Lake Baikal – Hiking in Siberia

Aaron/ January 16, 2016/ Hiking, Russia, Singapore to Europe Overland/ 2 comments

Thought I’d take a self-guided visit to Lake Baikal since I had stopped by Irkutsk, and it turned out to be one of the best decisions on the trip.

Lake Baikal, not too far from Irkutsk, is the largest freshwater lake in the world by volume (20% of the world’s unfrozen surface freshwater- at least in summer), the deepest (1,642m), the oldest (25 million years), one of the clearest, and probably the one having the most superlatives. I had two nights at Lake Baikal so I decided to spend a night at the popular tourist town of Listvyanka before hiking into the Siberian forests in search of a remote-but-not-so-remote village, Bolshie Koty.

Lake Baikal at dusk. Siberia, Russia. Hiking in Siberia without a tour, around the deepest lake in the world.

Lake Baikal at dusk.

 

Day 1: Listvyanka

Continuing from Irkutsk, where I had spent 2 days exploring the first stop of my Trans-Siberian adventure (and the countless one of my overland trip from Singapore to Moscow), I made a short detour into the forests of Siberia, in search of the legendary Lake Baikal.

Not long after leaving Irkutsk, racing through Siberian forests.

Not long after leaving Irkutsk, racing through Siberian forests.

 

It took probably an hour or so before the minibus arrived at Listvyanka, a little town along the shores of the mighty Baikal.

The hostel at Listvyanka (Belka). Same owner as the hostel I stayed in in Irkutsk (Baikaler). Lake Baikal, Siberia.

The hostel at Listvyanka (Belka). Same owner as the hostel I stayed in in Irkutsk (Baikaler).

 

Left my bags at the cosy looking hostel and went off to explore the village. There were a couple of pretty wooden houses around.

Wooden houses in Listvyanka. Built to last through Siberian winters. Lake Baikai, Russia.

Wooden houses in Listvyanka. Built to last through Siberian winters.

 

Burnt house at Listvyanka. Lake Baikal, Siberia.

Partied too hard.

 

The air was cool and fresh, and a stroll along the coast could probably be one of the most relaxing things ever. If not for the occasional speeding vehicle.

Coastal road at Listvyanka. Lake Baikal, Siberia.

Here’s the road from Irkutsk, following the coastline of Lake Baikal at Listvyanka till the end of the town, where the road ends (and forests begin).

 

I made my way to a pastry shop recommended by the hostel, and the warm buns and coffee was probably as perfect as it can get on a chilly day.

Pastry shop recommended by the hostel (₽290 for bun and coffee). Listvyanaka, Lake Baikal, Siberia.

Pastry shop recommended by the hostel (₽290 rubles for the bun and coffee).

 

Got a little warmed up, and continued my walk.

Listvyanka. Lake Baikal, Siberia, Russia.

Listvyanka.

 

There were a few plots of land for sale.

Land for sale targeting the Chinese. Listvyanka, Lake Baikal, Siberia, Russia.

Land for sale. No prizes for guessing who they’re targeting.

 

The coastal highway. Weather was great, somewhere in early summer.

Coastal road at Listvyanka, along Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

Quiet and picturesque, with the peace occasionally broken by vehicles speeding down the highway.

 

Boat on the still waters of Lake Baikal, at Listvyanka. Siberia, Russia.

Drifting on the still waters of the huge lake.

 

Lake Baikai, Siberia, Russia.

It’s easy to feel really, really small against the backdrop of this endless lake.

 

Where the Baikal flows into the Angara River, the main outflow of the Lake. Siberia, Russia.

Where the Baikal flows into the Angara River, the main outflow of the Lake. And where it flows to Irkutsk.

 

Across the road from where the Angara River begins, there was a market selling smoked omul, a local delicacy. Prices were tourist oriented though, since it was along the highway and would welcome all vehicles coming into Listvyanka.

