Sunday, August 25, 2013

Baikal team safely back in the U.S.!

This is the final post of Wellesley-Baikal 2013. The entire group made it to Logan Airport in Boston at about 10:15 p.m. Sunday evening. Everyone is in good shape, if very jet-lagged. Six of our checked bags somehow did not reach Logan with us, but those will be delivered by British Air tomorrow directly to their owners.
Thanks for following us on our Siberian adventure! Signing off,

Made it to Heathrow!

Though our flight from Moscow was delayed by half an hour, we seem to be in good shape, because our Heathrow-Boston flight is delayed by 45 minutes. So, we're here at the gate and hope to board within the next half hour! The attached photo shows how vibrant and full of joie de vivre our group is feeling right now.

Made it to Domodedovo Airport, Moscow!

We had an absolutely trouble-free departure from Irkutsk Airport
today. After a fond farewell to our wonderful translators, Sergei and
Ruslan, we left on time -- no fog! -- and arrived on time in Moscow.
We'll leave on British Airways for Heathrow in about five hours. In
the meantime, students and faculty are chilling. And guarding our
bags. I'll try to post again from Heathrow, but the connection is a
tight one and I may not have time. Best to all,
Tom Hodge

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Don’t cry for me, Si-iberia!

Today was our first and last free day in Irkutsk. We traveled by tram
into the center of the city and checked out as much of the town as we
could. Today was Souvenir Shopping Spree Day, where we took advantage
of purchasing Russian chocolates, Russian magnets, and other super
Russian things. We dined at an elaborately decorated Uzbekistani
restaurant, which of course served Russian cuisine. It was delicious
nevertheless, some of the best borshch we have eaten on this trip.
Tonight, we pack, we mourn, we cry, we sob so hard to leave this
place. We've had a blast, and plan to end this trip with one last
Farewell Irkutsk, Wellesley will see you again soon enough! In the
words of our translator: "Siberia forever, Siberia one love. I love
Xena and Kendall

Friday, August 23, 2013

Decembrists and ISU Botantical Garden

This morning we visited the houses of two Decembrists (revolutionaries
who were exiled to Siberia in the second quarter of the 1800s after
attempting to overthrow the Russian monarchy). The houses were
restored in the late 20th century and are now museums stuffed full of
old letters, music boxes, furniture, books, photos, five foot long
pipes, and more. Interestingly, the letters were all written in
French; aristocratic Russians of that time read and wrote French
better than they did Russian. The histories of the two exiles, Sergei
Volkonsky and Sergei Trubetskoy, were very sad—the men were
essentially two rich, brilliant aristocrats forced into labor camps
thousands of miles from their homes, and neither was allowed to return
to European Russia for 25 years after their failed revolution. Both
their wives accompanied them willingly into exile, although Maria
Volkonskaya had to leave her 9 month old son behind.
After visiting the houses and the grave of Ekaterina Trubetskaya, we
ate lunch at Prego, a schmancy Italian restaurant in the center of
Irkutsk. Unfortunately we did not have pizza, although the innate
hilarity of eating Italian food in Russia kept us from starting our
own revolution.
Lunch was followed by a visit to the State University of Irkutsk
botanical gardens, where we learned about various plants from Siberia
and around the world, and snacked on raspberries, plums, and sea
buckthorn berries. Best of all was the attached petting zoo, where we
frolicked with baby goats, cuddled rabbits, and fed fat ponies.
Also: last night, after the blog was posted, a bunch of us went with
our translators to a Russian mall for some casual in-line skating.
Most of us hadn't skated in ages, but it was a ton of fun to wobble
around beneath the disco lighting and drink slosh (Russian slushies!).
Vika, Katya and Granya

