Vasily Yelagin says he wanted to prove to the world they could create a vehicle that can provide safe transportation over everything from tundra and winter lakes to the floating ice of the Arctic Ocean.
“We have done it,” Yelagin says.
- VIDEO: Scroll down to watch a video of the group's 2013 North Pole trip
Yelagin, a geologist, is also a sailor, climber and decorated Master of Sports in the former USSR. He’s climbed Mount Everest and organized the Paris-Moscow-Beijing rally, among other adventures.
He was one of four Russians who dropped in on Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T. yesterday in the final leg of an off-road journey that’s taken them from Norilsk in Siberia over the pole to the Canadian Arctic.
The convoy reached the North Pole in April of 2013: the first unsupported vehicle expedition to do so.
“When we came to Resolute, we had one drum full of Russian diesel fuel left,” Yelagin says.
That’s where the trucks stayed over the summer, until four of the adventurers returned to resume the journey this year.
The idea for the trip came up about 10 years ago, says Yelagin, the expeditions leader and chief vehicle designer.
The trucks are large and light.They’re built of aluminum and weigh only about 1,300 kilograms.
They have inner-tubes as tires — only these inner tubes are much thicker and can travel over sharp shards of ice. They can also climb hilly terrains of tundra.
They’re also decidedly low tech.
2L Toyota Corolla engine
There are no electronics, which can be difficult to repair, and Yelagin’s truck runs on 2L diesel engine taken from a Toyota Corolla.
“It’s strong enough,” Yelagin says. “I bought it from a used car, because a new one was too expensive for me.”
The trucks are named Yemelya after a very lazy Russian character who dreamed of a magic oven that could cut trees for fire.
“The joke is that the vehicle is built so well that it’s good for lazy people,” says Yelagin.
The trip has been eventful. The team has spotted three polar bears so far, including one large male that came within 50 metres of them.
The team is hoping for good ice conditions as they make their way along the northern Alaska coastline and back to Russia.
The self-imposed deadline to try to cross the Bering Strait is April 20. Any later, and they will leave the vehicles in Alaska for another winter.
Yelagin says there is interest in the technology, both from people who live in the Arctic and from Gazprom, the Russian oil giant, which he says could use light vehicles like these to monitor remote pipelines.
Watch a video of the group's 2013 expedition (in Russian).