Expedition Ukraine

Location: Ust’-Chorna, Ukraine
Time frame: 26/12/2009-02/01/2010

During a search for special places that could be perfect for snowkiting, but that have not been explored yet, me and my friend Ales Franc came up with an idea to organize a winter expedition to Ukraine. Thanks to a preliminary exploration of the Ukrainian Carpathian Mountains, that took place in summer, we had a decent idea about the landscape, wind conditions and other local conditions. This mountain range is located on the very East of the country near the border with Poland, Slovakia and Romania.

The initial plan was to explore two locations within a 4-5 week trip time frame. Firstly a local “polonina” (highland/plateau) called Borzha Polonina and secondly the ridges in the area of Drahobrat. Both ranges peak between 1300-1800 meters ASL and thanks to a colder climate, snow shouldn’t have been a problem. Unfortunately snow was the biggest problem in the end… :) To get more information about both locations, that we were about to explore check the website Snowkite-Ukraine, that we set up before the trip. Unfortunately due to lack of time the design is truly basic and there hasn’t been time to write down more information about the kite spots a organize the web site in an understandable way.

Throughout November and December we were finalizing the details, preparing equipment and checking the weather almost every day. Unfortunately, snow showers didn’t show up for a long time apart from the tops of the mountain ranges. The first snow arrived early December and later it has been snowing a bit every now and then.. After a snow storm that hit the area a week before Christmas we briskly moved our departure date to the first week of the Christmas holiday break. Just a few hours before our departure a freshly updated forecast didn’t look as good as it did previously. A front was approaching the our targeted area and it was not sure, whether the freezing levels would be low enough for the precipitation to fall as snow. Around 30mm of precipitation was on forecast and it was a big bet whether we should leave or not. Snow or rain? We went for it… in retrospect, it was not a good decision.

When we arrived on place the lowlands were extremely flooded. The 50mm of rain, hitting the area during the day and night of our 1200 kilometer travel, fell as rain top-bottom. A 50-70cm layer of snow on the tops and 30cm in the lowlands vanished thanks to the rain and hot weather. The melting and the enormous rain falls caused some severe flooding in the region and we got to know that as soon as we got “watter-blocked” on the road. That was due to a flooded main road that made us by-pass this critical point with a 3 hour drive around a small mountain range. This had severe consequences as the last two hours of our way had to take place during the night and driving by night in Ukraine is a nightmare. Not recommended as long as you care for your car and your life…

Early morning of our first day we woke to a fresh 5cm layer of snow. We were full of hope that the tops of the mountains might have got 20-30cm and that made us plan a hike to the top. This estimated 10-15 kilometer hike with full gear on our back was no fun. After making half of the way, getting mid-mountain, we were certain the top of the ridge will not be kiteable due to lack of snow. Running out of time and energy we turned around and went back home. That was a wise decision…otherwise who knows what would have happened. In the end it was 22 kilometers including the way back and we got home by dusk!

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