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Mushing to Moscow

Irkutsk is the jumping off point for Lake Baikal, the world’s deepest and weirdest lake. Water gushed into the space between two tectonic plates and created a huge crescent-shaped water that runs over 600km. It’s apparently more than a fifth of the world’s fresh unfrozen water. The tectonic plates are slowing moving away from each other and may one day split so that this could be the world’s fifth sea. Isolated within these depths is a unique ecosystem that serves as a sanctuary for freshwater seals, the nerpa, and the omul fish.

You get omul thrust at you as you get off the train at Slyuyanka, but the nerpa are hiding out under the ice. The frozen water lives up to its Pearl of Siberia nickname. As we walk along the lakefront there’s a curl of ice jutting out where the ice has shifted. Because spring sun is coming in you can hear the ice tingling and cracking around the curl. It’s still possible to walk out on the ice though as it’s more than a metre deep. Locals drive their cars out there and there’s regular traffic of hovercrafts and skidoos. Guidebooks are snooty about locals getting holiday snaps in front of the curious ice formations so we ‘fight the cold with cold’ by eating ice cream and posing for even cornier shots.

We shy away from the lake to find some old-school dog sledding. Our trainer Alexander introduces us to each of the dogs – Winston (named not for Churchill but for a favourite cigarette brand) is the leader, Mishka is a blue-eyed girl and then there’s a white dog that Alexander explains is a “crazy dog we usually don’t take him out with the others. He is trouble.”

Bundled up in a neck to toe camouflage ski suit, I hop into the sled. It’s a slower pull than I thought, but still whistles through the snowy birch forest at speed. The snows are melting so the trails are getting muddy and Alexander yells the dogs on. The crazy dog does a good job of crapping as he runs, his legs scattering around the faeces as he scrambles on. Alexander cuts across some little peaks and the sled does short jarring jumps. We swap drivers and the dogs wolf down snow to cool off. On the way back I take Alexander over a couple of jumps and he laughs “Okay, okay” as we slide back home.

Over a post-mushing cup of tea, we look at other dog sports like Canine-cross that harnesses a human behind a fleet-footed pup in an example of dog walking that won’t make your osteopath very happy. There’s also the story of Nicholas Vanier, a modern day adventurer who took a team of dogs from Baikal all the way to Moscow and almost froze to death several times in Siberia. We prefer the train.


  1. I've checked out Lake Baikal on the web and it looks stunning. could you please post more photos when you get home.
    Katie x

  2. I'm vicariously enjoying the trip with you, but mostly lurking, as usual.
    FINALLY you have written a post about dogs!
    I hope it is okay with you that I have linked to this post for all us dog-bloggers out there.

  3. @parlance, thanks for the excelletn link ( and for updating me on Vanier ( - it seems he may have been guily of being a 'meanie greenie' and not cared properly for his dogs during this trip.
    On the Baikal dog sledding people, though, they seemed very consideate to their pups. The dog trainers introduced us to each before the ride and when we said thanks pointed to the dogs saying "Thank them."

  4. @kcarigan, will do though most of them are us yutzing it up on the Lake. Several odd snaps of omul though. None of bears though as it was a very creepy zoo that had them.

  5. Thanks for the info about canine cross. I thought I'd heard of every canine sport there was - and now one more to investigate!

  6. I think the crapping and the mushing have some causal relationship - the Finnish dogs did just the same thing. Unfortunately J. was in the sled at the time, with me 'driving'. Being on eye-level with their crapping behinds did nothing to soften his firm conviction that our canine friends are basically nasty, I'm afraid.


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