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Fate of Lake Baikal

This morning we headed into the old part of Irkutsk (on the opposite
side of the Angara River from the university where we are staying.
Ruslan and Sergei acted as our tour guides, sharing about many of the
historical landmarks. We visited the Moscow Gate (modeled after the
Arc de Triomphe in Paris), which points towards Moscow. We also
visited two old (early 17th century), but recently restored, Russian
Orthodox churches and watched part of a baptism. The frescos in the
churches were stunning. With the exception of two Roman Catholic
churches (one of which is not used for services), there are only
Russian Orthodox here in Irkutsk. Perhaps even more fascinating,
Professor Hodge seems to remember that these are the only two Roman
Catholic churches until Moscow. For lunch, Irkutsk State University
(our hosts) sent us to Tower, a British restaurant on Karl Marx
Street. We had a yummy four course meal that honestly wasn't too
different from the Russian food we have been eating (plenty of meat,
potatoes and mayonnaise).
After lunch, we visited Jennie Sutton at Baikal Environmental Wave.
She is a British woman who came to Russia in 1974 and has been a
driving force in the Lake Baikal environmental movement. The "Wave" is
almost 30 years old and has been instrumental in protecting Lake
Baikal from threats such as oil pipelines planned through the lake's
watershed. Given how seismically active this region is, such work is
crucial. Alas, because of a complicated and ridiculous new regulation,
the Baikal Environmental Wave may be considered a "foreign agent," a
very horrible thing in Russia. Depending on a court decision on
September 9th, the Baikal Environmental Wave may no longer be able to
exist. There is no other organization protecting Lake Baikal anywhere
near to the extent that the Baikal Environmental Wave does, so it is
vital for the organization to continue its work. After learning for
the last several months about how truly unique Lake Baikal is, and
having spent the last few weeks on its shores, the gravity of this
decision weighs heavy on all of us. We all wish the very best for the
fate of the Baikal Environmental Wave and the lake as well.
Graeme and Lily

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Goodbye BK, Hello Irkutsk!

We departed BK at 9:45 this morning, waving from the Kozhov until we
could no longer see our beloved Russian and NSF friends who kindly
gathered to see us off. We left without ever seeing the other side of
the Lake from the Biostation -- some of us find it hard to believe
that it is even possible. BK wept with us as a drizzle cemented our
departure, obscuring the town from view only meters into our journey.
About an hour later we docked in Listvianka, funnily enough right next
to the Vershina, the boat that half of us, the "nerpas," took on the
expedition. In Listvianka we did lots of open-air souvenir shopping,
primarily for the purple stone Charoite found only in the North-East
Irkutsk region. We had a wonderful bagged lunch from BK on the Irkutsk
State Bus, as we bumped and braved the traffic to the Siberian
architecture museum in Tal'tsy. Tal'tsy is situated on the Angara
River, between Listvianka and Irkutsk. There, we saw Siberian houses
of the 17th through 20th centuries from the Lake Baikal region that
were moved, log by log, to Tal'tsy to avoid flooding by the damming of
the Angara river in the late 60s. We were treated to elaborate stories
of times past, of the Cossacks, the Buryats, and the Evenks. A
performance by a musician on the Ukrainian bandura, what can be
described quite accurately as a combination of a guitar and a harp in
one instrument, was agreed upon as a highlight of the tour. Another
was the excellent selections of folk crafts for sale, which many of us
purchased, such as carved Siberian cedar (Pinus sibericus) cooking
utensils, wild rhododendron tea, and carved birch accessories, as well
as many others. We finished off our visit with a ride on Russian
Swings, large logs which allowed to riders to propel themselves far
into the air. It was exhilarating!
We sadly said goodbye to our hosts in Tal'tsy, and continued on the
highway to Irkutsk. Suddenly we found ourselves in the same place
where our journey began -- our Irkutsk State University dormitory. We
spent the afternoon getting comfortable again, resting, and enjoying a
wonderful supper together. We look forward to a full day of Irkutsk
culture and sight-seeing tomorrow.
Kate and Lily

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Poka, Bol’shie Koty!

Today we spent our last day at Bol'shie Koty. All of us made our
goodbyes in different ways. Some of us hiked. Some of us visited the
local kiosk for the last time. Others caught up sleep they had missed
on the rocky boat.
We are sad to be leaving Baikal. Baikal seemed to share our sadness,
as it rained all day.
Our group celebrated our time in Bol'shie Koty and on the Lake at our
farewell dinner. Music was played, photos were shared; we thanked our
hosts, our captains, our cooks, our speakers and our professors for
all of the work they put in to bringing us here and teaching us about
this mesmerizing place. Thank you.
Farewell, Baikal.
Kendall and Xena

Monday, August 19, 2013

Back in Bol'shie Koty!

