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My diary of a walk across a frozen Lake Baikal

As an expedition this progressed from zero to full throttle at an alarming rate. As it became evident that, after almost five years of trying, I may never get to attempt to cross the Bering Strait, my attentions turned to something new. Lake Baikal.

I had been living and working on the small Greek island of Thassos when all of this started to take shape. The first thing to do was to consider a team of people able and willing to do it. I was considering a team of six British polar explorers and Rosie Stancer was the first person that I contacted. She was immediately interested and we had our first meeting in London at on 17th September 2018.

She said yes and by 3 October I was at her family home in Somerset for a planning session. Many things were to change. First of all we brought it forward from 2020 to 2019 as Rosie has heard of other explorers going out in 2019. So we only have four months to pull this together. Rosie also felt that doing this as a group endeavor was too easy. So she suggested that we both do it solo. One of us to start at the north of the lake and the other to start at the south. I added to this by suggesting we try to become the first people to touch the furthest north, south, east and west points of the lake. So, that was it, the plan was hatched. We kept the plan secret though lest any other explorers tried to beat us to it.

Mike Laird 10th Jan 2019

Rosie came to stay with me in Edinburgh for a further planning session. We did a 22 km walk together across Edinburgh and sorted lots – lots still to do. We agreed that I shall be starting at the north of the lake. This could be slightly tougher as the winds are, more often than not, southerly. Also I am more likely to meet open water in the south end of the lake by the time I get there.

Some long walks followed, kit was discussed and selected, I visited my chiropractor, dentist and doctor. I re-did my Will, Power of Attorney and a letter of instruction to my Executors. Just in case! Numerous communications were exchanged with the British Embassy in Moscow discussing the drugs we want to take in and the drone. Allowed; cocodamol, naproxen, acyclovir and diclofenac. Not allowed tramadol. Regards the drone we are supposed to fill in all sorts of forms and submit flight plans. I don’t have the time to do that!!

By February I was looking at weather reports and concern grew that it's almost too warm. I'm a bit worried about ice melting and me going through. I am taking the more dangerous north to south route, plus I weigh twice what Rosie does. Thankfully she should be safe.

Mike Laird 25th February 2019

On 25th of February I did a radio interview at Veterans Aid (our chosen charity). In the afternoon we tested the satellite phones and comms kit and I stayed at Rosie’s home in London.

The next morning we made our way to Heathrow. We had the two large sledges wrapped together, two ski bags, four big kit bags plus personal rucksacks. For excess baggage we had to pay £165. Not too bad really. We had a three hour change in Moscow before flying on to Irkutsk.

Landing at Irkutsk was pretty much as expected. Most of the buildings around the runway were in poor condition. At the end of them all stood the relatively modern and relatively better looking terminal building. As it was a domestic flight we proceeded straight to the baggage area. This was in a glass walled enclosure and the doors to it were locked. I grabbed us some trolleys and we stood by the door. Whilst waiting we met Eugene our bi-lingual fixer. What a nice guy.

Mike Laird 1st March 2019

I got up really early. Being collected at 6:30. I emptied my room to left luggage. Enjoyed a great breakfast and then drove 75 minutes to Kultuk which is where Rosie was setting off from. I put on my microspikes and walked out onto the ice. Quite surreal. Helped Rosie take her sledge to the ‘waters’ edge. I walked out and filmed for a while as Rosie walked off across the ice. I would next see her in 3 or 4 weeks.

I spent the day sightseeing alone in Irkutsk and getting provisions for the train journey that lay ahead of me. Met Gina a Swede at lunch. She had just completed the route herself. I also met Scott Gilmore in the evening. He would be starting in the next few days. Eugene helped me to get all my own kit to the train in the evening. It was a real struggle. There were two Russian guys and a woman in my carriage so there was not much room at all. I managed to get my skis stowed by paying a few hundred Roubles to someone. The carriage was a sweltering 28C.

Mike Laird 2nd March 2019

Got to know the guys in my room a lot better. Drank an awful lot of vodka with them. They were interested to know what I was doing but our language skills were a challenge. We still managed to have a conversation of sorts, aided by a pen, paper, my broken Russian and a lot more vodka.

Mike Laird 3rd March 2019

Got off train at Severobaikalsk with a pretty bad hangover. Met by a woman called Anastasia who had been arranged by Eugene and drove me to Nizhneangarsk. My accommodation was very poor and way out of town. It was effectively a shared house, with 7 or 8 large labourers living in it. One shared and very smelly toilet and a grumpy owner. After dropping my kit in my room I walked out onto the ice at the far north end of the lake. I tested the drone and my stoves. The kerosene that I had been given for the stoves was useless so I had to contact Anastasia and arrange to go and get some petrol. I ate some simple food in the evening and charged all my batteries.

