18 Nights In the Footsteps of Nordenskiold: Through the Northern Sea Route

18 Nights In the Footsteps of Nordenskiold: Through the Northern Sea Route


It was during the Vega Expedition of 1878 - 1880 that Swedish explorer Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld would prove, despite insurmountable odds, that it was possible to sail across the top of Russia to the Pacific and, ultimately, ports in Asia during the first transit of the Northern Sea Route. While hopes it would become a regular trading route were never realised, ice and weather conditions were too unpredictable, the Russians persisted and in 1914 the icebreakers Taymyr and Vaygach would complete the second successful transit.


In 1932 the Soviet Government established the Northern Sea Route administration to oversee the development of the passage. Bigger and more powerful icebreakers were built and a significant number of polar weather stations constructed to provide ice and weather updates for convoys transiting the route. The vast majority of these stations now lie in ruins, the data they once supplied now effortlessly downloaded directly from satellite and automatic weather stations.

Recent changes in the Arctic summer sea ice means that it is now possible to navigate the Northern Sea Route during a brief window of opportunity without icebreaker assistance. These changes open a whole new world of Arctic history and wildlife to discover - one never dreamed of for those of us fascinated by these once off-limits, high latitudes.


Our expedition will follow Nordenskiöld's route visiting the many islands and locations he discovered and described during his remarkable journey including the Severnaya Zemlya Archipelago, New Siberian Islands, Novaya Zemlya (New Land), Cape Chelyuskin and Nordenskiöld Archipelago, plus additional sites like the De Long Islands.


While the brief Arctic breeding season will be over, much of the region's abundant wildlife will still be present. We are sure to enjoy encounters with Polar Bears and there is also an opportunity to observe three species of walrus (Pacific, Laptev and Atlantic), whales (Beluga, Bowhead and Narwhal) and Arctic Gulls (Ivory, Sabine's and Ross'). Our team of on board naturalists will be working with you to ensure the best possible sightings and photographs.


Join us as we retrace history on this unforgettable voyage aboard our ice-strengthened Russian research vessel Akademik Shokalskiy. No stranger to this region, she has participated in Soviet convoys in during the late 1980s and completed a double transit of the Northern Sea Route with us in 2017.

  • Day 1: Murmansk

    Join your ship and depart. After sailing there will be introductions to ship and crew.


    Days 2 to 3: Barents Sea

    The Barents Sea was named in honour of Dutch seafarer and navigator, Willem Barents, who explored this region on expeditions in 1594 and 1596. As we move northwards opportunities for spotting Humpback Whales and Harp Seals that feed in these waters increase.


    Days 4 to 5: Novaya Zemlya

    We plan to spend the following days exploring the remote, mountainous archipelago of Novaya Zemlya (or New Land). Bounded by spectacular glaciers, jagged peaks and rich in wildlife and history, these rarely visited isles consist of two large islands separated by the narrow Matochkin Strait and a myriad of smaller islands. Discover a northern Arctic desert landscape on Severny Island and new landscapes along the coastline as we look to explore different landing sites which may include Cape Spory, the Oransky Islands, Navalok, Cape Zhelaniya, Russkaya Gavan and Inostrantseva Bay where breath-catching panoramic views of pristine Arctic wilderness can be enjoyed. Rightly regarded for its unrestrained high Arctic beauty and as a wildlife haven, during our explorations here we will look to make several landings, Zodiac cruise imposing cliffs, glaciers and shores looking for Harp, Ringed and Bearded Seals, Polar Bears, reindeer, Arctic Fox, walrus haulouts, whales and a number of bird species including Peregrine Falcon, Tundra Redpoll, Snowy Owl, Guillemots and Puffins.


    Day 6: Isachenko Island

    Sailing east we reach Isachenko Island, the largest in the Kirov Island group in the Kara Sea. There is much to explore on this remote, tundra-covered island where we will be looking to land, ice and weather conditions permitting. Home to deserted research station Polyarnaya Stantsiya, the sandy shores and coastal lagoons of Isachenko Island, part of Russia’s Great Arctic State Nature Reserve, abound with wildlife in the thriving intertidal zone and are often frequented by Polar Bears. This afternoon we make our way to the Nordenskiöld Archipelago.


    Days 7 to 8: Nordenskiöld Archipelago

    Our days in the Nordenskiöld Archipelago celebrate the true expedition nature of our voyage as we explore this little-known and rarely-visited cluster of around 90 islands in the eastern region of the Kara Sea. Surrounded by ice for most the year, these remote and windswept outposts including Russky Island, the largest and location of a former Polar research station which closed in 1999, were named by Norwegian polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen on his 1893-1896 Fram Expedition. In 1900 the majority of the islands were charted and named by Captain Fyodor Andreyevich Matisen during the Russian polar expedition, who named the archipelago in honour of Nordenskiöld.


