Mikhail Malakhov is the Hero of Russia, Honored Polar Explorer, Honored Master of Sports, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador in Russia, Candidate of Medical Science. He participated in many challenging expeditions, in particular in the Icewalk’98 under the auspices of the United Nations. Malakhov was the only Russian out of the eight participants. In 1995, a famous Malakhov Weber Expedition took place. Michael and Richard Weber, his Canadian partner, managed to complete the task that everyone else failed in the 20th century. They turned down any outside help and skied to the North Pole on drifting ice and returned back the same way, thus restoring an original classical formula of polar travel: Land – Pole – Land. The trip was more than two thousand kilometers long.
– Mikhail Georgiyevich, you were born in village Kuzminskoye, Ryazan Region. How did you manage to become a polar explorer? Why did you decide to take up a demanding carrier of an explorer and scientist?
– To tell the truth, I had no intention to become a traveler in my childhood. But when you see the Oka high bank, the edge of the forest, endless plains, you have a desire to look beyond the horizon. When I was a kid and did not attend school, I went on long bike trips around the neighboring villages. When I was 6, my mother got ill. She was admitted to hospital in Poshchupovo, a town few miles away from my native Kuzminskoye. So, in the evening I came to the hospital on my kids’ bike through the fields and ravines. The relatives that were visiting my mother saw me and got very surprised. I will repeat myself, my desire to go beyond the usual environment was strong and natural.
– What achievement are you proud of most of all?
– I am not particularly used to that. However, there are things that take my breath away. For instance, a record trip to the North Pole. For 20 years, nobody has managed to repeat, nobody has even tried to repeat our expedition with the Canadian Richard Weber from the northern tip of Canada to the North Pole and back without any outside help. 230 kilograms of load per person, 123 days on the ice, no days off. The average day speed was about 20 kilometers per hour. It was hard and dangerous. Not even because of bears or environmental conditions. My colleague and me could have gone mad because of the stress and destroyed ourselves with physical overload. Besides, our trip was quite long… But everything was OK, we survived. And we lost almost no weight. Richard lost about 3 kilograms, and I even less. This means we passed the test.
– Were there any situations in the expedition when you were within a hair of death?
– Sure! Many times! A Polar Expedition is always a risk. Once a crack ran under the tent, and we also fell under the ice a good many times. In 1982–1983, I was a doctor of the 28th Soviet Antarctic Expedition. We sailed on the research vessel. We were already on our way home. Suddenly I saw a huge iceberg moving right on us. At such moments, you feel as a passenger of Titanic. I looked straight at the iceberg and wished it stopped. Soon the ice mountain stopped moving, and the ship, bound on all sides by ice, floated from the iceberg by miracle.
Another case. It was on May 14, 1992. Richard Weber crossed the Arctic Ocean and saw a huge rift, which was a river approximately 300 meters wide, and between the ‘banks’ ice chunks were moving. Somehow we managed to move to a large floe of ice with all our equipment. But suddenly we noticed that an iceberg was floating on us. In the event of a collision, we would have lost at least all the sleds and provisions. Minimum chances to survive until assistance arrived. Iceberg was very close to our ice floe. Then I shouted in English three times, ‘It must stop!’. And the giant boulder was still for some time. Richard and I realized that was the only chance to escape unscathed. Very quickly, we left the drifting ice floe. I looked back and saw that a piece of ice, on which we stood some five seconds ago, had disappeared. Now I celebrate this day as a second birthday.
– How important is it to choose proper gear and equipment for such complex expeditions?
– When I was doing my third year at the medical school, I organized extreme hiking to distant corners of our country. So, in the Polar Urals, I got severely frost-bitten and even lost a part of my finger. Apparently, it stimulated me, made me select equipment for the next campaigns more carefully. As medical professionals, we set experiments on ourselves in the expeditions, tested our ability to survive under extreme conditions. Generally, you should be attentive to your health in such campaigns. I will not go into details about our clothing and special equipment. I will just say all the details of our equipment were seriously tested and subsequently improved. It means that clothing for such complex missions were developed in close contact with the polar explorers and manufacturers.
– Any curious stuff in your backpack today?
– I think you would be surprised not to find anything special in it. In fact, I do not have any latest gadgets. I do not like to dwell on innovations in this field, as strange as it may sound. You can find a woolen 5-euro hat, GPS-navigator, and compass in my hiking kit. Oh, and my expedition route marked on the flight-book map (laughs).
– What are the things you cannot do without on an expedition? Please name 5-6 things.
– A simple compass, camera, merino wool underwear, good eyes protection, and a MSR stove.
– What is about discipline? Do team members always implicitly perform their tasks?
– Sometimes we discuss too much on simple issues, as some guys have never seen the Arctic ice. Unnecessary disputes began. But when I took a carabine and explained several times what to do, the excitement subsided.
– Are you authoritative in your family? Or do you still need a carabine?
– There are no tensions in our family, and we have a certain specialization of labor. I like to wash dishes, though there are special appliances for this. I like to sweep the floor instead of using a vacuum-cleaner. I am pleased to weed or water the lawn. I, my wife and children are always trying to support each other. I am especially pleased that my sons, Mikhail and Alexey, started to participate in the expeditions.
– And what is your wife’s occupation?
– She is a well-known ophthalmologist in Ryazan. She opened several ophthalmic surgeries to correct vision. That is how favorite work is combined with business.
– Mikhail Grigoryevich, what is the best gift you have ever received from the loved ones?
– Well, I got this gift a long time ago, thanks to my wife Olga. The greatest happiness for me is to feel that my sons follow in my footsteps. Another priceless gift was made by my younger son Alexey and his wife. That is my grandson, Lavrenty Alekseyevich. Now I dream to show Lavrenty Alaska. However, you need to wait another fifteen years to do it. Well, that’s extra motivation to be fit!
– What are your plans for the near future?
– Lots of plans. But I am m very careful to declare them. You see, a new project is like a new picture. There is a blank canvas, and you have to fill it with something exciting and inspiring. It must pull you and not leave indifferent, as other will look at the picture and then copy it. This is an uneasy and responsible task. I cannot say that I will go down to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. I do not need excess curiosity and rush around my new ideas. I do not chase a cheap popularity.