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Hiking The Deepest Lake On Earth – Perils and Trials of Lake Baikal (Guest Post)


Today’s guest post comes to you from James Redden of the hiking and outdoor gear review website TrekSumo. James recently hiked Lake Baikal in Russia and lived to tell the tale. In this post, he’ll tell the tale to you.

Cracks in the ice covering Lake Baikal

Lake Baikal, Russia. One mile deep and 400 miles long. Between January and March every year the surface freezes up to a metre (3.28 feet) deep. Explorers venture onto the ice as they seek to traverse the full length, or dash across the 50km (31 miles) width of this vast expanse of water.

This is Adventureland – what could go wrong? A lot. Let me explain.

My Love of Cold Places

I’m a former soldier with 13 years service under my belt. During my time in the British Army I came to love the Arctic training packages my unit attended every year. The journey from the UK took us across the seething North Sea, up the spine of Norway and into the Arctic Circle near Poersanger.

Brutal temperatures bit deep. At times the thermometer nudged -30C (-22F). But it was okay, our equipment was designed to keep us warm.

I was smitten.

After leaving the Army I spent some time finding my place in civilian life. Office work beckoned. Memories of Norway clung to me. After a couple of years, I decided to work on my neglected fitness. In what felt like no time I had completed ultra-marathons, several Spartan races, and many long hikes.

More. I wanted more.

The next steps were easy decisions to make.

North Pole – 2015

Not a full distance ski, but far enough to experience the thrill of a truly extreme environment. And appreciate what the world is losing. I joined a team and we spent two weeks skiing across the frozen ice cap, reaching the Geographic North Pole 16 days after my 44th birthday.

Norway Ski – 2016

Next came a trip to Norway. Covering 250km (155 miles) in 8 ½ days was hard work. High temperatures and unseasonal rain made progress slow and arduous. Over the course of the trip I lost a significant amount of weight and suffered the misery of extreme fatigue. 

Norway Ski – 2017

A shorter trip this time round. Only around 100km (62 miles) in four days, in part due to an injury received on the first day. A small tear in an abductor muscles left me in agony. 

Greenland Crossing – 2018

Success! No illness, just a 600km (372 miles) ski along the Nansen route that cuts across this gargantuan island sat halfway across the Atlantic Ocean. I joined 5 others, some of them former Army colleagues, and we skied into some of the harshest weather seen or experienced for about 10 years. The crossing was a joy – apart from my near-death experience!

2019 was a quiet year for me. A plan to solo to the South Pole was shelved due to lack of funding. Looking at maps in search of possible destinations, my mind was drawn to Russia. Lake Baikal beckoned.

The trip wasn’t expected to be too taxing. After all, I’d completed several tough expeditions – how hard could Baikal be?

The Journey to Lake Baikal

My flight left on the 14th February 2020. Valentine’s Day was celebrated 24 hours earlier. Landing in Irkutsk on the 16th February was a surreal experience. Monuments to Soviet heroes still dominate civic buildings, the city center has what felt to me like a harsh and alien vibe. How wrong I was.

I’d heard that many Russians are harsh, unsmiling characters. All those I came across were friendly, helpful (even if we couldn’t understand each other).

One night in a hotel.

My gear packed.

Pulka packed and ready to go. The Lexico online dictionary says a pulka [or a pulk] is “a type of sled without runners, pulled by a person or dog and used especially to transport equipment and supplies.”

An early start.

Crossing Lake Baikal – the seed of an idea – started a year prior to the 16th February 2020. But that time had flown by. I sat in a car, talking to Eugene (owner of A – B Tours, the logistics company that did the heavy lifting and administrative tasks required to get me to the start point) as we headed to Kultuk, the traditional starting point for the traverse.

A mild chill raced into the car every time a window was opened. Cold weather thrills me. The climate didn’t seem quite chilly enough for my liking. That was the first complacency.

2 ½ hours after setting off, Eugene helped me drag my 60Kg (132 pounds) from the back of his van and onto the ice. He took a couple of photos, wished me luck and departed.

Game on.

Before we move on, anyone planning a similar crossing of Lake Baikal should check out the post I wrote about my hike there with tips for hikers. All of the tips offered were learned during my 400 mile winter run/hike/ski traverse of this vast expanse of frozen water.

The Perils and Trials of Crossing Lake Baikal

You came here to read stories of man vs Mother Nature, of fear and uncertainty in an alien environment. So far, you’ve read a meandering, placid tale of one man’s journey into the wilds of Siberia.

Bear with me. We’re about to delve deeper.

Is It Possible to Haul Gear with Ankle Injuries?

