"About 25 million years ago, the earth parted in the southeast corner of Siberia. Since then, countless rivers have converged on the gaping continental drift, creating the massive body of water known as Lake Baikal. Surrounded by mountains, this inland sea has forever been isolated from other lakes and oceans, leading to the evolution of unusual flora and fauna, three quarters of which are not found elsewhere on earth. The lake contains 20 percent of the world's unfrozen fresh water, and just a little less during the severe Siberian winter, when-despite its enormous size and depth-Baikal freezes over." -Anil Ananthaswamy "The Edge Of Physics."

After our disgruntled cabbie dropped us off at the airport in Moscow, we flew all nite into very deep Siberia to spend a week with Russian Physicists to peek into their world/their work peeking into worlds yet unseen via their work studying the Nuetrino. We arrived in Irkutsk (five and a half hours of flying from Moscow and still barely three fourths of the way across Russia. Yes, we flew what would take you from California to New York and barely crossed the three fourths line (maybe not even that) and so to say Russia is incredibly expansive/massive/huge and any other adjectives that thesaurus digging could give me to describe its seemingly endless horizon would be a disservice to that country/land mass) and were met by the gentleman pictured above (during a smoke break (for him)/surface of the lake investigation (for us), which you can see three of the four of us engaged in in the foto below). We assumed he was our ride, but couldnt take his word for it because who knew no English (and we, no Russian like good American uni-linguists) to assure us with. He directed us to a waiting Land Rover with a few grunts and gestures. We drove with him around two hours through beautiful Birch forests and the overall vast expanses of Easterly Siberia until we got to the tiny lakeside hamlet of Listvyanka. It was not long after we got to Listvyanka when our steadfastly silent driver, again without warning, drove off the road, over a berm and on to the surface of a frozen river. We took the river/road under a bridge and before long were driving atop the lake herself. At first, we were fairly concerned over the weight of our vehicle being supported by the ice sheet covering the deepest lake in the world, but after a few days of driving around on that temporary ice road, we didnt think twice about it. That first time, however, was harrowing (for us. Our driver didnt seem to notice the difference between road and lake driving).

