Hiking arcross the Lake
by Sebastian Breitenbach
A simple plan: grab your tent and cooker and walk across it... well, quite obviously there is a lot more to it. Be aware of the ice status, and be protected against the wind that is always blowing. And have a warm sleeping bag with you!
In February 2003 a friend and me planned "crossing Lake Baikal as a stroll". Winter had finally arrived as we got into Irkutsk. There we heard from friends that some unusually large amounts of snow had come down and that the ice of the Baikal would be visible hardly anywhere. That was a little disappointing but could not stop us from going anyway. After getting our food supplies we hopped on the bus to Listvyanka and started our hike.
We planned an overnight at the western shore, slightly north of Listvy anka, to watch the weather and do a turnaround if necessary, or simply wait. Equipped with spikes that we had attached to our hiking boots and sunglasses we made some good headway in good weather conditions. The next day we wanted to walk towards Babushkin and pitch our tent on the ice. My companion had caught a cold in Irkutsk and was not in the best condition, but she insisted on keeping on walking and so we started the second day in a little less good weather. We had to wait for some time until the clouds had mostly vanished. We walked for a couple of hours and made only a few small breaks to have some tea. We were surprised at how few of the TarrossiY, those hard-to-cross ice barriers, were around. That year the ice on southern Baikal must have had frozen in some sort of tranquility.
In the afternoon wind came up, which was not very comfortable, and soon it started snowing and the view of the mountains ahead of us got worse and worse. Shortly after that we could only make our way by compass, and so we took a shorter way to Priboi to get to the shore more quickly. In the evening we were looking for a good spot for out tent. We seemed to have found a good, wind-protected area behing a towered-up floe. But as soon as we had dug a hole into the snow-drift behind it, the ice underneath started cracking so loudly that we were willingly ready to find another, "tectonically" more safe spot. This meant no more wind-protection, and so we had to set up the tent in the middle of a big and safe but bare spot. With ice screws we anchored our little home and put big ice blocks around our tent so we would not be blown away.
Soon the cooker made its humming noise in the wind and we started feeling a lot better having tea and noodles in the wind-shade. Noodles seriously cannot taste better than after marching though winterly -20°C. Throughout our "feast" the wind picked up speed so I tied the tent down even more tighly with some extra cords. We sure fell asleep quickly. Suddenly in the middle of the night i got woken up by scratching noises and big turmoil outside. Who could be there now? After checking outside it was clear that the wind had turned into a very stiff breeze and the drifting snow was rustling on the outer tent. We had forgotten to burden one of the edges which now was fluttering in the wind and made a hell of a noise. Back in my sleeping bag I was awaiting our roof to fly away, really.
But besides a pretty cold and nebulous morning the storm did not bless us with anything else. The sight was down to zero and the ice was covered in fresh snow. No good pictures, but even worse, all the cracks and warpings would be not visible. Also, my companion was doing worse, and so we started walking right after breakfast to finally reach the other shore. The year before we had had hardly any snow and the blank black ice was delivering phantastic views of crystals and shapes. Now we were stamping through hip-deep snow and fought our way through long ice-barriers. The sight got a little better, but still we were a little disappointed. Especially Kathrin, a photographer by profession, had wished for a little more. In the afternoon we walked across the last ice-barriers close to the shore. We could already see several farms and trains of the Transsib-line. We took a turn to the close town of Perejomnaja. Exhaustedly we reached the eastern shore and walked to the transsib station, where the Elektritshka, the regional train, stopped, too. As we had two hours to waste until our train departure we boiled some more tea. Then we went to Sljudjanka on the train and transfered back to Irkutsk the very evening. Basically a very small stroll of three days that only turned to extremes because of the weather.
Hikes across the Baikal always require careful preparation, no matter how short the trip might planned out to be. The weather can change, as in our case, rapidly and trap you in the middle of nowhere for days. More than sufficient food supplies and fuel need to be taken onto your trip, ice screws are a must, and some extra warm clothing. Friends from Potsdam crossed the entire lake from south to north (check the trip out at www.crossbaikal.de), which is a completely different dimension and cannot be compared to our little hike. If you are interested in a hike like this, you are welcome to contact me personally (email). A more diverse and interesting landscape can be found on (more time-consuming) hikes either around the peninsula of Svjaty Nos or of the Isle of Olchon. We did those that very same winter. All I can do is wish you a good time out there!