60Kg of food, fuel and protection from the elements. Seems a fairly light weight when you’re traveling across ice. The task becomes infinitely harder when you start to pick up injuries.

Day 1, 10km (6 miles) out from Kultuk, the snow thinned. Movement was easy. Ridiculously easy.

I decided to jog, if only for a short distance.

My Merrell Moab 2 boots were ideal for this kind of work. Lightweight, with great ankle support, they gave me a sense of sure-footedness as I dashed across the ice.

Nature – or ill-luck – waits at every junction, in every pothole hidden by a thin cloak of snow.

We all know that feeling that something is about to go wrong. A sixth sense that predicts our, only our, misfortune.

Alarm bells rang. I fell.

Pain radiated out from my left ankle. Half a kilometre later, as night closed in, I hobbled to a halt and erected my tent.

For several days the injury slowed my progress. By day 5 the swelling eased off, and I felt ready to attempt an easy jog. Easy? The pace was excellent – nearly 6 miles per hour – and only mild niggling pain from my left ankle.

There was one issue. Compensation. To relieve the pressure on my left ankle my body had compensated – an invisible and instinctive reaction of which I was not aware – by shifting weight to my uninjured leg. My right shin and ankle ballooned.

Pain was a constant companion for the remainder of the journey. At times it was little more than an irritation, but on some days I had to take regular breaks to pop pain killers and rest.

Yes, it is possible to haul a pulka with ankle injuries. You just need to accept there will be pain, then ask yourself how much your journey means to you.

What could be worse than this? Well…

Filth. And the Effects of Mild Food Poisoning

5 years’ experience of hiking, skiing and trekking in arduous environments. That’s a good deal of experience in anyone’s eyes. My own back catalogue of adventures extends way back into my teens. That’s over 30 years of knowledge stored and available to me and anyone else who cares to listen.

Experience only matters when you pay close attention to the details.

6 days into the traverse of Lake Baikal, my right ankle grumbling in the dark cocoon of my tent, and a new sensation stirred.

I knew this one well.

In seconds, I had burst out of my sleeping bag, ripped open the flysheet zip and was outside relieving the pressure in my abdomen. Oh, the pain.

Some people revel in the details. Let’s leave those out of this tale.

Stomach cramps pulled me doubled over. The cold, normally my friend and constant traveling companion, multiplied the misery. Every step amplified the stabs of pain – the waistband of my pulka harness pressed hard on my abdomen.

For five days the discomfort and pain were all too apparent, only fading after I’d finished the crossing.

Looking back, I realize the most likely cause of the food poisoning was the interesting build-up of grey food under the rim of my thermo cup.

That was the most painful experience during my time on Lake Baikal, but what about the wildlife…?

He Who Doesn’t Dance with Wolves

Lake Baikal is home to a dizzying number of animals, in part due to the protection inherited from living in, or near, a national park.

Before heading over to Russia, I’d received warnings that bears and wolves stalked the ice. Planning how to fend off an attack was my initial response. “Would a bear take any notice if I started beating it with one of my hiking boots?” Unlikely.

Running fast seemed like a better option. I’m 48, but keep myself very fit. The reasoning in my mind was that maybe a dash across the ice, heading away from the bear would work. Ultimately, there was no need to test my theory as the bears were still hibernating.

Wolves are a different prospect, as I discovered.

Day 8. Clouds gather and darkness spreads. Nightfall shifts across the land. I’m trudging through deep now, my legs tired and my glutes a raging inferno. Soon it will be time to pitch my tent and cook up another evening meal.

Something catches my eye. A movement to my left.

Blurred shapes bounced and raced across the ice. At first, I assumed they were children from a nearby village, but soon realized the nearest habitation was about 8km (5 miles) away.

It was at this point I decided to move away from the loping shapes. As I moved off sounds rolled across the ice. I’ve seen wolves up close, but only in the zoo, and heard their bark-growl. A sense of urgency insisted that I move faster. Run, whilst dragging a 60Kg pulka.

After a while, I paused and looked back over my shoulder. The bounding figures were moving off in the opposite direction. They had no interest in me.

Meeting some of Baikal’s wildest inhabitants would have been a truly amazing experience. But I’m happy to keep those with very pointy teeth at a good distance.

And The Trials Kept On Coming

Lake Baikal is a beautiful and harsh mistress. Her icy embrace is a warning, one we would do well to heed.

I saw wolves, traveled nearly the full distance carrying ankle injuries and experienced the searing jabs of food poisoning. Yet there was more.

Temperatures of -20C (-4F), driven lower by the Siberian wind chill are a constant reminder that the extremities should always be protected. At times I was a little slow to heed that warning and paid a price…

Frostbitten thumb

At night the ice creaked and groaned, fractured as the immense plates pressed against one another. Periodically the ice would shift underfoot and sending me crashing to the ground, waiting for the plate to flip me over into the frigid waters.

