Russian Arctic & the Northeast Passage

Traverse nine time zones across the top of Siberia and Russia, pushing through ice-laden waters to Arctic islands so remote few, if any humans have ever visited. Feast on wild landscapes along the planet’s greatest migration paths, where birds in their millions fly north to breed on lush river deltas and wind-swept sea cliffs. Step back in time to when woolly rhinoceros roamed the Great Arctic Plain and feel the weight of a mammoth tusk in your hands.

Accept the challenge of Crossing the Legendary North East Passage and be rewarded with polar bear encounters and walrus crowding on ice floes. Meet Chukchi reindeer herders, Inuit fishermen and Russian scientists gathering high Arctic data from roughshod dwellings sometimes shared with wolverines, snowy owls and Arctic fox.

Only in the past couple of decades has this region become accessible enough for non-icebreaker ships to make the crossing due to reduced Arctic Ocean pack ice. Purpose-built for high latitudes with a Polar Class 6 rating and the latest uncompromising standards of any ultra-luxury vessel, Scenic Eclipse is the perfect Discovery Yacht to do so. Embarking from Nome, Alaska, cross the International Date Line in the Bering Sea and enter the Northeast Passage at historic Cape Dezhnev, the most easterly point of the Eurasian continent.

Sail north to Wrangell Island, designated a ‘zapovednik’ during Soviet times, it continues to enjoy Russia’s highest degree of environmental protection and for good reason. Untouched by glaciers during the last Ice Age, its tundra boasts the Arctic’s greatest plant biodiversity, unchanged since mammoths made their last stand here 2000 years ago. Home to the largest population of Pacific walruses and surrounded by waters alive with bowhead, grey and beluga whales, Wrangell and nearby Herald islands host the planet’s highest concentration of polar bear dens.

Over the next two weeks your Captain and Discovery Team leader will assess ice, weather and sea depth conditions to identify possible excursions each day. Meet Chukchi reindeer herders and walrus hunters on Ayon Island. In the Medvezie (Bear) Islands, enjoy great kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding near flocks of long-tailed ducks and bearded and ringed seals. Keen hikers may walk to the imposing rock spires of Chetyryokhstolbovy Island or Zodiac cruise below sea cliffs where thousands of kittiwakes nest. Bennett Island, largest of the De Long Islands was claimed for the United States by the ill-fated Jeanette Expedition in 1881, a claim not recognised today.

Admire tundra vegetation like saxifrages, buttercups, chickweeds and mountain sorrell in the Novosibirskie Islands and discover large walrus haulouts on Belkovsky Island. Have your in-suite binoculars on hand while crossing the Kara Sea. Nearby Nordenskjold Archipelago, is named for Adolf Erik Nordenskjold, leader of the 1878-80 Vega Expedition, the first to navigate the North East Passage. The islands are popular with Arctic terns, purple sandpipers, herring gulls, sanderlings and other waders. Explore Isachenko Island in the Kirov Island group.
In Severnaya Zemlya, ‘Northern Lands’, explore the last territorial discovery on Earth, with walks up to glaciers, Zodiac cruising, stand-up paddle-boarding and kayaking in iceberg-laden fjords. and sightings of Brant geese, snow buntings and Arctic skuas, always with an eye out for polar bears. At Novaya Zemlya, largest of the Eurasian Arctic archipelagos, admire its glistening ice cap, massive walrus haulouts, bird cliffs bristling with Brunnich’s guillemots, kittiwakes and glaucous gulls. Zodiac cruise for views of calving glacier fronts, bearded seals and swimming polar bears, or hike to spectacular vistas.
Explore Franz Josef Land, the world’s most northernmost and most extraordinary archipelago. Home to five million seabirds, polar bears and walrus, it’s also been the staging post for polar explorations. Delight in your Discovery Team historians as they recount the epic tales from Nansen, Amundsen, Wellman, Ziegler, Tegetthoff and others who strived to find a way to the North Pole or across the North East Passage. Ship cruise the soaring bird cliffs of Rubini Rock and land at Cape Trieste to admire perfectly round geodes, rocks ranging from 1 cm to 3 m in diameter.

In Murmansk, Scenic Eclipse is cleared out of Russia and we make our way to Tromsø, Norway, visiting Vardø, one of the oldest towns in the cirucumpolar Arctic, and Hornøya, with its seabird colonies including delightful, burrowing puffins. As you disembark from Scenic Eclipse be proud that you are now a member of a very exclusive group who have successfully completed a crossing of the North East Passage.