Bill Hyatt-Steel 4th March 2019

I set off at 7:30. This was it!!! One of the labourers was watching me as I harnessed myself to my sledge. The thermometer was showing minus 13 degrees centigrade. Two kilometre walk from my accommodation to the shoreline. Spikes on. Started well and fast on ice road but had to keep giving way to cars. The most northerly point on the lake was easy to get to. Left my sled and waded through deep snow to get to it and mark it on my GPS. Not at the coordinates I had calculated though. Had to then go over more deep snow. Way slower and my skis not readily available. Saw an ice fisherman. Both MSR stoves did not work therefore I shall have no fresh water and no hot food for the whole expedition but I am not turning around now. Hope I can cope with reduced rations. Quite a decision to have to make on day one. Plus, I did not reach my intended camp so I am already behind target.

Bill Hyatt-Steel 5th March 2019

I heard the sound of a bird flapping its wings as it flew overhead. So quiet out here. Sorted skis et cetera but did not set off until 10:00 am. Got to the most easterly point. Very happy with myself but know that the other two points will be much, much more challenging to reach. After the headland was a straight line for almost 100 kilometres. Bearing 235 degrees. Walked into the dark. Temperature dropped needed third layer. Neck gaiter, balaclava, two head torches. GPS battery died so I stopped to dig some out. Had been walking 250 steps and checking the compass then every 1000 steps checking the GPS. It taught me though that I do not have enough batteries so I need to rely on natural navigation, sun and stars where possible. I latched on to Orion's belt. Eventually at 10:30 pm I had enough, was super tired. Slept in sledge under stars – no tent. Quicker to set up my kit.

Bill Hyatt-Steel 6th March 2019

Woke up cold and wet from breath moisture. Quick to pack up. Started 7:00 am. Cereal bar breakfast. Started with head torch. Nice when the sun came up. By 1:00 pm I had got to where I should have camped last night. I am already falling behind and I'm worried about that. There is the chance I can make up time walking on the ice when I get further south. Plus I have a three day contingency. Otherwise need to plan on early extraction. Very beautiful today. Walked until 5 pm. Already 19 miles short of target. Did manage to sort kit. Only put in two ice screws for the tent at night as there was little wind.

Used bivvy bag for additional warmth in the tent. Sleeping bag already wet. Special booties to keep feet warm. Sorted rubbish bag as have rubbish in every pocket. Great sunset. Temperature plummeted by 7:00 pm. Got into tent. Charged phone using solar cell. Overall quite happy. Just wish I was on target. Iridium Go not working. Annoyed we got all of this equipment so late and had little time to get familiar with it.

Bill Hyatt-Steel 7th March 2019

Woke at midnight and decided to stay in my wet sleeping bag. Got up 3:45 am. Did filming. I could still see the teasing twinkling lights of Severobaikalsk still visible even though they are two days walk away. Fuck it's cold. Guess around -20C.

Bill Hyatt-Steel 8th March 2019

Better start. Still heading 235 degrees. Botty chaffing way better. Bit constipated. Saw what I think is a distant hotel on the shore. Open or closed? Met father and son who were fishing. They had ice holes cut through the ice and I was able to get some fresh water.

Treacherous climbing through ice field covered in snow. They said they hope the hotel has water and beer. Very tempting but I am already more than one day behind. Got 4 water bottles filled. Cruel irony of emptying a nalgene after an hour or it would have become frozen and useless. Sounds of ice cracking like living in a warzone with explosions. Uneasy. They also sound like 1980s synth drums. I have a very sore head and am getting shingles. Took scissors to two large blisters. Each time I looked up it was as if God had turned more lights on – so many stars. Two frozen thermos as water was zero degrees centigrade when it went into the thermos. I took the last remaining nalgene bottle into my sleeping bag. It was cold against me but at least that would mean I had drinking water in the morning. The heel of my boot is already ripping from the ski bindings. Walked until 10:00 PM. Slept outside again. Stars are amazing. Desperately cold even in clothes, sleeping bag and bivvy.

Bill Hyatt-Steel 9th March 2019

So cold. Up after 7:00 am. Packed and started walking at 8:25 am. Constant thoughts about time and distance. Hopefully once further south there will be less snow and I will be able to travel faster. Daily ritual; get up, put on boots, do some exercises to warm up. Then, sort pouches and harness. Put batteries back into GPS. Check InReach battery percentage. Food, water, de-ice sleeping bag and bivvy, pack sled, take some photos, write diary notes.

