January 30th 2014
59.970425° N ,29.784571° E
-2° F / -18° C
Tonight I had my first real experience on the open ice. Mikhael asked if I would like to join him in hiking out on the ice to point Azimuth Zero to look at the location. I plan to make a piece there in the coming days so I agreed. I had already been considering trying to hike around the ice to a lighthouse tonight anyway. The Kronshtadt Rear Range Light is on the military base and not approachable by land so the only way to reach it is by the sea. I have read it bears a single steady green light that faces the west and would like to get all the way around to photograph it at some point.
At around 9:30pm / 21:30 we headed out walking the few blocks from the flat a gate and brick arch which use to belong to a fort. We make our way down to the ice and walk amongst the dozens of footprints and snow mobile tracks. Reaching a mound in the sea that runs from the point we are standing back to the land, much like the trail bugs bunny leaves behind him as he travels underground, Mikhael informs me that this is Azimuth Zero. The point is aligned perfectly north and this being the zero point for the island. (You can see a satellite view of the location here)
We look around for a good place for me to make the piece I am planning then after a while we decided to make a hike to the lighthouse (which is on the opposite side of the island). So we start walking, the wind is blowing slightly, but in -2° slightly feels quite a bit like slightly more. My face feels frozen and my mustache and beard are beginning to freeze from my breath. I keep my head down and walk as Mikhael points out a large building on an island to the northeast of us which he says use to be the storage facility for black powder. We cut a large circle around the islands eastern tip to avoid the piers that shoot out from its shore and to stay clear of the restricted beaches that hug the military bases. Getting parallel to the city beach where I had taken photographs on my first day we begin to see faint silhouette of the tall slender lighthouse. There is no moon, and the stars are out above us as we walk on through the darkness.
Suddenly we come to a point where the ice looks strange, Mikhael stops and tests it with a few bounces then asks me to stand still and bounces hard several times and asks if I could feel anything, I say no and he asks me to jump and I say “f@$& You”. but I do bounce in response so he can feel its stability. We continue on and start to realize there is a massive crushed ice field to our left and looking back it’s obvious that an ice crusher had been through here sometime recently but the ice had refrozen, we hoped. Pulling out my light we clear a patch and shine it into the ice. We could see several layers of lines/cracks in the ice going in various directions indicating it had been broken and refrozen several times but the ice appeared to be extremely thick (at least 3 feet it seemed). To avoid the crushed ice field we headed away from it a few hundred feet and I said I wanted to try and take a photo at this point.
As I am unpacking my camera and setting it up Mikhael points out a tugboat that is slowly sailing west and will pass just behind the lighthouse. It is so dark you cannot make out the shape of the boat, only its cabin lights which seem to be floating in the air above the ice. As we watch it we notice it is leading the way for a massive cargo ship, which is more visible to use due to its size and lights. Both ships will be passing within a kilometer or two of us. Suddenly we hear a very unusual sound between the shore and us a beautiful, quick, strange and eerie sound. Within seconds there are very unnerving sounds all around us. The only thing I can really compare the sound to is that of 100 hammers striking a large water silo in chaotic intervals or a something that sounds the way lightening looks (not the way lightening sounds mind you). The sound was everywhere, the ice field to our left was screaming with tension. The sound could be felt below our feet and it continued behind us. As I fumbled to try and turn on my recorder, which failed to respond due to the extreme cold we were in. I asked Mikhael if we were in danger and he nervously laughed and said he had no idea (considering he grew up in Saint Petersburg and new the ice well, this alarmed me). Thinking the ice field could break apart all around us we just stood and waited. Slowly the sounds grew quieter as the ships wake eased beneath us. Finally I was able to get my recorded to respond and caught the easing of sounds, which compares in no way to what we had just experienced.
Returning to my camera, which was beginning to freeze, I try desperately to grab a focus (on a dark subject that is far away at night time) but between the low light, long exposure times and the fact that I could not feel any of my fingers I had to coincide with what I had and packed up. We headed back across the ice field, wearier now and after passing it we made a direct line for a pier.
Reaching the shore I was happy to have the ground beneath my feet but I would not trade the experience for anything. It was easily the most beautiful sound I have ever heard heightened by absolute uncertainty of mortal danger. I will return and capture that sound before I leave this frozen land.
j.frede - 2014