5 Mar 2013

Lake Baikal: Awe-inspiring & terrifying!

Lake Baikal is one of the natural wonders of the world, and its statistics are mind-boggling.  It is the oldest lake in the world, and also the largest, at least in terms of volume.  It contains a staggering 23,615 cubic kilometres of water, and just a few miles out from shore drops to a depth of a mile.  It also straddles three fault lines, the movement of which has resulted in its immense depth.  It contains a vast amount of marine life, 75% of which is found nowhere else on the planet.  It is aptly named the Blue Eye of Siberia and glitters for 400 miles from North to South in the summer, but in early March it is covered in a crust of ice nearly 2 metres thick. From Listvyanka it stretches vast and white, eastwards for 40 miles until it abruptly ends at the foot of an impressive mountain range.


 




Day No.
Day
Date
Cities
City
Transport
Kms travelled
Kms Running total
Hours travelled
Night accommodation
17
Fri
01/03/2013
1
Listvyanka
Bus
74
8867
2
Baikal Dream
18
Sat
02/03/2013
0
Travel
Walking
20
8887
4
Lesnaya 7
19
Sun
03/03/2013
1
Bolshie Koty
-
0
8887
0
Lesnaya 7
20
Mon
04/03/2013
0
Bolshie Koty
Walking
20
8907
4
Baikal Dream
21
Tue
05/03/2013
0
Listvyanka
Taxi
74
8981
2
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Our plan was to hike to an old gold mining hamlet called Bolshie Koty, about 20km further North up the shore and spend some days in a cabin there.  In summer there is a hiking trail that runs through the woods, but in winter the quickest way to travel is across the ice.  So we set off, sharing the immense expanse with only the occasional supply truck rumbling past.


 

The ice formations are incredible – every few miles there are seams in the ice sheet where temperature fluctuations cause it to buckle 6 feet or more into the air, in great glistening spires.  After a couple of hours, John has developed an impressive ice-moustache or “face-icles” as we call them.

  

  

  

  
The sky is clear and sunny, and we are feeling smug about having shunned the services of a guide.  Little did we know at that point that our smugness would be short lived… but more of that later.

Only about four and a half hours from Listvyanka we saw the small hamlet, Bolshie Koty, appear on the shore.  Population: 40.  Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take long to find the cabin we had reserved.  As Josi keeps reminding, there are supposed to be elements of honeymoon to this year, but once again John had to disappoint her!  No water, no central heating (or even a wood burner), no electricity between 10pm and 10am, and an outdoor toilet that would make Ray Mears think twice.  “It’ll be an experience” said John.  And he was right.  As the thermometer nudged -18˚C we lay under blankets and jackets and waited for the single electric radiator to come on at 10am.  Our alarm clock would be the kettle that John had cunningly already filled, plugged in and turned on.  It was a long cold night. 



  

  

Owing to the slightly out of kilter time zones in Russia, the evenings were light but the sun-rise was long awaited.  And so it was that at 10am we were awoken by the wispy rays of sunlight and the hoarse whisperings of the kettle.

We spent the day exploring Bolshie Koty, which despite its diminutive size, does have some very quaint, highly decorative wooden houses.  Its setting on the quiet cove of the lake shore is beautiful, but we thought what a tough existence it would be to live here.

  



A second night survived, we packed up and headed back out on to the ice to begin our hike back to Listvyanka.  But it didn’t take us long to notice that the ice wasn’t quite the same as it had been when we crossed over.  Every so often sledge and tire-tracks which had previously run straight as far as the eye could see, now abruptly ended, only to continue several feet to the left or right.  The ice had shifted dramatically and with it large walls of ice had risen up like continental plates colliding.

  



As we stood about half a mile from the shore listening, we could hear the ice creaking and groaning underfoot.  Trying not to think about the mile of ice-cold water that lay beneath us, we pressed on until… BOOM!!!  A sound like thunder tore across the lake and sent shockwaves reverberating around us.  The shuddering of the ice was enough to make us stagger and for a moment we braced ourselves, half expecting the ice to open beneath us.  But it held solid, and we had no choice but to continue, mildly reassured that the locals would be using this route for at least another 6 weeks.  Not so reassuring were the areas where trenches of water had opened up, bridged only by a jumble of ice blocks.  We moved very carefully over these.  There were also areas where open water had re-frozen, resulting in an eerily rippled, glass hard surface, as though time had suddenly stood still.

John unwittingly perfects the C3PO walk!

Three hours later, and the rusty carcasses of the scrapyard that marks the northern edge of Listvyanka, had never looked so appealing.  Back on terra firma, we thanked God for safely getting us back, and then went to the local fish market to buy lunch before heading back to our homestay.  Unshowered for 3 days, and with a smoked Omul tucked into his jacket, John had all the hallmarks of a Siberian exile.

    


Back at our homestay, our eccentric host Nikolai met us in his speedos, excitedly telling us that he was heating his “banya” (Russian Sauna) for his other guests, and would we like to use it afterwards?  That sounded like a great idea, and so an hour later we found ourselves wearing felt hats and lying prostrate in 94˚C heat, with Nikolai manically flicking us with molten hot birch twigs.  Then outside for handfuls of snow on our backs and a bucket of cold water.  Left in no doubt that we were indeed still alive, we turned in for a very long sleep…


J&J


1 comment:

Donald Davis said...

Praying for you both on this journey of a lifetime. May the good Lord be close to you. Don.