Just a quick note to inform the world that both the Kozhov and
Vershina are safely docked at Bol'shie Koty as of 9:10 p.m. local
time. We were greeted by a beautiful sunset over Bald Mountain and a
steady rain. Eleven students left on the 14th, and eleven students
came back today, safe and sound, if a little worn out. We'll post
again tomorrow, our last day here at the biostation!
Tom Hodge

Sunday, August 18, 2013

6 Things Learned from 6 Days on the High Seas

After a night of exploring the steppe and watching the sunset on
Ol'khon Island, our spirits were renewed and we were ready to spend
another 14 hours on the boats, continuing our journey southwest to
Bol'shie Koty.
After living on a ship for six days, we have learned a few things:
1. Lake Baikal can sometimes seem like an ocean with waves that can
soak you through if you stay too long on the bow.
2. Space is a precious commodity that should be shared.
3. While sleep is tempting, it's important to get outside and look
around at the beautiful scenery.
4. You never know when the electricity is going to go out. Constant vigilance!
5. The ship's motor is loud enough to compete with a metal concert.
6. Charades is even more fun when played on a boat.

We will post again when we reach Bol'shie Koty. Do svidaniya!
Laura and Ashley

Full Steam Ahead!

Today we awoke once again at the northern tip of Ol'khon Island. We
headed out early this morning, travelling down the eastern side of the
island this time. Around 9 am, we passed by the deepest point of Lake
Baikal, 1642 meters (obviously, we could not see the bottom, though
some of us tried). We continued southward in some heavy
headwinds--Dramamine was the midmorning snack of choice.
Around lunchtime we arrived in the town of MRS (МРС: "Little-Sea
Fishing Station"). Everyone was quite happy to get off the boats and
head to the local grocery store for a restorative ice cream, soda, or
bar of chocolate. Our captains agreed that it would be best for us to
spend another night in this part of the lake, rather than continue the
fourteen-hour return trip to Bol'shie Koty in such heavy winds. We
have pulled into a small cove in Khul Bay on Ol'khon Island for this
unexpected, but by no means unpleasant, last night of our excursion.
The hope is that the winds will be calmer tomorrow, and that tomorrow
night we shall be back in Bol'shie Koty, reunited with our friends
from the NSF team and our beds in at the Biostation.
Photos above: our tiny boats in the vast steppe before nightfall, and
Prof. Hodge sending this blog post from atop the highest point within
walking distance of the boats...

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Survivor: Lake Baikal


Last night, we pulled up at Ongonkonskii Cove, off Chivyrkui Bay.
The translators and PJ started a campfire for all of us to enjoy on
the beach. It was a night of campfire stories and sing alongs,
including several songs from The Sound of Music. Captain Sergei of the
Vershina roasted chicken and smoked freshly caught omul over the
campfire. Some students went into the forest to forage for wild
Siberian raspberries, which they devoured on site. The raspberries
were delicious!
This morning, we started our journey back to Bol'shie Koty. Before
heading back to the Southern basin of Lake Baikal, we stopped at the
Ushkan'i Islands, known for its large population of nerpas, the
freshwater seals of Lake Baikal. The boats were unable to dock onto
the islands themselves, so the park rangers took us to the islands via
small watercraft. Once we landed, we hiked across the small island to
the nerpas' favorite site for sunbathing. The park rangers warned us
to be very quiet or else we would startle the creatures. The nerpas
did not seem to notice us. We were able to get amazing pictures of
them in their natural habitat.
Diana and Gabi

