Czech adventurers seek to cover Siberia’s frozen Lake Baikal in a month

Vašek Sůra

Two intrepid Czechs, Vašek Sůra and Pavel Blažek, are at the start of what will probably be a month long trip to travel the length of the world’s deepest lake – Siberia’s lake Baikal. They will be covering the frozen ice and snow without any other help such as dogs or supplies delivered en route. Computer programmer and marketing manager Pavel Blažek answered some questions before they set off. The first was what made the lake Baikal expedition so special.

“Basically, what we are trying to do is to cross the whole length of Lake Baikal, which is about 750 kilometres in total. We decided to do this in unsupported style. That means no re-supplies and no outside help. Basically, whatever we have in the sleds is all we have. We will have to make the whole journey with the stuff that we pack in the sleds.”

Lake Baikal
And why Lake Baikal, why did you select that as the target for this.

“First of all we thought about crossing Greenland but there has already been a Czech expedition which crossed Greenland I think about eight-10 years ago. So the next option was Lake Baikal. One thing was the length: 700 kilometres. There is no other lake or place you can so easily get to. So Lake Baikal was a kind of natural choice I can say. That is about the distance, there is also the environment. There are the temperatures which can go down to minus 30 degrees Celsius. There is no real danger. I mean if you want to do an expedition to the North Pole you can fall through. It is really far and it is really expensive to go to the North Pole. So this is really easy to get to and if something goes wrong it is not so far from civilisation.

And what will be the biggest challenges? You mentioned the temperatures and I suppose there will be headwinds as well? What will be the main difficulties on this trip?

“First of all there is the distance, it is around 650 kilometres. The temperatures can get down to minus 40 degrees Celsius. The other challenge is to do it unsupported. If anything breaks you have to fix it right there on site. You do not want to have to quit the expedition because something broke, you have to be able to fix it and help yourself. That I would say are the three main difficulties we will be facing.”

Pavel Blažek
And as regards the preparations, what are you taking to eat there and how technically will you be going across this lake? It will be pretty much ice all the way?

“Almost half of Lake Baikal is clean ice so we will be using special chains to put on your boots so you do not slide. The other part is snow so we will be using back country skis with skins underneath. We ordered special frozen dried meals from the United States and England, you cannot get them in the Czech Republic. It is special food designed and made for such expeditions.”

And have you calculated how many kilometres you will have to travel every day to reach this target and how long it will take to make the whole journey.

“We hope we will be doing about 25 kilometres a day. We have to do 25 kilometres a day to get there in time. We are looking at 30-35 days on the ice. Hopefully we will be able to make it a little bit shorter but that depends on the whether there is deep snow, how we are feeling and how difficult it is to go. If there are big patches of deep snow it will significantly slow us down. We hope we will do the trip in 40 days maximum. That is how much food we have got. If it takes longer, we will get into problems and we will have to cut the rations. But hopefully, that is not going to happen, so we are talking about 30-35 days.”

Vašek Sůra
You will be communicating with the outside world on this trip. Can you say something about that?

“Because it is such a big expedition and took us quite a long time to organise it and get it going, we want to inform other people so they can be part of it. So we got up a website which will be updated daily. We are going to be using a special computer, a small, tiny computer with a satellite modem which will allow us to upload all the files and pictures and all the audio and video files straight to the website in real time. So that is going to give anyone the chance to go online and watch our progress and see how we are doing and feeling.”

And the preparations for this…how long has it taken for you to get to the stage where you are almost ready to set off?

“Well, I would not say there is a time when we feel we are ready. But we started about two years ago, we started talking about it. The first part was getting the information. We searched the internet and contacted the few people who have done it before. There are about five groups. We tried to get information from them. Of course, we tried to contact somebody in Russia who would provide us with details about the weather, the state of the ice, how much snow there is and what the temperatures are.

Before departure at Prague's airport
So I would say that about half of the preparations is getting the right information and figuring out how to organise and get it and then it is about how to train. That is a never ending process. You have to run a lot. The speciality is pulling tyres because that simulates the weight of the sled and your body has to adapt to that weight and the pressure and difficulty of pulling the sled. There is a lot of running, gym and swimming and things like that. And of course you have to run for longer distance. When I go running, I try to run for at least 10-15 kilometres to instil endurance and get used to it.”

And you have had some special training…on the picture of the video we have just seen there are some interesting Picture of you with a piece of meat. Can you explain that?

“We took some medical courses. One of the doctors taught us how to sew a cut if something happens. I mean the ice is really sharp sometimes. If one of us gets really badly injured we should be able to mend it somehow.”

And how much psychological preparation have you had to go through. You have been on solo trips in the past and some group trips as well. This is just two people alone for weeks.

Preparing the food
“I am really looking forward to that. Vašek, the buddy I am going with, is really experienced. He has been to the North Pole. He has some expeditions to Greenland or Svalbard. So I am looking forward to learning something from him. I am not thinking about problems. Of course, there will just be two of us in a small tent. We will be dealing with a bunch of stuff during the day and that will be some pressure on us. But I am not really thinking about it. If something like that comes up, I think we will manage it. I think we both want to succeed.”