After about an hour of driving, we made it to our cabin home for the next week. We were concerned over reports that we were getting that we would all not be able to stay in the same place during our week there. We were being told that we would have to stay in two different cabins, about a half an hour drive from each other. When we got to the cabin pictured below, however, we saw that there were three beds already there and we would only need a fourth. The physicists got to work finding a fourth bed, and dug the one below out of a snow drift for me. Notice the flimsy board in the bed below and know that it was used to cover a large hole in the springs. (Jancie)
No matter, I was pumped to not have have to sleep on the floor and to have all of our body heat in one cabin space. Plus we didnt have to deal with the communication nightmare that living half an hour from each other with no phones would have posed. (Jancie)
The physicists also scrounged up a mattress for me! (Jancie)
Here is the first of three space heaters that our guide/translator/champion Vladimir brought to us throughout the week. He was seemingly quite worried about the underprepared Americans placed under his care. 
Steve in-bottle filters much needed water from the lake. As the week wore on, I began to trust the massive water source right outside our door and would not bother boiling the stuff before quenching my thirst with it. Besides waters we encountered and quenched with in Iceland, Baikal waters have got to be some of the cleanest we've come across.
The wooden cover below was used to protect the watering hole for the entirety of the camp we were stationed at during our week there. Why would there be running water in this camp when theres a seemingly endless reservoir of it right out the front door? We would fill up buckets of water for our own purposes there every morning and the ladies cooking up all of our meals would send a dood from the village there to gather a dozen or so buckets from it for the various delicious creations they would whip up three times a day, everyday. 
Below is a close up of our watering hole/life source
Most mornings I would have to break apart the thin ice sheet that would form at the mouth of our water source during the nite freeze with the spear I have in hand, pictured below (foto: Steve Elkins).
Our first day there, we set about getting acquainted with our surroundings. Behind Melissa in the foto below, you can see the entirety of our cabin home.
Not too far from that cabin, we found this car pile. I wonder if they let the cars sink in the spring? Baikal dump
We came across our first patches of un-snowed ice and marveled at the patterns/looked into its depths as far as we could. It was easy to forget we were on top of a lake when we just saw that uninterrupted white blanket stretch out for as far as we could see. It was quite startling, however, when we came across ice patches like the ones below, because it shocked us back into the reality of our situation driving and walking and existing atop about a mile of water.
If one wished to reach our cabin home beside the lake outside of the three or four month window in which the lake is frozen solid enough to drive on, one would have to take the train to the 107km mark (from where to where, I dont know). Seemed like there was maybe one train a day that came by.
Rear view of the cabin on the cloudiest of days we spent there
Larger view of cabin/lake. This is probably the most isolated place we have ever been. True calm and quiet with the nearest village about an hour away, by car, on top of a frozen lake.
Just one of the fleet of these beauties that were used to drive us to the experiment site everyday.
Steve assembling the collective film equipment weight we had hauled out to that remote spot. That tripod was impressively heavy.
Vladimir arming Melissa's snow boots against the slippery dangers of the ice outside with crampons specially delivered to our cabin and expertly installed by the man himself.
Our accommodations at "base camp" were not quite what Jan had anticipated. Melissa, on the other hand, was enchanted by it all right off the bat.
Very soon into our stay, we became aware of the native Husky/fluffer population that roamed the grounds of our Baikal home. This hoard of love and fluff would ambush us every time we exited the cafeteria/meal zone and if we didnt have pressing matters to get to, we would spend quality time with this hoard for the better part of an hour.
We couldn't resist (more pup picture to come, do not despair)
Heading out to the experiment site for the first day of filming 
Vladimir pontificating wildly as we strolled that lake surface to the experiment site. "What is it about the neutrino that makes scientists brave such conditions? Neutrinos go right through matter, travelling unscathed from the time they were created (some of them right after the big bang) and carrying information in a way no other particle can. The universe is optically opaque at extremely high energies, for ultra-energetic photons are absorbed by the matter and radiation that lie between their source and Earth. However, neutrinos, which are produced by the same astrophysical processes that generate high energy photons, barely interact with anything along the way. They can escape even from within astrophysical objects. For instance, neutrinos stream out from the center of the sun as soon as they are produced, whereas a photon needs thousands of years to work its way out from the solar heart. Neutrinos represent a unique window into an otherwise invisible universe." -Anil Anathaswamy "The Edge Of Physics."
One of many crane type structures that the physicists would use to lower the Neutrino detection devices to the bottom of the lake. The scientists use the surface of the lake as a platform of sorts that they can park all of this heavy machinery on for a few months to check on the Neutrino detection devices they lowered the year before and expand the reach of these detection devices to areas further and further spread out across the bottom of the lake.
More cranes and some living quarters. I was hoping to spend one nite out on the lake in that thing, but it didnt work out. Maybe next time...
Vladimir talking with one of the crew members of this mission, who is Buryat. I remember talking with the man (forget his name) for awhile about his people's relationship with Baikal and how he thought of it as an honor to be working intimately with this very holy site/entity. 

Here is a close up of our Buryat friend inspecting one of the Neutrino detectors about to be sunk

Setting up the interview station for Steve/Vladimir (Jancie)

Interview commenced!