Northward and Across the Lake


After our last blog post we spent the night in a lovely cove further
north on Ol'khon Island. We were able to see more steppe and a
beautiful sunset—it was a "Sound of Music" moment. Lulled to sleep by
the strains of Russian heavy metal, we woke up this morning already on
the move across the lake. Around 10 o'clock this morning we got our
first glimpse of the fabled eastern shore of Baikal. Up until now we
haven't been able to see it due to haze caused by forest fires in
Yakutia. We reached the Ushkaniy Islands by lunchtime for some nerpa
viewing, only to discover that the nerpa were not keen on being viewed
by four boats full of tourists. We will try again on our return trip.
We continued into the North Basin past Svyatoy Nos (Holy Nose) Cape
and into Chivyrkuy Bay. There we found hot springs and the warmest
lake swimming we've had so far on this trip. After we emerged from the
water, we learned that the surrounding area is named for the snakes
that live there. Fortunately, we did not see any. We relaxed on shore
while the crew fished off the back of the cutter. Looks like grayling
for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the next few days. Yum! We are
now on our way to a more secluded beach (with fewer Speedo-clad
Russian men, or so we've been told) where we will spend the night.
Spokoinoi Nochi!
Laura and Meg and Gabi

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Petroglyphs, Buddhist Shrine, Shamanist holy site

After posting our blog entry last night, we continued on our course up
the lake, and stopped at Sagan-Zaba, to see some 4,000 year-old
petroglyphs. This was the first time the Baikal course (and our
captain, Sergei) had been able to find them. Surrounded by more modern
graffiti on the bare cliff-face were etchings of a deer and a man on a
horse. While 4,000 years is only a tiny fraction of the 25 million
years that Lake Baikal has been around, it was still quite impressive.
Before midnight we approached the Gates of Ol'khon (the narrow strait
between Ol'khon Island and the lake shore). We followed the tradition
of allowing the deck hand to smear engine grease on our faces while
passing through the gates for the first time, and also engaged in some
spectacular stargazing. We saw several shooting stars and even the
Milky Way!
This morning we awoke at our destination off of Ol'khon Island, and
started off for Ogoi Island, where we had breakfast, were reunited
briefly with the NSF team who were heading down the lake on their
expedition, and hiked up to a Buddhist shrine on top of the island. We
then visited Khuzhir, the biggest town on Ol'khon, where we had lunch,
did some souvenir shopping, and visited a museum about life on the
island. We then went swimming at a relatively warm beach next to
Shaman rock, a holy site for the Western Buryat people. The most
likely plan is that we will stop this evening at or near Cape Khoboi,
the northeast tip of Ol'khon, spend the night, and cross the lake in
the morning. Khuzhir is the last place we anticipate having internet
access for the next few days, until we return to the southern part of
the lake. Never fear, we are alive and well, and will post about our
continuing adventures when we return!
Gabi and Meg

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Traversing the Sacred Sea

Today marked the first day of our five day expedition up the lake. We
will be spending the next few days sleeping, eating, and generally
making merry on two cutters boats, the Kozhov and the Vershina. Our
first and only stop today was at Bukhta Peschanaia (Sandy Cove). It
was a beautiful sandy beach with crystal blue water that was
supposedly warmer than the water at Bol'shie Koty. We can now confirm
that the water is still too cold, but we nonetheless dove off the back
of the ships into the bay. We even attempted an underwater group shot,
but the results were less than satisfactory. The photo above is the
above-water rehearsal...
We spent the afternoon heading for Ol'khon Island, the largest island
on the lake and a place of spiritual significance to many native
Siberians. We hope to arrive at the island by midnight. We're sending
this off now because we won't have cell reception again for another
six hours, and by then we'll be in the sack.
(Ashley wants to wish Kristen a happy birthday from Siberia. Laura
wants to assure her mother that she knows that she knows nothing about
Ashley and Laura

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Potential blog interruptions until 18 August

On the eve of our departure for points north over the next four days,
I wanted to remind all those following our blog that posts may not
appear daily during our expedition. Our ability to upload messages
depends on cellular reception, and the area around the center of the
lake -- Ol'khon Island, Chivyrkuiskii Bay, Bukhta Zmeinaia, Ushkan'i
Islands -- is not yet entirely covered by the regional cellular
network. Please don't worry if a day or two passes with no posts! We
have satellite phones for emergencies, though we can't blog with them.
We'll continue to save our messages and photos during the trip and
send them to the blog as soon as cellular coverage is back. Thanks!
Tom Hodge

We're Famous!