Local fish market selling smoked omul, a local delicacy. Lake Baikai, Siberia.

Local fish market selling smoked omul.

 

I got one for myself, and the guy tending to the stall gestured to me how I should attempt to tackle the fish. It was a little salty, but quite flavourful. I gave up trying to be gentle with it and dug in with my fingers. Quite a tasty fish.

Smoked omul. Lake Baikal, Siberia.

Lightly salted (₽200 rubles. A little overpriced here.).

 

With the tasty omul out of the way (or rather, in my stomach), I made my way up a ski slope (not quite the usual thing to do in summer) to get to a viewing point at the top of a hill.

Ski slope at Listvyanka, Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

Then went for a hike up a hill. Summer skiing.

 

It was quite manageable, and the view at the top was impressive, although the weather was starting to give in, with the lingering smell of rain in the air.

Top of the hill. Panoramic view of Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

Top of the hill. Panoramic view of Lake Baikal.

 

Listvyanka seemed rather popular with Russian families. I can’t say the same of the hike the next day though. Or rather, it didn’t seem to attract anyone at all.

Hill beside Lake Baikal, Siberia.

Popular spot for Russian families.

I can imagine a thick blanket of fluffy snow on this.

Edge of the Siberian wilderness. Ski slope along Lake Baikal, Russia.

Edge of the Siberian wilderness.

 

Dog days are over.

Dog on a ski slope. Lake Baikal, Siberia.

Makes sure visitors behave on the ski slope.

 

Interesting walk along the winding lonely road back to the coast.

Lone houses in Siberia. Lake Baikal, Russia.

Wandered into some isolated areas.

 

It’s hard not to fall in love with the never ending lake. Even as someone who can’t swim.

Lake Baikal, Siberia. Russia.

Back beside the lake.

 

Further inland, there were also a couple of attractions, such as the Retro Park, an intriguing collection of vintage stuff and art pieces.

Retro Park. Listvyanka, Lake Baikal, Siberia, Russia.

Interesting museum at Listvyanka, the Retro Park (₽50 rubles).

 

There were cute sculptures made of recycled metal, that were so lifelike they look like they may jump at you.

Retro Park. Listvyanka, Lake Baikal, Siberia, Russia.

Various figures made from recycled materials.

 

Vintage vehicles from different era on display.

Retro Park. Listvyanka, Lake Baikal, Siberia, Russia.

Impressive collection of vintage vehicles (not all here).

 

Inside an indoor area, there were paintings by the owner, and other less hardy vintage electronics.

Retro Park. Listvyanka, Lake Baikal, Siberia, Russia.

The artifacts/ relics are part of the private collection of an artist, and there is a small exhibition of artworks too.

 

Retro Park. Listvyanka, Lake Baikal, Siberia, Russia.

He’ll get you if you tried to get in without paying.

 

Retro Park. Listvyanka, Lake Baikal, Siberia, Russia.

I guess accidents are inevitable in such tight quarters.

 

Retro Park. Listvyanka, Lake Baikal, Siberia, Russia.

Friendly pump attendant for vehicles at the plot.

 

Retro Park. Listvyanka, Lake Baikal, Siberia, Russia.

Frozen since last winter.

 

Not far from the Retro Park was the St Nicholas Church, with an almost mythical beginning. The church was moved a couple of times, but still stands as one of the landmarks in Listvyanka.

St Nicholas Church. Listvyanka, Lake Baikal, Siberia, Russia.

The town church. St Nicholas Church.

 

There are diving courses and sessions organised at Listvyanka, which would have been a waste not to have, given the crystal clear waters. Maybe after I’m done learning swimming.

Sculpture of diver along Lake Baikal, at Listvyanka. Siberia, Russia.

Diving is possible in the clear and deep waters of the lake, but this diver’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

 

It was getting dark, and a little colder by then, so I picked up some food at a roadside stall, before hiding in the warmth of the hostel for the rest of the night.