While Steve set about interviewing Vlad, Melissa set about making masks
While watching the interview unfold, out of nowhere, this man came flying by on his snowmobile, wielding a torch, setting fire to the hillsides. (Jancie)
We rushed over to see what was going on and soon found out that this is a yearly duty for the locals there. We talked with Vladimir about it and he said that they have to clear that dead brush away when there is still snow around so that there will not be wildfires during the summer. He then pointed to a spot quite near the cabin where we were staying and said that there used to be a cabin there in years past, but was taken in a brush fire that got out of control. (Jancie)
The aftermath of this alarming/confusing/necessary safeguard
That evening we wandered over to the nerve center of this whole operation to check out possible filming locations for later in the week. This bridge served as the entrance to the complex
Here's some of the tube living, Birch forestry and cabin life the physicists participate in during the time that they spend out there.
Details, colors, patterns
Sunset over the lake, tire tracks, unbelievable beauty and solitude.
Yes, a blobby picture of the moon. While the below foto is of little to no aesthetic value, it serves as a reminder of one of the highlights of my time there. Every nite/morning we spent there I would wake up around three or four in the morning having to pee something fierce. I would try and fight the impulse for as long as I could, but would eventually get forced out of bed by it. Forgoing a trip to the "bakery" (which I will explain soon enough) to relieve myself, I would instead walk out on to our porch and pee into the snowbank below it. It was during these moments when I was able to experience the absolute quiet of our environs and the austere grandeur of the full moon glowing out over the surface of the lake. Cameras fail, but the experience lives on. Thank you, full bladders.
We were not only blessed with the Husky fluffer hoards during our time out there. This Siberian adapted feline below would occasionally find its way out onto the ice to hang out with us/watch the artist at work.
The bakery herself, as promised! This was our bathroom for the week we were out there. Inside those hallowed doors were two holes in the ground to hover over and TCB. Somehow this lovely little shit shack assumed the title of bakery and it stuck quite well indeed. What fun it was! Really though, its quite liberating to not be tied to the tyranny of conventional bathrooms. Try it out, you wont regret it.
Details of our domicile
One of the three Babushkas who whipped up delicious meals for us, she seemed to be the ringleader of them all. She and her crew were just as impressive/interesting in what they achieved out there with very limited resources as were the physicists and their limited bag of resources, in my mind, at least. (Jancie)

The huskies knew well the slop bucket dump schedule and would rush to her side every time she would come out to dump. (Jancie)

The tracks that ran behind our cabin, Melissa in the distance.
As promised, more husky/fluffer coverage
We headed out to the previously scouted nerve center/brain trust/cabin cluster/information processing plant with our trusty guide Vladimir.
You can find this place at the 106km mark
The physicists working on this project took over a derelict train station to serve as their center of communications/data processing. 
The train route signage was still on the building
Mixed in with it was signage about that building's new purposes
Inside the ramshackle operations space of this project. I was struck by how these scientists lived out there, especially because of the nature of the work that they were engaged in. What these scientists are after will significantly alter the way that we understand ourselves and our universe and yet the people that are doggedly striving after this knowledge live year after year in relative squalor. Bravo!
As we wandered around this re-purposed trains station, we were startled/stoked to find the below pictured "wanted" posters of us hanging on one of the walls. We were extra pumped to be in the same zone as the sexy Russian maid calendar.
Probin that universe!
I think this one was talking about how cats are a superior life form (that's how I choose to remember it, anyways).
Neutrino detectors all fixed up, ready to ship out onto the ice
But not before they serve as a sunbathing platform for what our friend Sarah might label a "God cat."
Took all of our attention for quite some time
We fingerlocked for a bit
The drive back out to the experiment site. Ice road truckin
ex pan sive
This dood ruled. Forget his name too (only really remember Vladimir's name, it seems). Smoking, talking details of the project with us at our whim.
More rig views
Take some time to consider the soggy board strattling the hole in the ice in the foto below
Then take some time to consider how the physicists would use that same board to support their weight over that hole in the ice and the barely above freezing water temperatures below them. It totally stressed me out watching them kneel and walk upon that thing, seeing it bend wildly but somehow not break. Vladimir didnt seem bothered.
Surface of the lake/experiment site, mountain ringed glory
Steve films among it all
As we wait and take it all in
Jan and his glasses
Melissa got so amped, she started making concentric joy circles

Pattern complete!

I followed Jan and Melissa's tracks...
...out to this dood chainsawing a new hole in the ice. It was incredible watching how it was done (and reassuring to see how deep the ice goes. Just look how big that ice block is that he is manhandling our of the hole he cut).

He used this crazy foot powered chainsaw to cut a grid into the ice, then used over-sized ice tongs to grab the blocks out, one at a time. We spoke with a few of the physicists about their work out at the "camp" as they referred to it and they all seemed to very much enjoy their time out there because they were able to use their bodies and other skills besides their research/data processing/computer screen staring ones.
Three out
Enough for the day


Aimless in the universe as rain
in rivulets dug by streams
of molten rock

some stray through Earth up
through lake and depth at which
blue light lilts being

into apprehension. They swim
on through water, air,
ether, vacuum.

