“But Siberia is freezing, right?” – that’s what ‘they’ will tell you whenever the vast space east of the Urals comes up in conversation. “Yes” is the answer of course, but only during winter (with an overlap into spring and autumn); a fact that most seem to overlook. Also there is the issue of ‘where’ exactly in Siberia they are referring to.
In a region covering 13.1 million sqr. Km (5,100,000 sqr. miles); there’s a lot of landmass to choose from; between Europe and (almost) Japan, between Mongolia and the Arctic circle. So, dip your virtual thermometer in there somewhere and tell me just how cold you think it should be! Across the seasons, a temperature differential of around 80°C is possible; that’s roughly -40°C-40°C, though the latter would be an incredibly hot day (38°C is more realistic). Extremes can push the mercury (down) even further; in Verkhoyansk (Northern SIberia), for instance, −69.8°C was recorded in the winter of 1993, an unimaginable cold for us in the West.
Anecdotally, I heard that our ability to differentiate between temperatures accurately has failed by this point -the mechanism to do so loses track around -30°C apparently (?). Is this true? Of course, we are talking about a degree of cold that is utterly alien to most of us – so perhaps it’s unfamiliarity, or perhaps in those depths the body is just screaming, “Never mind the graphs, just GET OUT!” Considering that healthy human body temperature hovers around 37°C we are going to be in danger with only a few degrees of core deviation of course. Either way, without adequate safety gear, training AND an awareness of exposure limits, we would be in very serious trouble immediately. Terrifyingly, I also heard that one of the signs of terminal hypothermia is “paradoxical undressing“, where the victim’s rationality has degraded, along with the integrity of their nervous system. to the point that he feels a sensation of intense heat and compulsively undresses to “cool off”.
Nightmarishly, frozen copses have been found in the ice at the end of trails littered with cast-off clothes, where the victim, in a vain attempt to reach safety, plodded ever onwards towards their doom, discarding their clothes in this illusory “heat” as they went.
If you think that deep winter is bad then consider the perspective of Welsh expat Michael Oliver-Semenov, as featured in The Siberian Times:-
“… I have just discovered …that the transition from winter to spring is actually the most dangerous time of the year…The sun… melts the snow which causes rivers of slush to run down the street, plus all the snow on the roofs begin to melt, forming large icicles on the gutters. Come night time it all freezes again…you have to remember not to walk at speed because the streets are covered in new powder snow on top of sheet ice and you must never walk directly beneath the buildings just in case an icicle is caused to drop by the thawing brought on by the rising sun…”.
So anyway, can I interest you in a winter Siberian holiday? Lake Baikal is always worth a visit. In the depths of winter it will, of course, freeze over, -that’s an area the size of England, incidentally. In some areas the ice reaches a depth of 2 metres, in others considerably less. Care (a qualified and knowledgeable guide) is still required as large ‘pancakes’ of ice have been known to flip-over, sending whoever, or whatever was standing on them 1,642 metres straight down. Excursions across the ice are available though; the most ingenious means being via hovercraft which takes both solid ice and liquid water in it’s stride (glide?).
You can also play golf on it (the lake that is) or even swim under it (yes, through a hole). That’s with the right guide, time limit and protective gear of course, otherwise let’s face it: you’re dead.
Other Winter fun includes husky sledding (even across Lake Baikal), flights over incredible landscapes, ice go-karting, Troika rides (a Troika is a traditional, three-horse sleigh), cultural/wilderness exploration, and more. In fact, I think we need to look at these in more detail next time. They are certainly worth it.