Region Tompuda and River Tompuda
Our journey takes us through the most interesting region of Eastern Siberia.
It starts in the old Russian city of Irkutsk situated on the mighty Angara.
Angara is the only river outflowing from the lake of Baikal. The next stop
is Port-Baikal at the Angara headwaters. Baikal is the largest reservoir
of fresh water in the world except glaciers. This lake is truly unique.
Its altitude is 600 meters above the sea level. Its length (South to North)
is 650 km, width (East to West) is up to 80 km, and its depth reaches
The water is so clean that you can see tens of meters deep. In winter the
lake freezes and the ice is as transparent as glass.
There are many Russian folk songs and legends about the lake. It is often
referred to as "The Glorious Sea - Sacred Baikal". From Port-Baikal we take
Kometa (a speedboat width underwater wings) to the Northern-most point on
Baikal - the town of Severobaikalsk. The Kometa covers the length of Baikal
in 10 hours. Severobaikalsk and Nizhneangarsk are the Northern-most towns
on Baikal. Both of them are on the famous Baikal-Amur Railroad. Our final
destination, the river Tompuda flows through the wild mountainous area which
is totally uninhabited. The river is abundant with various fish species,
including trout and many others. In one hour one can spin fish as much as
20-30 kg of fish. There is also rich wildlife in this area: famous Bargousin
Sobol, freshwater seal, Brown Bear, Wolf and others. There are plenty of
deer, hare and fox. In rear cases one can spot even the Amur Tiger. Berries,
wild nuts and mushrooms abound in the Taiga. In the mountains one can often
find Golden Root - a plant of powerful medicinal qualities, similar to
Tompuda flows from the tiny marshy lakes of the wild uninhabited plateau
1600 meters above the sea level. The river is 140 km long and flows into
Baikal. The plateau's scenery is unique hillocks covered with half a meter
deep moss, sparse stunted trees, patches of snow in the rock shadows,
numerous small lakes. The landscape resembles that of Russian Polar Circle.
As far as we know this region has never been visited by any white water
kayakers. This fantastic place is where we plan to start our white water
We get to the river by helicopter from Nizhneangarsk. A few brave ones, who
want to feel like Taiga conquering pioneers will be dropped at the scenic
mountain lake Frolikha. This lake is home to the rare fish Davatchan not
to be found anywhere else in the world. After fishing and enjoying the red
caviar on the lake, the "braves" will hike 30 km for 1.5 days to our first
river camp. There are no trails and the landscape is rugged featuring thick
bush, steep ascends and descends on bouldery slopes, marshes. No trace of
human presence to find. Numerous sharp rocky summits and creeks with steep
banks complicate tracking. The hike will provide an emotional charge for
the rest of the journey. In the beginning the river is surrounded by rocky
formations and further down it flows in a fairly wide valley with woodless
banks. The valley is covered with ernik (sort of a plant) and the banks -
with stlannik (thick underbrush). The river starts in the South-East
direction and after the confluence with Ilbikaichin turns South. From here
the next 35 km it flows through deep canyons. This is the most challenging
section of the river, all major rapids and falls are here. The canyons are
separated by waterfalls, the biggest of them are Bolshoy Tampudinskii (over
8 meters) and Aquarium (about 5 meters). The depth of the canyons reaches
200-300 meters. The banks are often blocked by huge mossy boulders and
impenetrable thicket, which complicate scouting and portaging.
The average gradient in the canyons is estimated at 45 m/km.
The difficulty is 5-6. This section has never been descended. There was one
failed attempt in 1985. The group had to abandon their equipment and leave.
That group had some of the best Russian WW-ters and the trip was a contender
for the yearly Most Difficult Trip Award.
From the confluence with a major tributary Topo the river flows West until
it reaches Baikal. The river gradually flattens out to 10 m/km and becomes
easier. Further downstream the riverbed often splits into multiple channels,
often blocked by logjams. After a series of easy rapids when the river
crosses a mountain range it meanders its way to Baikal with virtually no
The trip ends in the village of Khakusy (1.5 days of paddling on Baikal from
Tompuda). Khakusy is a home to a summer hiking camp and to hot springs where
we can all relax after the break from civilisation. From Khakusy we travel
to Irkutsk by speedboat and Kometa.
