Siberia? Who doesn't think immediately of icy water and
unspoilt nature? But above all we experienced the elemental
beauty and the magical power of Lake Baikal during a
breathtaking dive expedition.
Closely along the steep vertical wall, we let ourselves
fall, the transparency of the water pulls us magically
downwards. Although the light beam of our diving lamps reaches
far down, it runs out in the darkness of the abyss. Along a
crevice in the rock, a shoal of small fishes swims towards us
and we decide to stop our descend. A view upwards let us guess
the weak greenish daylight shining through.
The Olkhon island with it's spectacular steep walls ranks
among the most spectacular dive spots of Lake Baikal. These
walls continue under water with rock labyrinths, canyons and
countless fissures, all are magnificently covered with sponges
of different sizes and forms, gleaming and shining in the most
Olkhon is the largest island on Lake Baikal with a surface
of 700 km2, it is along the north-west coast in the middle
part of the lake. It is sparsely populated, mainly by Buryats,
asiatic people of Mongolian descent. Not far away from the
bank is the deepest part of the lake with -1637m.
The north-east of the island ends in huge steep and bizarre
cliffs. It's here as well where the lake has its largest width
of 80km. A trueful magnificent and splendid sight unfolds
before our eyes from the boat on the water surface of this
gigantic sickle-shaped lake being 636km long. Its size and
purity fascinate us over and over again, testify for the
magical power coming from the Lake Baikal, this sacred
A dream comes true
We were dreaming about this expedition for months, having
done innumerable travel preparations for this diving adventure
in Sibiria, a region of which quintessence stands for cold and
roughness, but also for banishment and cruelty.
We booked this one-week journey live aboard the comfortable
motor ship, the "Jacques Yves Cousteau", named after
the French dive pioneer. It belongs to the dive center "Aqua
Eco", that is based in Irktusk and owned by Andrey
Baranovsky. A four-man crew takes constantly care about our
well-being on the boat, our home for the next days.
The ship is equipped with three cabins - two for passengers,
each with four sleeping berths and one for the crew, a galley,
toilet and shower. All navigation instruments and air
compressors are on board, even a decompression chamber,
located in our cabin, but we didn't feel like tying it out.
The cook deserves a special praise, he surprises us three
times a day how rich and delicious the Siberian dishes can be.
What a delicacy!
Transparency of the cold
It's beginning of August, the algae bloom has already
started and reduces the visibility considerably to less than
10m in the shallow water.
|Details and Facts about Lake
|The Lake Baikal,
geographically located in Siberia near the Mongolian
border is surrounded by mountains, forests and wild
rivers. It holds 20% of the earth's liquid fresh water
and is the deepest and oldest lake on our planet.
20-25 million years ago
Width: maximum 80 km
Shoreline: about 2000
Altitude: 454 m above sea level
336 rivers and streams are flowing in, only
one, the Angara rivers flows out of Lake Baikal.
map of Lake Baikal (by Steven Weinberg)
However at a depth of -15m we penetrate through the upper
layer and an amazing transparency opens into the deep abyss
along the enormous steep walls. We feel the bitterly cold
water upon our face. Diving this lake requires some special
diving gear, a dry suit and two non-freezing regulators is
recommended for safety reasons. Warm gloves or dry gloves will
protect your hands from a chilblain. If the water at the
surface has only just bath temperatures in August, the
temperature in the depths is scarcely above 4°C. The
highest degree of transparency in the lake Baikal can be
observed in spring time after the lake is free from ice, the
visibility can reach up to 40 m.
The changing moods of Lake Baikal
During the evening the wind starts blowing stronger. Our
ship pitches through more and more higher waves, that are
lashing against the bow. Standing upright on deck becomes
almost impossible. Now the Lake Baikal let us guess for a
while what a little toy a ship on this lake can be. The
captain had told us before that the feared north-west wind can
cause high waves of up to 6 m, however mainly during autumn.
The bad mood of the Baikal forces the crew to drop the
anchor close to the bank, no way to continue this night. On
the next day the lake receives us again with its sunny side.
The daily early morning shower with pure Baikal water cleans
skin and soul and gives strength for the day.
We do our last dives close to the old Transsiberian railway
track in the lower part of the lake. The bank falls in a flat
slope underwater and in the light of our diving torches the
night dive becomes a visual event of the extra class. The
bottom of the shallow water is unexpectedly filled with life.
|Photo by Jerome
Here Gammarids, shrimp-like amphipods, have a true joy
between countless snails who fill their evening plate. Spotted
sculpins are lying camouflaged in the sand and lurking to
catch a prey. Among Lake Baikal's fishes are more than 30
species in the sculpin family Cottidae, lots of different
colors and mainly night active, they are lying in between the
green sponges largely covering the ground.
Despite the rich fauna, the scenery appears calmly and of
eases. The abundance of species makes me forget whether I'm
diving in a lake or in the ocean. The amazing aquatic
diversity is mainly endemic, can't be found nowhere else on
earth, thus the underwater scenery can't be compared to any
other lake or sea in the world.
On the next morning we make another dive on the same site,
but the abondant night active fauna, which had caused me so
much enjoyment, is now like vanished away. But the magic of
Lake Baikal lets shine beautiful large sponges into the
sunlight flooded water, a successful compensation for the
absence of numerous species of the previous night dive.
At the end of our journey, the elemental and pristine beauty
of Lake Baikal has moved our soul in a wondrous way, already
now we feel the urge to come back again.
as Paris of Siberia, located about 70km from the Lake
Baikal. As the TransSib stops here, it's an ideal
starting point to visit the Baikal region.
A must is the central market and the wooden
architecture in the town centre.
most charming village is located right at the shore and
should be your first stay at Lake Baikal.
Visit the Limnological Museum and the street market.
largest island on Lake Baikal. A site of natural beauty
and a place for various adventurous trips.
Book a trip to the north end of the island, an
unforgettable view on Lake Baikal from the top of the
group of islands is famous for the unique fresh water
seals, called nerpas.
Nerpas are very shy
and therefore difficult to observe closely.
aboard on the comfortable motor ship "Jacques Yves
This is the best way to
explore the dive sites on Lake Baikal.