Russian skiers recall icy trek across Bering Strait

Amirali Raissnia

During their unsuccessful 1996 attempt to ski across the Bering Strait, explorers Dmitry Shparo and his son Matvey Shparo faced a monstrous storm that stifled their trek and forced them to send an SOS signal.
The Bering Strait, located between Alaska and Russia, is highly dangerous due to its harsh climate and its rapid movement of ice. During the peak of the 1996 storm, the Shparos’ camp drifted 93 miles north in one day because of the moving crust of ice.
After making a third attempt, the father-son team succeeded on March 20, becoming the first people to travel the moving ice bridge on foot.
At a presentation to a group of 15 Monday in Cooke Hall, Dmitry, 56, and Matvey, 22, told tales through an interpreter about their recent journey.
The 150-mile expedition lasted 21 days, starting from eastern Siberia and ending in Point Hope, Alaska. Although the trip was a success, Dmitry and Matvey faced several obstacles. Neither of the two were prepared for what occurred on the fifth night of the journey.
“During the night we were sleeping in our tent and woke up to very heavy steps around our tent,” Matvey said. “We recognized it. It was a polar bear, and it broke into our tent. It put its nose in our tent.”
Still in his sleeping bag, Matvey grabbed his shotgun and blasted over the bear’s head. The bear jumped and scurried away.
“At this point, we were all very scared,” Matvey said. “The polar bear and us.”
Thin ice caused another close call on the 15th day of the trip. They inched along for more than an hour and a half, relying on the color of the ice to tell them its thickness. The two men finally approached stable ice surrounded by a 20-inch-wide stream of water. Travelling on skis and pulling a 90-kilogram sled, the water posed an enormous problem.
Dmitry fell chest-deep into the frigid water as he tried to cross, with only his arms and head on the white ice, he said.
“I was standing three yards away from him and I wondered, what should I do?'” Matvey said. “If I approach him, I will fall in, too. So I thought the best thing to do was to talk him through it.”
His directing helped, as his father was able to pull himself from the ice water. However, Matvey faced his father’s fate as he tried to cross the water, falling in chest deep himself.
Standing on solid ice, Dmitry was able to pull his son to safety. But the fall had dangerous long-term effects.
“It took us almost six days to dry our boots,” Dmitry said.
Despite their problems, the two men arrived safely in Point Hope — nine days later than anticipated. The journey ended with a dinner reception attended by about 700 people. One of the dishes featured polar bear meat.