Sunset at Listvyanka. Lake Baikal, Siberia, Russia.

Sunset at Listvyanka, over Lake Baikal.

 

Day 2: Nerpas and the Great Baikal Trail
Woke up feeling refreshed, with the fresh Siberian air. The calm, inviting waters were too much to resist, so I took a quick dip of my feet in the cool (or cold?) and ridiculously clear waters, that was perhaps, just as fresh as the air in the morning.
Clear day in the clear waters of Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

Took a quick dip in the clear waters of Lake Baikal.

 

Had wanted to check out the nerpa (Baikal seal) with travellers I met at the hostel at the nerparium but it was closed for the day, so we went to the Baikal Museum (or Baikal Limnological Musuem) (₽310 rubles), which studied anything and everything Baikal. The surrounding region is rich in biodiversity with many endemic species, such as the nerpa, one of the three freshwater seals in the world. The two nerpas in the museum looked a little sad in their small tanks, but at the same time incredibly cute.

Nerpa (Baikal seal) at the Baikal Musem. Listvyanka, Siberia, Russia.

Nerpa at the Baikal Musem.

 

Nerpa (Baikal seal) at the Baikal Museum. Listvyanka, Russia.

Like little bobs of joy. These are adult ones. Baby nerpas are apparently white and fluffy. No kidding.

 

Fish in aquarium at the Baikal Museum. Listvyanka, Siberia, Russia.

This fish looked surprised at finally seeing something uglier than it.

 

Microscopic animals from Lake Baikal at the Baikal Museum. Listvyanka, Siberia, Russia.

There’s also a section where you can see microscopic organisms from the lake under a microscope. And I drank straight from the lake during my hike later when I ran short on water. Whoops.

 

Submarine used to conduct explorations of Lake Baikai at the Baikal Museum. Listvyanka, Siberia, Russia.

Submarine used to conduct explorations of the lake.

 

The visit to the museum was a good precursor to the hike later in the afternoon, after gaining a better understand of the biodiversity and richness of the entire region. (Though I didn’t see any of those animals mentioned in real life. Was just amazing to know that they were out there, somewhere.) After the museum, I went back to the area near the hostel with my newfound friends, with whom we were certain to have to bid goodbye not too long after.

Lake Baikal, Siberia, Russia. Outside the Baikal Museum, Listvyanka.

Took a bus back to the town center for lunch.

 

Nearer to the hostel, there was a larger market than the one I visited the previous day, selling even more omul (and other local stuff, but mostly smoked omul). The banter at the market, touting for customers, and haggling that was going on, together with the smell and warmth emitting from freshly smoked fish, felt authentic. We bought some food and found a nice place to sit and enjoy a quick lunch.

Fish market at Listvyanka. Lake Baikal, Siberia, Russia.

Fish market at Listvyanka. There were other types of foods available too, such as pastries.

 

Smoked omul at the fish market. Listvyanka, Lake Baikal, Siberia, Russia.

All sorts of smoked omul (₽150 rubles here). I kinda liked it.

 

I bought some buns for the hike. Was getting late by then- probably about 2pm- and I had a 20 odd km hike to complete before nightfall. So again I had to say goodbye to really friendly people I had just met, and hiked off on my own towards Bolshie Koty, inaccessible by car during summer, and accessible by driving over the ice in winter.

Pasteries at Listvyanka. Lake Baikal, Siberia, Russia.

Freshly baked pastries.

I should probably qualify that I really hate carrying heavy bags for hikes, so I had left most of my stuff back in Irkutsk, and brought out just an extra set of clothes and toiletries. With that in a tiny backpack I headed out into the slightly wilder side of Siberia, expecting to at least see some tourists along the way, but these were the last few people I saw (at the end of Listvyanka, start of the trail) until Bolshie Koty.

