From the very beginning the adventure seemed pretty doubtful. I was supposed to spend the night in a tent on the ice in the middle of Lake Baikal, in a camp which was set up not far from the deepest point. I was putting my head in a lion's mouth by accepting this idea. Well, being a control freak, I had a lot of excuses for not going there, such as: "I am a sybarite and I love comfort" or "I’m a mother! Why the hell do I need this?” But all those thoughts just flashed through my mind and quickly disappeared, leaving a shadow of doubt, of course. In addition, I had a lot of experience with “camp life” in Africa and the Far East. There was only one difference, this time it was snowing outside and the temperature already dropped below 15° C.
After lunch our group arrived by UAZ at the Ice Camp - on the ice border of the Irkutsk region and the Republic of Buryatia. We pulled our suitcases into a tent for six people, and I immediately realised that it would be cold, it would be damn cold. The potbelly stove, into which we were supposed to throw firewood that had been pounded into dust, clearly could not handle this much heating. It was only possible to take off your hat and fur boots inside the tent. I didn't even think about taking off my jacket. The camp did not even offer the availability of a generator - there was no opportunity to recharge gadgets and phones. It was expected to spend an authentic, technically virgin night on Lake Baikal. Well, fortunately, our bags were stuffed with the latest tech gizmos.
In general, the camp looked very pretty: six tents; two restroom-tents in the distance; a tent-sauna; an ice bar with lights; a hockey area (which, however, had to be cleared of the snow); a wardroom, where we were fed sausages and pasta; and even a mailbox. It was possible to send a postcard to your homeland, from the middle of Lake Baikal. Many visitors liked the idea. But there was really not much to do in the heavy snowfall.
The Ice Camp is built for only three weeks a year. Most visitors go there for one night, but there are some people who like absolute idleness in a totally white place in the middle of a snowy nowhere.
While I was thinking, shuffling my feet, another UAZ with tourists drove in - right into the centre of the camp. It barely drowned out the engine, when a terrible sound rumbled - the ice cracked, dividing the camp into two parts by a torn wide strip. The crack stretched out far away, rumbling like New Year's fireworks. I jumped from it like a frightened cat. Water gushed out of the crack, but froze right away. My heart was pounding, no kidding - there was almost one and a half km of water right under my feet. But the driver jumped onto the ice as if nothing had happened and began to unload things.
Baikal "bursts at the seams” very often. This is a natural process. It happens because of undercurrents, winds, and temperature differences. In general, it's pretty safe, but some risks always exist.
By evening, the snowfall was even heavier; the sunset was somewhere behind the snow clouds. It got dark quickly, and after dinner everybody went to the ice bar. I will remember this party under the snowfall, when we danced in fur boots and hats, for a long time. The night was cold. I wrapped myself in a sleeping bag not even taking off my hat, I wrapped my nose in a woollen scarf. After a couple of hours of a half-sleep, we all jumped up scared by screaming. It turned out that our neighbours’ tent was unable to bear the weight of the snow and collapsed together with the stove inside. The roof fell on the sleeping guys and smoke filled the tent. Fortunately, they dealt with it very quickly, but everybody went to bed feeling very impressed.
In the morning we visited a bathhouse according to the plan. Most tourists liked the idea. In woollen boots and swimsuits we rushed into the tent-sauna and stuffed it like omul fish in a jar, but at least we could warm-up to the bone. Almost all of us decided to plunge into the ice hole, which was filled with water from yesterday's crack. It is difficult to describe the pleasure of running in a wet swimsuit back to the tent - this is the most emotional part of this ritual. But I am sure, you can imagine that. I was only able to completely warm-up in Ust-Barguzin, where we arrived that evening after some extra adventures on the way (our van got stuck in a crack). That overnight at the lake was very memorable. Would I repeat this experience? Well, never say never.
The Four Seasons of Russia project is supported by the Russian geographical society www.rgo.ru
A visit to winter Baikal is recommended by the Russian Geographical Society.
Also read about Baikal:
How I Met a Shaman at Olkhon: What Spirits of Ancestors Explain
Baikal: Winter trip. Part 1. Listvyanka. Taltsy
Baikal: Winter trip. Part 2. Olkhon Island, Ogoy Island.
Baikal: Winter trip. Part 3. Buryatia
Lake Baikal: What do we know about it?
Ivolginsky datsan: A cloister that gives happiness
Questions and life hacks about a winter trip to Lake Baikal
Translation: Irina Romanova, Instagram: @astrabella1