By Captain Mikhail TSIPORUKHA, retired
In late August 1843 a small prospecting party, travelling on a leaking boat, crossed Lake Taimyr by a sheer stroke luck. Their store of provisions was nearly exhausted although the route of the expedition went further south. At this critical juncture the head of the party, Prof. Alexander Middendorf, who was already seriously ill decided that he could not continue the journey and took a desperate decision. He told his subordinates he would stay behind alone amidst the tundra hills of snow taking care of the gathered collections of samples and members of the expedition were to travel on, try and find some aborigines and send them to his rescue. The courageous pioneer explorer remained in the barren tundra quite alone for a total of 18 days and nights. When he was practically at the end of his tether, he saw what looked like three spots on the horizon. They turned out to be sledges carrying Nentsy aborigines and his deputy Vasiliy Vaganov.The explorations of Siberia went on...
FIRST EXPEDITION TO THE NORTH
Alexander Middendorf was born in 1815. His father-director of a St. Petersburg high school and later of a Pedagogical Institute-brought up his son in a spirit of love of nature, hunting sprees and long walking tours down untrodden forest paths. And, naturally enough, the boy always dreamed of becoming a traveller and explorer.
In 1832 he entered the Department of Medicine of the Derpt (now Tartu) University. Completing his studies with flying colors, we gained practical experience working abroad in various clinics and labs, including those in Breslau (Vrotslaw), Heidelberg, Vienna and Berlin and the range of his scholarly interests covered zoology, botany, geology and geodesy. This knowledge and experience later proved to be of great practical benefit for his numerous expeditions.
After his return to Russia, Dr. Middendorf received the post of junior scientific assistant at Kiev University where he lectured on general zoology and the zoology of the invertebrates. Later on he was one of the first in Russia to introduce a course of ethnography. But the lure of travels and adventures was as strong as ever. During his first summer vacations he managed to take part in the second expedition to Novaya Zemlya headed by the outstanding Russian natural scientist and founder of embryology, Academician Carl Behr.
On June 13, 1840 a party of Russian explorers set out on a fishing boat from Arkhangelsk to Novaya Zemlya. But strong head winds in the Barents Sea forced the expedition to set its course westwards-to the Murmansk coast- and the favorable time for the original project was lost. In this situation Acad. Behr decided to focus on studies of the marine fauna of the Barents Sea, suggesting that his young colleague Middendorf explore certain places of the Kola Peninsula.
Prof. Middendorf made his first journey along the northern regions of Russia on foot and also on boat, accompanied by two natives. It took him 22 days to cross the entire peninsula-from Kola to Kandalaksha, and gather a rich collection of minerals and rocks. On his way he carried out geodesic measurements, making corrections in the topographic maps which were at his disposal.
UNVEILING SECRETS OF TAIMYR TUNDRA
In 1841 the St. Petersburg Academy decides to send an expedition for explorations of the Taimyr Peninsula as "the broadest strip of land protruding to the north". Members of the expedition were also expected to shed light on the puzzling phenomenon of "land glaciation" in Yakutiya. In other words, the problem on the agenda was permafrost.
Acad. Behr suggested Dr. Middendorf as leader of the expedition and an official letter on that score sent by the St. Petersburg Academy to the Ministry of Education pointed out that "by the level of his knowledge, his experience of being exposed to physical strain and his resolute character, the proposed candidate was really the best choice."
But the start of the expedition had to be delayed because the Kiev University rector delayed the departure of his subordinate until he finished his routine lecture course. And it was only on November 14, 1842 that Prof. Middendorf, accompanied by his Dutch colleague F. Brandt and Estonian scholar M. Fur-man, were able to leave St. Petersburg for Siberia. In Omsk they were joined by a 22-year old army officer and specialist on topography, Vasiliy Vaganov. On his way from Omsk Prof. Middendorf had to make a stop in Barnaul to pick up a special drill made there for the expedition. And it was only in the winter of 1843 that the party, moving over the ice-covered Enisei, finally arrived in Turukhansk. There they drilled well in the ground and identified spots of what was called seasonal glaciation.
