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 Justine's Journal

CackleTV Productions


Siberian Tigers and kayaking in Far East Russia
Saturday, September 30, 2006

Alun and I have just returned from Far East Russia where we were making a TV programme about the Siberian tigers, for S4C. We flew into Vladivostok ( near the China and Korea borders, and directly West of Japan). I was really impressed by the beauty of the area and the friendliness of the people - Vladivostok itself is an attractive port, and as we drove through the Sikhote-Alin mountains we gazed upwards at a mass of shimmering yellows, reds and greens as the Autumn leaves began to fall.

Our first stop was Terney, 800km north of Vladivostok on the East coast. We were there to film the Wildlife Conservation Society radio-tracking Siberian tigers as part of their scientific research. I was focused on their work and I hadn't expected the scenery to be so stunning in it's own right. The coastline is made up of steep grey jagged cliffs, covered in lush green trees, and lapped by deep blue waters. Breaking up the cliffs are azure rivers snaking out to sea across sandy beaches or gravelly bars. We spent 2 days with John Goodrich from the WCS, walking on foot through the forest trying to track a female tiger with cubs. John hoped to pinpoint where the tiger was keeping her cubs, then wait until she went off hunting, and move in and radio collar the cubs. WCS' radio tracking work over the last 15 years has shown them valuable information which helps them conserve the tiger. Things like a single female tigress has a huge territory of 450 square kilometres, 80% of tigers are killed by man and 50% of cubs die within their first year ( mostly when their mothers are killed).

Unfortunately we didn't have the luck when we were there and our tigress moved off before we knew exactly where the cubs were, but it was a great experience to walk through the forest with John and his field assistant Nicoli, wondering what was silently watching you from under the trees and ocassionally being treated to amazing views down the coast. It was a beautiful hot sunny day and the only bad thing was an awful lot of nasty mosquittos in the forest. At the end of both days, Alun and I took a swim in the sea of Japan to wash the sweat and mosquitto bites off.

John has a feathercraft kayak that he sometimes uses to radio track the tigers from the sea and inevitably we talked a bit about the possibilities of kayaking down that stretch of coastline. It really does look temptingly beautiful and remote. Unsurprisingly it reminded me of nearby Kamchatka, although this part of Russia is not volcanic so the peaks aren't quite so conical. The surf isn't so big either as Japan shelters it from Pacific swells. There would be the added challenge of not only bears, but also 500 Siberian tigers, although John thinks you probably wouldn't even see either. The biggest complication would probably be getting permission to be there, as foreigners have to have a special permit to enter any 'borderzone' between Russia and another country - which includes the coastline. We had a permit to be there, but it took a month for the Russian organisation 'Phoenix' to get it for us, and they had to accompany us at all times. It looks like Alexey might get another call!

It was also fascinating to learn more about the Siberian tiger. Despite the usual threats of deforestation, poaching, lack of prey & conflict with man I actually left feeling quite positive about the future. While many of us think of the tiger as living in India & Asia, tiger numbers are dropping in these regions. The Siberian tiger is the only sub-species of tiger where numbers are actually stable. The main reasons for this are that it lives in the biggest unfragmented tiger forest in the world - about 13times the size of Wales, and in that forest are relatively few of the tigers biggest threat - man.

Thanks a lot to the Russian organistion, Phoenix, who arranged everytyhing for us and who co-ordinate and fund a lot of vital education and anti-poaching work in Russia.

Having problems posting photos - will try again later

"The Stacks" run
Sunday, September 17, 2006


Sunshine bathed Anglesey yesterday as Alun and I enjoyed what must be one of the world's best paddles. We carried our kayaks down the golden sands of Porthdafarch Beach, dodging kids with bucket and spade, mum and dad on deckchairs, divers getting their tanks ready, and more kids on inflatible dolphins. 1 foot waves and a very slight breeze made me hope the open sea might have a bit of texture to play on. First stop was Penrhyn Mawr which was almost completely flat on the way north; just a widespread rippling of the surface and a very slight churning noise giving away the dormant power of my favourite tidal race.

We carried straight on towards the pretty South Stack Lighthouse, detouring close into the cliffs to take our kayaks through narrow gaps, and to see who was doing what on the world-class climbs. It's a stunning area, with wonderfully convoluted ancient grey and green cliffs which look more like squashed plasticine than hard rock.

The rising tide spurted us through the gap between South Stack and the mainland and we were on our way to North Stack. After another detour to the cliffs and a chat with some friends we started to make our way back. Penrhyn Mawr was running a bit now and we had a brief surf and felt the exhilaration of free riding on the sea. "The Stacks" is one of my favourite paddles and it was great to get out there again! Especially on such a lovely day!

Llanberis Pass Climbing
Monday, September 11, 2006

It was a beautiful sunny weekend and Alun and I dusted off our climbing shoes and ventured up the road to Llanberis Pass. We don't seem to have had much time for climbing this summer so we eased into it on Saturday with some E1s at one of the less popular crags, Scimitar Ridge. I was feeling rusty so I seconded everything. It was great to be sat high above the road and the rest of the world, enjoying the solitude and the sunshine.

A lively wedding party on Saturday night meant we had a late start on Sunday, and with a wooly head I led Ivy Sepulchre - an impressive corner which suits my style of climbing ( lots of bridging and laybacking!) Alun wanted to lead 'Grond' on the next level up, described in the guidebook as "an explosive enought test-piece" and "superbly butch".
We went and had a look at this overhanging corner crack - it's a really impressive feature but it did look very hard! Sensibly Alun listened to his hangover and decided not to lead it today. Flushed with my recent success, and ignoring the fact that you are meant to get up "Grond" by jamming your feet, hands, arms and anything else that fits into the crack - which I hate and am not very good at - I decided to give it a go! I have to admit that it was much too sustained for me to climb 'properly'; I had to rest on the rope about 5 times when my strength ran out, but once I'd recovered I did all the moves ( mostly using bridging and laybacking and avoiding jamming whenever possible!) and I felt quite satisfied that I made it up at all. I even started to enjoy the climb once I'd reached the safety and sunshine at the top! Alun seconded it much more impressively, doing proper jams and 'in pain' noises and everything! The photos are all of 'Grond'.

From Ireland to damson jam
Wednesday, September 06, 2006

As "proper work" goes, filming adventure races is hard to beat. I've just got back from 6 days on the West coast of Ireland, filming 'GaleForce West', the first adventure race of it's kind in County Mayo. I've been seakayaking in the Achill Head and Gallway area once before but I really appreciated it's beauty when I saw it from the land aswell. We were lucky to have mostly dry and sunny weather and could enjoy the many mountains, the wonderful myriad of islands, the steep cliffs and sweeps of sandy beaches. My job was generally to climb up a mountain, or small hill, ahead of the competitors and then film them as they approached me. It involves a lot of running through bogs and over uneven ground so that I can get as many different shots as possible in 5 or 10 minutes. I spent a lot of time on top of conical Croagh Patrick, near Westport aswell as in several other lovely areas. I usually work on a few adventure races every year, employed by 'Dream Team TV' as one of their camera operators. It's a great way to see some of the UKs most beautiful areas and be paid to keep fit! The days are long, with very little sleep often, but I really enjoy it.

I got back home to Wales yesterday and am straight into making homemade jam with Alun. The damson trees in the garden are full of purple fruit ( or at least they were until this afternoon). Right now they are boiling away with a frightening amount of sugar, the old jam jars are washed and being sterilised in the oven, and we are looking forward to our first installment of homemade jam on our toast tomorrow morning!

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