The diffuse feeling of having lived moments a little out of time, underwater and on land ...
And above all, an experience apart, for 'standard' divers more accustomed to warm seas than to ice-covered diving, in waters between 0 and 2 ° C ...
But first ... What line stung us to go there?
That's certain ... Baikal is not necessarily the 1st destination that comes to mind, and does not appear in 1st place on the site of your favorite TO diver lambda like us ...
It all started on social networks ... The usual game of ping-pong between ploufeurs ...
" What do you think of… ? "
" And why not… ? "
"Bah… already done… want something else…"
And there ... the absurd idea that arises:
“How about Baikal? »« Uh… Yeah… Why not? Uh… ”
" Would you like to ? "-" Moui .. "
" We sign up ? " - " Yes… "
" You are registered ? " - " Yes… ! "
Let's go for the ice cube tray!
Finally ... Quickly said ...
Quickly, a fact emerges: going diving in (very) cold water, which is moreover under the ice, cannot be improvised!
At least, if you want a long and peaceful life, without end disguised as Mister Freeze ...
First of all, because of the coolness of the water (between 0 and 2 ° C) ,. Diving waterproof suit is imperative (Which required for some of us a specific training, and a detour through their favorite dive shop).
In addition, of course, the 'cold weather' equipment essentials: effective hood, very warm socks, underwear type 400 / 500 g see heating vest, waterproof gloves coupled with effective under-gloves, like merinos. (As for the regulators, it is necessary to have equipment that holds the road. For our part, we did not have to change 1er and / or 2nd floor, and no icing to deplore ... But to check nevertheless ...).
Finally, even if it is possible to train on site, a small 'Ice diving' map is useful for enjoying direct exploration dives ...
Wise decision that allowed us, in addition to training, to test our equipment. Well, we took it! Since we had to change a number of elements of our equipment that proved insufficient or (very) badly adapted. We warmly welcome the wise advice of William Thumy and Magali Cigna, who proved invaluable once on the spot ...
Everything is ready !
Equipment, training ... It's all in the nails!
Who says Russia, says "Visa". Also plan a detour via the'Embassy, or the use of a commercial organization that can take care of the formalities for you.
Well, almost "bis" ...
And yes, it's not over ... Unfortunately, you will not spend the whole stay under water ...
You will have to spend a few moments outdoors… And the Siberian climate can be very stinging if you are not a grizzly bear by birth!
Clearly, with a peak of - 40 ° C, and good squalls that nothing will stop on the Baikal, your favorite sarong and flip-flops are not going to be enough.
Direction the cabinets or detour to the store, to have very warm outdoor clothes, windproof, and especially shoes adapted to the cold (On site, we spend long moments on the ice, or in vehicles whose floor remains at very low temperatures. It is therefore essential to have equipment that can resist and especially to have your feet warm before diving ...)
Small, non-negligible 'logistical' detail: With the diving and outdoor equipment… There is a good chance that you will end up with 2 suitcases, in addition to the cabin baggage. Provide for the additional cost, and above all a relatively practical configuration for travel in airports.
This time… Here we go!
In summary :
. An 1er flight to Moscow,
. An 2nd for Irkutsk,
. Then, a bus ride from 5 / 6h to the shore of Baikal,
. Finally a run on the ice in 4 × 4 to reach the island, and finally the city of Khuzir, final destination, and base camp where we will land at the Auberge Nikita.
As long as to go through Moscow, do not hesitate to make a real stop on a few days, to do some sightseeing. It's a dive-trip, but the side-by-side is not to be neglected.
The capital deserves to return to the postcard, to live in real what we have seen in many reports. From the Red Square, to the cathedrals (Saint-Basile, Christ Saint-Sauveur among others), through the Goum, Gorky Park, Lenin's Mausoleum or other more atypical experiences like the district of Red October or the 42 Bunker, a remnant of the Cold War ... The places to visit are not lacking and worth the trip!
A word of advice: In Moscow or Irkutsk, plan VERY broad in relation to your flight schedules. For Moscow, because of the memorable traffic jams, and for Irkutsk, because of the Russian bureaucracy which has nothing to envy to ours, especially if you have to add checked baggage ...
Siberia and Baikal ...
Forget the benchmarks. We change scale: Siberia is 20 times the size of France (77% of the area of Russia), for 40 million inhabitants ...
Baikal, meanwhile, is the largest freshwater reserve in the world: 600 km North / South x 80 km. At an altitude of about 400 meters, and with a maximum depth of 1.600 meters.
To locate on the map, Baikal is north of Mongolia. At about 600 km Ulaanbaatar. West of Northwest China.
Baikal is the "Sacred Sea" in Buriat country, these immense lands that surround them. Where religions are brewing (Tibetan Buddhism, Orthodox Christianity and Mongolian Shamanism), and where nature, rough, raw, remembers the inhabitants daily. And forge them
Do not talk to the local "Lake Baikal" ... Here is a sea. And we quickly adopt this vision when we face these immensities ...
The island of Olkhon is about 70 km north-south, and is accessible by vehicle, when the ice takes, by boat outside.
