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No trip to southern Russia is complete without taking in the mighty Lake Baikal. Gazing out over the water you’d be forgiven for thinking this is no lake but an ocean - After all, it is 636 km from north to south.The summertime brings with it spectacular blue skies and crystal-clear, green-tinted water. But it’s during the winter that this massive expanse of freshwater takes on a whole new dimension. The summer paradise vibe is quickly replaced by something serene and mystical. More water than America’s five Great Lakes combined freezes over, leaving behind a rock-hard cover of ice that’s as strong as it is staggeringly clear.
2,000 km of coastline means there will be plenty of spots on this epic photo tour from which you can peer out over the icy expanse. The parts of the ice that aren’t bewitchingly clear are covered with a delicate blanket of snow, so as we step out onto the lake we will wander across a winter landscape that offer textures and colour like nothing you will have witnessed before. It also happens to be the world’s deepest lake, and we will step forward in the knowledge that over 1.5km of water sits underneath the frozen surface.
It’s not hard to understand why photographers adore the mighty Baikal in winter. This is the textbook prototype of a picture-perfect landscape; a powerful reminder that sometimes all we can do is look on and admire as nature takes its course.
This tour will take place in January, around the time of year when the ice has had time to reach peak thickness and clarity, and the snow has begun to cover the lake beneath. Aside from Baikal we will see the island of Olkhon and its famous rocks, along with ice grottos and caves perfect for photography.
Travel around Lake Baikal is relatively despite its vastness and remoteness. There are a number of modern lodges with room facilities and cafes on the island of Olkhon.
We’ll start our journey in the morning to the mighty Baikal, at 9 a.m. from our hotel in Irkutsk. Our first scenic journey will take between seven and eight hours, as we navigate through the Tazheranskaya steppe and eventually reach the ice road to Olkhon Island.
We start our exploration of the Baikal from the Island of the Small Sea. The capes and grottos formed by the winter ice make incredible subjects for both close-up and landscape photography, and in the hands of our expert guide you will begin to fill what will become a collection of memorable, timeless images.
The icicles on Oltrec Island will also be among our stops. The locals know them as sokui, and their appearance means that winter is ready to embrace Baikal. From autumn to winter the water-level decreases by half a meter or more, revealing intricate ice caves and icicle close to the island’s shores. Naturally, as winter progresses the ice freezes first near where water meets land, forcing the remaining fluid water of the Baikal to break with immense power against the coastal ice. At the end of day two we will shoot the sunset on Ogoi Island, using the Buddhist temple as its peak for perspective. Ogoi is characterised by its jagged rocks, many of which we will capture in the reflection of the Baikal ice at sunset.
Overnight at newly built hotel at Baikal lake shore (5 nights total).
Day three of this photography tour things will be like wandering through the kind of winter scene that you read about in fairytales. We’re talking crystal-clear lake ice of shimmering blues, caves lined with icicles, and enormous islands of stone completely blanketed in pure white snow.
We will visit the Hoboi caves, and watch as the breaking water splashes and freezes on the rocks like an experimental painting. On the north side of the cape there’s a particularly good spot that we will head to in time for dawn’s first light.
On day four we will spend time shooting the lake from higher vantage points. From viewpoints overlooking the ice below, the group will be able to see the northern reaches of Baikal in the distance, as well as incredible views towards the Barguzinsky mountain range.
The group will spend the evening shooting at a ridge fairly close to the hotel: Burhan Point. Here there are several photogenic trees to act as the foreground as we capture the stars and the water stretching out into the distance.
The twisted forms of the trees fit well with the history of the area. Burhan point takes its name from the ancient tradition of sacrifice to please the Buryat spirits in a nearby cave. The cave used to be home to a Buddhist chapel, and was also a Shamans’ burial site. “Burhan” is the word that Buryat Buddhists used for the Baikal tribal God.
Day five will start early, as we venture out to capture the sun’s first rays breaking through Olkhon’s ice grottoes. The light will dance off the glistening ice to give us what should be a spectacular session.
During the day our focus will turn to looking through the images we have captured together so far. In the capable hands of a professional photography guide, we will discuss different techniques and have a chance to go through any questions you might have. Our evening will consist of a shoot overlooking the Small Sea at sunset, photographing the many Baikal islands.
On day six we will leave our cozy hotel on the island of Olkhon and travel south, along the coast of lake Baikal towards the village of Buguldeyka. From this new perspective we’ll be able to explore Baikal’s jagged shoreline and photograph the purest ice of the trip so far. As the evening draws near we will reach our guest house for the night, which will have everything we need for a comfortable night’s sleep.
One week in and still going strong, day seven will start with the group exploring one of lake Baikal’s most popular locations: Sandy Bay. Also known as Bukhta Peschanaya, the area is populated by eerie trees whose roots emerge from the ground. They are known as a forest of “walking pines” or “stilt trees”.
In the afternoon our photography tour will reach the village of Listvyanka. There we will find a museum dedicated to lake Baikal. It’s also home to some Baikal seal, which are nearly impossible to see out in the wild. The plan is to reach Irkutsk by the evening, where we will spend the night at a 4* hotel.
Anton Agarkov is a travelling photographer and journalist wuth more than ten years of shooting experience. Anton shoots mostly landscape and travel stories and organises photography workshops and expeditions in Russia and Central Asia in which he spends more than 200 days a year. His outmost interest lies in the territories of natural parks and reserves as well as hard to reach territories. Anton have a vast experience in shooting in harsh weather conditions such as snow and sandstorms, extreme cold and heat. Anton is Tamron ambassador in Russia and pro-rider for Marmot Russia. Works on regular basis with Nikon, Lowepro, Carl Zeiss and multiple other brands. Organises lectures and workshops on traveling and photography.
We strongly recommend you to get a Trip Cancellation & Travel Insurance after booking your trip.
If you cancel and the Workshop is otherwise filled, we will refund you the full amount you have paid towards the tuition, minus a $300 service charge. If you cancel and the Workshop does not fill, then you will be refunded according to the following schedule, based on the full fee of the Workshop:
Greater than 90 days from the start date of the Workshop: full refund minus $300 service fee.
75 days or more: 75% refund
60 days or more: 50% refund
Less than 60 days: no refund
Refunds will be paid by the same method that the original payment was made.
We highly recommend that you get a travel and medical insurance. Your own domestic government medical insurance and private health scheme will not cover you whilst you are overseas.
The tour is always dependent on weather, as the Icelandic weather can indeed be highly unpredictable. Likewise, visits to ice caves are dependent on favorable conditions, and indeed the ice caves themselves are not permanent. When it comes to the Northern Lights, while they are most likely to be seen between September and April, there is no guarantee that they will appear on a given day.