Lake Baikal, Russia, is the largest body of fresh water in the world. Estimates suggest the body holds about 50% of planet Earth’s fresh water. This is more water than all the Great Lakes combined. Wildlife is diverse and interesting: the waters are home to the ‘Baikal seal’, the only freshwater seal in the world. Wolves and bears prowl the shores and, during winter, they use the frozen waters as a means of crossing.
Since 2003, volunteers have worked to create a series of hiking routes around Baikal. As of January 2020, hikers can travel along 400 miles of trails and tracks.
Winters are harsh. Located in eastern Siberia, the lake experiences temperatures as low as -40C. The waters freeze to a depth of one metre and life becomes tortuous for man and beast alike. Much like the polar regions, this is a place of extremes, which is why I’ve chosen Lake Baikal as the location for my next expedition.
Hiking (or Skiing) Lake Baikal
My plans are to travel the length of the lake – about 640km – on foot. Weather conditions are inconsistent; some years parts lake’s of the icy overcoat will be hidden by snow. Other times there might only be a light dusting, and only in the north of the region. Erratic weather conditions have forced me to consider every mode of transport: Skis, snow shoes and walking boots will be packed into my pulk.
In recent years, the trend has been towards little to no snow and I’m working on the basis that most of the journey will be completed in my Merrell Moab 2 boots, or Altra Lone Peak 4 trainers. It is possible that the last stretches will require me to ski. Back in 2018 freak storms dumped huge amounts of snow over the upper reaches of the lake.
Yak tracks are an alternative to snow shoes and ice screws, and I’ll be using the former as my preferred option for getting traction on the ice. Stopping to put on snow shoes, or fitting ice screws, is consuming; all those minor admin tasks can add hours to the journey. And I want to complete the trip as fast as possible (more on that soon).
Where Will I sleep?
On the ice, either in my Hilleberg Keron 3 tent, or some similar shelter (possibly a Hilleberg Soulo, if I can find the money to buy one).
There are numerous huts and buildings dotted around the lake. Some of them are inhabited, others are abandoned. It would be easy to end each day of skiing by pulling up to hut, rolling out my sleeping bag and getting a good night’s sleep. But that would signal the end of an unsupported attempt.
Every night I’ll erect my tent on the ice.
If you’re wondering why I’m not pitching on land it’s because some of the wildlife in the region can be curious. Bears have been known to pop up unexpectedly, drawn by the scent of food. And I don’t want such a close encounter.
Why Am I Going On This Journey?
Partly for me, partly for journey.
Lake Baikal is another foray into the world of extreme adventure, a place that is coming to be a second home for. Escaping the day to day of office life is important to me. Every year I set off on an expedition – small or large – in order to keep the fire burning.
But there are other, bigger reasons for this trek. One of them is a story of mental health: a scourge that has affected friends and family alike. My aim is to raise awareness, and hopefully some funds for three charities:
The Hoplite FundThis charity was formed with the intention of providing support to a very specific group of soldiers, and their families. Every year the Hoplite disperses donations to help
LindengateAnother amazing charity and one that specialises in catering for the needs of people with poor mental health. Lindengate’s offers gardening services as a way of helping those with mental health needs to recover.
Red BalloonWorking only with children who self-exclude, Red Balloon aims to support young people who have suffered through bullying, trauma.
All of these charities have meaning to me and the people they serve. If you donate through any of these links, please add the following tag: #baikal2020
Why Lake Baikal?
The original plan had been to walk, or ski a full distance solo unsupported and unaided trip to the South Pole. I was unable to pull together the full funding required for the South Pole ski (at the moment the costs in the region about £60,000, all in).
After that trip fell quite literally flat on its face I decided to have a look around and see one of the destinations there to choose from. Lake Baikal has fascinated me for a number of years, I remember watching documentaries many years ago when I was much younger. The remote location and the proliferation of wildlife fascinated me.
And here we are, almost ready to start.
Why hiking and skiing?
Snow cover on the lake can be minimal. Changes such as global warming I’ve had a massive impact on the environment in this part of Siberia. Some years there will be significant snowfall others almost none.
So the chances are that, for most of the journey, I’ll be travelling on foot. Maybe further up north I’ll need my skis, but that’s only if we get a sizeable dump of snow on the lake.
so the chances are that, for most of the journey, I’ll be travelling on foot. Maybe further up north I’ll need my skis, but that’s only if we get a sizeable dump of snow on the lake.
To be honest, I’m fairly happy with this outcome as I’ll be running and hiking as much as possible as I try to cross the 640 km in under 14 days.
How far will I travel each day?
In order to complete the hike in 14 days are under I’ll need to be travelling about 50 km per day. This is fairly large distance, but not impossible. I recently had a conversation with Ray Zahab who told me he was covering 60 km a day when he cross bike bike out, but he didn’t feel it was too much of a stretch.
In order to complete the hike in 14 days are under I’ll need to be travelling about 50 km per day. This is fairly large distance, but not impossible. I recently had a conversation with raise a hub who told me he was covering 60 km a day when he cross bike bike out, but he didn’t feel it was too much of a stretch.
One positive: the flat surface is considerably easier to travel across than deep, damp snow (which I experienced when I crossed Greenland).
When Does the Journey Start?
17th Feb 2020. As it stands, I am now only 4 weeks away from departure and the excitement is building. I will be documenting my journey here. My other blog, Treksumo, will be where I host my outdoor gear reviews.