The first weekend of December 2018 saw the bi-annual British Universities Kayak Expedition Team (BUKE) selection. It brings together the best whitewater kayakers from different universities across the UK to form a team which then goes on to plan and undertake an expedition to a destination of their choosing.
This year’s team consists of Harry Turner, Joe Fender, Jamie Peden, Cara Lee, Elliot Goddard, Adam Francis and Duncan Stewart. Together, they are on a six-week expedition in the Russian Far East from 23rd June 2019 through till 2nd August 2019, paddling some of the classics around the Lake Baikal area and looking to do some exploratory paddling across the Khamar Daban and Eastern Sayan mountain ranges.
During the selection weekend, each applicant presented a destination that they thought would be a good place for a kayaking expedition to take place. They considered factors such as cost, river difficulty, access and logistics just to name a few. Once the team was selected they then chose from the list of destinations for the expedition. Previous teams have chosen destinations such as the Philippines, Venezuela and Madagascar.
As a team, we all agreed that we wanted to go somewhere equally as remote and adventurous as previous years, deciding to go with Adam’s idea of exploring the Russian Far East. Unknown to most, the Far East of Russia holds mountainous terrain and remoteness unlike anywhere else, hundreds of kilometres of rivers and a season suiting the summer months.
The initial destination we chose was the Sikhote-Alin Mountains – as far East you can get in Russia, however, after gaining inside knowledge from a few locals we realised that the scope for paddling there wasn’t quite worth an expedition. Instead, we chose Lake Baikal and the surrounding mountains. We knew that this area is slightly more explored and we would still be able to paddle the classics if the trip doesn’t go as planned. Despite this area having some more known rivers, there is still scope for exploration and possible first descents given the right conditions.
Logistics involved transport, accommodation, language barriers and most importantly river selection!
We got in touch with a few local Russian paddlers who pointed us in the right direction. We managed to get a Russian guide named Evgeny Dyachev who has been incredibly helpful. While he isn’t a kayaker and won’t be joining us on the river, he has many local kayaking contacts. We can’t thank him enough already for helping us out. Transport should be widely available, with the opportunity to use trucks, Aero Boats and tanks to get us to where we need to be.
Our flights were booked with S7 airlines, which we have on good authority take boats with minimal hassle. Our flights were booked on a variety of dates via either Dusseldorf or Dublin as there were limited options for flying with boats direct from the UK.
Support and sponsors
We also had to look into sponsors, grants and other support that we could get to make this trip happen. Since all of the team members are students, we needed as much funding and support as possible.
Fortunately, Palm Equipment sorted us out with the best gear for the expedition. Dewerstone have supplied us with clothes so we can keep cool while looking cool on those long hike ins or portages. We also cant thank Radical Rider and Waka Kayaks enough for sorting us out with new boats for the trip. We are grateful we have such good kit and boats to help us when we’re going to be paddling some stout waters.
River Legacy has kindly given us the use of three Delorme inReach GPS Devices that hopefully we don’t have to use much but will be a massive help if anything does go wrong while we are in the middle of nowhere!
We are also fortunate that the Lord Mayor’s grant has given us £1,000 to aid towards team supplies and we want to say a huge thank you to all those that supported us through our Just Giving page.
Individual team members also got further support; Harry would like to thank Redpoint Climbing Centre Worcester who has supported him and the University of Worcester which has kindly paid for his flights. Elliot would like to thank Christians in Sport who are supporting him on his expedition and Bangor University. Cara thanks her University, Queens Belfast alumni fund, Bala Rotary Club, Rotronic, Ben Ross ltd, Let’s Go Hydro, for supporting her and TJ Composites for providing her with a shiny new paddle. Joe would like to thank Queens College Taunton for their financial support.
To physically prepare for the expedition the team underwent ‘rigorous training’ by gallivanting around the UK when it was wet, hiking boats across the Cairngorms and possibly one or two flat water sessions.