Frolikha – Ice Age Freeride on The Lake Site
- How do you get here?
- By the lake.
- Cool. Does it have incline?
(1st of January talk in the Alps)
Nearly the same way looked Frolikha Reservation inspectors, when they saw skis and snowboards being taken out of car boot.
- Are you going to ski here?
- Well, we’ll try.
- Nobody skies here. People do on Davan Pass. Why have you chosen this place?
- It’s a beautiful place. If there’ll be no way for riding, then we’ll just take a walk.
- Emmm-m, - inspector mumbled ambiguously.
So here we go! There are mountains, and it seems that there is snow on it, so, according to “the rule of freeride” – there must be freeride also.
This story began many years ago, when young Vova from Irkutsk, who was a sea cadet on Nothern Baikal was sailing by wonderful Ayaya bay. Being cut deep into the shore, the bay, amazing a traveller with its beauty, attracts in itself. But a freerider always stares at a mountain. So snowwhite summits, protruding out of emerald green Baikal shore taiga, won young rider’s heart forever, having affected him much.
It so happened, that as a child after I’d read “Winnie the Pooh”, “Karlsson-on-the-Roof” and “The Jungle Book” I began to read adventure stories of Mark Twain, Thomas Mayne Reid and Rafael Sabatini being excited with it. Glamour of far continent, tinkling of swords, whining case-shot, redoubtable Indians and noble heroes gave no rest to my child’s imagination. But the most interesting person to me was the first man who reached America – Christopher Columbus. The man, who made risky suggestions and started his cruise to far India, which was his dearest wish. And that joyful moment, when ships land and worn out crew goes ashore and finds amazed natives there, who see white people for the first time, like gods who went down from the serene.
- What is this? – young sailor asked his gray-haired captain.
- This is Frolikha, my boy, - answered the old Baikal salt, spitting his chew overboard.
And now, after years, we are standing in the middle of Baikal Lake and watching the same scenery, that Vova had seen (by the way, Vova has notably gained in strength since then), but everything is white – emerald green of taiga, unfortunately, has already gone in autumn.
Ayaya bay, our starting point, is situated 45 kilometers away from Severobaykalsk. The approach is simple – one hour by the ice of Baikal and you are there, but that kilometers differ from those you use to measure common roads. The whole hour you’d be watchful and ready to jump out of the car if the ice breaks (as for me – I kept my hand on the door handle all the way). It’s an unforgettable experience you might have.
There’s smooth snowmobile path from the Ayaya bay to Frolikha lake, which goes over moderate pass with smooth rise and descent. After nearly 6 kilometers of light ski touring you’d see illimitable space of the giant reservoir, lost in the mountains.
Frolikha is a lake of glacial origin, which was formed during last glaciation of Nothern Baikal shore. Two glaciers (which formed Pravaya Frolikha and Levaya Frolikha rivers) collided and made a dam, which limited its’ outflow. In that way a huge lake, which area is 16 sq.km., appeared.
The rest of our approach to chosen destination point (about 8 km) we expected to go by winter ice, covered with thick layer of spring snow. Unbelievably warm for this time of season temperatures and indefatigable sunlight turned snow into dense viscous slush. While we skinned the first halfway quite fast – the last 3 kilometers were like hell for tired travellers. Skis sank in the snow, we had to pull them out of heavy slush, huge backpacks pulled us down, there were treacherous thawed patches and icing. And only by 3 p.m. after 7 hours of “walking” the first descendants of stegoceras, having repeated their far ancestor’s feat, climbed to the sandy shore with cedars. It seemed, that the heaviest part was over.
extra weight. But it was worse that! Snow kitchen and an ice-hole in the lake for taking water completed simple layout. Not a penthouse, but it’s calm outside, only gushes of mischievous wind buzz in the tight poles from time to time and starry sky instead of suspended ceiling.
This place appeared to be uncommonly desolate. Remoteness, climate and approach difficulty result in very few tourists in summer and almost none of them in winter. It’s difficult to meet sings of human presence here, but, probably, thick layer of snow disguised unpleasant artifacts of human race. As for birds and animals – they are so fearless of human, that it seams they are ready to climb into your tent.
