Lake Baikal and the Barguzin Mountain Range  Days Five and Six
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:: Day Five ::

Alex packing up his stuffThis was the day that we would actually reach Lake Baikal. Let me mention one uniquely interesting feature about the trail that we were walking. Although we had been walking on the trail for 3 days, so far we had only seen Lake Baikal when we took the bus from Ulan-Ude to Ust'-Barguzin. The trail itself does not have any view of Lake Baikal even though we were pretty high up a couple of times. Only when the trail ends right at the lake can one see the lake. Igor said that that was one of his favorite aspects of the trail. He said that on a lot of the trails that make up the Great Baikal Trail you get spoiled and have views of the lake pretty much from the get-go. But on "The Path to a Clean Baikal" trail you actually appreciate the beauty of the lake much more because you are hiking through the trail for a few days and then all of a sudden the trail ends and you have the splendor of Lake Baikal in front of you. Well needless to say at this point we were all excited because this was the day in which we would be seeing Lake Baikal hurrah!The small spring

We got up early and had a quick breakfast. Igor informed us that although Lake Baikal was only a few hours away, he wanted us to get there a bit early, because he did not know how long we would be waiting for the ship. So we gathered our stuff after breakfast and got on the trail a bit early. There would be no more official way stops on the rest of the trail, as we only had a few more miles to go until the end of the trail. However, we did manage to make a couple of impromptu stops along the way. The first was this small pool of water. Actually it was a small spring, as water was bubbling up from the ground. Igor informed us that this was a source of some river or another. It was pretty amazing to think about it, that this small pool of water could actually be a source of a river. The next stop along was a bit further down, and it was a stop for some plants that Igor collected. The plant that was collected was some sort of plant that is particular to the area that brews up some good herbal tea. I also think this was the day when Igor at some time also broke off some sort of fungus from a tree, as that was supposed to be brewed up in some concoction as well. A tree with a lot of mossA word of advice to anyone who might want to pick up random plants leaves and fungus to brew up in herbal teas is that you should consult with a local who is knowledgeable about it before you go doing it.

The first bit of the trail seemed to be quite marshy and swamp-like. The closer we got to the lake, the wetter the trail got. That was a bit evident in some of the trees that we were passing. They were covered almost completely in moss and a weird kind of stringy moss at that. I was told that that kind of moss only grows in places where the air and water is pure and clean. Well it did look a bit otherworldly at times. Soon we came out to where the forest swamp area cleared a bit to show us a view of a level swamp. At first I thought that it was Lake Baikal, but it wasn't; it was just the swamp that was located in Kpokhalinaya Cove. Well at least we knew that we were getting close. We walked for a bit along the edge of the forest and swamp. It was around this time that Igor got out the walkie-talkie and called the National Park's ship to tell them that we would be at the pickup location in a few minutes. Igor carried this walkie-talkie around with us for the entire trip, just for this one use. Well it was a good thing that the ship was in range and that the batteries did not die on us;Krutaya Bay in Zabaikalsky National Park otherwise we could have been stuck on the beach for a long time.

The next big nonevent that happened to us is that Igor thought that there was "The Bear" nearby. I'm not exactly sure how he came up with this speculation, but he had us quiet down. I guess so he could listen for any more evidence of "The Bear" and so his next move would be heard by "The Bear"; i.e., he hit his metal walking sticks together to make a sound. He said that one of the best things to do if a bear shows up is to make noise with metal, as they get scared off by the sound of metal against metal. So we walked for a bit while Igor was banging his metal walking sticks together. We were all thinking that "The Bear" might jump out at us at any time. Well no bear showed up, for which I can say I was relieved. To have made it all the way within a few hundred meters of Lake Baikal and then be eaten by a bear would have been a bummer to say the least. But as I said earlier we did not see a bear on our trip.

Lake BaikalOne of the things that I noticed as we got closer to the lake was that it seemed that the trees were moving backwards in the season. That is to say, I was encountering more trees that still had their leaves on them. So I guess that it was slightly warmer closer to the lake than it was further back up the trail. Of course the entire path would have been a bit better to photograph if we had gone even a few days earlier, as we originally had planned. But we still lucked out on the weather, as it was still Indian Summer and we had pretty decent temperatures throughout our hike and more importantly no rain for the days we were hiking, and even sunshine for most of the trip.

Well all of a sudden on our walk, Lake Baikal just appeared over a slight hill that we were climbing. Wow, we finally made it! It was quite a nice little spot that the path lead us to. It was this cove that had a white sand beach, and the sun came out while we were there, though it had been a bit overcast all day. Although the surrounding nature was quite nice, one of the noticeable things about the place was that there was quite a lot of rubbish at the beach, which did spoil it a bit. Alex writing on the beach(the litter can be seen in the blow up of the photo on the left) Igor said that the other National Park ship, that goes around and collects garbage, broke down this Summer, so that is why there was a lot of garbage there. Also some big politician recently visited the park and it might have been garbage from their party.