International Paddlers' Expedition to Lake Baikal
BAICAL-TRIP spedizione internazionale
Route: Milan-Moscow-Irkutsk-Nizhneangarsk-The Tompuda river-Lake
Russia - Mikhail Seleznyov
Russia - Igor Gomberg
Russia - Arseniy Boldyrev
Russia - Konstantin Vasin
Russia - Alexey Shishkov
Russia - Dmitry Romashkin
Russia - Yaroslav Kvasov
Russia - Dmitry Gomberg
Russia - Serguey Novikov
Russia - Pavel Grekov
Russia - Serguey Dvoretsky
Russia - Alexey Dvoretsky
Russia - Ekaterina Brezgunova
Russia - Alla Novikova
Italia - Diego Zanga
Italia - Miccele Gramalia
Italia - Piero Arkostranzo
Italia - Jannie Sachardello
Italia - Jiuzeppe Caramello
Italia - Dario Sagrado
Italia - Luca Gamberalli
Italia - Andrea Bavestrelli
Today is the 21st of August and I am taking the guys to Sheremetyevo-
They are flying to Lake Baikal to conquer the great Russian river Tompuda. I am short of information about it, as I am not leaving with them. I know that 8 friends from sunny Italy are going there and they will provide the boats. The Russian side is represented by 6 paddlers, 2 cameramen, and 5 persons comprising a support team.
We've been running around Moscow the whole day in search of gear, people, and boats. Finally we are in Sheremyetyevo-1. The mountain of gear seems unrealistic. It goes through the airport check-in line with great difficulty. I wave to the guys and leave for home with mixed feelings. Then it all started.
I had barely time to buy food for my one and a half year-old daughter in the "Crossroads" store, when the hysterical messages started clogging my pager. "We are expecting you in the airport, we've encountered some problems".
"Well..." I say to myself and I go back to the airport.
The first thing I see is the mountain of gear and boats piled near the airport building with two lazy cops keeping an eye on it. They became somewhat interested when they see me. "Is this yours?" They say. I ask them where the guys are. They point to the cafe: "Drinking beer, there".
Michelle and Dimon were lazily drinking with expressions of Tibetan lamas on their faces. Dimon is happy to see me: "You're flying with us
tomorrow!" My reaction is: "Wow! Well..." Dimon tells me a funny story about a Hollywood actor sitting in some provincial bar, when he gets the invitation to star in a super blockbuster. When he realizes that the movie will be made right before Xmas, he refuses to do it, as he has to take part in Xmas shows for his kids. The answer to Hamlet's eternal question "Xmas shows or no Xmas shows" comes to mind. Such an opportunity happens only once in a blue moon, I have little work to do in Moscow and I'd love to go. The group's size is getting smaller, as two more guys cannot make it. Valentinych got lost hunting somewhere and Torpedo got hepatitis.
Here, I am calling Alesya as if I were high on drugs: "I am flying
to Lake Baikal!!".
Oh, I forgot to explain why the guys couldn't fly yesterday. Luckily for me, the chief of the airport shift was a real asshole and refused to load 16 boats, lots of food and equipment onto the plane. That's why
Dimon and Michelle had to return and stay in Moscow. The pasta boys
and the 6 Russian paddlers flew to Irkutsk. This time the shift chief was friendlier to us and the greater part of the stuff was sent by a cargo plane. We check-in and before long are on board the plane. The tension etched on my face in Seleznev is gone.
We start in on 2 bottles of red wine and quickly the tension in our
bodies dissipates. I still can't believe what's happening. By all rights
I should be in Moscow, working and feeling nostalgic about this far away Tompuda. But the reality is that I am flying toward Lake Baikal, a place I haven't seen for 7 years.
A bloody fog covers the great city of Irkutsk, so were sitting in the tiny airport of Bratsk for 4 hours. Our companions from business class, who were flying with three Germans, got drunk as horses and were singing love songs into the information office window. Their Bundesrepublik
friends poured "Aqua-Minerale" on them and were laughing their heads off. As for us we sat quietly nearby.
Finally, we're in Irkutsk! You should have seen the faces of the guys when they saw me. I was supposed to have been in Moscow!