Today was very exciting, despite the fact that for most of us the
morning was spent polishing off our papers. Immediately before lunch,
we were visited by Liudmila Bol'shikova, a park ranger from the
Pribaikal'skii National Park. Liudmila gave us an introduction to the
benefits and complications of maintaining such a vast protected area.
Later, after lunch, we were filmed by not one but two Russian
television crews, one from Irkutsk and one from Moscow. Footage of us
doing "rigorous science" will hopefully be broadcast to Russian
televisions in the near future. We were very grateful for the
director's insightful coaching on how to properly do science with
passion for the silver screen, which namely involved lots of smiling
and giving the camera the thumbs up.
Dinner, however, had the most charming tone, as we were celebrating
Professor Marianne Moore's 60th birthday. Many gifts were received,
many toasts were given, many smiles were had...
As the night winds down, we are all preparing for our
five-day-expedition. Starting tomorrow morning at 8:30, we will be
traveling north, reaching our first stop, Ol'khon Island, sometime
late tomorrow eveing. As we travel up the coast, cellphone and
internet reception will be sporadic, so do not fret if we miss a night
of posting, we will post it the next day that our ability to do so
Poka! Пока!
Xena & Kendall

Monday, August 12, 2013

Meeting Mike Tyson and Ada Ivanovna

The focus of today has been writing up scientific papers using the
data we've spent the last few days collecting. We've broken into three
groups and are all looking at slightly different hypotheses, telling
slightly different stories with our data. But, we have had a couple of
awesome breaks. First, in the afternoon, we visited Ada Ivanovna, the
mother of our cutter captain Sergei Veshchev. She has lived in
Bol'shie Koty since 1952 and is living an incredibly self-sufficient
Siberian life. She showed us wonderful Russian hospitality, treating
us to tea and home-made black currant and whortleberry and apple jams.
We got to tour her home and extensive garden. We also met her
10-year-old great granddaughter Anya, who was very outgoing with us
and showed off her entrepreneurial skills -- we think she should be a
Wellesley student when she gets older! When asked if she had driven
the 250-kilo ATV in the backyard garage, she offhandedly quipped "All
the time! I drive everything." Our second delight of the day was
getting up close and personal with a mysterious Nerpa that played with
people along the shore. Several members of the group got lucky and got
to pet and feed the Nerpa. The Nerpa was named Tyson, for Mike Tyson,
we were told.
Last night, we had a rousing game of Telephone-Pictionary going, but
sadly tonight it looks like we'll be hard at work on our papers. It's
quite strained with only three computers!
Graeme & Kate
Yay :)

Sunday, August 11, 2013

One day more

We spent today collecting the last of our samples and quantifying the
biodiversity around the docks of the Lake. Professor Hodge, Kendall,
and Professor Rodenhouse risked their lives venturing out in the lake
in a metal washbasin to take some last measurements. Victoria, Lily,
Diana, and Graeme strained their eyes counting zooplankton under the
microscopes to the soundtrack of Les Miserables (most relevantly, the
lyrics "look down, look down"), while Xena scoured the scientific
literature for relevant data. Lily and Victoria are still imprisoned
in the lab counting the last of the zooplankton.
Australian, Austrian, and Spanish tourists just off the hydrofoil were
very interested in the work of our benthos collectors (Meg, Laura,
Gabi, Kate, and Ashley). The tourists eagerly snapped photos of the
gammarid samples and asked questions about our research before heading
off to the controversial hotel recently built directly on the lake on
national park land. It is exciting to know that our work is
internationally attractive. We have been having a fantastic time doing
so much science by day, and soaking in the culture by night. We are
making great friends across languages and through sports -- each night
we play soccer or volleyball on the dirt court in the middle of the
village. Tomorrow will be a day of data analysis and scientific
Lily and Graeme

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Fieldwork and nerpa encounter

