I just finished one of the more amazing adventures I’ve ever experienced. I’ve had some really great ones in my day and this one is at the top of my list. First, imagine the deepest and largest freshwater lake in the world. Imagine that this lake freezes in the winter with ice so thick you can drive on it. That’s right, you can drive a truck on this lake! Imagine that the ice is clear enough to see through two or three feet of it. Imagine that the wind and the lake currents cause the ice to crack and pile up in huge blue blocks that reflect and scatter light like gemstones the size of car. Imagine temperatures so cold that touching your nose to your camera causes a layer of skin to quickly freeze to the camera. If you can imagine all that, then you have just described Lake Baikal in central Russia. Lake Baikal is in Siberia to be exact. Yep, I just returned home from a week on Lake Baikal. I’ve been to some awesome locations, including Tibet, the Yukon in northern Canada, the southern Andes, and the Canadian Rockies just to name a few. But I’m telling you that Lake Baikal is up there with the best of them. In fact, it was so photogenic and such a logistical challenge that I don’t think there is really anything like it.
The attached image is just one example of the scenery I witnessed on Baikal, but really, no photograph can capture what I saw, heard, and felt. I hope you enjoy it anyway. Here are some interesting fun facts about the trip. More images and stories to come in the future!
Fun fact #1. Lake Baikal contains approximately 20% of the non-glacial freshwater in all the world. That is more than Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, and the other Great Lakes combined! It is the deepest lake on the planet with a depth of approximately a mile (1700 m) in some places. Impressive as those numbers are, I couldn’t really fathom the scale of Baikal. It was more like an ocean than a lake.
Fun fact #2. Lake Baikal is located approximately 180 degrees of longitude from my hometown of Knoxville. Of course, that means Baikal is almost exactly on the other side of the planet! The earth is divided into 24 time zones. Baikal is 13 hours ahead of Knoxville. Pretty cool!
Fun fact #3. It required about 33 hours of travel to get from my back door at home to my hotel on Baikal. I spent 19 hours on a plane, about 8 hours in a car, and the rest in airports. That is a big day of travel. Talk about jet lag!
Fun fact #4. The temperature never rose above freezing during my entire time on Baikal. To protect my cameras and lenses from condensation, I never warmed my gear to room temperature once it was cold. Condensation would have been inevitable if I had brought my camera bag inside each night after shooting. Imagine the nightmare of removing moisture from inside a camera or a lens! So, for the entire week, I left my camera bag in a cold location. This strategy worked really well. Fortunately, the hotel room had an anteroom that could be locked.
Fun fact #5. The coldest temperature during the trip was -22 degrees Fahrenheit (-30 Centigrade). That is really cold, especially when you factor in the wind chill due to a 5 mile/hour breeze. That makes the temperature feel something like -35 F! I had the right clothes for those conditions, and I didn’t suffer any frost bite or anything. My cameras also worked well, except a couple of times when the mirror inside froze halfway between up and down.
Fun fact #6. Probably the most amazing thing about Baikal is that the ice is very dynamic. Far from a static solid surface, the ice of Lake Baikal is constantly moving and shifting. Most times the movement is imperceptible, but occasionally it literally moves under your feet. The accompanying noise is deep and guttural. It is difficult to describe, but it is like the ice is breathing and moaning as if it is alive. Really quite incredible! On my first day on the ice, the area where we were standing was especially active. I was away from the group when the ice noticeably shifted under my feet and a new large crack formed a few feet from me. The ice was a couple of feet thick, so there was no danger of me breaking through, but still, it was a little unnerving to see a giant crack form with the simultaneous sound of muffled thunder coming from beneath me. It was almost as if there had been a minor earthquake. After all, this is a seismically active area, so it is quite possible that I felt an earthquake on the ice. Pretty cool looking back on it!
As intense as all that might sound, it is amazing to me that it is possible to leave Knoxville and take pictures at Lake Baikal and then return home all within about 9 days. As big as the world is, it really is a small planet. I think everyone would benefit from that perspective and I’m really grateful I was able to experience it firsthand! Only after we leave and return home do we understand the place where we started our journey. Only by going too far do we learn how far we can go!
A trip like this is more than I could do by myself. It was led by Daniel Kordan and his able-bodied ice crew of Alexander, Vladimir, and Nastia. Daniel is a great photographer. You can see what I mean here at this link.