Covered with steppes, forests, lined with cliffs that offer magical and breathtaking panoramas on frozen expanses as far as the eye can see, like huge paintings of contemporary art in the open air ...
This time… Here we are!
Here we are. Right next to the Chamanka Rock, so emblematic of this place, and so photographed, in Cape Burkhan ...
The base camp is Auberge Nikita in Khuzir. Warm and welcoming accommodation, in keeping with the landscape and mentalities, all in wood, just on the edge of the Baîkal. And above all, well equipped with heating!
We will have our breakfasts, and our dinners.
A special space is reserved for the team, to store / dry the equipment during the night, to do our (de) briefings (Ah! the small local “4 hours” snacks ...), provide training for the theoretical part ...
Our group includes about fifteen people. Divers and non-divers.
For diving, heavier support than for traditional stays is necessary.
Already, you need specific skills to supervise the dives:
Good ... Overall ... Compared to the skills of the guides (Pat, Gennady, Tatiana and Dmitri) ... We have the impression of having just spent his 1er "Bubble-maker" ... To give an idea of infinity: we will learn that Tatiana has logged in her notebook a dive in the Baikal at -170m. it encourages modesty, and can also reduce some concerns.
Then, specific logistics are put in place, namely:
. 4 × 4 vehicles capable of accompanying us on the Baikal and inland (without a bodied road): three Russian 4 × 4 puncture-proof type combi volkswagen in volume, and 2 standard 4 × 4 vehicles.
. 2 shelters on Algeco-like skates which remain on the Baikal, and serve both as a technical room for changing in the shelter, and, for one, as “Bania”, a local variation of the sauna.
. A complete team: Tatiana and Gennady, the locals of the stage, Pat, with reinforcement Dmitri, as well as the technical staff who drive the 4 × 4, organize the 'diving' base camp, dig the access holes, ensures surface safety.
Everything is in place. We're going diving!
A day of diving ...
No waking up at dawn, unlike stays in the tropics!
The day begins with a robust breakfast, which will be necessary to walk in the freezer ... With optional, the local soup, and delicious small pancakes with local jams that reinforce the bioprene ...
Then head to the technical room to retrieve the diving bags that are piling up in the 4 × 4.
This is the signal of departure.
We leave the mainland to ride on the ice… firm…
At the start of the action, it is a new sensation to go at 80 km / h on the ice, in 4 × 4, with 'a few' meters of water below…
We therefore pray to Buran (the spirit of Baikal) that the film on which we roll is very resistant, despite the cracks (breaks) that dotted the surface regularly.
And it holds up really well. Almost a yard of ice in places. You end up getting used to it and enjoying the scenery!
The cracks ...
Ice diving is done under the “cracks”.
At the time of our expedition, Baikal is completely frozen.
With a hydrography of the place which is very particular. : it receives water from more than 300 rivers and streams, to flow into the only "Yenisei", near Irkutsk.
One feels physically the gigantic forces at work, in and under the ice. These are incessant echoes and crackles that signal that the ice moves at any moment, and breaks even with 1 meter thickness.
It is under these breaks (the cracks) that the dives are made.
In these places, the plates pass under each other, and engender, above and below the surface, a tangle of ice through which the lights pass, are reflected, in a kaleidoscope, mixing the variations of whites and blues ...
Cracks complicate life on the surface. Sometimes, the vehicles can not, for safety, pass on a break, and must make a detour to reach their goal.
Underwater, safety measures are essential. The ice floats, so no huge risk of falling ice cubes. But we must be careful not to venture between plates which may, during movement, come closer. So… Vigilance… Mandatory follow-up of pre-dive instructions, and observation of the experienced dive guide who will know where the risks are and what not to do.
Usually, the boat stops, and… splash!
There, necessarily, unless you put a helmet ... it's not direct.
Already, when the spot is identified, near a promising crack, it is advisable to set up the base camp. That is to say, position the 4 × 4, then the shelters.
We were lucky, with a good weather, not too cold (a 'small' -17 ° C). But with a -40 ° C and wind ...
In this case, the vehicles are positioned to provide protection and break a wind that nothing will stop on the Baikal ...
Then the shelters are positioned next to where each dive hole will be dug.
In our case, 2 holes were drilled, with 2 diver rotations per hole.
Once the camp is positioned, the teams are busy digging each hole. An 1 square meter that will reach the water and dive.
For each hole, a lifeline will be installed with a reel. This line is about 100m, maximum of the distance that will be traveled under water from the hole.
Security side ...
Security question, at each hole, a member of the staff will be in charge of managing the lifeline, leaving slack, or resuming thread to keep a link with the team under the water.
Indeed, this main wire allows the dive guide to communicate by diving with the surface by signs agreed in advance, and which ensure a certain security.
In general, the divers are organized as follows: the dive guide starts at No. 1 with the end of the safety wire. Divers 2 and 3 attach their lanyard, on one side to their life jacket and on the other with a carabiner on the lifeline.
When the return is initiated, the 3 becomes N ° 1, and the others follow in the reverse order, until the return to the hole for the exit.
So ? These dives? ...
Clearly, it's something else. Apart. Elsewhere.