I must note that we had to throw away some of our equipment on the last day before the expedition. We were too overloaded for the local airlines. So we laughed at the situation and rushed to the local market. Doctor and Lyokha were the supply managers and I was taken as a vodka-taster. We bought a bottle of vodka and the guys gave me a plastic glass
of the clear liquid. I tasted the stuff, made a smacking sound and nodded affirmatively. "40 litres of vodka", said Lyokha waving with the cutlet "love". Out next purchase was 20 bottles of soya sauce to the great surprise of the local drunks.
The small propeller AN-24 plane was totally at our disposal, as Lyokha
had paid for the whole thing before hand and it was supposed to rapidly fly us over to Nizhneangarsk. The first half of the plane was loaded with boats with us occupying the tail section. Unbelievably this flying toilet had a flight attendant, who looked exactly like the plane itself. She gave us some juice diluted with water. The majestic views of Lake Baikal were incredible from the plane. It hadn't changed since my
last visit 7 years ago. By the way I made the trip with the Italians. I guess that the lake has been that way for the last 100, or 300 years for that matter. The only difference today is the thin strips of road and the narrow BAM track that are faintly seen. Our cameramen Serguey and Alex Dvoretsky get their video cameras out. While we drink our beer. The Italian paddlers toasted "Cin-cin!" to which I replied with Russian "F****** Good!" We yelled these words together. The plane soon landed at the airport from which we will helicopter to the river.
The rest of the day was devoted to packing and repacking. We then had our first dinner of mashed potatoes and soya meat, food we'd eat for the next 10 days. As a sign of international friendship the paddlers were drinking vodka and socializing. As a result, we decided not to transfer all our gear to the airport building, but rather spend the night on the airfield, keeping an eye on the equipment.
Getting up at 6 in the morning was not easy for many of us. After a light snack of packaged porridge, Dimon and Michelle rushed to the city to reserve a boat, which will take us from the Tompuda river mouth on the 1st of September and transfer us to Nizhneangarsk. The rest
of the group started to load the gear into the helicopter.
The thread lines of white water rivers; pristine lakes looking like huge blue mirrors; and, of course, mountains - ancient and powerful like the Universe itself, are the views that one gets in this place. They are likely the best that I've seen in my life. Anyone who hasn't flown over Lake Baikal in a helicopter might never experience such sensations.
While aboard the helicopter Lyokha spotted two canyons and a waterfall, which made the eyes of the guys glitter. An hour after departure we landed in a bushy area, where the dwarf birch trees were growing.
Clouds of gnats immediately attacked us so we quickly moved to
a sandy island in the middle of the river. It was very hot so we lazed about on the boats waiting for the second group to arrive. Lyokha went fly-fishing in hope to catch a grayling but the result was predictable... The sparse information we did have about the river told us that fish could be caught only above the waterfall where the most difficult rafting was. As usual the talk was about ladies and rafting.
In 2.5 hours we could hear the telltale sound of a helicopter approaching and the second half of the group were met by gnats and birch trees. More unpleasant news was declared: the only place where
the helicopter could land was 25 kilometers down the river, or 10 kilometers down from the main part of the rafting section. This was unfortunate since we planned to paddle the canyons in 3 days. The
clever Selezen nosed around, racked his brain and came to a decision, Igor Gomberg will fly here by helicopter tomorrow, we will bring the gear down the river with him, while we will try to cover half of the canyon in 1.5 days even while videoing.
Having set-up camp, we had some tea with Snickers bars and then
jumped into our frail boats. The first three kilometers were a warm-up. Then we came to the bigger tributary and it became more fun to raft. Small meter high drops appeared. They were non-stop and were hard
to detect from a distance. The river's angle of incidence increased and the ravine narrowed shaping itself into a canyon. Today's part of the rafting was over. We moved the boats, oars, and rafting clothes
up onto the bank of the river and made our way back to the camp on a hard-to-see path.
Crossing the tributary was not successful for some of us. Michelle
slipped on a greasy log that served as a bridge and only by some miracle was able to hold on. He was rinsed by the foamy stream for a while the Russians were laughing and cracking jokes. After this one of the pasta boys fell and but was able to throw the box with the camera he was carrying up on the bank.
Our dinner was commemorated by the traditional 100 grams of vodka and a long discussion on what to do further on. After a multitude of extreme and not so extreme suggestions, Seleznev brought order to the debate saying that we will walk back to the boats tomorrow, raft down as far as
we can and film the entire way. At 3 o'clock we will return to the camp, board the helicopter and fly down with all our gear to the base campsite down the river, and the following day walk back up the river to the boats.