It is hard to tell
if it is them or stars
reflected in the slice

of lake hewn in the ice
for search-during daylight
a child sees stars

at the bottom of a deep enough
well, longs to reach them as
his mother leaves-

and here the well-trained scientists
plumb fathoms of dreams,
sky deep, through matter

into matter, machines of sight
lowered at their feet
into the crux of water in the ice
The poem above the above photograph was written by our friend/poet savant Robbie Kirkendall, who composed it after we had returned from this trip and had told him all about it. That last image of the "crux of water in the ice" really stuck with me because it gets at something that I thought of time and again while we were out there and have dwelt upon in the time since we were there. The work that these men are engaged in out there on/in/through the ice is aimed towards something well beyond what we currently know about ourselves and creation and the universe beyond. The men return year after year to engage in the various practices out there on the ice that align their vision towards this greater understanding in an almost religious fervor and devotion and the millisecond of life captured in the above foto spoke well to all of that for me in consort with Mr Kirkendall's poem. When celebrating the Epiphany, Russian Orthodox people engage in this activity. The icy cruciform that the Orthodox chop into the ice and bath in for mystical communion found its perfect/secular mirror in the cruciform found in the above foto. Religious practices connected by holes in ice and searches into the great unknown. Anyhow, on to more un-snowy portions of the surface of the lake...
Snow and ice patterns like a Pollock painting
They had a bakery of their own out there at the experiment site, we did not get to bake a loaf in it, however, so I cant vouch one way or another for it.
These floaty devices were made out of metal and would melt their way down into the ice via solar power.
On the way back to our cabin, shortly after this picture of Melissa's beautiful smile happened, our driver gave us the first of a couple "oh shit, we are going to die" moments when he made the van spin a few 360s going along at a good clip. (Jancie)
Steve was filming during those moments and I was recording audio (which turned out like a Merzbow track).
In the shadowy picture below, you will find the culprit of this spinny car attack. He is the same guy that was chopping out an ice hole in the previous fotos. He had his chain saw in the back with us, which I was sure was going to slam into my shins full force as we spun out, but somehow never did.

Back at the cabin zone for our last full day out there, filming/field recording, same as it ever was.
Getting them water tinkle samples
This was the kitchen babushka's water man. He would take six or seven trips to the water hole with those buckets multiple times a day.

Pupper in late afternoon light

Cabin stoopin'

Cabin/Crew/Water Dood/Pupper Tableau

Fluffer pile on Melissa, heart exploding cuteness/joy

Hiked higher into the hills above our cabin that last full day we had there, it was still quite smokey from the controlled (?) burn that happened a few days previously.

View from the top, checking out the track patterns to and from the cabin zone.

Steve logs footage

Jan had a device that he deployed while we were out on the lake that pinpointed exactly where we were in the world. Apparently, that is where. It felt like we were way further out in the middle of the lake than that.

Our sink we had to refill with water fetched from the lake

One more pupper sesh

Before heading out to our last day Banya, we chatted with the head scientist of the project, who then drove us over to that Banya

We got to peek his living quarters (!)

And then to the glorious Banya herself, getting all steamy for our sweat/bath after not bathing for a week.

Feeding the fire inside for the banya

Through that door, we sweated it out

Inside of the inner sanctum of the banya, sans our nude bods

Post sweat sesh, Melissa cuddled up in the head physicists jacket

Finally found one thing that had this upon it, had to take a foto. Such good flag design!
Driving back to Irkutsk just the way came a week before
We passed where the big ice sheet begins, which made me realize anew that there was a lake under all of that solid feeling ice.
We made our way to Irkutsk to get on the first leg of a 20 hour trans-Siberian railway trip after driving back through all of that Birch forest and beauty we had seen on the way there, but I'll save those Trans-Siberian stories for the next post. Goodbye ol' lake/cabin home/Vladimir/Nuetrinos, you treated us so well.

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