Russian adventurers to retrace explorer's route

Jul 12, 2017

Dr. Mikhail Malakhov and his team will paddle up the Wood River and portage into the Kuskokwim drainage.

Next week a group of Russian adventurers led by Dr. Mikhail Malakhov will arrive in Dillingham to retrace a journey made by the Russian explorer Ivan Yakovlevich Vasiliev in 1830. KDLG’s Allison Mollenkamp has more…

Malakhov has been coming to Alaska since 2009 to retrace routes taken by Russian explorers in the nineteenth century. Tim Troll is the Executive Director of the Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust. He first heard of Malakhov’s expeditions two years later.

“I first encountered him when I got a phone call in 2011 from Koliganek and a friend of mine, Jerry Liboff wanted to know if I knew anything about a portage to get from the Nushagak river into the Kuskokwim River drainage. And I said well, I didn’t know where it might be, but the last time I knew anybody probably would have tried to do that in the summer time was during the era of Russian America.”

It turned out, that era was exactly what Malakhov was interested in. He’s an explorer in his own right. He was named a Hero of the Russian Federation for his expeditions to the North Pole. His interest in Alaska was sparked by his connection to another Russian explorer, Lavrenty Zagoskin . They’re both from the town of Ryazan , Russia, to the southeast of Moscow. Zagoskin explored areas of Alaska and wrote ethnographic accounts of his meetings with the Yupik people.

He also lived in the eighteen hundreds. Now, Malakhov works to replicate the conditions of his journeys. Tim Troll says the largely untouched conditions in Alaska make that uniquely possible.

“The first Russian explorations into this region were in 1818, which is only ten years after Lewis and Clark did their famous journey. And I always like to think if Lewis and Clark had come back today, what would they see? They would probably not be able to find many of the places where they camped or explored, where the early Russian explorers, it would be the same, pretty much the same.”

This year Malakhov and his team will follow the path taken by Ivan Yakovlevich Vasiliev in 1830. Troll explained the route.

“They plan to basically paddle up the Wood River, paddle up through the lakes to Kulik Lake, which is the top lake of the lower Wood River lakes and then portage over into the upper Tikchik lakes. And then he’ll travel up the Tikchik river, all the way up to the very last lake in the park, which is Nishlik Lake. And at Nishlik lake, at the very far west end, there is a way to get through the mountains to get from that lake to the Aniak river, which then flows into the Kuskokwim.”

All told, the trip will take about three and a half weeks. The hard work helps Malakhov connect to his history. However, it also lets him connect with the people of Alaska that he meets along the way, Troll says.

“He’s also very conscious of, you know, the fact that the relationship between Russia and the United States has not always been very good and it’s might not be even getting better right now. But he really believes that relationships between people, if not between governments, will ultimately change the way things occur. Maybe not in our lifetimes, but eventually.”

In that spirit, Troll is putting together a reception for the Russian group next Tuesday evening at the Dillingham Senior Center.

Contact the author at or (907) 842-5281.