Kit adjustments during day as temperature changes. Solar panel - iPhone. Melted water. Open lead. Changing snow- moved to microspikes. Faster. Ice is changing too. Could now see black depths. Snow covering had being a psychological help. Have dumped some excess food. Set up tent around 8:00 ap. Have very little water, still no hot food. Battened down my kit to the tent, put in four ice screws. Text support guy then sleep.

Bill Hyatt-Steel 10th March 2019

Woken by terrible storm at 2:00 am. Squashing the tent against me. I doubt the tent will survive. The vestibule is full of snow. Took everything essential (batteries, GPS etc) into the sleeping bag in case the tent is blown away during the storm. Praying. Poles bashing my head therefore still flexible so I was happy. Noticed how bad tramp like I am smelling. Had worn my thickest thermals thankfully. They were awesome. Got up at 9:00 am as the storm relaxed a little. Sorted all kit inside tent. Vestibule full of snow. One bag not properly closed last night. Boots also full of snow. Thank goodness for the ice screws. Amazed my tent only moderately damaged.

Long slog. Not happy getting up so late. Got shingles on forehead – affects right eye, sunlight strong. A day and three quarters behind schedule. Going to be difficult. Sometimes 2.25 mph but normal is 1.5 mph. Third finger on each hand extremely sore. Nose tip bleeding and crusty. Can see small houses at lake edge near camp 5. Skied until 7:00 pm and wanted to go on but was being chased by a storm. Slept in sled. (Not yet had a poo).

Bill Hyatt-Steel 11th March 2019

The storm through the night was shocking but I came through it really well. I woke several times and eventually got up about 7:00 am and was geared up and going by 8:00 am. Amazed it still takes an hour. I took off the thick thermals as I knew from the North Pole that sweating too much and having it freeze would be a bad thing. I put on my windsuit. Bitch of a day. Wind in all directions. Sledge playing up, swinging left and right and hitting me, pulling me over. My aim initially was to get level with the town I had highlighted on my map. Needed to hope they have Wi-Fi that extends to the lake so I can contact Rosie. Also get water and hope to get MSRs fixed.

When I passed the location of my intended 6 camp it was through a very difficult ice field. The village on the other side was just 10 houses. Some old and some yet to be completed. One had smoke coming from its chimney. I decided to head there. It was 1.5 kilometres off my course but I started today with 900 millilitres of water and now had only 500 millilitres, less than one pint. I got as close as I could and left my sled and kit on the ice. I took two water bottles and clambered over ice and rocks towards the small house. I shouted hello in English and Russian as I approached and a lady opened a window. I explained I was a tourist, spoke little Russian and asked for water. She beckoned me inside. It was roasting.

Took off my harness, utility belt, neck gaiter, face mask, hat, balaclava, gloves, fleece, mid layer, and was still too hot. Nastia spoke little English. Got rid of my rubbish. She had filled water bottles and now I'm drinking them. Great to have water. Someone will look at my MSR stoves. Sent message to Steve Jones so he knows I have accepted help.

Bill Hyatt-Steel 12th March 2019

Cool still morning perhaps minus 5 degrees centigrade. No gloves, only two layers. Message from Steve. Will meet Rosie today or tomorrow. So, she is ahead of schedule.

People say there is open water further down south. Striding out - I felt like a machine. Ice cracked directly in front of me. I saw the line run out ahead of me. Scary, but not open water. After two hours I had done 5.6 miles. My best speed yet. So happy. Had a snack and kept going. Passed a nice but simple hotel on the distant shore between intended camps seven and eight. After about four hours ran into the tour group on the ice along with some illegal fishermen who had dropped a net 150 metres long through a hole in the ice. They gave me 3 fish which were already frozen. Not entirely sure of what they thought I was going to do with them! The two fishermen were rough and tough looking guys who smelled strongly of vodka.

I lost my sunglasses somewhere mid-afternoon, most likely when I stopped to talk to the fisherman. Did I really lose them? Overall a good day. Met Scott Gilmour on the ice and we did a short video and took some photographs of ourselves together.

It became really windy. I had done almost 30 miles which was staggering. Could not put up tent due to weather so headed for a finger of land and use the ice field as a shelter from the wind. Put up tent, disassembled skis, chopped ice and fucking MSRs still did not work. No hot food again! Water 1.5 litres remaining.

