Lake Baikal, Russia. A place of beauty and extremes. Until February 2020 it was on my bucket list of places to hike. I’m a seasoned traveller, my journeys have taken me to the North Pole, a traverse of Greenland, twice across Norway, 3 months in the Sahara Desert, the jungles of South East Asia… I’ll stop there.
I’ve been lucky to have so many amazing experiences. Most of my trips have been as part of a team, mainly for safety and legal reasons. Norway was a different matter and both of my ski tours were solo.
There was a yearning in me for time alone – real isolation in which I could contemplate many of the questions that had clogged my mind. So I chose Lake Baikal.
As routes go, it’s pretty easy: you travel pretty much North. For 400 miles across the frozen surface of the lake. I completed the traverse in 12 days, but that’s not something I recommend you attempt.
Take your time.
Enjoy views of fragmented ice formations. Watch for wolves loping along the shores, but don’t get too close. One day 8 of my hike/run I ran into a pack, but made a hasty retreat. I didn’t want to test the theory that they’re cautious of humans.
An island, Olkhon, straddles the t the half way point of the journey. At 70 km long, the island is huge and will take a couple of days for you to pass by.
Pause and look down through the ice and you’ll shrimp trapped in the frozen water, dark shapes rise and fall back into the depths. Cracks form, the ice booms as the huge plates shift and grind together.
Head to the east side of the lake and you might be lucky enough to see the Baikal seal, the only freshwater species in the world.
The journey is a mix: hiking, running and, when the snow is deep, snow shoeing or skiing.
Towns dot the edges of the lake. In winter cars and hovercraft use the ice as a road, commerce and tourists can easily access remote habitation. In summer the waters bristle with boats.
If you travel in the early hours of the morning you’ll experience a strange phenomenon: ice fishing. Cars stream out of the towns and villages, driving across the frozen surface until the drivers spy a suitable spot. Moments later men (I never once saw a woman fishing) leap from their vehicles, pull out huge hand drills and cut holes in the ice. Their hooks baited, lines dropped they light cigarettes and, sometimes, indulge a small amount of alcohol.
At the end of the journey you can look forward to a stay in Nizneangarsk, a city that is a curious mix of modern Russia peppered with references to, and relic from, the Communist era. Once your time here is done, you can before catching the Trans-Siberian Express back to Irkutsk.
This was an epic journey, one filled with so many wonders. If you get the chance, I highly recommend you hike Lake Baikal. I’ve written some tips and advice for crossing Lake Baikal, all based on my own experiences.