Still it was quite a site with the lake and its crystal clear water, blue skies, a refreshing bit of sunshine clearing up a cloudy day, snowcapped mountains in the distance and a white sand beach where we could relax a bit while we waited for the ship. We broke out the snacks and ate a little. Alex sat down and started to write a bit. I moved around quite a bit and took a lot of photos. One of the things we did while waiting for the ship was to decide where we were to go next in the park. We decided to go to the Hot Springs, if we could get the chance. I have never been to any hot springs in my life, and it sounded a bit relaxing after all of that hiking that we did. It was not too long before we spotted the ship. Our salivation had finally arrived!

We got aboard the ship, after a bit of trouble with the gangplank: it would not reach all the way to the beach; so we had to find an additional wood board to use to get us aboard the ship. Leaving the beach photo taken from the shipIgor talked to the captain some, and it seemed that the ship was at our disposal for the rest of the trip; so we would be going to the Hot Springs. In addition, we would be sleeping on the ship that night so we did not have to pitch tents and sleep on some beach or another. So that was good news -- at least there would be mattresses this night to sleep on. The ship got under way and we started towards the Hot Springs. The ship took us leisurely across the gulf. On the way we were treated to magnificent views of the park: small islands, snow capped mountain peaks in the distance, green and yellow forested hills in the foreground, and the sun shimmering on the clear waters of Lake Baikal. Although it got a bit chilly when we were crossing, we did not go to our cabin, for we did not want to miss the beautiful scenery surrounding us. We eventually came to the "holy nose" peninsula, named so for the unusual shape of the land formation because, on a map, it looks like a nose.

As we approached the place where the springs are located, we did notice a rather pungent smell in the air. The snake hot springSince these natural springs have sulfur dissolved in the water, it smelled a bit of rotten egg. But it is due to the minerals that the springs are also known for healing powers, so people put up with the smell, and of course after a bit of time one gets used to it. The ship dropped anchor at the Snake Hot Springs. Evidently, there are snakes around and they have a nice chart of which snakes are poisonous and which snakes are not. We did not see any snakes during our time there as it was most likely too cold for them to be wandering about. There were 2 hot springs there; one was located right on the beach and it was only warm. The other spring had a nice gazebo for people who would be waiting in line for the spring, and it was sheltered a bit by a wooden wall enclosure for privacy. The second spring was really really hot, like 40+ C (102+F). Since the 2nd spring could really only hold 2 people at a time, Igor and I went into the spring first. It took a while before I could even put all of my body into the spring, as I had to go in it slowly in order not to get too uncomfortable from the sudden change in temperature. Igor told me that I should not stay in the spring longer than like 7 or 8 minutes, cause like my heart would explode. I was probably only in the spring The ship anchored near the Snake hot springsup to my chest only for 4 minutes or so, then I had to get out because it was way too hot. Once I got out it was pretty neat because I could see oodles and oodles of steam coming from my body. The temperature outside was like +10 C (50F), and I was standing there naked feeling really nice to have my body cooled off. It was also refreshing to have that dip in the hot spring, because we did not have a bath for our entire trip, except that quick wade through the really cold stream the previous day. Though you cannot use soap in the spring it felt refreshing all the same.

After the spring, Melissa and I did a bit of walking along the trail that is near the Springs. It was nice because the sun was setting and giving a golden light to the vegetation. After our walk we had some dinner and some of the others went out to take a starlight dip in the hot spring. I fell asleep.

:: Day Six ::

Lake Baikal during stormy weatherI got up early and went back to the hot spring and took a few more dips in the hot water. Then I relaxed on the benches by the beach a bit before the others got up. I was eventually called back to the ship, and we then set off towards the pickup point. The weather had worsened a lot, even since I took my dips in the hot spring that morning. We sailed to our meeting point, but there was quite a lot of rough water due to the approaching storm front. Once we got there we had to wait a bit for the car that was going to meet up with us. It eventually arrived, and we huddled into the car. It was a bit packed because we had all of our rucksacks and 6 people in the car. We made a quick stop at this place along the way that had an observation platform. Although the storm was in full force by the time we got there, we still climbed this rickety structure that went pretty high up and had a nice view of the lake and beach. But it was cold, raining and pretty windy so we quickly climbed down and hurried back to the car. We were looking forward to getting back to Ust'-Barguzin, because we would be staying again at Alexander's and Galena's guest house, and we knew that there were real beds, a banya, and of course Galena's wonderful cooking. After the days on the trail we were all salivating for some of her cooking.

Alex, Melissa and Galena cooking pirozhkiWe took the ferry back across the river to the town and arrived at the guest house. We were led into our quarters, and had a quick snack. Alex and Melissa helped Galena prepare pirozhki, a small pie in this case filled with cabbage, carrots or mushrooms. Dinner would have to wait because they were expecting some other lodgers whom Alexander went to Ulan-Ude to pick up, and they would be arriving around dinner time. We, in the mean time, took our banya time and got ourselves cleaned up. The other lodgers arrived; they were from the Sochi area, and in fact one of them was English. We had a yummy dinner and then proceeded into the samagon and vodka, chatting with the new lodgers late into the night. (Side note: we really lucked out with the weather, because the new lodgers who stayed the next week in the area, I later found out, had nothing but rain and snow)

The next day we left by bus back to Ulan-Ude. At last our adventure was over!

"By endurance we conquer." -Ernest Shackleton

© 2005, 2006 Copyright by John Walkoe
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