Interview: Gavan Hennigan, deep sea diver to cross deepest lake

Not diving this time, but crossing the frozen ice on Lake Baikal in Russia, solo, unassisted unsupported 640 km

(Correne Coetzer) He is a deep sea saturation diver by trade, and is now off to the deepest lake on earth, not to dive, but to cross the frozen ice, solo, unassisted, unsupported. On the 26th, Gavan Hennigan is leaving for Lake Baikal in Siberia, Russia, to cross 640 km from South to North.

He lives in Galway on the West Coast of Ireland and has been a commercial diver for the past 10 years. “But since the oil price drop last year, I have been out of work, so I am focusing now on expeditions and doing some public speaking as I have an extensive story to tell about my life where I became a drug addict and alcoholic at a young age but got clean when I was 21,” Gavan, now 35, tells Pythom.

It was tough, adds. Now he can use that when times get hard during his adventures, “so it can be a positive thing and of course to share my story to inspire others.”

About his deep sea saturation diver work, Gavan says, “I have worked worldwide in arguably the most dangerous job out there, performing heavy construction on the oil platforms up to 200m in depth.” Outside of work he travels on many different expeditions from mountaineering, splitboarding (ski mountaineering), ultra running and now he wants to branch out into more solo expeditions and work up to polar crossings.

Gavan just completed the Yukon Arctic Ultra 300 miles / 485 km foot race in Canada in 5 days 3 hours, placing 2nd with the 3rd fastest time recorded, he says to Pythom. He also plans to travel fast on Baikal, possibly chasing the 13 days 16 hours fastest known time.

Gavan shares in the interview what he learned during this Ultra Race, shares advice from other Baikal adventurers, and tells what footwear he will take to travel on the snow and very slippery lake ice.

Pythom: You have just run the Yukon Arctic Ultra in an excellent time. What have you learned there that you can do to take to Baikal to move fast?u2028

Gavan:Gavan: Stopping constantly to do small admin duties really adds up. If I can sort everything I need for the day ahead in the morning, for example, make all my water and have food ready, it will save time. Then I can minimise stops and time-wasting, but I still want to enjoy my time out there and stop to get some great pictures too!

Pythom: The Lake will be covered with snow at places, and at other places the ice will be exposed and super slippery. What footwear do you have for the Lake?

u2028Gavan: I have 2 pairs of Hoka Thor Ultra’s. They are an excellent soft hiking high shoe with extra padding on the sole to insulate against the ice, as well as being easier on the soles of the feet after a lot of miles.u2028

I also have 3 pairs of Yaktrax and a set of ice spikes that I can screw into the soles of my shoes depending on ice conditions.

Pythom: Since when have you planned the Baikal crossing? Did you get advice from people who have done it? If yes, who, and what advice (three top tips)?u2028u2028

Gavan: I have dreamt about going there for years since seeing some amazing winter pictures of the ice. There was an ice race on the Lake a few years back but only held once. I was hoping it would be organised again, but then I came to the decision to just go for it myself.

Yes, I’ve spoken to a few different people who have walked and cycled the lake, here are what I think are the best tips:

1. Using a VBL vapour barrier liner in my sleeping bag. I’ll use a small emergency Bivvy as a sleeping bag liner to stop any perspiration from getting to my bag. The biggest problem I foresee in an unsupported expedition, is not being able to dry things along the way and compromising the loft and insulation of my bag if it becomes wet.u2028

2. Bring 2 Stoves. I was advised, as a solo traveller, to take 2 stoves as backup, which I didn’t think twice about doing, also because I will be using petrol as fuel, as white gas is very hard to get in Siberia. It doesn’t burn as well as white gas and can be sooty potentially clogging up and breaking down the stove. I have 2 Primus Omnifeul Ti stoves.u2028

3. Bring a 2nd set of poles for my tent. Again another piece of advice I didn’t think twice about. I have a Hilleberg Soulo tent that is easy to put up and take down. The poles slot into sleeves, so it’s very easy to double pole the tent. The winds can be very strong on Baikal, from what I have heard, so it’s good to have this contingency, as well as having extra poles if one was to break.

Pythom: What security do you have in place in case you fall through the ice or need a rescue?u2028u2028

Gavan: I have heard good reports that the ice is very solid this year and March is the best time to travel on the ice, for thickness. The Russians use the Lake as ice roads in the winter and I hope to travel close to tracks from vehicles or snow machines. So, if I was to fall in, I will have a complete set of dry clothes in a dry bag in my sled to change into.

I will have a spot tracker device on me and will have an SOS button for rescue, if things get very bad. I also will have a satellite phone. My spot tracker share page is set up so anyone can follow my progress:

Pythom: Anything else?

u2028Gavan: I plan to Row the Atlantic Solo at the end of this year as part of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. Also, fingers crossed, I make Into the Tor Des Geants Endurance Trail Race this September in Italy, 330 km and 24,000 m of vertical.


According to the Rules of Adventure at

Unassisted = no resupplies / food depots

Unsupported = no kites, dogs, cars, skidoos

According to Wikipedia, Lake Baikal is a rift lake in Russia, located in southern Siberia, between Irkutsk Oblast to the Northwest and the Buryat Republic to the Southeast.

Lake Baikal is the largest freshwater lake by volume in the world, containing roughly 20% of the world’s unfrozen surface fresh water. With a maximum depth of 1,642 m (5,387 ft), Baikal is the world’s deepest lake. It is considered among the world’s clearest lakes and is considered the world’s oldest lake — at 25 million years. It is the seventh-largest lake in the world by surface area. With 23,615.39 km3 (5,700 cu mi) of fresh water, it contains more water than all the North American Great Lakes combined.

Lake Baikal was formed as an ancient rift valley, having the typical long crescent shape with a surface area of 31,722 km2 (12,248 sq mi). Baikal is home to thousands of species of plants and animals, many of which exist nowhere else in the world. The lake was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. It is also home to Buryat tribes, who reside on the eastern side of Lake Baikal, rearing goats, camels, cattle, and sheep, where the mean temperature varies from a winter minimum of −19°C (−2°F) to a summer maximum of 14°C (57°F).

Gavan Hennigan can be followed at:

Instagram @soulogav

Gavan’s expedition is listed in the Adventure Platform,

Previous on Explorersweb:

Lake Baikal wrap-up: Kevin Vallely and Ray Zahab completed their speed attempt

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