Bill Hyatt-Steel 13th March 2019

4:00 am alarm failed as iPhone died in the cold. Got up at 6:30, sorted feet. Ready with windsuit and loo roll. Still no poo. Later in morning had a poo not that big but, at least it was a poo. The day had started well covering over 5 miles in 2 hours. Then I encountered ice field after ice field all day. I'm sure I did a few extra miles due to the detours. The worst icefields I've ever been in.

In the end I didn't meet Rosie due to a blizzard. My MSRs still don’t work. My sled should be getting lighter but it's not. I should be consuming fuel and food but because the stoves don’t work, I'm not. I am affectively pulling 2 fuel canisters 10 litres of fuel, two cookers and dehydrated food for 28 days. None of which can be used, consumed or dumped.

Serious shin splints in right calf. Serious blisters on both feet. Now using talc and tape. Went through the ice twice. The first time was extremely scary. I came down from a small ridge, the sledge came crashing down after me, broke through the ice and then pushed me into it. I immediately let go of my ski poles, rolled onto my side and onto stronger ice. Went in up to my knees, plus wet across my bottom and my back. Thank goodness it's only 0 degrees and there is little wind.

The wind picked up significantly at midday. Needed windsuit. Took me until 6:30 pm to do my target distance for today. Still two days behind. Can still be done. My main video camera is at capacity. Bed by 9:00 pm. Tired and sore. Started to take diclofenac tablets.

Bill Hyatt-Steel 14th March 2019

Heard what I assumed to be a seal during the early hours of the morning. It sounded like a cow mooing. Alarm went off at 4:00 am and I hit the snooze button with my nose as I am wearing gloves in my sleeping bag. Got up at 4:30. Still took me 2 hours to sort everything well and to set off. Started fast but shin splints kicked in again. Agony. Weather was very varied. The very worst icefields.

Had a huge poo. Felt awesome. Just dropped my trousers by sled! Alongside Olkhon Island by 6:00 pm in a light snowfall. I had intended to walk until 7:00 pm but came across a huge lead. Plus point, I can get drinking water. I have an issue with no remaining AAA batteries for head torches.

Bill Hyatt-Steel 15th March 2019

My Thermarest was soaking as usual. The bottom of my tent was frozen to the ice. Due to my body heat I guess. I kept Olkhon Island on my left hand side and started walking. Saw a vehicle and detoured half a kilometre from my path to get onto the ice road. Turned out to be a good idea. Relatively busy road and therefore lots of exposed ice. This meant that I did not have to trudge through or ski over snow.

Found open water twice which was a blessing. Met a local called Sergei who was skating and skiing around the island. Very, very sore feet. New blisters. Needed to attend to them during the day so stopped and dressed blisters and wounds in the field.

Got to within sight of Khuzir around 7:30 PM. No chance to get into town and safely leave sledge. So I stayed on the ice. So near and yet so far. Cruel! Lots of Chinese tourists taking photographs on the ice. Big centre for tourism. Amazing scenery, rock cliffs and icicles. Set up tent. Small group having a party nearby. Wanted to approach them and buy a beer but there was a wide open water lead between me and them. Had signal so made phone calls home and then slept. Rosie suggesting she may not make the eastern point.

Bill Hyatt-Steel 16th March 2019

Great sleep. Up at 5:45 am. Clean socks. Will be a long day if I am to get past the island. What a day! No day here is ever dull. I left the town of Khuzir behind me and almost immediately had to figure out how to cross a huge lead. Easy to get drinking water all day again. Passed several other villages. All ugly. All modern. Most likely sprung up to meet demand from tourism. Met two skaters. Met a chap called Vladimir on a very cool bike able to cycle across snow and ice with spiked, fat tyres. Then came to the first of the three islands.

Terrible icefields with slabs like sauteed potatoes all lying at angles and all facing me, ie in the wrong direction to make it easy. Adjusted my sledge so that it could go through the ice more easily. Took ages to get out of it. Then there was a significant area of ice with surface water which caused me great concern.

I had only covered 20 miles by sundown at 6:30 pm. Not a great distance for such a long day. The surface of the ice is too wet to camp so I cannot set up the tent and this will be my fourth night sleeping in the sledge with no tent to protect me. Strangely due to my proximity to the island and tourists there is also quite a lot of traffic on the ice. So, sleeping on the ice is dangerous. It is in fact quite a playground out here; quad bikes, fast cars and hovercraft etc. I was properly snuggled down by 7:30 in my sleeping bag as the snow started to fall on me. I managed to make a couple of phone calls. Extremely sore feet and very uncomfortable left hip. Approximately 8 days to go. Fingers crossed.