No question here to position with a reef hook on a rock, and patiently wait for the parade of the corny.
Ice diving is first and foremost a question of diving-feeling.
There is life in Baikal. But for the seals, it is more during the thaw period. Are like us, they need to come back up to breathe!
So, not too much life. But frankly ... Everyone does not care after 5 mn.
On the other hand… Considering the unusual side of these dives… It's all by feeling…!
No big wedges. Pure pleasure diving ... Zen ... Listening to the sensations.
Where we take all our imagination… from the mythical pre-Rosanna Arquette apnea in the “Lago del demonio” of the Big Blue, to the various and varied reports of expeditions to the poles that made you travel on your sofa.
We let ourselves go to its sensations, to play with the bubulles, to watch the light show through the ice, a transparent ice that we see the divers through, while telling ourselves that we really live a moment rather particular ...
No descent into the blue. The interesting is under the ice. At least for the places we dive.
For the duration of the dives, it can go of 3mn (in case of mega infiltration of water in the combination ... It must be confessed that it is stretched, 5 liters of water with 0 ° C close to the body ...) to a little more than 1 time when one is comfortable, and that the cold does not attack.
Well equipped, the cold is not too felt, even on the face, yet in direct contact with the water. Hence the importance of having suitable (and tested) equipment. We are never safe from an incident in terms of waterproofing, but overall, it's playable to limit breakage!
Deco side, zero problem, diving directly under the ice, so maximum to a few meters. No problem of consumption either. Zenitude complete at this level.
The main problem may come from icing the regulator. Warning. In this case, no sudden air failure, but a continuous flow that can be managed relatively easily, either alone or with the assistance of a pair.
To summarize, it is the sensation of doing something else that predominates.
The idea of slipping into a hole to go ice diving is not usually the 1st idea that comes to mind for divers who usually stay within palm range of a well dosed mojito ...
The sides ...
To pass them under silence would be criminal, and would zap part of the charm of the dives in these distant lands ...
The Bania ..
Back on diving purposes.
You realize that you are not Russian, because you do not change in the back of your 4 × 4, but well protected in the shelter.
As I mentioned before, one of the 2 shelters that serve as a technical room also serves as Bania.
On the ice, the technical room could quickly become an annex of your freezer.
Suddenly, in this refuge, the team maintains with great reinforcement of logs, a burning fire in the stove ...
This allows the post-dive temperature to rise quickly!
So much so that it would be a shame not to take advantage of the holes dug to dive ...
So… Direct… A straight jump in a swimsuit in the Baikal!
In Buran ...
When diving, you should never insult the future. And it is therefore important to attract the graces of the divinities and spirits that are rampant in the area ...
It is therefore necessary to take on oneself, and drink regularly to Buran, the most important.
Vodka is therefore large, friendly, and perfectly in keeping with the Slavic and particular atmosphere of these places inhabited by the shamanic spirit. We must not miss the cultural aspects of this expedition ...
If you manage to hold on skates ... It is possible to rent something to go skating. And there, clearly, it has nothing to do with the hamster rides in the usual ice rinks.
An ice rink without balustrades, as far as the eye can see… What more could you ask for!
In any case… it will remain engraved! The most beautiful ice rink in the world. Without competition in my Pantheon.
Well, we are French, and we do not remake! So, let's talk about it. Let's fix the direct problem. If you want steaks and chips, do not hesitate to go on holiday in France. Now, if you go elsewhere, then, eat local!
Whether in Moscow, Irkutsk, or Khuzir, there are plenty of opportunities to discover other culinary traditions. We've tested. Mongolian, Buryat, Russian food… From caviar to Buryat soups… Don't hesitate, it's excellent. And you might as well get into the spirit of the place!
You can even bring back some samples to extend the trip back to your pools ...
Whether you are a diver or not, the region is particularly suitable for getting out of the reefs.
The landscapes are indeed simply sumptuous.
The lights and the color schemes are amazing. Nature is raw, wild ...
One feels, at any moment, that paradise can become a hell, if the elements were to break loose.
The views from the cliffs of Olkhon are just sublime, without limit to the horizon.And finally, we begin to understand the legends about the number of words that characterize snow and ice among the Inuit ...
So many shades ... of whites, blues, aspects, textures, transparencies ...
Words fail, but the memories will stay!
In light of our modest experience, a few points to remember:
. Dives really special, except in the dive book,
. Diving that can not be improvised, and requires some preparation,
. A nature that makes you humble, and makes you lose words,
. Meetings that mark ...
Good dives, and in Buran ...
Pat Vanstraelen / Abyss World (Belgium) for the overall organization of the trip,
Gennady Misan, Tatiana Oparina, Dmitri Rogovoi / BaikalTek (Russia) for local organization, support and that flawless kindness that greatly contributed to the sav.
Thanks also to my favorite pairs: Laurent Langlois, our globetrotting drone pilot, Philippe Pujol, always one finger away from the next trip, and David Azoulay, who put up with my snoring stoically, like a real shaman ...
The next ice diving trip organized at Lake Baikal by Abyss UWE is scheduled from 22 to 28 February 2020.
Registrations in progress ...
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org - +32475 732 945 XNUMX