Close to Death on Lake Baikal

Anya and I had just done something which still gives me nightmares when I close my eyes. It was the 20th of February, and we were adventuring deep into Siberia. The gorgeous Lake Baikal was frozen solid, and when we stood 40 metres above the ice on the most northern tip of its only island, it felt as if we were looking over the edge of the world. That should’ve been enough adventuring for one day, but I had other ideas.

Far down below, I could see the most beautiful small bay which had frozen in an astonishingly picturesque way... I knew I had to climb down. I felt confident in doing it, and any doubts in my abilities were quickly ignored when Anya seemed eager for it as well. I knew I couldn’t chicken out. At first glance it seemed fairly straightforward, but as we started to climb, the distance to the bottom seemed further and further. It soon became unimaginably dangerous when the only things to cling onto on this rock cliff were the wild plants. The frozen soil hardly anchored their roots, and these little mounds jutting out of the cliff would crumble underfoot and hand whenever too much weight was put on them. I told Anya, who was behind me, to wait as I went further down to see if it was possible to get to the bay. I could hear soil and rocks tumbling down to the ice under my foot as they became loose from the cliff. I felt at any second it would be me falling next. Then I looked back to see Anya above me and knew straight away it was impossible to climb back up. Below me, the next section was even steeper; practically vertical. I was stuck.

Panicked, I tried to scramble up, but the ground just crumbled away around my freezing fingers. It is so difficult to describe my exact feeling at this moment, but I felt my life was over. I couldn’t find a foothold or handhold which didn’t crumble, and I knew at any moment the small mound I was putting all my weight on would break away and I would fall down to the frozen rocks.

Anya saved my life in the end. I had to use Anya’s foot to climb up. This was a horrible situation because her position wasn’t much better, but she had to take all of my weight as I climbed up using her body. There were moments when I was just hanging onto her foot, unable to find sturdy ground...hanging on for my life 30 metres above jagged rocks. I have never been so scared. Climbing down was the worst decision of my life. When eventually we reached the top, my heart was thumping so hard I felt dizzy and had to lie down! Shaking like a baby and with numb hands from gripping frozen soil, Anya and I headed back to our tent, lucky to be alive.

J Fox-Powell

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