Bill Hyatt-Steel 17th March 2019

Sleeping in the sled turned out to be a good idea as my bags froze to the Lake surface during the night. There was lots of surface water. I was visited by two police on a hovercraft late last night. They simply asked if I was okay and when I said yes they disappeared.

I remember seeing the lights of three small villages, all tantalisingly close. Also saw the moon go down early morning.

There was a very loud crack through the ice right under my sledge. It bothers me far less now it is as I realise it is only a crack. Not much moves in terms of the ice except around pressure ridges.

Got up with the twilight just before 7:00 am. Everything ready in 45 minutes which is way quicker than had I slept in the tent. Blisteringly cold. I turned left and headed south into the Gates of Olkhon. Past three villages on right hand side. All quite hard to reach, far from shore or elevated, so I pressed on. Being in this area was like being in a wind tunnel. Really fierce wind and extremely cold.

By the time I reached true open water I had done 5.5 miles and it was still 24 1/2 miles before I reached my intended camp 12. Found water, easy to open with axe. Precarious and dangerous to do this. Hitting the ice could split it wide open and I would go into the water but it was a chance I had to take in order to get drinking water. Both feet and hip still very sore. Stopped at 1:00 pm to tend them. Wearing microspikes for so many days may be the reason. Need to try and properly wash my feet. Not enough solar power to charge the InReach which is a worry. Right boot ripping badly and hurting my heel. Stopped after only 19 miles. Had plenty to eat, but still all just cold food. Popped multiple blisters. Bed at 8:00 pm.

Bill Hyatt-Steel 18th March 2019

Blowy night. Bitter morning. Needed wind suit. One layer of gloves was insufficient. Probably lower than minus 15 centigrade. Both sleeping mats now sodden. Sleeping bag more than damp, it is wet but at least still warm. Tended to my feet and boots. Set off at 7:30. Waved to two other people that I saw on the ice but they ignored me. Several motorcyclists went by and one of them gave me a beer. More tough ice fields. There was a fairly severe blizzard which created complete white outs for up to 5 minutes at a time. I skirted the land, there was a light beacon meant no doubt for boats when this is navigable water in summer. I could see cute farms nestled away in the forests. My hope was to meet the ice road. Later I passed a wooden jetty. The wind had become truly fierce by sunset. But I had to push on. Once in my tent and in my sleeping bag I enjoyed the beer. It was fabulous. I settled down to sleep in three layers and a windsuit and my sleeping bag and my bivvy bag. I slept in the sled inside the tent. Just as well as the wind picked up to be the worst yet. Thank God I attached all my kit and my tent to five ice crews. I hunkered down with the sleeping bag pulled tight around my head and face with only the smallest opening left to breathe through. It was an utterly vile night and desperately, desperately cold.

Bill Hyatt-Steel 19th March 2019

Getting up was not pleasant. The wind was still blowing very hard and was very cold. Thank goodness I was wearing my windsuit. As I packed and dismantled the tent I could not leave any item on the ground for it would blow away. It either had to be attached by carabinas to heavy kit bags or immediately put inside one of them and zipped up. It took me almost an hour but nothing blew away and that's the main thing. Nothing at all eventful happened today. A lot of smooth ice. Some ice fields but not bad compared to yesterday. Saw no birds, no skiers, no skaters, no people. I only saw one indication of human life, a distant hovercraft. My hip is not quite so troublesome today. My shin splints and blisters have eased a little too but it is all still slowing me down. Now only averaging 20 miles per day. Looks like I will finish late on the 25th. Got phone signal and spoke to Gary. Seems Rosie is quitting without hitting the eastern point.

Good for me if I can do all four points. Still possible so long as there is ice. Got to a nice place to camp. Set up early. Put my sledge inside the tent again and sleeping in it keeps my sleeping bag off the floor of the tent and prevents it from absorbing more water. Had a massive poo. Sorted food and everything for a good night. Bed before 9:00 pm.