We rise at 6 o'clock, eat our porridge, drink our tea and then start walking the 5 kilometers back to the boats through the stone-pines, bushes, bogs and blueberries all the time fighting with clouds of gnats.
The canyon greets us with four 3-4 meter drops. The cameramen are
ready. The first drop has the water going down under a huge rock. One can run it only by dropping right of the rock, moving down the correct side of it. Only Arsen, Lyokha and Doctor are running this one. Arsen has waterproof cameras taped to his boat. Unfortunately the camera battery became disconnected after the boat hit the water, so we got no footage.
The second drop was more like a real vertical waterfall with a detectable edge. All the paddlers ran this one, some with a grab style, some with a hammer one, some with a boof, and many simply with an axe style.
The third drop was totally covered by rocks. Arsen, with a sour face,
started carrying his boat, jumping from one stone to another. All 14 paddler's muttered obscenities in various different languages as they
Then the losses began. While the paddlers were portaging the previous drop, two Italians, who were slightly ahead of the group, decided to run the following 2.5 meter drop which at first glance seemed OK at first. But, as we found out later, there was a deep vertical crack under the
water, into which the river disappeared. The first Italian was lucky as he cleared the crack only touching the rock. We stood on the bank and watched Mikki make his run. Over he goes and then he disappears beneath the water. A long time passes before the head of the man appears from under the rock on the other bank. He tries to breathe convulsively, it takes him long to get out of the water...
The second safety rope reaches its mark and Mikki is taken out, his eyes popping out his head. One paddle and shoe float down the river. The boat can't be seen for quite some time. We find the paddle under the
rock while searching for the lost radio. But the boat is still out of view. The rock, from under which Mikki managed to escape, is where the spaghetti eaters start to search for the boat. They rope up a guy and lower him down into this turbulent river. He manages only to touch
the boat after being in 5 C cold water for 15 minutes. Now it's the second guys, an unhappy expression written on his face. He manages to
grab half the opened waterproof sack and as a result the sneakers and shorts of Mikki start their independent voyage down the river. Due to Arsen's ability to grab things very quickly the camera is saved. The third pasta eater stands for a while on the rock, thinking about something, and vows to be taken back. Well, I had compassion for these guys. Imagine, 12 cubic meters of water are falling down per second, and one can't see anything in the foam and waves. I am the only one dressed in a neoprene wet suit so I take off my skirt, get roped around the back of my Shock Wave (safety jacket) and settle into the water.
We hadn't thought clearly on how to get the boat out of the water. Firstly, we send one of the kayakers down the river to collect things and secondly, the pasta eaters hook the rope to the wrong place on the boat.
The first decision they made was to hook the clam to the ring on the boat. They were completely wrong as the boat was torn in two places. Half of the boat was in the crack and the back of the boat was under the hanging rock, from which I was put down into the water. Amazingly, Mikki had to twist his legs to get out of the boat as they were crushed by the walls of the crack. At first glance it looked impossible to get the boat out as it a half meter under water. My decision was as follows: one rope end hooks onto the seat of the boat, the second end, as an improvised boat-hook made from a tree branch with a taped clam, gets hooked to the loop on the back of the boat. I manage to hook the first end on the fifth attempt. The second end was impossible to hook, with the back of the boat being really deep in the turbulent water. Our last chance was when six riders pulled the rope from the bank. Doing so managed to lift the back of the boat slightly from under the rock. The first time in three hours we see the orange edge of the boat appears above the water and I quickly hook the other end of the rope onto the narrow loop. But here the guys make a mistake. Instead of continuously pulling the back of the boat from under the rock and throwing the second end to the other bank and pulling it from there, all 8 of them started to pull with
all their power from the right bank. The result was a sorry sight: the boat got put together, so I jumped over the now visible boat and helped to pull it out of the crack. We can't understand even now, how Mikki
managed to get out of the boat, as it got bent in an angle of 90
degrees in the seat area.