Today we focused totally on our fieldwork project in small groups. A
great deal of data collection was performed. The biostation mood
overall is quite exhausted, but we roused ourselves as we were treated
to a talk by the wonderful Vladimir Munkhanov, who provided
fascinating account of the Buryat people (the native Siberians in the
Lake Baikal region). It was such a treat to hear, and nice to have
time all together after a hectic day doing independent scientific
investigations in the field. Other than the many hikers who meandered
up and down the lake-side trail, the members of the Wellesley-Baikal
team were seen flitting back and forth between the docks of the
village, decked out in waders, bathing suits, and wading shoes while
toting some truly ingenious invented equipment to collect the data for
our ongoing research project.
This morning we had a rare and fantastic nerpa discovery, which was
thrilling after only seeing them briefly in small glimpses as they
occasionally come up for air in the waters of Bolshie Koty. Lily,
Sergei, and Victoria spotted a nerpa (pictured above) sunning itself
on a rock, right next to the shore! It was quite oblivious to human
presence, and took its merry time to swim away. It was remarkable to
see it swim in the wild, as compared to the caged nerpa of the
Listvianka Baikal museum earlier in the week. Another remarkable
swimmer was seen in Baikal today as well; Victoria heroically dove
into the Lake to retrieve an important piece of sampling equipment
that had become caught under a dock. After trying with boat oars,
gloves, and all sorts of ingenious devices, we realized that the only
way to get it was for her to go in, and she truly emerged a champion.
We are looking forward to a good night's sleep, and a full day of data
collection and analysis tomorrow.
Lily and Kate

Friday, August 9, 2013

Gearing up for major hypothesis-testing

Today was a planning and organization day; we spent our morning and
afternoon figuring out methods to test our hypothesis that docks on
Baikal have a significant effect on biodiversity in the lake. For some
of us, this meant taking pictures underwater in the freezing water
(which the hardiest of us later swam in). Graeme, Ashley, and Kendall
created their own water sampling equipment out of an abandoned liquor
bottle, a large rock, and lots of duct tape.
Tomorrow we'll be using our new methods to finally do some thorough
fieldwork, but tonight we're splitting up to either watch a Hitchcock
film or play volleyball with some University of Irkutsk geology
students who're completing month-long practicums in Bol'shie Koty.
Victoria & Kendall

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Across the lake to Baikal'sk

We started our day with a 5 hour boat ride across the lake to
Baikal'sk, the site of an infamous pulp and paper mill. We were met
there by Maksim, a member of Baikal Environmental Wave, and Oleg, a
local from Baikal'sk. They showed us some troubling sites, including
the pulp mill itself, and one of the sludge ponds that holds waste
from the mill. We also visited a ski resort used by Putin and the
studio of Yuri Alekseev, the first and only painter to paint under the
waters of Lake Baikal. Yuri performed a song and showed us some the
items he found treasure hunting in the lake, like a kopeck coin from
After our visit with Yuri, we went to a surprisingly upscale
restaurant to sample a local tea made with cranberries, wild
rhododendron, honey, and cinnamon. Finally, we did some souvenir
shopping at a local market before heading back to Bolshie Koty! We
made it back late, around 11:30 p.m.
Ashley & Laura

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Hypotheses & a birthday

Good news: we dominated at charades last night! The NSF-ers (Энэсэфцы)
didn't even have enough people to form a team! So we played Wellesley
against Wellesley--how could we lose?
The night turned into a chilly morning, but as usual, the fog
eventually burned off. Our task today was to get started on our large
field project. We came up with several hypotheses, and chose the most
feasible research question: Are the areas around the docks less
biodiverse than areas on the shore with less boat-traffic? This is an
interesting question because our results could help us predict the
potential impact of increased tourism on Lake Baikal. We split into
small groups and each took on preliminary research questions. This
included everything from measuring the docks to speaking with local
Russians about the history and use of their docks. In the afternoon we
reconvened, and discussed our preliminary findings and possible
limitations of our original plan.
There was some free time before dinner, during which some students
took advantage of the rays of sunshine and joined the "Nerpa Club" by
taking a dip in the Lake.
We had a special dinner tonight because it is Kate's 20th birthday.
Her presents included a delicious 3-layer cream cake, chocolate, fresh
fruit (watermelon and apples), and flowers straight from the garden of
the Biological Field Station's manager. After dinner, some people did
laundry for the first time. Others started playing a match of soccer
with the locals.
We are getting up bright and early tomorrow for a six hour boat ride
to the town of Baikal'sk!
Meg and Gabi

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

We Didn’t Start the Fire!