Bill Hyatt-Steel 20th March 2019

Great sleep woke at 1:00 am. Got up at 5:00 am and set off at 5:50 am. Saw a yellow moon disappear and the sun come up soon afterwards. Needed to poo soon after setting off. Varied weather. Started off so well. Difficult to find water today. Some big and unexpected ice fields. Had mobile phone coverage until mid-afternoon. Wanted to do full distance but sun dipped behind a high mountain. I was two miles short of target and just as well I stopped as I have broken tent poles and had to do an on the spot repair which included sawing part of another tent pole. It was a good fix. Thankfully it was relatively wind free whilst I was doing this. Ate all of my cold food that remained for today. I was so hungry. I only managed to get drinking water at the end of the day. I have a bad and sore botty rash. Used my boxer shorts and ice cold water to wash with and then applied germolene. I have trench foot, my feet are rotting, and smell very bad. I have very raw flesh. Beautiful full moon. Music on my MP3 player helped me at the end of the day. I have hardly ever used it cause I like to listen to the ice, it helps me judge danger. I have a big hole in my boot which I've sorted reasonably well with gaffer tape and parachord. Only five more days to get through. Lower right leg now swollen. Thought it was boots and socks but I loosened them. Need solar power for InReach. Nice full moon. There are so many different types of snow and ice it is staggering. You learn to read it a little bit. There are some types of ice that I feel very comfortable to walkover and equally there are other types of ice which make me as nervous as hell. The types of snow are less in number and though it's kinder on your shins, knees and hips to walk or ski over it obscures what lies beneath and reduces to my overall angst. For some reason I thought about my childhood pets today. I have no idea why, but the thoughts made me very happy. I put my sled into my tent again this evening.

Bill Hyatt-Steel 21st March 2019

Got up at 5:00 am. Thought that would give me time and a good day. Feet took more than 30 minutes to bandage and dress. Then I discovered that my microspikes for my right boot had in fact broken so I had to fix that. I was staggered that the ice is so strong it managed to break a piece of steel chain. I linked the pieces together with paracord, which has now become a very good friend indeed.

When taking down the tent I had to tape together the new sections of pole which I had crafted last night. Today I was walking in a near total whiteout. Very poor visibility. Plus fresh snow on the ground which made walking slow and very hard work indeed. Very sore leg. Feet less sore. Eventually took off left boot microspikes and this helped a bit but I was slipping as I walked on the ice.

Met two Russian guys skating. Nice chaps. Approaching town (my intended camp 15). I put my phone on.

It seems Rosie has now done the eastern point so perhaps she went to Nizhneangarsk first to drop kit. I phoned a few people. Cried on the phone. Felt depressed. Don't want to fail. Dumped coffee, sugar, powdered milk on the ice – it will get eaten by some creatures most likely. Feet really bad. And smell. Had food. Four tough days ahead. Nearby village looks appealing. No solar power means no InReach. Filthy dirty. Feeling very emotional. Got nice photos.

Bill Hyatt-Steel 22nd March 2019

Alarm at 4:30 am got up quickly. Spent an hour putting dressings on my feet. Very limited battery. Tried to use solar. Head torch better. Also got a great Summit torch that only takes one AAA battery. Walked past the town of Bolshoye Koty. Walked about 11 miles. Fell through the ice twice just after getting some water. Very, very scared indeed. It was sheer terror that helped me get out making myself wide and long using my arms and legs fighting and scrambling. I didn't even think about the ice awls that were attached to the front of my harness. It was pure instinct that got me out. I guess it could have all gone the other way, horribly wrong!

All of the ice around me was making sounds and cracking. I so desperately wanted to go on and I did try but 50 meters further on my ski pole went straight through the ice and I knew I was in a seriously dangerous spot. Cried with frustration and the crushing feeling of failure. I phoned Eugene – he told me a Russian lady had died in the same area yesterday. He also told me there were areas of open water more than 100 metres wide up ahead of me. I was actually above an area of geothermic springs which compromise the ice but no one had told me and it was not indicated on the maps. I texted some friends and called others. A period of deliberation. I decided reluctantly that I had no choice other than to end my expedition here.

Changing into dry clothes took a lot of thought due to the fact that I was on and surrounded by ice that was precariously thin. I was in soaking wet clothes and as they dripped onto the ice underneath me it was getting thinner by the second and less and less able to support my weight. My sledge was about four metres away from me it weighed 90 ish kilos and I weighed 90 ish kilos moving towards it was necessary yet so very dangerous. My skis were three or four metres from me in another direction. I guessed that getting onto my skis would spread my weight and be the safest way that I could approach my sledge. It seemed to work. I got to my sledge, stripped naked, and opened my kit bag on the sledge. The first thing out of my kit bag (which is always packed at the top) was my down jacket. I put it on, zipped it up and pulled up the hood. Had anyone seen me there naked but for the jacket it would have looked an amusing sight. The reality though was that I was in a very dangerous situation. I managed to pull on some trousers and find a base layer, a dry hat and gloves and some socks. My boots though we're soaking and had I put my feet and dry socks into them it would soon be very uncomfortable and potentially difficult. I found two medium size dry bags amongst my kit and put each foot into one of these before putting it into my boot. My now frozen boot laces felt like wire and cut into my hands. Again it probably looked fairly amusing but from a survival perspective it was the best solution I could come up with given what I had at my disposal. I got another dry bag and put more dry clothes into it. I closed it up and laid it on the ice. So if the ice gave way and my sledge went through and sank I still had a chance of surviving. I waited on the ice for two hours. Eugene and the hovercraft could not find me. I could see them though and I lifted my skis above my head and waved them vigorously. Thankfully they saw me and the hovercraft came towards me. I was distraught. More tears.

