Why the north shore?
Because it is cool! Thousands and thousands of tourists come to the south coast each year. They usually visit the Siberian capital Irkutsk (Иpkytck) and touch the lake's water in Listvyanka (Листвянка). Some hundreds come also to the lake's biggest island, Ol'khon (Ольхон), but only a few people come to the north, where tourists are still rare, tourist services almost absent and accommodation available mostly only under the beautiful sky. But, trust me, the north is really worth seeing!
The northeast coast has one striking feature: the sunsets are usually much more interesting than the sunrises as you can see the sun on the lake's western shore. However, some of the most impressive photography of dawns and morning light I have experienced in my life were on the Frolikha Lake (Oзepo Фpoлиxa), which is about 8 km from the very beautiful Ayaya bay (Гyбa Aяя), on Lake Baikal's east coast. It is a charming, calm, deep and highly transparent glacial lake, surrounded by high hills. I am quite sure that this is one of the best photographic locations in all of Russia. By the way, in the language of the old Evenks, people living here in the past, Ayaya means "very, very beautiful". And it is.
Not only for a photographer, Yarki (Яpkи) also is a very attractive place in the very north, a sandy island several kilometers long but only a few meters wide. The best feature of this place is a broad view of the lake, framed by high mountains on both sides.
One point I wish to emphasize here is that the lake is about 80 kilometers wide. As you can imagine, it is easy fill your viewfinder with the whole of the scene's dynamic range. Despite the fact that I have never used one in my life, in this case it would be sensible to add a neutral density gradient filter to your camera bag. It might be the perfect opportunity to use one.
How to get there
The options for travelling to Lake Baikal are plentiful. If you are coming from the West, probably the best choice is to take the popular Trans Siberian railway in Moscow and observe the passing landscape through the window for about 4 days. It is a perfect way to concentrate and to prepare for the beauty you are going to see. But no matter which method of transport you choose, you will probably have to go to Nizhneangarsk (Hижheahгapck), the very old village near to the city Severobaikalsk (Cebepoбaйkaлck), which you can reach by train, car, airplane, boat and hydrofoil or even by the ice road. In the summer, you can get a boat from Nizhneangarsk to a very small and beautiful spa resort - Khakusy (Xakycы). This is a great place to start for hiking, boating or both together. New travel guides, both from Lonely Planet and Bradt, list a lot of transport possibilities. By the way, Severobaikalsk and Nizhneangarsk are almost the only towns on the northern shore where people live during the whole year. In Khakusy, there are just about 4 people for a part of the year, and some fishermen who stay for some months in this place. Except for these and some potential hikers, you will hardly meet anybody out of the main summer season.
When to come?
We visited Lake Baikal during an “Indian Summer”, as this is supposed to be the best period to visit Siberia: the number of mosquitoes is significantly lower than during the hot summer time (but they are still very, very annoying); most of the other hikers are usually gone; and the weather is still nice. However, next time I should like to see Lake Baikal in the winter, when it is quite normal to walk over the more than one-meter thick ice covering the lake. It has to be amazing!
What to do there?
You can take pictures, of course, but moving from one place to another might be an issue. Probably the most popular option is just hiking along the shore, with all your stuff on your back. Two Germans, Tom Umbreit and Frank Fabian, who founded a special association called Baikalplan, were strongly attracted to hiking along the north coast. Check out their website (http://www.baikalplan.de), where you can find a lot of interesting and important information about the locality. These guys had the idea of building a trail around the coast, Frolikha Coastline Adventure Track (F.A.C.T.). Thanks to them, you can now hike almost 100 km around the lake, impossible before due to the taiga jungle. Moreover, they are also planning to renovate some of the old wooden huts and one of the old wooden fisherman’s houses on the west coast. Enjoy!
Another option for getting about is to rent a big boat: while we were there we met a photography expedition of maybe 7 photographers from Moscow, who rented a motor catamaran with a guide. And they told us it was simply perfect. Or you can also do what we did: take your own small canoes with tents and enjoy the wilderness of the Baikal's cold water. For us, this was such a deep experience that we now consider ourselves to be different people from those who arrived there originally. Boating on your own might not look ideal for photographers, but that is not true. Despite the fact that you have to work a lot during the day, during sunrises and sunsets there are perfect opportunities to concentrate fully on photography. Moreover, with your own small boat you can easily change your position and take pictures from small sandy islands, located several hundred meters from the most northern shore, such as Dagary Bay (Дaгapckaя Гyбa) and Yarki Island.
What are the risks you have to consider?
Well, there are bears, but these creatures are really wild and usually afraid of people. When they learn of your presence, they are likely to avoid conflict whenever possible.
If you decide to go boating on your own, please, read a lot of instructions about it, as you really need to have some skills and previous experience with water. To give you an example: we were almost overturned half a kilometer from the shore by waves 3 meters high. The water is really cold, and an average European could swim there only for a few minutes.
The biggest risk from Lake Baikal is obvious: you will fall desperately in love with its beauty and untouched nature, so that you will have to return there as often as possible. That's what happened to us.
Read this article, and many more, in High Definition, inside Issue 14 of Landscape Photography Magazine.