It’s been quite a while since we last published our news. This surely does not mean that there wasn’t anу. A lot of things have happened, so many, that we did not even have the time to sort them all out in order to make a nice quality presentation about our safaris, programmes, course and so on.
No matter how strange it might sound, Siberian winter is short. This can be accounted for the fact that we live in southern Siberia and the Baikal is in close proximity - by many factors it is a sea and it accumulates warmth very well. This is the first fact to be mentioned. Secondly, we have to clear up the terminology: for us winter - is the period of time when there is no open water and the ice is thick enough for us to make safe dives. Such a happy period of time is in February and March, and upon special conditions, in the beginning of April. In January, usually, there is STILL open water, in the second part of April, more rarely in the beginning of May there is ALREADY open water. So “the dragon flies in” only for the two months - this is the time when we can experience The Best In The World Ice Diving. We used to modestly keep quiet when our guests said that Lake Baikal ice diving was the best in the world. Now, having dived in the Antarctica, we can say the same.
Note: grand underwater ice formations is the core attraction during Lake Baikal ice diving. This is a note for those who is not in the frame. There surely is Lake Baikal ice diving to see the dive sites, but they are better to be seen during open water dive safaris.
So, just two months of lake Baikal ice diving. We usually distinguish between two time periods: using our guests’ terminology, Baikal Black Ice and Baikal Rock Ice. We have nothing against it. Besides, these words reflect the real state of things - transparent black ice is usually typical of the first half of the season, whereas the second half of it is famous for its huge underwater ice formations. However, we are not ready to call these words 100 % true, because the Baikal always holds a surprise in store. For example, this winter and last winter we had only Baikal Rock Ice all winter long. Last year Baikal Rock Ice was in the form of great underwater ice formations in the area of Cape Khoboy (they formed as a result of ice breaking during the storms). This year the cracks in the ice formed right in the beginning of the season and right from the beginning of the season the ice was moving a lot. This motion resulted in the formation of huge underwater chunks of ice right in the beginning of the winter, which is surely unusual, for example, for February, when there is usually no big cracks. This year the ice lost its transparency only when the last group arrived, on March 25-26, which is also unusual. As according to the statistics, the ice is most probably not transparent any more by March 10.
So, you might say, the year is unusual and unique, as the two aspects fell together: both the transparent ice and the underwater ice formations. Well, not quite that way. To say the truth, each Siberian winter is unusual and unique. This is one of the peculiarities of Lake Baikal ice - you could come to dive here every year and every time you will have an absolutely different picture, absolutely unique. Moreover, the situation changes within just one dive season - what one group has had the next one might not see, but there is surely something new for them. This is the major feature of Lake Baikal ice diving programmes - everything is so changeable and unpredictable. However, this surely does not mean that one might miss all the beauty. Breathtaking beauty is there at all times! This beauty takes different shapes. This is what makes Lake Baikal ice diving so special and so different from ice diving elsewhere. GUARANTEED BEAUTY! Somewhere (in other places) whales or whale sharks might not turn up, a school of sardines will have just 10 fish, you won’t be able to dive near the ice-berg due to unfavourable weather conditions, leopards will travel to a different place and so on. The Baikal has nothing to disappoint you, as its ice is always wonderful. It is not by chance that hundreds and thousands of people come again and again to see it.
We are asked about the best time to come for ice diving. In February or March to dive in the proximity of Olkhon island or in April to Bargouzin? How about crossing the Baikal in the end of March? We say, that we do not know when the best time is. We are being absolutely sincere. It is always great. We are always sure to see something new we have not seen recently, not to speak of the previous year.
This year ice diving started in the end of January with Ice Diver courses, which were given to divers from Russia, China and Holland. In February there started Jeep Ice Diving Safaris. The dragon “flew in” in the beginning of February, so the first program this year began on February 17 with divers from Belgium.
Just a tiny deviation. We keep saying “the dragon flew in” - what does it mean? We’ve already expanded on this figure of speech of ours, but there might be someone who is reading the news for the first time, so it is reasonable to explain it once again. A world famous underwater photographer Viktor Liagushkin set up the tradition, when he once came for a Jeep Ice Diving Safari. He put forward the idea to call the time when the ice is in its best condition for diving “the dragon time”: the dragon “flies in”, when the ice becomes thick enough for our jeeps to travel on it and “flies away” when it becomes too warm - underwater ice formations lose their intricate shape and it gets quite dangerous to travel on ice by car. Viktor even wrote an article about this in a Russian diver magazine. This article can be found on our web-site and you can read it. In Russian.
After the Belgian group there were several groups of divers from Taiwan, China as well as divers from Russia, Belgium (this year we welcomed especially many Belgian and Chinese divers!), India and, of course, BaikalTek dive club members. Belgian divers, fascinated by the beauty of lake Baikal and great diving, planned a longer visit for the season to come. Taiwanese and Chinese groups also opted for a programme next year and have already booked the trips for next season. So, next year has not started yet, but it is already full of plans!
This year there were cancelled 2 Bargouzin Jeep Ice Diving Safari trips. We make them in April - from April 2 to April 12 - 2 groups. Despite the fact that the groups did not come, we travelled there ourselves to check what those, who wanted to go, but cancelled their trips for various reasons, failed to see.
In February-March it is too cold in the area and we prefer to make Olkhon Jeep Ice Diving Safaris. The time for Bargouzin safaris is April: it’s warm, there’s lots of nerpas (Lake Baikal seals), we can do birds of prey and animals (foxes, sables) watching, the ice is great.
The Baikal is beautiful everywhere, but its northern areas - Sviatoy Nos, the Ushkan Islands, Bargouzinsky Bay, Chivirkuyskiy Bay, Bargouzin are full of their unique severe beauty. In this part of the Baikal one is sure to run across wonderful landscapes, watch wild animals, dive in the proximity of grand ice cracks. This year the ice was transparent in Bargouzin Bay and there was an old “breathing” (with a potential to expand and shrink) crack in the area where the bay meets the greater Baikal. Due to the crack’s early formation and constant ice moving, underwater ice formations were absolutely gorgeous there.
We are currently facing off-season due to April ice melting. Off-season does not mean no diving. We can make ice dives in Listvyanka. In April in Listvyanka there often forms a huge ice crack with quite interesting ice formations. One could also go diving with the ducks in Rogatka, or make deep dives in Port Baikal, having travelled there by ferry or by a hovercraft. It is also possible to go drifting from the Baikal to Angara River. Having enough gas and patience we can make a unique dive to cross Angara River and the Baikal from Port Baikal to Listvyanka. During this dive we will see unique underwater landscapes, graylings and diving ducks.
The last but not the least important is a very big event we launched with MARES. We, Gennady Misan and Tatiana Oparina, are testing 2 sets of technical winter regulators MARES 25XR DR. There is no better place to test these novelties like lake Baikal, BaikalTek dive club! MARES 25XR DR met all the winter challenges with perfect results. Not a single time did it set on free flow, no matter how hard we had been trying to force the situation. It also proved to be easy to breathe with it. More challenges to come - open water - deep and very deep dives. We are going to test MARES 25XR DR at the depths of 100++ metres!
A final report on the testing results will be available in June.
A little more ice.
Some groups of Ice safari