Start of the hike to Bolshie Koty, from Listvyanka, along Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

The last humans I were to see for the next couple of hours. Never knew not seeing people for hours can actually be a little terrifying.

 

Wasn’t long before I realised the track I was on wasn’t the one demarcated on maps, but made the ridiculous decision to press on anyway. I knew I was heading in the right direction, just unsure if on the right path. Later on, I realised I was prone to making ridiculous decisions.

Hiking along Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

Leaving the well known and familiar for the unknown and barely trodden. Always something new, every step of the way.

 

Nothing else, but the endless lake, countless trees, and me. Potentially bears too. It started to get unnerving at some point, and I didn’t realise how unnerving it can be to set out on a supposed tourist trail but ending up seeing not a single person, or any signage, for hours. Nothing to guide except the immediate path (or at least what seemed like a semi trodden path) before me. Somewhere along the way I somehow decided to turn left and bash straight through the forest in hope of finding the proper trail, but that got even more terrifying so I got back to the faith guided path and after I came to terms with the uncertainty, felt really calm enjoying the rest of the hike.

Hiking along Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

Higher ground.

 

Not the safest trail, but not that dangerous too. On some parts I was just a couple of inches away from a certain death. If not from the fall, then by drowning.

Hiking along Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

Walking along the steep coastlines, where any slip up would mean getting into a slippery mess. Probably a couple of broken bones too. Not to mention no one to get me out of it.

 

The first signboard I saw along the way, not to offer directions, but to remind me of the stuff I had gotten myself into. Seems like this was where the random path I had taken merged with the proper trail, late into the hike.

Hiking along Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

The first signs … of possible trouble. At least it was marked ‘GBT’ (Great Baikal Trail) which I was supposed to be on but had lost sight of it earlier on.

 

First non-plant living things I saw on the hike on the Great Baikal Trail, since passing the sunbathers just outside of Listvyanka.

Hiking along Lake Baikal. Bird. Siberia, Russia.

“You know how I feel”

 

As the trail descended back to the water level, I took the opportunity to fill my bottle and take a sip. My hands were freezing by the time my bottle was full, but it felt especially pure and refreshing. I don’t remember anything tasting this fresh and pure. Barring any microorganisms that may have been in it.

Hiking along Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

Back to the waters’ edge.

 

Hiking along Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

It was like, heaven and earth. Then I started craving for soft drinks.

 

Privacy isn’t much of a concern here, I suppose. Along the way, Russian guys (I suppose father and son) were camping, just chilling out, and the older guy was just strolling around totally naked, I guess not expecting anyone to be roaming around in this semi wilderness. The younger guy called out the the older guy as I approached, and the older guy dashed into the tent. And those were the first people I saw, hours since leaving Listvyanka on the Great Baikal Trail.

Hiking along Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

Empty beaches.

 

As the trail snaked back inland, I noticed that there were many different species of flowers, which looked really pretty. Which was strange coming from the garden city where pretty flowers are planted everywhere. I guess in all that rushing about back home, I hadn’t taken enough time to stop and enjoy all that was and is around.

Hiking along Lake Baikal. Wildflowers. Siberia, Russia.

Pretty flowers.

 

Started to get a little hungry, late in the afternoon.

Pastries from Listvyanka. Lake Baikal, Siberia, Russia.

The bun I bought earlier, with some cabbage/ carrot filling.

 

Hiking along Lake Baikal. Wildflowers. Siberia, Russia.

More flowers.

 

Hiking along Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

Started to get a little dark so I picked up the pace a little.

 

Hiking along Lake Baikal. Wildflowers. Siberia, Russia.

But still kept time for taking more random shots of random flowers.

 

Hiking along Lake Baikal. Wildflowers. Siberia, Russia.

I don’t remember ever seeing so many different species of flowers within such a short time. Or I hadn’t been looking around.

 

Hiking along Lake Baikal. Wildflowers. Siberia, Russia.

And more.

