Olkhon ice jeep safari over Baikal
Travel and diving! These two words briefly describes ice jeep safari on Baikal lake. In four words one can say ice travel and under ice diving. But if you want more please read the articles written by famous underwater photographers and journalists Aleksey Zaitsev “The Planet Ice” and Vitya Lyagushkin “The Other Planet”. Good articles, excellent authors.
Baikal ice safari is impossible to compare with other diving programs offered in our country. What is usually offered? Accommodation of different comfort level and diving not far from accommodation, where you can walk or drive snowmobile. On Baikal ice safari the journey starts when you leave an airplane in Irkutsk airport. Beautiful road through pribaikalian forests, steppes and mountains takes nearly the whole day. This is not just a transfer Irkutsk – Olkhon Island. This is fascinating and informative tour to steppes and foothills of Baikal. On the way there are siberian villages, hairy caws that find their food under the snow, stops near “burkhan” – local spiritual offering points, lunch with buriat “poses” –a delicious meat meal, and of course on the mountains tops from there you can see breath taking panoramas of Baikal or a Small Sea straight. The obligatory stop before ice road. Baikal ice is a different subject. The ice is formed late. In January on the south, the northern part of the sea-lake is covered with ice earlier. Later, as a result of work of wind, temperature differences, frosts and sun in the ice crust the numerous cracks and ice-hummocks are formed. These ice-hummocks together with beauty of winter Baikal are one of the purpose of many travelers who comes to Baikal at this time. Some people walk on the ice, somebody skates on it, somebody drives a car and somebody observes the ice trough the window of “Khius” – the speed hovercraft or even from the helicopter. All this types of visiting Baikal are interesting. But we offer the most interesting program – ice tour by jeeps and diving. The team is accommodated in the capital of Olkhon island called Khuzhir.
There are two types of accommodation: economic and luxe. From here the safari starts. Diving tours take the whole day. The ice road is always tricky – there are cracks, ice hummocks. Besides this there are a lot of stops on the way: near beautiful ice formations, on the fields of completely clear ice where you feel like walking on the water, near ice caves, formed in rock openings by freezing surf. And, finally the under ice diving. The traditional places where BaikalTek guides drives their jeeps are Khoboy Cape, Shaman Rock and compression cracks in the middle of Small Sea. It is necessary to say that to drive on the ice the 4WD vans and of road cars are used and they are guided by locals who knows the ice situations very well.
Khoboy Cape is a magic place! In winter this beautiful spot just shakes the imagination with unbelievable combination of space, ice and rocks. Its underwater part is not worse. The most interesting ice formations and labyrinths are formed here.
Shaman Rock or Burkhan are symbol of Baikal, cult place. Here the ice formations cross natural underwater channels and caverns among huge boulders and every year they form unique landscapes. Shamanka Rock is the closest place to Khuzhir village place and it is possible to bring there the portable sauna. The divers use this opportunity. It is so pleasant to go to sauna after the last dive and then jump into the freezing water!
Compression cracks are striking things for under ice diving. Baikal abyss is under you and above there are effect ice formations, that, be careful!, may start living their own life: to move, breath, crackle.
Usually we make one dive per day. But if the group wishes the second dive at the same place is possible. The group spends all the day on the ice, the lunch is also on the ice and you feel very hungry at the end of the day. To compensate the loss of material energy the “strengthened” dinners are cooked. The spiritual energy comes from Baikal. The sauna or tours to the interesting places of Olkhon are arranged.
Nobody who took part in ice safari left disappointed. The combination of journey and diving on majestic sea-lake is a good way to get various impressions and huge charge of courage.
The most favorable period for ice jeep dive safaris is end of February to end of March. In March there are especially many sun and day temperature rises above zero though at night it may be still quite cold (-5 – -20). The ice is the thickest and strongest at this time.
The most popular route of safari is so called Olkon Ice Safari with accommodation in Khuzhir village of Olkhon Island. For those who likes real adventure in remote areas we offer North Ice Safari. During this safari you can visit northern Baikal with its grandiose and wild landscapes, make a dive near Ushkany Islands and cross the whole lake by ice. One night may be spent in ice house and to prepare to the dive in a real yurta. There are two destinations on the journey route: Zavorotnaya Bay and Khuzhir Village. The most part of safari is on the ice of the lake. It is very interesting but not safe if not to know where and how to go. Cracks, wholes of open water, ice hummocks – all this does not promise anything good that is why the jeeps are guided by off road car of “Ice Baikal Capitan League” who perfectly know the ice conditions and can overcome these difficulties.