Cursing everything and everybody I get out of the water. Michelle calmly says: "We'll shape it back to normal, it will be brand new again". Indeed, later in the evening, near the campfire, using some hot water and various gadgets, we manage to reshape the boat to its normal appearance. All the Italians come up to me in turn and call me SuperYar, and try to drink vodka with me. It was really nice of them.
The helicopter doesn't arrive. Another session of endless plans
break out. This time the decision is made that we go down to the boats and raft down as far as we can. If the helicopter shows up, we go down the river, if not, we go back up to the campsite.
So far we've only 100-150 meters of the canyon, though many
shouted we would make it in one day! The rafting begins after a 5-kilometer walk over the path that is now becoming clearly seen.
The obstacles now are beautiful waterfalls. We are rafting, the cameramen are taking shots.
The Great Tompuda Waterfall appears quite suddenly. Its height is around 8 meters. The approach here is short. The river drops abruptly, falling vertically from the 6-meter height. Part of the river drops into a big hole directly under the waterfall. To make it successfully one has to follow the main current and the drop and make a final stroke of the paddle at exactly the right moment.
With two safety boaters and the two cameramen in position at the base of the falls we began the run. Arsen was the first. His launch from the lip was perfect and then he disappeared in a splash, surfacing several meters below. We gave a big hand for his classy Garden Boof. Then it was Dimon's turn. He is erratic at the take-off and vanishes in the hole beneath the waterfall. He, his paddle, and his boat are go for a role in this powerful hydraulic. Finally the current catches him and after some long moments shows up twenty meters below. The boat and the oar were recycled in the hole for 3-4 minutes. Dimon lost his shoe but was extremely happy. The next kayaker up was the Doctor and he ran it with style. Lyokha, the fourth paddler, repeated Dimon's error. I was helping the guys but couldn't catch Lyokha. He was in the hole and the stream brought me there as well. Instead of pulling me out, Dimon let the rope free, so I must say the sensations were not very pleasant. Everything came to a happy end with Lyokha safe and sound on the bank.
300-400 meters below the waterfall we had to carry our boats again, since there was a part of the river with such a turbulent current that if one got there he would stay there for ever. To our surprise we realized it was 6:00 p.m. As soon as the helicopter flew over our
heads, we decided that the campsite was further down the river. The cameramen were left to spend a night in the canyon and we rushed ahead
without being overburdened with stuff to carry. It was twilight and we were still walking with nothing in site. Up and down we went with the path vanishing from time to time forcing us to climb vertical rocks,
make our way through the stone-pines or push through the thickets.
Suddenly night was upon us and we realized that we wouldn't be
able to reach the campsite. Everybody had light clothes on but decided not to mention the fact that there were tents and food left
in the previous campsite. We had a long night ahead in the taiga forest without food and warm clothes.
We made two campfires to sleep between. We went to collect some
firewood and pine branches in the total darkness. The pasta guys were a little at a loss and terribly tired. It took a lot of effort to make them leave the campfires. Generally speaking everybody had a real chance to get a backache or just get sick.
The night was spent in half sleep. Lyokha and I warmed the stones in the
fire, slept with our backs to each other, and hugged each other to keep warm.
We headed down river at sunrise. We were totally down. The campfire had burnt holes in our clothes and we were covered in spots of pine tar. We looked like homeless people.
But all our efforts were worth it. After an hour of walking we came up to a tributary and saw the campsite. Our joy was immense. Yelling loudly and ignoring the depth of the river, we made a mad falling and
slipping dash to the food. We hadn't eaten for 24 hours! The crumbs we ate yesterday can't be called food.
A slug of vodka from the bottle and a quick cigarette were in order.
And then one more pull on the bottle. We changed into dry clothes and had a plate of hot food. I daydreamed while watching Serguey
Novikov show off his freshly caught graylings.
Getting up at 2:00 p.m. we had a substantial meal of fried, boiled, and smoked grayling. Packing only the necessary stuff we headed back up the canyon. We carried our backpacks in turn with the Italians being good at this. Luck was with us as we met the cameramen on the way. They were unaware of what was happening and left the cameras near the boats and
walked down the river in search for us. We set up camp at the lower end of the canyon where the wooden frame of a catamaran, bleached white from the sunshine, was lying on the bank. It seems it has been there since the early years of exploration on the Tompuda. We put up a
tent, had dinner, and went to sleep in our sleeping bags.