The end of March hardly looks like spring here. As soon as the Sun disappeared, we began putting something on our warmed up bodies. But we had an ace in the hole (in the backpack) to repulse the frost – tent with a stove, which we blandly nicknamed “caterpillary”, and it substituted home for us during the journey. Despite spring time, it’s a rare pleasure to warm yourself sitting in front of stove during dank weather, and we had to pay for it carrying
Getting up in the morning was especially difficult. Getting out of warm sleeping-bag to the freezed at night tent is not that pleasant. But the stove handles it all, and every morning sleeping near the stove ever-on-duty began his “dance with a tambourine” trying to kindle this engineering masterpiece. It was not fast but it provided incredible comfort.
The most important task for the expedition which I’d set while studying maps, photos and Google Earth at home was to climb the highest summit in the area – Tiktikanchi. As for descent – western circus was the only clearly visible slope – a set of couloirs, joined into one in their lower parts. If we rode them, the lines would be awesome – 1.5-kilometer couloir I’d ride for the first time in my life.
The first day we decided to ascend for to study the way up. According to Google Earth, one of possible variants for it in the lower part met suggested ride line, so we weren’t in doubt for a long time and moved forward. The first 300 meters were the heaviest – we were skinning through thin forest with big amount of boulders, covered with wet snow. Huge pillows on them would provide interesting lines, but before we’d come there was signifacant thaw, snow became very wet, it didn’t provide support for a snowboard or skis and was unpleasantly breaking through.
Hour by hour we were climbing higher and higher, getting to wide snow-covered ravine. There were little of sunlight there because of high walls and the snow was becoming better and better.
Time was inexorably going by. Hadn’t reached the ridge we decided to drop after a short lunch. Almost 800 vertical meters were quite enough for the first day. We didn’t become less optimistic, understanding that having overcome a little bit more than halfway we still hadn’t earned rather good lines, yet it became clear that we’d have to work hard for a nice ride.
After having tea with sweets we slid down. The upper part was pretty cool, the lower was kind of hell for the above reasons. But after a couple of hours of floundering we returned well.
After having a rest and dinner we decided to discuss our plan. The approach is clear, we’d seen the slope, now we needed to work out tactics. After calm and short conversation (may be that’s my merit or my authority helped) we approved following: wake up at 4 a.m., leaving the camp at 6 a.m., leaving the forest at 9 a.m., reaching the ridge at 12 a.m., reaching the summit at 2 p. m. Dropping at 3 p.m. Estimation was made taking into account extra time we might need. What if?.. And the main decision was to have a rest the day after!
Late wake up, no reason to hurry, walk in the ravine or by the lake and have fun! I won’t tell - just show.
Alarm clock did it job. Snowflakes were hitting the tent, and setting up the alarm for an hour later not without pleasure I thought: “No luck!” But triumph of laziness didn’t last for long, because somebody went outside and told that the sky was starry. “No way!” – I exclaimed and leant out of the tent. Surprisingly, there really were stars in the sky. In for a penny, in for a pound. Having climbed into my sleeping bag I was waiting for Max to light the stove.
It was 6 a.m. but freeriders-conquerors weren’t ready at all. I tried to hurry my fellows, but having understood it was senseless I decided to go alone slowly. There was no way for them to miss the skin-track made with my splitboard. Though.. who knew what those sleepies would do!
First part, which we’d managed in two hours I passed in one. I was not in a hurry. And where are my companions? The first signs of them catching up on me appeared in half an hour. In response to my attempts to blow them up, guys told that they’d left the camp in time and that they weren’t going to account for accusation. My argument was that it’s 8 a.m., but then they showed me 3 different watches displaying 7 a.m. “Winter time” had been canceled in our country but my cell-phone continued to set watch forward and backward.
Having laughed at the failure of the leader, we went on cheerfully. After taking a bite on that place where we stopped ascending last time, we reached the ridge by 11 a.m. Having spent 2 more hours on 400 vertical meters left we were on the summit by 1 p.m. Hell yeah! We’ve done half the work!
Endless peaks of Barguzin Spine as far as an eye could see on the one hand, Baikal Lake and dim profiles of snow-white peaks of Baikal Spine on the other, huge lake at the foot of the mountain, and what is more – no one had ever been here in winter! Moreover, having such unusual mission.