Today three of us—Victoria, Kate, and Graeme—went out 5 km offshore on
the cutter Kozhov with some Russian and American scientists to collect
water samples. We helped Ted, a post-doc who works with Marianne at
Wellesley, filter samples of Epischura from Baikal at a depth of 150
meters. We got back just in time to go back out on the same boat with
the rest of the class.
Captain Sergei dropped us off a couple kilometers past Chernaia Pad',
but the bottom of the ramp down from the boat landed in the water, so
our translators, Sergei and Ruslan, got roped into carrying most of
the class across the water. Not sure if this was in their job
description. We literally worked them until the bled!
An environmentalist, our botanist companions from yesterday, and a
member of the local Rotary Club led us into a burned valley, where we
learned about forest succession following fire damage. It takes over
400 years for a forest to completely recover from a fire, and the
complex ecosystem surrounding Baikal is especially vulnerable. Fires
in Siberian forests, which are almost always started by people, are
becoming increasingly more prevalent.
Our 5km walk back to Bolshie Koti was along the Great Baikal Trail,
and Volodya, the environmentalist (accompanied by an absurdly
energetic 6 month old puppy), taught us about the considerations that
go into constructing the 2000 planned kilometers of trail around
Baikal. For instance, bridges are built out of larch trees, which
yield particularly hardy wood. Trails shouldn't be built too close to
the generally sharp cliffs that border Baikal, or else they'll crumble
into the lake; neither should their inclines be too steep. An
interesting sidenote: park rangers aren't allowed to use the phrase
"do not" in their signs.
We're about to play (and slaughter) the NSF researchers at charades.
No need to wish us luck!
Diana and Victoria

Monday, August 5, 2013

Poisoning for Dummies-Lake Baikal Edition

Today the class went on two botanical hikes: one into the Taiga, the
forest that sprawls over much of Siberia, and the second into Censer
Valley—Kadil'naia Valley in Russian.
Censer Valley, which is named for the scented plumes of smoke that
used to rise up from the processing of the limestone the area is rich
with, slopes up from the shore of Lake Baikal. At first we strolled
through steppe, learning about the various plants around us from two
botanists from Irkutsk University, but later we ventured into the
forest itself. One pretty yellow flower we learned about was
historically used by Siberian wives to poison their husbands—they'd
boil juice from the petals, soak the men's shirts in diluted flower
juice, and the poison would enter their pores as they sweat,
eventually killing them. We also saw lots of aidelweiss, the "clean
and white" flower of Austria, which surprised most of us.
The Valley gave us two great treats. The first was the fossilized
cyanobacteria mattes pictured in the background of our class picture,
which are dated between 2.8 and 3.2 billion years in age—some of the
oldest examples of life on this planet. The second was an incredible
cave, which could only be reached by a steep scramble up a rocky
Siberian mountain followed by a (filthy) hands-and-knees crawl through
a short, but narrow tunnel. The cave was dimly lit by a shaft of
sunlight entering through a hole thirty feet above us. Inside were
plenty of poorly formed stalactites, a small rock table heaped with
rubles and other trinkets, and lots of Russian graffiti.
Miscellaneous fun facts: Kate ate an entire grayling, including head
and spine, for lunch (the graylings we ate were caught fresh from
Baikal the night before). For dinner we had kompot, a sort of sweet
warm juice made from boiled fruit.
The second photo was taken on the hike four of us—Graeme, Gabi, Kate,
and Victoria—took after breakfast. It shows fog seeping across Baikal
over Balshaia Kati. It's because of fog like this that we have yet to
see across Baikal (though of course we could also blame the Lake's
immense size).
Victoria and Diana

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Museum, diver, and freshwater seals...