In April of that year the party, travelling on relays of dogs, reached the estu-
ary of the Dudinka. From there they travelled on deer to the north-east across Lake Pyasino and up the Dudypta river to the lower reaches of the Boganida. As a result they were able to collect some primary information on the rocky ridges of the Norilsk Region.
In the village of Korennoye-Filippov-skoye on the Boganidy river the party left behind one of its members - F. Brandt and Cossak Tomilin for doing some scientific observations. Middendorf and Vaganov, accompanied by an interpreter, their guide, Tit Laptukov, and two Cossaks, kept travelling northward, reaching the Verkhnyaya Taimyra river in mid-June. After surveys of the area they transferred the supplies from the base camp, and when the river was cleared of ice on June 6 they travelled by boat, which they had built by that time, downstream to Lake Taimyr. There the party dismissed the local guides which had been travelling with them. Part of their cargo, winter clothing and stocks of provisions were buried in the ground until their return. But the party was unable to leave this spot for quite some time because of strong northerly winds, and the forced delay was used for scientific observations and enlarging the collections.
When the winds ceased after a few weeks, the expedition continued its journey to the north. Shortly after they discovered a new island which was named after Academician O. Botlingk, a philologist. After that they reached the estuary of the Nizhnyaya Taimyra river (near 75o N.L.) where they discovered for the first time the skeleton of a mammoth.
At long last the explorers approached the mouth of the Nizhnyaya Taimyra
river and, stretching in front of them was the Taimyrsky Gulf of the Kara Sea. Their boat berthed at a rocky island which was named by Prof. Middendorf in honor of Academician K. Behr. When the party tried to leave the harbor on the following day the boat run into a big shallow. Then northerly wind started to blow, the stores of food were nearly exhausted with members of the expedition feasting on bits of dry bread. The head of the expedition, who suffered from a cold as was said in the beginning, decided not to push their luck any more and turn back...
On December 1, the party arrived in Turukhansk from where Prof. Middendorf dispatched to St. Petersburg his first repot of the work done-and the results were really impressive. Travelling in the northern latitudes, the exhibition crossed the Taimyr tundra from southwest to north-east (1,000 km) - from Pyasina to Khatanga, and in the meridianal direction-from the Philippovskoye settlement to the estuary of the Nizhnyaya Taimyra (400 km). They were able to study some hitherto completely unknown northern regions, and as Prof. Middendorf wrote later: "we have been travelling for five months beyond the confines of the most remote settlements-from the Philippovskoye to the arctic sea and backwards."
Large numbers of geological samples were delivered from the Turukhansk to St. Petersburg with the numerous cases containing 8,500 herbarium plant species, 445 mammals in hides and another 495 in alcohol cans, 562 bird samples, 294 samples of fish and 500 invertebrates in cans with alcohol. Extensive surveys of the area were carried out, and the head of the expedition was able to confirm the descriptions of the Taimyr coast and certain inner areas of the peninsula left by the members of the Great Northern Expedition of 1733 - 1743. The scientist also did a lot for a fair appraisal of the achievements of Semyon Tchelyuskin who was the first to reach the northern- most cape of the Taimyr coast in 1742, and it was Prof. Middendorf who was the first to propose naming the cape in honor of the courageous Russian seafarer.
On-the-spot observations by members of the Siberian expedition made it possible to study from various points the relief of a large area between the lower Enisei and Khatanga, including the geological features of this stern region. It was possible to describe separate uplands in the west of the North-Siberian lowland and the central part of the Byrranga Mountains-a system of low ridges of latitudinal propagation located in the center of the Taimyr Peninsula.
