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A tree in snow The first snow

Baikal in winter

Ice shore   Baikal falls asleep pretty late, when the whole of Siberia got frozen after severe frosts of 40 degrees below zero Celsius. Baikal still beats his cold waves against the shore. The water is blackish because of the frosts, but it doesn't want to get captured in the ice prison. Baikal is still noisy, he moves heavily and agitatedly in its bed.

   But the cunning winter freezes the shallow little bays and lagoons, which were so warm in summer, down to the bottom. It puts snow and ice caps on the rocks and pebbles looking out of the water. It tries to freeze the waves, and they start to give strange rustling sounds, as millions of tiny ice needles roll around in them. Waves are clanking, rustling, creeping, and the man listens to this strange music of Baikal in winter, which has its very special harmony and fascination. These tiny ice needles in the freezing water are called "the rustle".

The early winter at the pier   A little later, the different winds come around. They raise this rustling water to the skies, so it doesn't rustle any more, it roars, mixing the rumble of waves with the howling of the winds. The black cold water breaks down the ice along the shore, takes the ice hash onto the ground, and tries to reach the tall rocks around the lake. But it can reach only the nearest rocks and pebbles, as the severe cold captures the waves, locks them, and they stop beating half way, creating wondrous lace garlands of icicles.

   The total ice conditions of Baikal are the characteristic feature of its defined water area. That makes it exclusive among the biggest lakes of the world. Baikal gets its ice cover for long, doing it gradually, first the little bays get frozen, then the first ice spills appear on the shoreline rocks, after that a narrow strip of ice forms all around the shore of the lake. From then on the ice starts to conquer Baikal. Beginning from mid-December and until late January the lake gets covered with ice on the whole of its territory. But it doesn't get that smooth nice ice, the winds do not give it peace, they create cracks and form ice hammocks. Soon the ice reminds of a blanket with patches, where there are patches of smooth ice and the ice floes formed from the hashed ice.

Ice caves   Baikal becomes a sculptor in winter. It erects different monuments from the pieces of ice on its shore, putting them on one another, so they get this glass like look. The waves spilled on the shore by the furious December winds, dress the trees and bushes in the milk jade cover. White stone birds sit on the white stone branches. Ice wolves, foxes, dragons, griffins form the interlace of an interesting ornament, as if the local Buryat and Yakut bone engravers carved this world on a huge tusk of the giant mammoth.

   The multitude of caves serves as the base for experiments to Baikal sculptor. Archaeologists found the objects that the ancient man used, in the caves that are very close to the water.

   First, Baikal covers the cliffs with greenish uneven ice, so these caves look like enormous open mouths. Then, to make them look even better, the old man Baikal sends some more waves to have some dentures made, and these teeth are made from half transparent thick and short icicles. Finally, as if feeling ashamed of his naturalism, Baikal closes the entrances to the caves with firm, refined crystal railings, which constantly change their patterns and colors, from morning purple to daytime shining, and cornelian flame of the sunset.

Magic icicles   Before Baikal falls asleep for the long winter, he hangs white snow furs on the walls of his home, builds huge organ with lots of pipes, and it seems, that the wild voices of Kultuk, Barguzin, and Sarma are born in them.

   When winter storms come around, all the wild life tries to get deeper into the water, where it's much calmer, though the winds try to knead the water with such fury, as if trying to penetrate down to the bottom. But the water mass is too thick, one can see greenish sponges on the bottom, another mystery of the lake, sea residents live in the fresh water of Baikal. Great schools of sigs wander around in the underwater canyons, the schools of omul anticipate the end of the storms there as well.

   Only in late January the force leaves the old man, and he surrenders, having moved the shoreline ice further on to the flat ground, erecting ice hammocks, as his last attempt to show his power. After that, the frost swaddles Baikal and he falls asleep. The first weeks after that the ice is still thin, and when the first snow falls on the ice surface, the joints between the patches are visible. The wet snow gets darker, giving the ice a look of a spotted fur of some animal.

Ice smoothness   Immediately after the ice formation it starts growing intensively, about 4-5 cm daily. In case winter has little snow, the ice can be 100-120 cm thick, when there's much snow the ice is thinner, about 70 cm. In the places with lots of ice hammocks the ice thickness is 150-200 cm. The ice shell "breathes" all winter long. The compressing processes in the ice, occurring due to low air temperature, break the ice into separate fields. Thus the thermal stitches are formed, which the locals call them backbone cracks. Their location never changes, though the width of the cracks could be different, from several centimeters to several meters. In spring the width can change even within a day. The formation of cracks and ice hammocks is followed by a rolling roar, which can be compared with s sound of the thunder or artillery cannonade.

   As soon as one goes over the backbone of ice hammocks the new joke of the Siberian sea makes him/her stop, and the heart sinks, when one sees the abyss - dark, eternal, alluring, slightly covered by the thinnest crystal cover, transparent as window glass. "It's so good I haven't stepped on it", you would think, and will … get mistaken. You will step on it, having overcome the illusion, as the ice is reliable, one meter or more thick. It will survive a big truck, and even a caravan of those. This time sees the appearance of ice roads and trails on Baikal. Now the locals can travel and visit friends and relatives who live on the opposite shore of the lake.

   The ice is firm, but the locals travel on it apprehensively. The severe long frosts make the ice go apart, thus creating long cracks, which crawl over the polished white mirror of the ice covered lake. They are mostly not very wide, so one can easily jump over them in the daylight, but at night they can become a trap. When the frost is especially severe, the cracks break the ice down to the water mass, so they become very dangerous to travel over the lake.

Ice hammocks   During a quiet, frosty day sometimes one can hear the roar and artillery cannonade, created by the huge backbone cracks, when the ice breaks, the edges get smashed raising a big white roller over the closed crack. The person, who doesn't know the peculiarities of winter life of Baikal, all that roar, cracking sounds, and canon shoots would feel so scared, that he would hurry away closer to the shore, as it is safer there.

   Due to the differences in the streams of warmth coming up from the water to the ice, the ice is of different thickness. In the places where the thermal waters or gas come up from the bottom there often can be thin iced patches, covered by very thin layers of the ice, hence they are the most dangerous places. Beginning from mid-April, the sun radiation melts the ice. The sunshine thaws it into long thin crystals in the form of needles. The ice becomes crystal like and makes the rustling sound. Traveling around at this time is way too dangerous.

   The evening is around, the colors of the sunset thicken in the crystal surfaces, and it seems, that the pieces of the frozen rainbow lie around on the shore.

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