• Susana Aikin

LAKE BAIKAL

Updated: Dec 23, 2018

In my novel, We Shall See the Sky Sparkling, Lily is an actress working in London at the end of the 19th century, who travels through Siberia in the middle of Winter and spends time trying to cross Lake Baikal which is frozen over.
Read further on the amazing Lake Baikal.

Lake Baikal is an ancient, massive lake in Siberia, north of the Mongolian border. It is considered the oldest lake in the world, at 25–30 million years—and the deepest. The lake is surrounded by mountains and contains twenty seven islands. It is fed by as many as 330 inflowing rivers, but only drained through a single outlet, the Angara River. Lake Baikal is also the world's largest freshwater lake containing 20% of the world’s fresh water in volume.

Lake Baikal

Map of Russia. The arrow at the bottom points to Lake Baikal

Baikal was formed billions of years ago as a result of seismological and volcanic processes. It is an estimated 5,387 feet deep, and its bottom is approximately 3,893 feet below sea level.  The lake is so deep, because it is located in an active continental rift zone. Lake Baikal is one of the clearest and purest bodies of water on earth. In a good day you could see 130 feet into the lake.


Lake Baikal clear and pure waters

Baikal is home to thousands of species of plants and animals, many of which exist nowhere else in the world. The Baikal seal or nerpa (Pusa sibirica) is found throughout Lake Baikal. It is one of only three entirely freshwater seal populations in the world, the other two being subspecies of ringed seals.


Nerpas at Lake Baikal

The most important local species for fisheries is the omul (Coregonus migratorius), an endemic whitefish at Lake Baikal. It is caught, smoked, and then sold widely in markets around the lake.


Smoked omul fish, Baikal delicacy

During the winter and spring, the surface of Lake Baikal freezes for 4–5 months. This is probably the best time of year to discover the spirit of Lake Baikal, when the lake’s surface is frozen solid and the temperatures are subzero—at the same time the air is dry and the skies are sunny. The ice on average is about three feet thick allowing cars and trucks to safely drive over the ice.


The amazing shapes and colors of the Lake Baikal

The ice of Lake Baikal takes on amazing colors that can range between indigo, turquoise and blindingly white, and different forms from inky to interspersed with innumerable air bubbles–and always extraordinarily pure and transparent like a freshly polished window.


The surface of the Lake Baikal is uneven

The ice of Baikal does not have a uniformly even surface. There are also large slabs and huge blocks of ice that can reach 40 feet in height and resemble rock crystals; “sokui,” which are natural ice sculptures that form on cliffs and rocks surrounding the lake.


Lake Baikal's huge crevices

Baikal’s ice is also abundant in crevices some of which can be 6-18 miles long and up to three meters wide. When these huge cracks are taking shape, the lake emits sharp and thunderous claps.

Sledging tour trail

Dog sledding is a classic winter sport on Lake Baikal. But at one time, before the arrival of the Trans Siberian Railway and ferry boats in the early 20th century, sledding was the only transportation in the winter months across the lake.


The amazing vastness of Lake Baikal


Recent excavations around Lake Baikal and other Siberian sites have revealed dog remains dating back 5000 years, sometimes buried together with humans, or on their own with decorative collars and ceremonial objects such as spoons.


Dog remains in Baikal, photo University of Alberta

These discoveries lead to believe that Siberians had close relationships with canines and were one of the earliest groups that used dogs for work–sledding and herding reindeer.


Siberians had close relationships with canines

ORDER We Shall See the Sky Sparkling

We Shall See the Sky Sparkling

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(c) Susana Aikin, 2020