 

Hiking along Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

So still, so peaceful, it consumes you.

 

A little hard to imagine that Lake Baikal, so calm and beautiful in summer, was the setting for the Great Siberian Ice March during the Russian Civil War, where the retreating White Army was forced to cross the frozen lake by foot. So cold was the Arctic wind that blew across the lake that some soldiers and their families froze in place till the following spring, where their bodies and belongings thawed and sank into the depths of the lake.

Hiking along Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

The calm and calming lake.

 

Hiking along Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

Amazing views at every turn.

 

Hiking along Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

Finally, some sign of civilisation.

 

Hiking along Lake Baikal. Bolshie Koty. Siberia, Russia.

The village in sight!

 

Hiking along Lake Baikal. Bolshie Koty. Siberia, Russia.

By then, all activities had ceased, and the huge lake lay hauntingly still as it waited for darkness to fall.

 

Bolshie Koty, Lake Baikal. SIberia, Russia.

Finally arrived at Bolshie Koty at around 9pm. Just about time before it got too dark. Dogs welcomed me warmly and gave me a sniff down before allowing me safe passage into their clan village.

 

Lesnaya 7 hostel. Bolshie Koty, Lake Baikal, Siberia.

My accommodation for the night, at Lesnaya 7.

 

Bolshie Koty, Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

Checked in and headed out to the only shop in the village to grab some food. And the soft drink I had been craving for.

 

Dog at Bolshie Koty, Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

Curious onlooker.

 

Bolshie Koty at dusk. Lake Baikal, Siberia, Russia.

Darkness consumed the village like a beast awakening from its sleep.

 

Little kitten at the only shop in Bolshie Koty.

Baby beast.

 

Lesnaya 7. Accomodation at Bolshie Koty, Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

Nice warm hut I slept in for the night. Had beds for four but I was the only one that day. Didn’t mind that.

 

I was tired by then so I gladly accepted the caretaker’s offer to prepare dinner for me. Wasn’t too expensive and I liked the warm homely feel.

Lesnaya 7. Hostel at Bolshie Koty, Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

Almost al fresco dining in Siberia.

 

Dinner at Lesnaya 7. Bolshie Koty, Lake Baikal, Siberia, Russia.

Dinner after a long, beautiful hike. Nothing has more warmth than food cooked with sincerity.

 

Went back to my room to watch night fall over Bolshie Koty.

Nightfall in Bolshie Koty, Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

Night falling over Bolshie Koty.

 

The last of it, before it got really dark and rather cold. I was dressed for summer. It was below 10 degrees Celcius and the toilet was in a separate building. Went for a bath anyway, and spent the next hour beside the heater in the room.

Nightfall in Bolshie Koty, Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

Last light.

 

Enjoying a soft drink in my room at Lesnaya 7, Bolshie Koty. Lake Baikal, Siberia, Russia.

No heaven and earth, but this felt good too.

 

My room for the night at Lesnaya 7, Bolshie Koty, Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

My room for the night. Another two beds in a separate room. Warm and clean.

 

Day 3: Last day in Lake Baikal, hiking to Skriper Cliff!

Another early morning in Siberia, the air can’t have gotten much crispier and fresher than this, for anywhere that can provider you with a nice warm bed and freshly cooked warm tasty food.

Bolshie Koty, Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

Next morning. The previous night felt like a dream.

 

Painted rocks at Bolshie Koty, Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

Painted rocks.

 

Flowers and bees at Bolshie Koty, Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

Bees were already hard at work, I had to get going.

 

Breakfast never felt better, not in the middle of Siberia.

Breakfast at Lesnaya 7, Bolshie Koty, Lake Baikal.

Simple but hearty breakfast prepared by the kind caretaker.

 

Stream at Bolshie Koty, Lake Baikal, Siberia, Russia.

Recharged and ready to go.

 

Bolshie Koty, Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

The same bridge, the next morning.

