Lake Baikal 2020: The Crossings Begin

Six hundred and thirty-six kilometres long, 79km wide and 1,642m deep, Siberia’s Lake Baikal is the largest freshwater lake by volume in the world. (Lake Superior tops it slightly by area.) Every December, it begins its annual freeze-up and remains frozen until late April. The ice reaches up to 1.5m thick, enough to ski, skate, walk or even drive cars across it.

Baikal is fairly easy to get to, as you can fly into Irkutsk, about 100km from the southern tip of the lake. February temperatures average around -20C, and even though it can get much colder, this is generally milder than other Arctic regions. As a result, Baikal has become increasingly popular for sledding expeditions, and speed record attempts now take place every year.

In February and March, several lengthwise crossings will begin.

Michael Stevenson, Scott Gilmour and Rob Trigwel set the speed record in 2018. Photo: Scott Gilmour

Lukasz Rybicki

On February 14, Lukasz Rybicki of Poland will embark on a solo, unsupported crossing of Baikal from the southern starting point of Kultuk. He will try to set a new speed record. He previously attempted a team crossing of Baikal in 2017, but they had to withdraw after 350km.

Carlos Garcia and Mike Stevenson

Carlos Garcia (Spain) and Mike Stevenson (GBR) will set out from Kultuk on February 23 and February 25, respectively. This is by no means Garcia’s first solo expedition. In 2014 and 2015, he completed solo kayak crossings of the Balearic and Alboran Seas (Spanish sections of the Mediterranean). Since then, he has focused on ice climbing and ultra-marathons.

This marks Stevenson’s third trip to Baikal. In 2018, he and two companions broke the speed record for crossing the lake. In 2019, he set out with Scott Gilmour but was forced to withdraw on day six of the expedition. This year, he will face the lake alone for the first time.

Mike Stevenson on Lake Baikal. Photo: Scott Gilmour


Oli France and Charlie Smith

In early March, Oli France (GBR) and Charlie Smith (GBR) will both set off from Kultuk on solo south-north crossings. In 2016, France crossed 11 countries and climbed 14 mountains during a 13,000km journey from Hong Kong to Istanbul. Meanwhile, in 2017, Smith rowed 4,200km from Singapore to Darwin, Australia. Since then, he has focused on ultra-running and ice climbing and mountaineering. This will be his first polar endurance event.

Photo: Ash Routen


Roland Banas

Finally, Roland Banas of France will attempt a solo crossing of Baikal. This follows his unsupported, solo crossing of Death Valley in 2019.


Previous Expeditions

You can find ExplorersWeb’s Google docs list of previous Lake Baikal expeditions here.