IN PERMAFROST ANDPRIAMURYE
On February 18, 1844 the expedition arrived in Yakutsk. Over the course of the next seven weeks Dr. Middendorf studied there samples obtained from a well of 116.4 m. It had been drilled in frozen rock in 1828 - 1837 by Fyodor Shergin, an employee of the Russo-American Company. Finding "frozen ground" at such depths was quite a discovery for many scientists in Russia and Western Europe which they could hardly believe. It was only the scientific conclusions of Prof. Middendorf which finally convinced them of the existence of a "glaciated zone of the lithosphere". What is more, studies conducted by Prof. Middendorf in 13 spots in Siberia enabled him to draw up the first map of the propagation of perennial frozen soils in this region.
In late March 1844 the expedition left Yakutsk and travelled towards the Sea of Okhotsk across the unexplored regions of Eastern Siberia. Up to the village of Amgi located on a tributary of the Aldan of the same name, the supplies were
transported on oxen, and then on horses, because the longest route of 1,000 km passed only through pathways. And the explorers also had to carry with them materials for making a large leather-skinned boat.
From Amga the expedition made its way to the Uchur - another tributary of the Aldan-and reached the eastern arms of the Stanovoi ridge. They were able to cross in mid-June, emerging at the upper reaches of the Uda river. Then the expedition travelled by boat of their own make up to the Udskaya Guba bay. During these travels the first explorations were conducted of the southeastern part of the Verkhoyansk- Kolymsky Territory. From there the party moved along the shore of the Sea of Okhotsk, making descriptions of the Tugursky and Ulbansky gulfs, practically discovered the Tugursky peninsula with its convenient Constantine harbor, the Tokhareu peninsula and the Mevachan ridge of about 100 km in length.
On August 30 Prof. Middendorf sent his assistants F. Brandt and M. Furman on a boat with the assembled collections to the town of Ustyuzhsky Ostrog where they set up a scientific center. It was used for a year by M. Furman for regular meteorological observations while also enlarging the rich botanic and zoological materials. At the same time F Brandt returned to Yakutsk with the collections gathered by the expedition, and later reached Irkutsk.
As for Prof. Middendorf himself, and also V. Vaganov, they travelled by boat in three days to the estuary of the Uyakon river, conducted surveys of the area, replenished their collections and then returned to the Tugursky Peninsula. There they studied the way of life of the local Evenk and Nivkhy tribes, prepared a small dictionary of the local language and recorded some of the folksongs and legends.
In late September Prof. Middendorf and V. Vaganov set out on a journey home from the upper reaches of the Tugur, riding on saddled deer and relays of deer. In this manner they reached a pass across the almost meridianal Bureinsky ridge which received its name at the suggestion of Prof. Middendorf. Then the travellers went down into the valley of the Bureya river, travelled by boat to the estuary of the Niman and went on along the river and its tributaries to the Selemdzha river basin. Travelling in the north-western direction they reached the Zeya river and then the Amur. From there they made their way across the ice-clad Amur to a Cossak military outpost at the confluence of the Shilka and the Argun. From there they went on to Kyakhta and then to Irkutsk.
Being accompanied by the local Yakut tribesman on his travels across the Priamurye Region, Prof. Middendorf was able to study their customs and the language. Apart from materials for a glossary, he also gathered information for writing a Yakut Grammar and recorded many local songs, tales and legends.
During explorations in the Okhotsky-Priamursky Region the expedition was able to prepare a detailed description of the south-western coast of the Sea of Okhotsk and the Shantarskye islands. They proved that the Stanovoi ridge, providing a watershed between the Arctic and the Pacific oceans, consists in reality of a number of mountain chains. Prof. Middendorf correctly described the main features of its orography and geological structure and he suggested considering as an independent mountain structure the Yablonevy ridge. He practically discovered and studied the Bureinsky ridge and the Jagdy ridge and prepared the first ever materials on the geology of the Primorye and the Amur river basin.
The results of this expedition-grandiose for its time-were summed up and described by Prof. Middendorf in his work "Journey to the North and East of Siberia"-a kind of an encyclopedia about the nature of this bleak territory which was published from 1860 to 1878. For this work the scientists was decorated in 1862 with the Constantine Medal of the Russian Geographical Society. In 1852 he was elected Member and in 1865-an Honorary Member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences.
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