With a tinge of tension we followed the rafting expedition
schedule. We did it in spite of the fact that helicopter had a technical problem (that's why it didn't arrive on the specified day) and the fact that Mikki felt bad and could hardly walk. Our daily walking (though unplanned) still brought us closer to Lake Baikal.
Each day we would get up early, eat breakfast and walk to our boats. We would fight with unbearable clouds of gnats as we changed into our rafting gear.
Back in the canyon again. 100 meters of rafting, a stop, a quick look around, another 100 meters, then a wait for the cameramen, and this would go on and on. Falls after falls, nasty holes, rocks, more drops. There's no time to daydream. In one of the falls I relive Mikki's experience when I get caught under a flat rock. Fortunately the rock was broad enough and I was washed from under it, though I had to disconnect the safety rope in the process. I caught the paddle myself, but the boat
was rescued 100 meters down river. The difficult sections are now over and we merrily head down river. When we see some abrupt falls we head to the bank immediately.
The "Aquarium" waterfall was about 4 meters high and consisted of the main flow and an outlet, which most of the paddlers took. In the middle of the river there was a rock, which was divided the river in 2 parts. The first one was a boily hole and too dangerous. One could only take only the other line. Unfortunately there was still a chance that one could get sucked into the massive hole. Only Arsen and Doctor ran
the "Aquarium". I acted as emergency help again and had no intention of jumping into the hole. Luckily both paddlers made the jumps easily.
We arrived at the end of the canyon and saw our campsite. We had some tea, packed the boats and headed to our base camp as a group of 18
kayaks. Michelle's and my boat boats were not spacious enough so we had to put the sealed sacks on our shoulders. It was a nasty not being able to properly control our boats because we were so overloaded.
Finally we arrived to our base camp. The rafting was almost over, though
it's still another 60 kilometers until we reach Baikal. Tomorrow we will inflate the raft, load all the stuff on it and go rafting down the
quiet and broad Tompuda.
A sensation of exhaustion was mixed with that of victory. We made it! We descended the canyon, portaging only twice over short sections. Everybody is safe and sound as is most of the equipment with some exceptions. I am putting these lines on paper and hear the guys
chopping down trees for the firewood for the steam bath. Our cameramen and Pasha will arrive soon, though they have to negotiate the difficult path through the forest made by us. The sun slowly sets behind the mountain ridge, things are strewn everywhere, the water boils in the pot over the campfire, and it's hard to believe that four days ago we were totally exhausted and almost died in the Tompuda canyon.
We get up, eat breakfast and pack. Today our group heads towards
Lake Baikal. The raft will hold most of the gear, whatever our kayaks can't accommodate. The raft team consists of Michelle (captain), Katya, Alla, and both cameramen - Serguey and Alex. The landscape here
is rather flat and the river is much calmer. It's so beautiful around here. There are numerous hallow spots in the river that force the rafters to pull the raft in knee deep water.
It's the morning. The sky is cloudy, but there's a patch of blue sky over the lake. Dimon lost one of his neoprene shoes in the canyon, as did Mikki and Michelle. After bargaining a little, I sold my shoes for Dimon's Vector kayak. As part of the trade he takes my Mephisto, which gives me cramps in my legs during longer trips. I put Mikki's shoe on one foot and put two of Igor Gomberg's wool socks on the other. I bind them up with duct tape.
The weather went to hell. Continuous rain was made worse by the cold
wind from Baikal. Doctor switched his Vector for a Voo-Doo and was trying to cartwheel until he froze in the cold water. Here is Baikal at last. It's raining and a strong wind is blowing. Two kilometers down from the river mouth we see the buildings of a local weather station. The boat will pick us up there tomorrow.
The boat arrives an hour ahead of schedule. We used the raft to ferry the gear to the boat, which looked exactly like the one we used on the lake 7 years ago. All the kayaks, the raft, myself and a group of guys get off in Severobaikalsk while the rest of the group goes on to Nizhneangarsk by boat. We are supposed to send the boats by cargo train
to Moscow. The local woman super boss of the baggage section weighed the Mephisto, it happened to be 10 kilos! We only managed to arrive in Nizhneangarsk by the evening time.
We boarded the hydrofoil "Kometa" early in the morning (Thank God,
Michelle reserved the tickets beforehand). We occupied the back seats of the vessel. It took us 12 hours to get to Port Baikal, where we switched to a smaller boat called "Voskhod-16" and that one took us to Irkutsk.