Our delight could be outbid only by fantastical scenery of northern circus, which we found on the hidden part of the mountain. 3 pairs of eyes were staring at me waiting. On the one hand fast
Having descended to the camp, after dinner and celebration with alcohol remaining, we were going to make a decision for the next day. The main idea was to leave and, if we had time- to ride on Davan Pass, luckily it was on the way. But after having a glance at my partners and sighing deeply I however said that stupid thing:
- I suggest to climb again and ride that northern circus!
Two days of 1.5 kilometer elevation in a row, 15 kilometers long exit with backpacks and more than 1000 kilometers of driving to Irkutsk – that was an extreme plan. Desire to do it was changing with doubts and back again in our eyes as fast as kaleidoscope pictures do. The last argument was Oleg – that day he hadn’t join us for technical reasons. So that’s why he had to use his second chance, hadn’t he? The others told that the way they would feel next morning would show. OK then, two of us already and it’s better than one.
changing weather, not examined lines and our fellows, waiting at the foot of western mountainside. On the other – unique beautiful line, which was more than worthy of pioneer riding. And an illusive perspective to DO IT later. And what do you think?
Of course I behaved as wise leader (worst looser) and decided to follow initial plan. Another point was no way for future boasting of “how I’ve ridden that slope” because the slope was hidden. But yet we hadn’t regretted! The gully was full of perfect winter snow deep enough to touch it’s surface with your crotch, so after the first turn cognitive dissonance disappeared and the wildest freeride began! Even the cloud which appeared at that moment didn’t spoil impression of riding, but it did for photos. That’s why you only have to trust that it was unspeakably cool.
So.. just imagine!;)
The morning met us with clear starry sky and with temperature down to -10 C. The day promised to be the best one. Certainly, if we’d cope with it. Three of us were ready for that, including me.
Ascent was the same (should it differ?), but it was cooler, it was windy also, sun shined brightly, we’re too tired to move our legs and our common equipment was carried by three together, instead of six. As for the rest – the same mountains, the same path.
In spite of later start we went in the same pace and by 2 p.m. reached the summit. More than 10 times I asked myself: “Why do you need it!?” – yes, I needed that line, even without photos and reports, even if no one ever knew I’d done it. I want to do it, I can do it, that’s why I must do it. That’s not my duty by somebody, that’s my personal duty.
The circus was waiting for us in all it’s beauty, and it seemed that it’d been preparing the whole night, like a languishing girl. It was picking in the shadows to underline its relief, applying snow white makeup on its luring smooth slopes. But it was a mask hiding not tenderness but a severe adventure. Steep couloirs at the start, convex parts with obviously loaded contours, recent avalanche paths – all that stuff looked like my favorite Cheget Mountain (Caucasus Mountains). And the elevation and absence of any tracks completed the scenery.
The last appeal to the mind: “We don’t know what’s the exit there. Are you ready to climb back if something’s wrong?” This was unnoticed even by its author. We’d dropped in.
Everything appeared to be even more severe than it seemed from the top. Angles, distances, avalanche danger – true big mountain ride, who’d had thought! On the other hand – incredible scenery, optimal snow, perfect relief! All of those together – grand adventure!
500 meters of steep gullies turned into long woodlands which later turned into pillows giving an opportunity to jump. Endless line!
If there exists perfect day of freeriding – it should look like that one!
Being washed out we came down to the river, which had almost become our own. The camp was within an hour of skinning. Sun was mercilessly warming up, snow melted in our sight, ice on the river was disappearing fast, baring mirror water of impetuous mountain stream. That day spring came to that hospitable northern land. The next day long way home was waiting for us together with going out under backpacks, which became significantly lighter, hundreds kilometers by the ice of Lake Baikal, cars, planes, trains… Soon we’d wander off back to our routine and life plans. But at that moment…
At that moment sprawling on ice and having put my head to the river I was drinking with eager gulps. I was drinking freedom. That freedom which doesn’t fear any prohibitions, which can’t be repressed with any evil law. It was freedom of a man, who is not afraid to leave beaten tracks, to step into unknown, to get to know something new and bring it to other people. It was freedom which is invulnerable to darkness, because after each even longest night there is dawn.
Shapovalov Slava, "Nakurage - mountain guides company", april 2014
Foto: Shkedova Lyubov