Luck favored me. I remained dry for the entire journey.

Heat, or the contrast between hot and cold, was another unwelcome companion. During the day the sun climbed, beat down and forced me to remove layers of clothing in order to prevent overheating. Then nature spun the wheel, clouds gathered and the deep chill returned.

Clothes were quickly pulled on, but the cold had already found its way deep into my muscles. For a while, until my legs were once again warm, I shambled unsteadily over the ice.

Do You Want to Hike Lake Baikal?

Don’t let my story put you off attempting the 400 mile traverse. Lake Baikal is a place of mystery and beauty. Danger and thrills await intrepid hikers and explorers.

As a destination, I can wholeheartedly recommend Lake Baikal although I would give you one word of warning: seek guidance before you set off.

About the Author

James Redden is a former soldier in the British Army who now owns a technology company. In his spare time he travels to the most extreme and arduous destinations on the plane with the he aim to raise awareness and funds for mental health charities. When not working in IT, traveling and giving public talks James can be found working on his new hiking and outdoor gear review website TrekSumo.

The author provided the photos for this post.

Out of Africa, Part 2


To read the first part of the story of my Out of Africa experience, so go here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/06/02/out-of-africa/

After our tour, we walked around the wildlife preserve. There are shuttles that drop off and pick up people at designated stops throughout the wildlife preserve, but it was a nice day–not too hot–so we walked.

The first animal we saw in the wildlife preserve was a rhinoceros.      IMG_2198

It was just lying about. I don’t know if it was a male or a female. It didn’t move much while we were watching it.

Next we saw a female tiger. I don’t remember her name. What I do IMG_2201remember is that she is the offspring of a white tiger and an orange tiger, so she is both orange and white! Her enclosure was such that I was not able to get any photos of her without also getting a lot of chain-link fence in the photos too.

I wish it weren’t life threatening to cuddle with a tiger. They always look so soft and snuggly to me.

After the orange and white tiger, we saw a couple of wolves. Members of a VIP tour were stopped at the wolf enclosure. Dean and Prayeri Harrison, the founders of Out of Africa, were leading the tour. They were in the wolf enclosure, petting the wolves and talking to the people about how they pay attention to the cues the animals give them and don’t push their human agenda onto the animals. At one point, one of the wolves dropped to the ground, rolled onto its back and let Prayeri rub its belly. Actually, it was less like the wolf “let” Prayeri rub its belly, and more like the wolf demanded it! The wolves were very beautiful, but there were at least two dozen people standing outside the enclosure, and I didn’t try to push my way to the front to get photos.

The next big enclosure where I stopped housed a lioness (whose name I can’t remember) and Chalet, a female white tiger. The lioness and tiger grew up together and are best friends!

The lioness who is best friends with the white tiger.

The lioness who is best friends with a white tiger.

The white tiger who is best friends with a lioness.

The white tiger who is best friends with a lioness.

The lioness likes to take their toys and hide them. She is not good at sharing!

Chalet and the lioness live in an enclosure surrounded by chain-link fencing. There is a large wooden platform in the enclosure and an observation deck for humans on the outside of the enclosure. I was on the observation deck, as close as possible to the big cats. The VIP tour came along, and Dean Harrison asked Chalet if she wanted to get up on the platform. It seemed like this is a game they play so the tourists can get good photos. When Chalet jumped up on the platform, she was above the level of the fencing, and folks were able to get unobstructed photos of her. When she climbs on the platform, she knows that Dean will toss chunks of meat to her. The lioness stayed on the ground, where she ate the chunks of meat that Dean tossed specifically to her, as well as the chunks that ended up on the ground because Chalet didn’t catch them in the air.

Chalet, the white tiger.

Chalet, the white tiger.

While feeding Chalet and the lioness, Dean Harrison explained that Chalet and the lioness are not trained, they are well-educated. The animals at Out of Africa are not coerced into doing anything. If Chalet didn’t feel like jumping up on the platform and posing for photos, she wouldn’t do it.


Dean Harrison and Chipa, the female hyena.

Dean Harrison and Chipa, the female hyena.

Next we visited the area where the two spotted hyenas live. There is a female spotted hyena named Chipa and a male spotted hyena named Chitabe. Dean Harrison explained that like all female hyenas, Chipa is in charge. (Another staff member on a later tour told that crowd that a newborn female hyena has more status than any male hyena.) At first Chipa and Chitabe were not interested in the humans, and went deep into their enclosure, away from the tour. After a while, Chipa came back to investigate further, and Dean stooped down so she could sniff him. After quite a bit of sniffing, Chipa eventually pushed her side up against the fence so Dean could pet and scratch her. Dean also explained that the laugh that hyenas are so famous for is not a happy sound. He said if  a human were to hear a hyena laughing in the wild, the human would probably be in trouble! We also learned that spotted hyenas are faster learners than primates and can teach what they have learned to other spotted hyenas.