Today was the first day that we woke up to sunny skies. It also marked
the first (but by no means the last) day of our travels on the cutter
Kozhov, named for the founder of the biological field station in our
town of Bol'shie Koty. We made our way down to Listvyanka, a town that
seemed to stretch forever along the shore of the lake. There we
visited yet another museum about Baikal. This one included a
Disney-esque journey to the bottom of the lake via "submarine," and
two playful nerpa. We then continued on to Tolstoy Cove further down
the lake, where we dropped off a Russian diver. The water was so cold
that he had to wear a dry-suit and four layers of clothing! He went 40
meters down an underwater cliff and brought us back samples of the
life found down at that depth. We then examined all the different
species in buckets on the deck of the Kozhov, and found sponges,
gammarids, snails, and even a small fish! We took a slightly warmer
boat ride back to Bol'shie Koty, and spotted some more wild nerpa on
the way. But our day isn't over yet! This evening we will be watching
the Warner Hertzog documentary "Happy People," about life in a small
Siberian village.
Gabi and Meg

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Siberian Gothic

We started our day with a visit to the local museum here in Bol'shie
Koty which housed many preserved specimens from the lake, including a
19-year old omul (as old as Ashley!) We also saw a poorly stuffed
nerpa (endemic freshwater seal) that didn't do justice to the real
thing. Speaking of which, we spotted our first nerpa of the trip right
from the village as we collected specimens. In the afternoon, we took
a 45-minute hike to Chyornaya Pad' where we once again collected
specimens from the lake, including many species of gammarids, sculpin
eggs, and even a sculpin itself! After dinner, a few brave souls took
advantage of the sunny weather and jumped into the lake for the first
time. Although there were no reports of hypothermia, a few expletives
might have been expressed.
Ashley and Laura

Friday, August 2, 2013

Today we rode a hydrofoil from Irkutsk to Bol'shie Koty. The
two-hour ride was very smooth and quite pleasant — many of us went
outside on the top of the boat to admire the sights along the Angara
and the northwestern coast of Lake Baikal.
The bio station at Bol'shie Koty, and our dormitories, are very
close to the shore so we were able to walk straight from the docks to
our respective rooms to unpack. Once we were situated we had lunch.
Originally, we had planned to visit the onsite museum, but
instead we took an impromptu tour around the village and hiked to the
top of "Grebeshok" ("The Comb"), a cliff to the north of town. From
there, we got a top view of the entire village.
We are very much looking forward to visiting the museum and getting a
closer look at the bio station tomorrow.
Kendall and Xena

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Arrived in Irkutsk and all is well

We had a smooth overnight flight on S7 Airlines from Moscow to Irkutsk, and arrived this morning at Irkutsk International Airport at 8:05, exactly on time. In previous years, our flights were regularly diverted to other regional airports due to fog, but this morning the Angara Valley was crystal clear. Our two translators, Ruslan and Sergey, greeted us and have been extraordinarily helpful all day. We are staying just for today and tonight at a dormitory in town: the residence hall of Irkutsk State University's Railway Studies program, on Ulitsa Lermontova. We are now all rested, well fed -- our banquet of Baikal omul, the famous local food fish, is today's photo -- showered, and ready to catch the 9:00 a.m. hydrofoil to Bol'shie Koty. The students are excited finally to get their first glimpse of the lake they've spent so much time studying. Student bloggers will take over tomorrow. Best wishes to all,
               Tom Hodge

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Made it to Moscow!

At Domodedovo Airport and all is well.  Everybody is fine and present,  even though not everyone is in the photo.  Tomorrow we will be in Irkutsk!
Tom Hodge

Made it to London!

We arrived on time at Heathrow and will board our flight to Moscow in a half hour.  The group is fizzing with excitement!
Tom Hodge

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Our journey begins!

We made it through security with ease and just completed a rousing rundown of the next two days, which will feature our flight to London,  a brief layover,  and then on to Moscow for our connection to Irkutsk.  Our bags are checked,  and we are getting to know one another better over supper in the terminal.  We will be departing at 9:30pm. It doesn't feel real that we are actually on our way!
We are sure the realization will sink in soon,  whether we are ready or not!
Kate and Lily