    Days 9 to 11: Severnaya Zemlya Archipelago

    The Severnaya Zemlya Islands translated into English mean ‘Northern Land’. They are on the border of the Kara and Laptev Seas and are an extension of the Taymyr Peninsula. These islands were not discovered until 1914-15 when Russian explorer Vil’kitskiy finally charted the island. This was the last significant archipelago in the world to be discovered. The three largest islands are heavily glaciated with deep fiords and majestic tidewater glaciers that are regularly calving icebergs, providing a magnificent environment for cruising. This is one of the last strongholds for Ivory Gulls and we look for an opportunity to visit a colony.


    Days 12 to 13: Taymyr Peninsula and Laptev Sea

    We enter the Laptev Sea through the Vil’kitskiy Strait which separates Severnaya Zemlya from the mainland of Russia and also marks the northern-most point of the Eurasian continent. This is a significant milestone on our journey; traditionally the last area where the ice clears and the biological divide between the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean wildlife. This sea is bounded by the Taymyr Peninsula and Severnaya Zemlya in the west and the Novosibirskie Islands in the east. It is named in honour of cousins who were both Arctic explorers. The Lena and the Yana are two of the larger rivers that drain into this sea. Along the western shore of the Laptev Sea we will take the opportunity to explore the Taymyr Peninsula and the infamous Cape Chelyuskin at its tip. Cape Chelyuskin is of particular interest on our voyage as the crew of the Vega left message of their voyage thus far under a stone memorial here. Laptev Sea Walrus are only found in this area and we will be on the lookout for haulouts where we can spend time photographing this unique and isolated population of walrus.


    Days 14 to 15: Noviye Sebirskiye (New Siberian Islands)

    These islands, which consist of three major groups – Southern, Central (Anzhu) and Northern (De Long), mark the border between the Laptev and East Siberian Seas. It is from this vicinity that the famed polar explorer and researcher Fridtjof Nansen froze the Fram into the sea ice in his attempt to reach the geographic North Pole by means of the natural ice drift of the Arctic Ocean. The New Siberian Islands are renowned for the preservation of the remains of mammoth, rhinoceros and other Pleistocene inhabitants of the far north; it is not uncommon to encounter their fossil remains while we explore the islands. We have allowed two days for exploring this remarkable yet seldom visited archipelago, conditions permitting we hope to have the opportunity to visit all three island groups, each with their own unique geology and landscapes. On the southern shores of Great Lyakhovskiy Island there is an active meteorological station which is permanently manned by a small contingent.


    Day 16: De Long Islands

    Part of the New Siberian Islands, this small uninhabited archipelago consisting of Bennett, Henrietta, Jeannette, Zhokhov, and Vilkitsky Islands. These were once hills on the Great Arctic Plain. Still partially covered by glaciers, they were among the last discovered islands in the East Siberian Sea and named after the ill-fated American expedition led by George Washington De Long on the USS Jeannette. The expedition become trapped in thick ice near Herald Island in September 1879, drifting hundreds of miles before being crushed by sea ice near Jeanette Island in June 1881. The men made their way from the sinking ship in open boats to the Kolmya River delta, where many of them, including De Long, perished.


    Day 17: East Siberian Sea

    This sea is defined by the Novosibirskie Islands in the west and Wrangel Island to the east. Along its southern shores are three of Siberia’s major rivers, the Indigirka, Alazaya and the Kolyma. The average depth is only 54 metres making it ideal habitat for walrus and Bowhead Whales.


    Day 18: Medvezhyi Islands

    Today we will explore the little known and seldom visited Medvezhyi Islands (Bear Islands), an archipelago of five granitic islands. As the name suggests, the islands have a sizeable population of Polar Bears which often den on these shores over winter. A landing on the island of Chetyrekhstolbovoy offers the opportunity to hike to the unusual rock ‘pillows’ which the island is named after, the largest of these resembling Moai from a distance. The abandoned weather station here is a fascinating example of the effects of permafrost melting as it slowly slumps into the sea while the very land upon which it was built disintegrates. On Pushkareva Island investigate the old lighthouse or enjoy the Arctic flowers that cover the expansive tundra during the brief summer.


    Day 19: Pevek

    After a final breakfast on board it will be time to disembark and say our farewells. There will be a complimentary transfer to the airport or to a central downtown hotel. One of Russia’s most remote, and northernmost towns, Pevek and its deep water port are undergoing a boom and tipped to become a key economic and infrastructure hub for the far eastern Chukotka region. Important Notes: This expedition is subject to approval from various Russian Federal and Regional Authorities and may have to change depending on these approvals. Permits have been lodged for all the sites mentioned in the itinerary, depending on approvals these may have to be amended or substituted. We will endeavour to keep participants fully informed of any changes in the itinerary as and when they occur.