Winter on Baikal

March 20, 2012


This weekend the Irkutsk Middkids set off for Olkhon Island, located in the center of Lake Baikal, about six hours northeast of the city. For those of you who have been following the blog all year, this may sound like a familiar site; I visited and wrote about the island in October. At that time, the lake’s beauty was on full display, but now, in the colder months, Baikal is a different place, having turned into a frozen wonderland where time can seemingly hang in the air like a winter breath. Before coming to Russia, I made a list of things I hoped to accomplish (you can find it here on the blog under the “our authors” tab above). Included on the list was a desire to skate on Baikal’s famously clear ice, and I am proud to announce that, as of Sunday, this desire has become a reality.

Baikal’s ice is a true marvel. Anywhere from three to six feet thick, it is astoundingly see-through; walking on the ice along the shore, you can point out individual rocks lying some 15-20 feet beneath you, as though you had dived to the bottom yourself and opened your eyes. The crispness of the ice lends beauty to its ruptures, as the cracks and splits are frozen within, preserving themselves under the surface as a testament to the processes Baikal endures each winter. There is something quietly staggering in these views, as though the entire Holocene lay dormant underneath your feet. In places, the ice has pushed up large plates that are as pristine as crystal, and often thick enough to give off a hollow tone when struck, sounding almost exactly like the lower register of a marimba. As these spines appear in crops, it is quite feasible, as we learned, to “play” them.

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