(Newsdesk) Last year Spanish extreme diver sent over news about his Baltic Sea crossing and ice dive with disabled athlete, Jesus Noriega. This year, mid-March, he was on thin ice on Lake Baikal, meeting his ego as an explorer.
Armed with tanks and tubes, turbulent thoughts bombarded his head. Paco could do what he is passionate about, ice diving, but the expedition was more than just a sport challenge, he writes to Exweb. The transparent, thin and breaking ice added to mental games that played out in Paco's head, "all the pieces fall down and all priorities are put in their proper place.” He shares a very personal account of his experience on the largest lake on earth.
My expedition to Lake Baikal in Russia has been a success. A great adventure with great dives under the ice and with very tense moments and many times, quite scary.
The ice of Lake Baikal was in very poor condition and the very first day, with low concentration and half-asleep, I fell into the water because I didn't see a thin ice area in the first 50 meters!!
Luckily I reacted fast and I could get out quickly without the water coming into the boots or the pants.
There was virtually no snow on the lake and I skated continually on the pure ice. The only option was to use elastic crampons that I fortunately was wearing in case I encountered a situation like this.
The first day was terrible. It was my first attempt to drag the 100 kg equipment and a strong headwind stopped me completely. The temperature was -28°C and the wind-chill could reach -40°C. I could not avoid high peaks of stress, tension and anxiety in the first three days.
The first great battle was certainly mental. My head was bombarding me with hundreds of messages. But what are you doing here? Why are you doing this? Is it well worth the risk? You will fall into the water! You risk too much!…
I could not stop it, but day after day the volume of that voice in my head went down until it disappeared.
Open water and eerie sounds
I did not have information about the ice before I started walking. At each step I felt I could go into the water. Because it was crystal clear ice, sometimes I could even see the seabed up to 20m deep.
The plan was to do 25 km in 8-10 hours each day, but as I was eager to get out of areas with thin ice, sometimes I completed the 25 km in 4 hours and 45 minutes.
The third day of progression I began to see open water channels. The sensation can be terrifying when you're alone and so far from land. I could see that the ice plates were increasingly getting thiner and unsafe. Fortunately, a hovercraft of the emergency service were near-by and came to my aid, leaving me near the coast to continue my route to the north.
The first nights on the ice were quite difficult. The fractured ice created an eerie sound that could be heard kilometers away.
After a few days, the bag with all the necessary equipment to dive under the ice, fell from the pulka and the gear was lost, I thought. Fortunately after walking ing back 15 km, I was lucky and I found the bag.
The days of diving under the ice were planned in advance. During the expedition, at different waypoints on the lake, my Russian "contacts" helped me to break the ice, which could have a thickness of up to 1 m.
Ice conditions in the North
Unfortunately I could not get to the North end of the lake. The temperatures this year were very unstable, changing in a few days, and fast, from -34ºC to -10ºC. This caused the ice to fracture and cracks appeared; some were many kilometers wide, impossible to cross.
Authorities warned me that five people from small nearby towns had died while falling through the ice. During this year the ice was too thin in the North and was too risky. After I did several attempts, finding every time open water and thin ice, I decided to end the expedition further south.
I am personally very happy, even though I suffered frostbite, lost feeling in a toe, and high temperatures and climate change would not let me reach the North, I think it has been a success, completing the challenge to explore the lake, skiing and diving under the ice at various points along the route.
More than a sports challenge
This adventure had a purpose far beyond crossing the lake or complete a "sports challenge”: a personal goal to find personal answers to personal questions. I needed only two days to find the vast majority of those answers.
The rest was a daily struggle to try to create a single teamwork between body and mind, to tame an ego that was fully exposed on the ice when I ask to myself "why?". Two weeks alone on the ice are sufficient, as if it was a “Tetris", all the pieces fall down and all priorities are put in their proper place ... while the ice remains just that, ice. In this regard, I have the certainty that Lake Baikal has been a turning point in my interest to explore the polar regions and their unexplored seabed.
Certainly, thinking about the goal without enjoying the journey is absurd if the ego is driving us. Search for the medal or a pat on the back is the stupidest thing that can motivate conducting an expedition like this, where the risk is real. Nevertheless, it is the ego that drives the vast majority of "athletes" and explorers who face similar challenges. "Being the first ..." "being the most ...", "demonstrate that ...".
And I am just one more explorer, so I heard my ego very loud on Baikal. He was hiding behind the ice and I found him just in front of me. We talked at length. I don't push him out, because it is part of each of us and make it go away is impossible, but I explained my terms ... and without option, he accepted.
Now it's time to return to the daily adventure, to face the most complex fears, every day, and try to cross this other lake, sometimes frozen. An adventure where one does not carry or map or GPS, just a compass that only sometimes does not work too well ...
Lake Baikal update (Baikal 2010)
Paco Acedo’s Website
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