Before I could get onto or into the hovercraft I had to take off my microspikes and sort my kit. The skis and poles went across the front of the hovercraft the bags went inside.

There was a German family in the hovercraft. We had to cross the lake to drop them in Tankhoy. On the return across the lake we stopped at a mock-up of the former halfway railway station. There used to be a winter railway that ran across the lake. Utterly amazing. I was taken to Listvyanka to be past the open water and to sort myself out.

Bill Hyatt-Steel 23rd March 2019

I had full water bottles and got some food for breakfast. I took a bearing to some peaks on the distant horizon 32 miles south-west of me. After that I didn't look at my compass direction for a long time. Progress was painfully slow. Deep snow. I think I had further hurt my left leg and hip when I fell through the ice yesterday. It was very sore. Progress only one to 1.5 mph. Really not great. I walked most of the way in just boots. Avoided the spikes in case leg pain worsened. I walked until about 8:00 PM. The twilight and moonlight was still good. I should have gone further but could not be bothered. I only did 15 or 16 miles. Slow going. I slept outside in the sled. It was lovely looking up at the stars. Had I not offloaded some weight from the sled I might have made even less progress. Got nice and warm and then off to sleep.

Bill Hyatt-Steel 24th March 2019

It was light when I got up. I had overslept. I was on my way in 40 minutes. A mouthful of nuts and sweets and some water. I did not have a lot of water. Walk, ski, walk. Baking hot. Base layer only. The sun was hurting my face. Put on Sudacreme as I had nothing else to protect my skin. Nose very blistered and crusty. Great to see the southern shoreline. Thought there may be a settlement or at least houses and a small shop. Crossing a lead I jabbed the ice hard with my pole. Water. Excellent. Cautiously filled 2 bottles. Walking back to sled I could see my footprints in the snow were wet. Once again I was in considerable danger and on very, very thin ice. Immediate thought was to get skis on to spread weight and move on. The whole area was precarious and creaking. I decided enough was enough not falling through the ice again and may not cheat death another time. I texted Eugene and decided to end at the southern-most point. 39 kilometres short of my goal, Kultuk, but alive. I had managed a full crossing from the most northerly to the most southerly points, as well as touching the most easterly point. I had also been on the west coast although not the most westerly point.

I sprint skied the remaining 5 kilometres as fast as possible for fear of falling through the ice. When I arrived on the southern shores I pulled my kit up onto the embankment which was covered in deep snow. I texted loads of family and friends. I did a short video and took photos of the area. Getting up the embankment was a hard slog I was desperately tired and pulling all of my equipment through waist deep snow was exhausting. I found a railway line and realised that this was part of the trans-Siberian railway and by following it I shortly arrived at the shabby old railway station called Pankovka 2. There weren't any actual railway buildings here but close by there were some very old wooden houses which had probably stood for a century or so. Between the houses ran half a dozen noisy and aggressive looking guard dogs. Each side of the railway line had a simple concrete platform perhaps 20 metres long and, a small timetable attached to a solitary metal pole. I had to work out whether there were any trains and in which direction the train travelled to ensure that I and all of my kit was on the correct platform.

I can make sense of the Cyrillic alphabet and worked out the word vostok. Having heard of vladivostok I guessed that vostok itself meant east. I needed to be travelling in a westerly direction and so based my platform decision on that alone. If my interpretation of the timetable was correct there would be a train at 7:10 am the following morning that would take me to Slyudyanka.

So I sorted my sled and all of my equipment and bedded down by the railway line. It was a very noisy and cold night. Large freight trains with up to 100 waggons hurtled by several times per hour and whipped up all of the snow around me. But, I really didn't care anymore. I was happy with my achievement.

