Chinese explorer's incredible arctic journey

By Owen Fishwick and Cao Yinan | | 2017-04-10 17:20

Chinese explorer's incredible arctic journey

Chinese explorer Wu Yu sits atop his modified Toyota Landcruiser, the Northern Lights shining above, after driving 8,000 kilometers from the South China Sea to the Arctic Ocean. [Photo/]

Freezing minus 55 C winds whip the rolling sea into frothy peaks. Snow crackles and crunches underfoot, as brilliant white plains blend with the sky above. This is the Arctic Circle, and Zhanjiang-born Wu Yu has just become the first person to ever drive here from China, some 8,000 kilometers away.

Sitting on the hood of his icicle-encrusted Toyota Landcruiser, staring out across the Arctic Ocean, Wu realizes a dream he had since a child to combine his two passions in life – cars and exploration.

"I love using wheels to measure the world and explore," says Wu from within his extreme weather polar jacket.

The founder of a driving club in Beijing, Wu, 33, has driven through 20 countries, totaling 150,000 kilometers, the equivalent of driving around the earth's equator almost four times.

Like the famous Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsenwho was the first to reach the South Pole back on Dec 14, 1911, Yu has lived his life establishing his own firsts. He was the first Chinese to drive to Russia's wild and unknown Kamchatka region, and the first driver of a Chinese license-plated car to drive to Russia's Oymyakon, one of the coldest permanently inhabited locations on Earth, twice.

For this adventure Wu's mission was clear. Set out from Leizhou Peninsula in Zhanjiang on the shores of the South China Sea and drive north through China, Mongolia, and Russia until hitting the Arctic Ocean in the polar far north.

Setting out from China's very southern tip on Jan 20, preparations for the month-long journey north were extensive.

"We spent weeks and weeks preparing and planning, making sure we had enough food, water, gas, and spares," Wu says. "We also spent a lot of time studying the journey and preparing for any problems along the road."

Crossing South China's mountainous lush-green landscape proved easy on the first leg, thanks to China's extensive investment in the road network in that part of the world, but Wu knew that it would get more difficult the further north he went.

"Generally, most roads in China are fine, the main expressways long and straight," Wu says. "However in Mongolia and Russia the roads can be unpredictable."

The first milestone of the epic journey came on Jan 24 as Wu arrived in Beijing, after covering more than 2,500 kilometers in his first five days on the road.

While in the nation's capital, Wu met with Russia's ambassador to China, Andrey Denisov, who certified him as an envoy of cultural exchanges between the two countries.

Denisov said that it has been 68 years since China and Russia first established diplomatic relations and hoped for a great many more to come.

Hitting the road again, Wu headed northwest to the Chinese-Mongolian border, leaving the city behind in exchange for a more rugged landscape to whizz past the windows.

Soon the bumps of China's northeast flattened out to become Mongolia's vast, unending green plains.

Then trouble struck. What was thought to have been a formality, turned into a headache at Mongolia's Zamen Ude border-crossing.

"Officials at the border provided us with the wrong entry documents," Wu says. "So a few hours later we were stopped by the police and detained until the correct documents could be issued."

Putting the hiccup behind him, Wu arrived in the Mongolian capital Ulan Bator on Jan 31.

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