22-Oct-2006 -- Sakhalin Island in the Russian Far East has been a remote region for many years without much interest. The climate on Sakhalin can be pretty harsh, supplies are limited and the island was even used to send prisoners to! Though the bears, salmon and mosquitoes found a comfortable home on the island.
Oil makes the difference. Sakhalin has some substantial hydrocarbon reserves and the capital city, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk is now flooded with expatriate oil workers, sparking a boom in local developments.
The team consisted of a group of Sakhalin Energy employees and relatives, and that the 1st Sakhalin confluence mapping proved to be an epic undertaking was clear from the start. Maps of the area are unreliable and some of the forest roads have been built by the Japanese from the times when they ruled the Southern end of the island. Nowadays trees grow in the middle of these roads. The terrain is subjected to severe erosion carving out huge trenches with steep slopes, military areas prohibit access, the dogs & the Kalashnikov keeps you from nosing around in the Sakhalin salmon fishing areas.
A couple of earlier attempt failed. Several dotted lines on the Sakhalin maps were explored with 4WD vehicles. We've abandoned 2 earlier attempts due to the obvious signs of bears(every year some people get killed by bears on the island).
We all agreed that this time around, armed with pneumatic horns and pepper spray, we had to make it. The walk was tough and the climbs were steep. We could only maintain about 1km per hour walking. Exhausted from the climbs and bush-wrestling we realized that at our ultimate time of return to make it out of the woods before darkness, we were still about 1 km away from the confluence. We pushed ahead – hoping that the way back would be easier.
We reached the confluence on a relative steep slope and allowed us 30 minutes of rest. It was too late now, the day was ending. Some of use obtained minor injuries ranging from a twisted ankle to blisters. The slopes on the route to the confluence were too steep to be able to be descended safely; we had to take an alternative route back. We chose the south side of hills, where the soil would be dry and where daylight would sustain longest, and just to make a dash for the nearest road.
The journey was beyond anyone's comfort level, more trenches, more vegetation and more blisters. The darkness was setting in and the road we were supposed to meet was miles further than anticipated. Beyond every hill, there was another hill and some of us just couldn’t make another step. When the road was finally found the strongest walkers among us were sent to walk another 5 km along the coastline to get the cars. It was about freezing and a breeze from the sea cooled us down to the bones. We decided to jump to just stay warm, but it didn’t work well. Headlights danced through the fog as the cars negotiated the off-road terrain. Finally they reached us – we made it home for a hot bath.