 

On the trail again, leaving Bolshie Koty. It was to be a much shorter hike, but still with no directional signs.

Hiking along Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

Leaving the village for Skriper Cliff, last stop of my Siberian wilderness adventures.

 

You can almost have entire beaches to yourself, early in summer. Not sure if the crowd changes over the seasons.

Beaches along Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

Along the beach.

 

Warning signs along the trail. Hiking along Lake Baikal, Siberia.

More warnings of my impending doom. And still no indication of the correct direction.

 

Hiking along Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

It’s a long road to wisdom, but it’s a short one to being ignored.

 

Hiking along Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

It takes a boy to live/ It takes a man to pretend he was there.

 

Hiking along Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

Something about being all alone deep (not that deep actually) within nature that felt really powerful during the hike. I’d do it a couple more times to figure out what the feeling is.

 

Skriper Cliff, Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

The cliff in sight!

 

Skriper Cliff, Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

After a steep climb up.

 

The view was well worth the hike. But even without the view, the hike itself was worth the effort. One of the most amazing experiences ever, hiking alone in Siberia.

Skriper Cliff, Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

No one else within kilometers. Spent awhile chilling here.

 

Flowers along the Great Baikal Trail. Lake Baikal, Siberia, Russia.

Exotic looking flowers.

 

Hiking the Great Baikal Trail. Siberia, Russia.

Some huts in the middle of nowhere.

 

Flowers along the Great Baikal Trail. Siberia, Russia.

More wildflowers.

 

Flowers along the Great Baikal Trail. Siberia, Russia.

I couldn’t stop. Not with such picture perfect flora.

 

Hiking the Great Baikal Trail. Siberia, Russia.

It could easily have passed off as a sea or an ocean. But this was just a lake. A very big lake.

 

I arrived back at the village around noon, with the air still cool and breezy.

Bolshie Koty, Lake Baikal. SIberia, Russia.

Horsing around.

 

Bolshie Koty, Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

Back in the village for lunch and to get on the ferry to Lisvyanka.

 

Bolshie Koty, Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

Almost empty village.

 

Pier at Bolshie Koty, Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

The village pier.

 

Dog at Bolshie Koty, Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

Was back in the village a little too early for the daily ferry so I sat with him at the pier for awhile. And he was nice enough to accompany me, even if just for awhile.

 

A boat stopped by the village in the afternoon where hordes of tourists descended and probably tripled or quadrupled the village population for that hour they were there. As sudden as they came, they were gone, and peace and quiet returned to the village.

Tourist boat on Lake Baikal.

Tourist boats.

 

Boat at Bolshie Koty, Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

Beached.

 

Boat at Bolshie Koty, Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

Last look at the lovely Bolshie Koty before boarding the ferry late in the afternoon. Schedules appear to shift around abit so do check them before making the trip.

 

Lake Baikal. Siberia, Russia.

On the ferry back to Listvyanka, to catch the bus back to Irkutsk.

 

It was one of the most memorable back to nature experiences ever for me, and one of the accidental additions to the trip almost became one of the best. Back at Irkutsk, I spent one more day exploring the Siberian city, before continuing on my Trans-Siberian Railway adventure.

 

Total Spent in Lake Baikal(3 days)

Actual travel dates: 14 June 2015 – 16 June 2015
Listvyanka accommodation: ₽600 (1 night)
Bolshie Koty accommodation: ₽700 (1 night)
Food: ₽1715
Attractions: ₽360
Transport to and from the Baikal Museum: ₽70 (walkabale)
Bus from Irkutsk to Lisvyanka and back: ₽240 (₽120 per trip)
Ferry from Bolshie Koty to Listvyanka: ₽380

Total expenses: ₽4065 (~S$100/ US$77 at June 2015 rate) 

 

A hike along the largest and deepest lake in the world - Lake Baikal, Siberia.

 

A hike along the largest and deepest lake in the world - Lake Baikal, Siberia.

 

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