Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Dangerous Trekking Around Lake Baikal- the world's largest body of fresh water

Lake Baikal and her early morning fog
7:30 A.M.
A voice cries out my name in heavily accented Chinese. I emerge from the cabin and see my Chinese companions behind the small fence. "We must go, it will take more time than we thought," they explain.
I leave the fee for the night on the sink counter and head out. We're leaving an hour ahead of schedule to hike the almost 20km to the next village on Lake Baikal, otherwise accessible only via boat. Given the uninhabited wilderness between, I don't blame them for wanting to allot more time. 
We stop and buy some bread and candy bars for fuel, and head out, quickly finding the entrance to the national park.
Video of Lake Baikal + her early morning fog
the entrance to Baikal national park
A Russian somewhere had a sense of humor
(by the park entrance)
We start our hike, the trail steep, we ascend quickly. It's just us, there's no else for miles. The air is chilled and the silence broken only by our occasional conversation. Aside of birds, we see no wildlife.
Siberian forest
the sea of Baikal
Reaching the top, we now descend back down, a much more difficult task safety wise. We ping-pong from tree to tree, using them to break our downward momentum, praying we don't trip and fall.
we have to hike all that, not a soul in sight
the Lake from above, trees adding perspective
At last we reach the bottom. Due to the challenging topography, it's taken us hours to go 7km. We stop briefly and munch on our snacks looking out over the vast lake.

Noting the time, we start up again. Not more than 5 minutes later, we have our first contact with a human being since we left, and if you were watching us in a movie, it might portend a very ominous fate for the heroes.
A 75 year old diminutive Russian woman with a backpack and a small dog is resting on a stone. 75 years old, in the middle of this long, arduous trek. 
I haven't met a soul in Siberia who speaks beyond a few words of English, and elderly Russians in particular speak zero, and this is the middle of nowhere, and we're talking about the middle of nowhere for Siberia, and I kid you not, she speaks flawless English. 
My Chinese companions are awed, and as she is unable to understand their heavily accented English, I act as interpreter (English to English). 
Not out of rudeness, but out of sheer surprise and amazement my friends are gawking at her as though they've discovered Bigfoot, who obviously feels uncomfortable from the treatment and declines posing for a picture with them. 
Realizing they've overstepped their bounds, my amigos non-verbally apologize, turn, and head back towards the trail leaving me with her. I smile and nod respectfully, half-apologizing for them. She recognizes my intention.
"Take care of them," she implores me, "Be careful, up ahead, very dangerous."
"Dangerous?" I ask a tad surprise, up to this point the trail's been steep, but that's it.
"You'll see, be careful," she warns. 
I thank her, and take leave, walking quickly to catch up to my cohorts. 

Ten minutes later her warning rings true. the trail narrows like an artery in a fat man, and death blows his icy breath in our ear. One slip and you're falling straight down onto jagged rocks 35 feet below and rolling into the freezing water. Even if somehow you don't instantly perish, there is absolutely no way back up, and no one to call for help. (See the video below to see how my friends faced this challenge) 

How my cohorts tried to get through the dangerous part of the trek
it doesn't do it it justice, but that is straight down. Fall and it's bye-bye

the cliffs edge- different angle
Look back and see just how steep the edge of the lake is
here's why no civilization exists on Baikal

I'm not here to tell you it was as dangerous or difficult as K2 in the Himilayas, but it did require every ounce of our concentration to safely traverse.
After 2 long km of treacherous trail, it levels back off and becomes easier. Though periodically the pernicious cliffs return, we kept our pace up, wanting to make it to the village of Baikalskoye with time to explore. 
more thick forest not to be lost in!
a pier, we must be close! 

Almost there- a couple km from the supremely remote village of Baikalskoye
At long last late in the afternoon, the village is sighted. It's not the Columbus expedition perceiving the new world for the first time, but it is a welcome sight.   

4 comments:

  1. Hilarious! "If you weren't there, you can't understand" comes to mind. I like your writing, Richard. The videos and commentary also bring me right back to the place. Thank you so much. Ron

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    1. thanks for reading and commenting Ron. Glad that I was able to bring you back to Baikal. So easy to forget all the amazing journeys we have through life!

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  2. Replies
    1. Thanks man! Like your blog too! The videos, just looked at 'em again. That was a steep cliff :)

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