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21 September 2018

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Crossing Siberia

Author: Matt Traver

Sep/Oct 2016
Page 40   ( 5 pages)

Summary: Matt Traver decided to walk across Siberia and create a documentary film in the process. His first leg didn’t go very smoothly.


The first segment of my journey took me to Tuva, a Russian republic bordering Northern Mongolia. To Russians and foreigners alike it’s best-known for throat-singing (khoomei) and for being the geographical center of Asia. The latter honor is, notably, hotly contested by China, which claims that the continent’s center is actually located near Ürümqi, Xinjiang Province (the debate having arisen due to the varying definitions on what constitutes the Asian continent and the map projection used). Regardless of the dispute, when one stands by the monument on the outskirts of Kyzyl’s city center, it is easy to feel a sense of wonder, knowing that, in every direction you look, you are thousands of miles from any coastline.

I came here because my route started in the isolated Todzhinsky Basin region in the republic’s northeast. It was through the basin that I was aiming to walk on foot for 450 kilometers, following loosely connected hunters’ trails running upstream. Eventually, these would lead me into the Eastern Sayan range, on the boundary with the Republic of Buryatia. From there I would inflate my packraft and descend the Tissa and Irkut rivers for another 1000 kilometers to reach Irkutsk, near the fabled shores of Lake Baikal. If all was to go according to plan, the following year I would return to Irkutsk and continue further east into Siberia, following more discontinuous trails and rivers, gradually leap-frogging my way over the years through this vast landmass – a journey I estimated to be approximately 10,000 kilometers long.

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