left for your trip around the island. “When the pyramids were being built in Egypt, elephants walked around on Wrangel,” says Alexander Gruzdev, the reserve’s director. “It’s proximity to, but isolation from, the continental patterns of Asia and North America created a unique natural structure. There’s no place quite like it in the world.”
Archaeologists have found a variety of artefacts on the island, and have pieced together the history of the islands from those. They found that about 3,400 years ago, Wrangel Island was home to a community of Paleo-Eskimos, who lived along the Krassin Bay and hunted the animals of the island.
Departing off Wrangel Island, you will board back onto the expedition cruise once again, as it traces through the north Siberian coast. As you reminisce on your magical trip so far, with the Eastern Siberian sea splashing against the boat, look out for whales and Walrus’ as they are normally found being very suitable, and active companions.
Venturing down, you will stop near the mouth of the massive Kolyuchin Inlet to visit the wild, rugged Belaka Spit. Here, you can search the dunes and tidal areas for birdlife and feeding whales spotted only meters off the shore, but beware as this sight can be so mystical that your eyes may be enchanted afterwards!
Back on the cruise, you will then pass the Diomede Islands where, Russia and America are only separated by 2.3 nautical miles of ocean, before making your last expedition onto the Chukotka coast. Savouring your last chance of experiencing magnificent wildlife and exquisite tundra landscape you will get the chance to say goodbye to your unusual animal friends!
Finally, porting onto the cruise one more time, you will sail across the Anadyrskiy Bay towards Anadyr. Reflecting and chit -chatting about your trip, with fellow traveller friends you have met on the journey, you will finally get a chance to sit down and talk about the remarkable trip you have just experienced.
Hope you enjoyed this virtual Wrangel Island expedition, now it’s your move, come join us for real. Contact us via [email protected] for information about departure dates and prices.