Bill Hyatt-Steel 25th March 2019

Woke just after 3:00 am. I had slept a little despite the noise of the trains. My sleeping bag had become considerably wetter due to the snow kicked up by the passing trains together with the fact there was a heavy snowfall during the night. I set 2 alarms and moved my iPhone up to my chest pocket so that I had more chance of hearing it. Then I drifted back off to sleep. I got up at 6:30, I was covered in snow, the dogs were barking loudly. I put my boots on. I sorted my kit. I dumped excess water. I lined my bags up on the platform because I knew I could not lift the entire weight of the sled and all my kit together onto the train. One dog came to say hello to me and I gave it some salami. It was dangerous for him being near the railway line.

Three ladies emerged from one of the old wooden houses. One of them, a haggard looking lady in a stained, thin jacket stood there with no gloves and no hat. They asked me where I was from and I told them I was from the UK. They asked what I was doing there and I said I had skied from the north end of the lake. They didn't believe me. When the train arrived I opened one of the doors and quickly threw all of my kit inside. This was about four or five feet above ground level. The old concrete platform that I was standing on was obviously different to the ones normally served by this train. I paid slightly less than 300 Roubles for a ticket to Slyudyanka. It was one hour and 20 minutes away. An easy journey. I reviewed the photos on my camera and deleted any that were out of focus. During the train journey I phoned both Rosie and Eugene. We agreed that we would meet at Slyudyanka railway station. When I arrived at the railway station a man came to help me with my luggage and I offered him a tip and he refused he simply said ‘This is Siberia’. A very kind gesture indeed. It was a very historic and beautiful station built in 1904. I sat in the waiting hall and enjoyed two cappuccinos from a coffee machine and a bag of crisps whilst waiting for Eugene. Rosie did not come, she remained in the hotel. He brought me some nice food; sirniki and a cheese baguette.

We drove back via Kultuk to Irkutsk. I was given a very nice welcome when I arrived at the hotel. I had a porter bring my stuff to my room. I was embarrassed how I looked and smelled. Then I pottered in my room for an hour. I hung clothes and equipment up to dry. I arranged to meet Rosie in the bar. Had beers and caught up. I had no shoes on my feet, I smelled terrible. I was past caring.

Straight away Rosie wanted to start planning. Easy for her as she has been off the ice for several days. I had intended to go out but ended up staying in the hotel. Evening meal was excellent. I had pumpkin soup then black bread with beef tongue and melted cheese. Rosie had fish pelmeni. I couldn't stop going to the toilet.

Bill Hyatt-Steel 26th March 2019

I actually got up early at 6:30 am as there was a lot to do starting with texts and emails. I went down to breakfast at 8:00 am and was still there just before 10 when Rosie arrived. Three slices of baguette with salt beef, cheese and mustard. Then cheese and tomato omelette. Then chicken nuggets, noodles and salad. A pot of coffee and two fruit smoothies.

Rosie was obsessed with getting caviar to take home and I had to go along, as she speaks absolutely no Russian, even though I'm struggling to walk. I said I'd go shopping with her for two hours but in the end it was over four hours. Found the food market. Bought her red and black caviar. On the way she even went into a shoe shop and started trying shoes on. On the way back we stopped in a nice local restaurant. I had a delicious pork and potato dish plus a beer. Cost less than £5. Stopped in at supermarket where I got Armenian brandy, sweets for the aeroplane and sweets to take home. Then to my room for final packing, took stuff to Rosie's room and put the two sledges together for transport home and into the luggage storage room for tomorrow morning. More emails and text messages. Then out to the main square and an odd little eatery near the Angara Hotel. I think we ordered a total of nine dishes plus beer and water. The cost was just over £14. Pelmeni, big dumplings, beans, borscht, fried subreki, and other dishes. Delicious.

Eugene came to meet us at the hotel. We paid his costs and also gave him a 50 Euro tip which he was very pleased with. This is about two day’s wages for him. Rosie went to her room and I sat in the hotel bar. A very drunk and annoying man decided he really wanted to speak to me. He had in fact been head down on the bar when I arrived. He was soon escorted out and told to leave the hotel. A double Jack Daniels and Coke cost me 1800 roubles, about £22. I won't be buying one of those again. I went to bed around midnight.

Bill Hyatt-Steel 27th March 2019

Up at 6:30 am jaded. Shower. Took my remaining kit down to reception. Eugene was already there. I had a very quick breakfast and was ready at 7 which is what we had agreed. Got the kit inside the terminal building in two goes. Through the initial scan process. Then joined a queue. Dropped off oversize kit and equipment. Then Eugene assisted us in the S7 office to pay for the excess baggage. Then back to check in to show we had paid for the excess baggage and to get the luggage receipts. Waved goodbye to Eugene, went through security and onto our plane home.

(C) Mike Laird 2023