Olkhon is a saint island of Buddhists. It's very beautiful, especially in winter. Didier NOIROT, former operator of Custo team, 6 years in a row comes to Olkhon in February - March, because only two months in a year there is an opportunity to see icy beauty of the island and the amazement of underwater ice landscapes. Diving club "BaikalTek" offers you a jeep safari on the route Irkutsk - Maloe Sea - Olkhon Island with under ice divings at Maloe Sea and at the north edge of Olkhon. First time people are often silent here, they watch the nature; and afterwards they say that they haven't seen anything like this before.
Safari schedule (6 days)
Arrival to Irkutsk. Preparation and check up of the equipment. Transfer to Khuzhir village on Olkhon Island. Lunch on the way (buryat cuisine) at village Bayandai. Transfer to Olkhon Island by the ice road. At the beginning of ice road local traditional offering to Baikal's god Burkhan (splitting vodka) to bring good luck to a trip. Accommodation in a village hotel. Dinner. Excursion to Burkhan Rock the symbol of Baikal. Russian sauna (banya).
Breakfast. Ice road to Three Brothers Point. Diving in the compression crack. Lunch on the ice. Return to Khuzhir. Excursion to buryat village.
Breakfast. Ice road to Three Brothers. Travel to cape Khoboy Cape(rock Virgo). Diving under the ice formations. Visiting of ice cave. Return by Small Sea to Khuzhir. Dinner. Banya.
Breakfast. Travel by ice off road to compression crack. Dive near the crack. Lunch on the ice. Return to Khuzhir. Tour in the inner part of the island. Dinner. Banya.
Breakfast. Ice road to Burkhan Rock. Dive near the rock, ice formations and huge boulders, caverns. Banya at ice. Lunch on the ice. Return to Khuzhir. Farewell Dinner. (The night transfer to Irkutsk is possible. Also the total duration of the safari may be increased, there are enough dive sites).
Breakfast. Transfer «Khuzhir - Irkutsk».
Dates of safari:
February, 20 - March, 31. You'll be amazed by the ice transparence. Being underwater you can see your friends, who are on the surface, and even talk to them by signals. In the result of wind work and temperature changes ice forms unique underwater formations, caverns, tunnels.
Baikal is covered with ice from the middle of January to the end of April. Safaris are organized at the dates, when ice reaches its maximum width (60 to 90 centimeters). Transfers are following the ice road, lead by fishermen. If we are not following that road, we are moving only by the routes, which were checked by us before. All dives are supervised by 2 instructors. Minimal diving qualification is Dry Suit and Ice Diver. The courses during the safari are possible.
One or two dives a day depending on the divers wishes and weather conditions.
Jeeps or microbuses (one jeep for 2 people, one microbus for 3).
Economic: guest house of Nikita Bencharov - wooden village houses, 2 people in one room. Stove and electric heating. Warm biotoilets. Breakfasts and Dinners are in the café of the guest house. Lunches are on the ice. Siberian and fish cuisine.
Entertainment (besides diving of course!!!):
excursions, tours and banya.
Special conditions for clubs and instructors.
Almost 6,000 kilometers and four different kinds of transport were left behind. I had to change transport for three times and, finally, I got to Siberia, Lake Baikal. Gennady Misan, the director of the dive-center “BaikalTek” met our group at the Irkutsk airport, and took us to the island of Ol’hon. A wooden estate situated in Khuzhir, the main village of the island, was our place of residence for the next week. Before the trip I had thoroughly looked through the Internet pages concerning Lake Baikal and without any hints could indicate that Ol’hon Island was the largest island of the lake, located in its middle part, near its western shore. Its maximum length is 71 km, width is 12 km. The western side of the island is washed by the Small sea which is a huge shallow bay (or more precisely it is a strait). Its width is 20 km. But the bottom on the other side of the island is literally an abyss. The deepest point of Lake Baikal (1642 m) is only in 5 – 6 kilometers from the bank. But as a saying goes, seeing is believing so it’s better to go there than reread the published data a hundred times. After all, I came here with a specific purpose which is a detailed (in the literal sense of the word) exploration of ice in Baikal.