Siberia (Сибирь) Summer Tour
This summer, a couple of members of ICCC grabbed the chance to go caving in Siberia. There was almost no planning involved, as there was barely time to get the visas before we left the country. If you would like more information, feel free to email either myself
- Clewin Griffith or
- Hugh Penney
There is also a large collection of photos from the trip here.
Arriving in Moscow, we took the bus to the outermost Metro station. The fare was 1 pitance. Our first sight of Moscow was the Metro underground, an extremely efficient and absurdly grandiose feat of Stalin era engineering and architecture. We're talking marble walls, mosaics, statues, oil paintings, chandeliers and so forth. The trains came every minute and jouneys cost 7p. London Underground users: permission to weep. That night we booked into a hostel and wandered around Red Square.
The trans-siberian trains
We ended up using the trains much more than we thought we would. They're cheap, reliable, comfortable, slow. You can turn up at a station and get a ticket to anywhere. You may get there the next day (or two) but at least you don't have to pay for accommodation. A samovar at the end of each carriage provides an infinite supply of hot water for tea, coffee or Korean instant noodles. Since there's nothing much to do but eat, you can get very fat on these journeys. At various stops along the way, you can get out and buy unsuitable foodstuffs such as crayfish and pinecones.
The next day we went to Domodyedevo airport to get a flight to Krasnoyarsk. Typical Russian queue barging and seemingly endless beaurocratic conversations between customers and and ticket clerk meant that half an hour later we were still no closer to Krasnoyarsk. In the end, we went to a different airline and bought tickets to Novosibirsk. Well, at least it was in the right direction. Of course they only accepted cash.
Arriving in Novosibirsk, we tried to use get through to Dmitri, our guide, using the station phones. These are almost impossible to use, but with help we managed to get through. We got the first train to Krasnoyarsk (11hour journey) and some much needed sleep on the train. At Krasnoyarsk we met Dmitri, his dad, and their Toyota 4x4 van. This vehicle would be responsible for taking us to some stupid places.
The first caving area we visited was near Askiz [Аскиз] (only a day's drive from Krasnoyarsk [Красноярск]). This is in the Republic of Khakassia [хакасия], and the terrain here is steppe, ie. rolling grassland hills with a smattering of trees and ancient gravestones. The population is a mixture of native Khakas mongoloid people and Russians who were sent here under Communism for some reason or other. Siberia in August was a little too hot for our liking, so it was nice to get underground. Being inside caves was also a good way of getting away from the mosquitos. While we were underground, a sheep was bought from a local in Askiz and summarily dispatched. Needless to say, our meals for the next few days consisted of mainly of mutton.
Banya [баня] The Russian sauna.
- Consume alcohol (a very bad idea)
- Get undressed, sit in the warm room and prepare yourself phycologically for the forthcoming ordeal
- Go into the hot room and sweat.
- Lie on a very hot bench while a friend throws water on the hot rocks creating a wave of scalding steam
- Your friend, brandishing a bundle of birch twigs, will thrash you to within an inch of your life.
- Run away
- Cover yourself in soap and pour cold water all over yourself.
- Before losing conciousness, get dressed and go outside.
- Consume alcohol
After a couple of days caving and camping, we drove off to meet a guy in Askiz who had a banya (sauna). We tried this out (see inset) and then chatted with the locals over vodka before driving north, back into the taiga region (Siberian forest). Here visited a number of caves including one still used by shamans for arcane purposes. One of the most impressive caves was Oreshnaya Peshchera; a 42km long cave in conglomorate limestone (geological term for natural concrete). Without Igor our guide, we would have been lost underground for several days. This is a small part of the survey.
Our last caving trip was also the most spectacular. Zhenevska Peshchera is situated at the end of the Yenisey resovoir, some 20km by boat from the Krasnoyarsk dam. The cave temperature was below freezing, so all the walls were covered in glittering frost, and the ice formations were incredibly intricate crystals.
After two weeks of caving and culture, we went in search of true Siberian wilderness. And we found it. We took the train to Severobaikalsk, a town at the northern end of Lake Baikal. There we met some Czech guys who had similar aspirations to go somewhere off the beaten track. A few days later we were several kilometres from the nearest track of any sort whatsoever. We spent four days and nights walking, camping, and eating wild mushrooms and berries along with our limited food supply. At the end of the four days, we only had half a tube of mustard and a third of a pot of margarine left. Perfect planning.
We got back to the village of Baikalskoe with enough time to get the bus back to Severobaikalsk, and then a flight in a small turbo-prop aircraft down to Ulan Ude (£20). From here we got the train back to Novosibirsk in time to get our flights back to London via Moscow.