The flight from Irkutsk to Moscow was highlighted by only one mishap - instead of landing in Sheremetyevo-1, we landed in Domodedovo. The crowd of people meeting us with their orchestra and flowers had to rush from one airport to another.
Personal thanks to:
Michelle for his sharp tongue.
Dimon for his bravery and boldness.
Doctor for his endless love of walking.
Arsen for his "probe ball"
Dima Gomberg for his selflessness.
Igor Gomberg for the fact that the spare part was found and the helicopter arrived.
Katya and Alla for their tolerance of bad Russian.
Serguey and Alex Dvoretsky for their tolerance of the gnats and stone-pine while they were filming.
Yaroslav for the chronicles
Diego for the "broadener"
Jannie for his skill and joy of life.
Dario for his dish-washing expertise.
Mikki for the fact that he was on the brink of death and survived.
The memories of the expedition members.
The Great Tompuda Waterfall
On the third day of rafting down the Tompuda River we arrived at the place that would end up being the. Characterized as being in the middle of nowhere by one of our foreign friends when he found it on the map, the spot was in fact The Great Tompuda Waterfall.
The Great Tompuda Waterfall looked really scary. The start was a 20-meter long take-off area, which zigzagged from the right bank to the left and its angle of fall reminded me of an underground escalator. The main stream pounded the left side rock and the water dropped from the 6-meter height twisting about. The smaller stream fell more evenly to the right side, but the problem was that the water mixed with the stream from the rock jut. Moreover all this grandeur was skirted with a rock ledge 7 meters below the waterfall. The water sprayed back to the waterfall because of this ledge. The water speed was very high. A possible run here was to try to keep to the right current, avoiding the secondary stream in order to get away from the current to the right. The only difference is that you will experience a 6-meter deep abyss, instead of the quiet current of the supplementary stream.
The first idea (and the second, and the third, etc.) was to send everything to hell. The problem was that the water volume and the drop itself were complicated; one could potentially land in the turbulence of the white water. We had already lost our illusions that the Tompuda was a safe and simple river. It is hard to describe our doubts and the
preparations. Finally it became apparent that Arsen and Doctor had made up their minds to make the run.
Arsen was the first to jump. I was the second person on the throw line under the waterfall. His run was OK, even excellent for such a waterfall. As for me, it was only after his jump that I realised how dangerous and complicated this waterfall really was.
I climbed up the waterfall again to look at it from the top and to listen to Arsen's story how it came to be. At some point while looking at the waterfall at a certain angle and listening to Arsen's story I thought that I could do it. I wanted to run it. Time was running out so I got in my kayak and started to paddle…
Time slowed down… It seemed to me that I was gliding over the take-off
area for half an hour, then slowly I got to the ledge, made a paddling movement with an oar and then I was flying. I made a soft landing into the splashes and I was about to surface when I was turned around. The water under the waterfall was greatly turbulent and I tried to turn back with the help of the paddle when the boat knocked against the rock. I realized I was in the back eddy. The current became stronger and I was pulled back under the waterfall. I made an attempt to turn around from the left side.
Noooooooooooooo way! It's high time to get out of this crazy situation, as the bigger the object is, the more one gets knocked around in there. So I pulled from my kayak. I opened my eyes under water and saw a column of bubbles going down, I dived into it, made two summersaults and was so deep under water that my ears hurt. It was dark, there was no air to breathe and I was in a sorry state. Suddenly I saw the light and swam toward it and soon found myself 25 meters below the waterfall. I swam to the bank. The boat was under the waterfall for 3 more minutes.
Fortunately, the guys were able to retrieve it. The paddle came out 3 minutes later. It was good thing that I got rid of the safety rope as
I couldn't have stayed under any longer than I did.
Doctor went after my thrashing and made such a beautiful Boof that I felt black with envy. Then it was
Shishkov's turn and his jump was really great, but I got scared watching it. They had to pull Alex, his boat and his paddle out as well. The score was 50:50. But, to be honest, I had never attempted such a technical run; moreover no one had a chance to dive under the waterfall.
This story describes my jump mostly because describing a strangers' paddle run is like describing a dish you've never tasted.