Dog Sledding on the Lena River

Russia’s greatest river, the Lena, flows through some of the country’s most spectacular scenery and is home to indigenous Yakut horse herders, shamanic sacred sites, quaint villages of log cabins nestling amid the taiga forest on the river banks, ancient rock paintings and much more.

On this trip, travellers will drive sledges pulled by teams of blue-eyed Yakutian laikas down the frozen surface of the river. The expedition will take them past the Lena Pillars, a 40km stretch of river bank lined with a forest of rock fingers up to 220 metres tall. Every night they will stay in isolated villages in the homes of indigenous Yakut people and will have the opportunity to visit herders who live with their animals deep in the forest and use horse sledges as their principal means of transport.

Dog Sledding at the Lena Pillars, Yakutia

Dog Sledding at the Lena Pillars, Yakutia

Day 1

Evening flight from Moscow to Yakutsk

The outdoor fish market in Yakutsk

The outdoor fish market in Yakutsk


Day 2

Arrive in Yakutsk at 9:30 am (it is a 7 hour flight from Moscow and is 6 time zones away). Check into hotel.

City tour of Yakutsk. Visit:

• Open air market where fish and meat are sold

• Dom Archi, where Yakut people come to worship (they have their own animist-shamanist religion)

• Permafrost laboratory and museum, built underground in tunnels hacked into the permafrost

• Mammoth museum, showing remains of some of the many mammoths discovered in Yakutia

Overnight in hotel.

Underground museum hacked into the permafrost, Yakutsk

Underground museum hacked into the permafrost, Yakutsk


Day 3

Transfer 120km to the village of Bulgunnyakhtakh on the banks of the Lena, Russia’s largest river. Here we will meet our dogs and receive training at sledge driving.

Please note that there are only enough trained dogs in Yakutia to pull 4 sledges. This means that if there are 5 trip participants we will take snowmobiles as well as sledges. The participants will have to take it in turns to drive snowmobiles and sledges.

Overnight in a local home.

This is the last village you can reach by road. All the villages further down the Lena, where we will be heading tomorrow, are accessible only by boat in summer or by driving on the ice in winter.

The people in these timeless villages of log cabins, nestling amid the taiga forest on the river banks, are mostly Yakuts, but there are also Evenki and Russian. While most northern indigenous people in Russia are traditionally reindeer herders, the Yakuts are horse herders. The horse herders live in log cabins out in the forest with their horse herds, moving the herd from one area to another throughout the year. Their horses are a special breed of horse, which is very short, fat and hairy and can spend all winter outdoors in -50 centigrade with no problem.

The predominant language in the region is Yakut, which is a very interesting language. Whereas in some parts of Siberia the indigenous forgot their own language and began speaking Russian after the Russian conquest of Siberia, Yakut was actually the only language that spread to the Russians. In the 18th century you could go to Russian dinner parties in Yakutsk and hear upper class merchants speaking to one another in Yakut. Even these days all Yakuts in the Lena River villages speak Yakut as a first language, and many Russians do too.

The villages here are very picturesque and are built almost entirely of traditional log cabins with moss stuffed between the logs for insulating. There is no central heating or running water. Toilets are outdoors, and each home has its own traditional bath house next door for washing. Every home has a stack of firewood around 50 metres long outside it to keep the home warm during the long winter. Many houses have ice cellars hacked into the permafrost below them where they store meat and fish in the summer. Many also have traditional khotons, trapezium-shaped, dung-covered stables for cows (which also wear bras in winter to protect their udders from the cold!)

The main mode of transport for hunters, fishermen and horse herders is horseback in summer and horse-sledge in winter.

The main delicacies among the Yakut are raw fish and horse meat, though you will not be forced to try any if you don’t want to!

Yakut horses in Bulgunnyakhtakh

Yakut horses in Bulgunnyakhtakh


Day 4

Travel by dog sledge 30km up the Lena River to the village of Elanka. Overnight in a local home.

The banks of the River Lena near Elanka village, Yakutia

The banks of the River Lena near Elanka village, Yakutia

Day 5

30km by dog sledge to Tit-Ary village. Walk up the steep banks for a spectacular view over the village and the river. Overnight in local home.

Tit-Ary village on the banks of the River Lena, Yakutia

Tit-Ary village on the banks of the River Lena, Yakutia


Day 6

Travel 30km by dog sledge to the magnificent Lena Pillars UNESCO World Heritage site, stopping to inspect ancient rock paintings on the way. On arrival we visit a sacred site where shamans perform rituals and where Yakut people leave their traditional offerings of oladushki pancakes. We then walk a steep 2km trail up to the top of the river banks to be greeted by a spectacular view of the Lena Pillars and the Lena River itself from above. On a clear day from here we can see 30km to the village of Sinsk, our final destination.

Overnight in a log cabin at the bottom of the pillars.

Sacred site of the Yakut people at the base of the Lena Pillars

Sacred site of the Yakut people at the base of the Lena Pillars


Rock paintings on the banks of the River Lena, Yakutia

Rock paintings on the banks of the River Lena, Yakutia


Day 6

30km by dog sledge to Sinsk village, located on the place where the River Sinyaya flows into the Lena. Overnight in a local home.

Lena Pillars, Yakutia

Lena Pillars, Yakutia


Sinsk, a village on the banks of the River Lena, Yakutia

Sinsk, a village on the banks of the River Lena, Yakutia


Day 7
After a hearty breakfast we go out on sledges attached to the backs of snowmobiles into the forests on the banks and the islands of the River Lena. Our drivers will take us to different bands of indigenous Yakut horse herders whose animals are so tough that they spend all winter outdoors in temperatures that regularly reach the negative 50s Centigrade. They will show us how they feed, water and herd their animals. If the trip is taking place in January or February we will also be able to see how they scrape the ice of the coats of their horses. Guests will also have a chance to ride the herders’ horse sledges if they so desire.

In the afternoon we return to Sinsk. Anyone who wants to can have a wash in a traditional Yakut log cabin bath house.

Horse herder in the forest near Sinsk, Yakutia

Horse herder in the forest near Sinsk, Yakutia


Yakut horses being herded from one part of the island to another, Lena River

Yakut horses being herded from one part of the island to another, Lena River


Day 8

Return to Yakutsk by driving along the frozen river surface in a Russian Uaz minivan. Overnight in hotel.

A blue-eyed Yakutian laika

A blue-eyed Yakutian laika


Day 9
Fly back to Moscow. Arrival time is always in the morning and is almost the same as departure time, due to the time difference and the 6 – 7 hour flight.
Dog sledding on the River Lena, Yakutia

Dog sledding on the River Lena, Yakutia

Price:

Number of people Price per person
3 285,000 rubles
4 260,000 rubles
5 245,000 rubles

Included in the price:

• Flights Moscow – Yakutsk – Moscow
• All transfers and transport along the route described above
• English-speaking accompaniment from Moscow
• 1 Russian-speaking dog handler
• 1 cook / assistant dog handler
• Twin or double hotel rooms in Yakutsk, accommodation in log cabin homes in the villages
• All food (meals three times a day) except in Yakutsk or Moscow
• All transfers and entry fees on the day in Yakutsk
• Satellite phone for emergency use only
• Letter of invitation for Russian visa
• First Aid kit

Not included in the price:

• Cold weather clothing. Boots, trousers and jacket can be rented for 7,500 rubles per person if required.
• Personal travel insurance
• Alcoholic beverages
• International flights
• Accommodation, food or guiding in Moscow
• Personal expenses