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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 392 pages of information about Tent Life in Siberia.
The earth thaws out in spring to an average depth of perhaps two feet, and below that point there is a thick, impenetrable layer of solid frost.  The water produced by the melting of the winter’s snows is prevented by this stratum of frozen ground from sinking any farther into the earth, and has no escape except by slow evaporation.  It therefore saturates the cushion of moss on the surface, and, aided by the almost perpetual sunlight of June and July, excites it to a rapid and wonderfully luxuriant growth.

It will readily be seen that travel in summer, over a great steppe covered with soft elastic moss, and soaking with water, is a very difficult if not absolutely impracticable undertaking.  A horse sinks to his knees in the spongy surface at every step, and soon becomes exhausted by the severe exertion which such walking necessitates.  We had had an example of such travel upon the summit of the Yolofka pass, and it was not strange that we should look forward with considerable anxiety to crossing the great moss steppes of the Koraks in the northern part of the peninsula.  It would have been wiser, perhaps, for us to wait patiently at Tigil until the establishment of winter travel upon dog-sledges; but the Major feared that the chief engineer of the enterprise might have landed a party of men in the dangerous region around Bering Strait, and he was anxious to get where he could find out something about it as soon as possible.  He determined, therefore, to push on at all hazards to the frontier of the Korak steppes, and then cross them on horses, if possible.

A whale-boat was purchased at Tigil, and forwarded with a native crew to Lesnoi, so that in case we failed to get over the Korak steppes we might cross the head of the Okhotsk Sea to Gizhiga by water before the setting in of winter.  Provisions, trading-goods, and fur clothes of all sorts were purchased and packed away in skin boxes, and every preparation made which our previous experience could suggest for rough life and bad weather.

[Illustration:  Drill]

CHAPTER XIV

OKHOTSK SEACOAST—­LESNOI—­THE “DEVIL’S PASS”—­LOST IN SNOW-STORM—­SAVED BY BRASS BOX—­WILD SCENE

On Wednesday, September 27th, we again took the field, with two Cossacks, a Korak interpreter, eight or ten men, and fourteen horses.  A little snow fell on the day previous to our departure, but it did not materially affect the road, and only served as a warning to us that winter was at hand, and we should not expect much more pleasant weather.  We made our way as rapidly as possible along the coast of the Okhotsk Sea, partly on the beach under the cliffs, and partly over low wooded hills and valleys, extending down to the coast from the central mountain range.  We passed the settlements of Amanina (ah-man’-in-ah), Vaempolka (vah-yem’-pol-kah), Kakhtana (kakh’-tan-ah’), and Polan (po-lahn’), changing horses and men at every village and finally, on the 3d of October, reached Lesnoi—­the last Kamchadal settlement in the peninsula.  Lesnoi was situated, as nearly as we could ascertain, in lat. 59 deg. 20’, long. 160 deg. 25’, about a hundred and fifty versts south of the Korak steppes, and nearly two hundred miles in an air line from the settlement of Gizhiga, which for the present was our objective point.

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