I just read a bit more about hyenas on Wikipedia, and they are fascinating. There are kind of like cats and kind of like dogs. There are four species of hyenas in descending order of size are Spotted hyena, brown hyena, striped hyena and aardwolf.

At Out of Africa, we did not learn that female spotted hyenas have a pseudo-penis. However, I will include here what Wikipedia has to say about it.

“Although the genitalia of the male spotted hyena is typical by mammalian standards, that of the female closely resembles that of the male; the clitoris is shaped and positioned like a penis, and is capable of erection. The female also possesses no external vagina (vaginal opening), as the labia are fused to form a pseudo-scrotum. The pseudo-penis is traversed to its tip by a central urogenital canal, through which the female urinates, copulates and gives birth.[48][49] The pseudo-penis can be distinguished from the males’ genitalia by its greater thickness and more rounded glans.[11][50] In both males and females, the base of the glans is covered with penile spines.[51][52][53]” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spotted_hyena)

If you want to learn even more about the clitoris of the spotted hyena, go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clitoris#Spotted_hyenas.


The hyena enclosure is next to a shuttle stop, restrooms, vending machines, and food service areas. Nolagirl and I sat at some picnic tables for a while why the girls messed around in a sandy area intended for kids to play in. When we reunited, the girls were hungry, so Nolagirl got in line with them to get food, and I walked around the area.

There was an enclosure where lemurs live along with animals I had never seen before. The photo below shows the animal in question.

IMG_2241Unfortunately, I can’t remember what this critter is called. The lemurs were all up in a tree house sort of space. They all had their backs to the one area where I could have gotten a pretty good photo of them, so I don’t have any photos to share.

I would have been excited to see marmosets in the Marmoset Gardens, but they weren’t on exhibit. Maybe they had gone on vacation.

While I was walking around, I saw a second food kiosk with a shorter line. That kiosk sold pizza. I didn’t think I was hungry until I saw other people eating pizza, then I wanted some too. I got one slice for $3.50, which is about what I expect to pay for a slice of pizza in a touristy area. It wasn’t great pizza, but it was tasty and filling.

After we all finished our lunch, we were just in time to head over to the Tiger Splash Arena.

The Tiger Splash show was intense! I didn’t even try to take photos during the show. I was mesmerized and wanted to experience the show without a camera between me and the action. During the show, while Dean Harrison gave commentary, several humans ran around, stimulating the hunting instincts of the two tigers. The tigers would use their claws and teeth on the toys (and pretty much destroyed the toys), but roughhoused with the people without hurting anyone. Harrison stressed that the tigers could have hurt the humans, but they chose not to because the tigers and humans care for each other and treat each other kindly and have fun playing together.

After the Tiger Splash show, we walked around more and looked at more animals. We saw several tigers and saw a lot of snakes and lizards in the Reptile Resort. One of the coolest snakes we saw was a HUGE amelanistic burmese python named Melanie.

IMG_2252     We spent a lot of time at the Prairie Dog Digs because prairie dogs are so dang cute. We even bought some food for them from a gumball machine type dispenser, but these little critters are totally well fed and were not even interested in the pellets we tossed to them. That was disappointing because we wanted them to eat the food we gave them.

IMG_2254We saw a two-toed sloth! I love sloths. They are my spirit animals. I couldn’t get any pictures of the sloth because it was in its sloth house, wedged between the wall of the house and an upright tree branch. It was so slothy that it had figured out how to sit without holding up its own body weight. It was totally adorable and wonderful, and I wish I did have a photo of it to share.

The last animals we saw as we were walking on the Serengeti Road were wildebeests (also known as gnus). IMG_2259

They were milling about together in a group, not doing very much.

The girls wanted to stop at the gift shop, so we did that before leaving. I found the gift shop rather overpriced. I would have bought some postcards, had they been the standard 5 for $1 or a quarter each. I might even have splurged on some 50 cent postcards, but they were $1 each, which just wasn’t in my budget.

IMG_2242This sign to the right was posted throughout the park. I thought it was a great reminder to visitors. I particularly like the part that says, “Like us, they [the animals in the park] are sensitive and have feelings.” May we all remember that in our daily dealings with all creatures.

I had a great time at Out of Africa and would recommend visiting the park, especially during winter when the temperatures are cool.

I took all of the photos in this post.