Glazed rocks, flocks of swans floating on unfrozen lakes, snow-capped volcanoes, giant pine trees and a hundred hues of the Baikal ice glittering in the sun. Rambler.Travel presents a selection of places where one can enjoy the real Russian winter and take photos of unforgettable landscapes.
The Sayan are a mountain range in southern Siberia that are, in fact, two different mountain systems with completely different terrains: Eastern Sayan and Western Sayan. These mountains have many trekking routes – people come here to see the splendid taiga landscape and nearly untouched wilderness that is especially lovely during the spring and winter months.
The core value of this region is the Sayano-Shushensky Nature Reserve that spans the territory of Western Sayan in the southern part of Krasnoyarsk Krai. It is home to around 100 species of animals, including the brown bear, Siberian red deer, musk deer, skunk bear, sable, lynx and snow leopard (ounce), which are listed in the Red Book. One can find reindeer in the alpine tundra. Those who love active holidays will appreciate the Poles in Eastern Sayan – unique column-shaped rocks that were formed as a result of weathering and leaching.
From a geological standpoint, the Sayan are considered to be very young, as these mountains were formed only 400 million years ago. But various findings – such as the fossilized seaweed that has been discovered in these areas – suggest that this wonderful landscape was once the world’s ocean floor.
Karelia in the Winter
During the cold season, the land of a thousand lakes – as Karelia is often called – is simply perfect for experiencing the classical Russian winter with its ringing silence, heavy Northern skies and snow-white fields alongside giant pine trees and silver-haired mountains. Among the most popular winter adventures are the safari ski tours or dog sledding excursions to Valaam with its numerous sketes, as well as to Kizhi – an island on the Lake Onega that hosts annual snow kiting competitions.
One can master this rather simple sport at a kite club in Petrozavodsk and then hone their skills on any of the Karelian lakes. Those in search of real Northern landscapes with endless pinewood and spruce forests and lakes hidden behind stone ridges should visit the Kivach and Paanajärvi wildlife sanctuaries.
There one can find the famous Karelian Kivach Falls, which never freeze during the winter, as well as the amazing Paanajärvi Lake, formed out of the rifts in the bedrock foundation. If that is still not enough, one can visit the Rouskeala Mining Park on a dog sled or ice skate in the deserted mine galleries where marble used to be extracted.
A snow-covered, double-peaked giant, the extinct volcano at Elbrus is the major and most famous mountain of the Greater Caucasus. It is located on the border of the Kabardino-Balkaria and the Karachay-Cherkessia Republics. The winter is extremely cold here, but mesmerizing panoramas of steep mountain slopes, ice fields and unusual greenish-blue skies make you forget about everything.
There is no need to go hiking or climb the mountain peak in order to observe and appreciate the entire beauty of this place. Breathtaking landscapes can be seen as far as a hundred kilometres away from the mountains. But those who are brave enough to climb one of the Elbrus summits will discover that the Earth actually is round as demonstrated by the horizon line.
Clear (Swan) Lake
The Swan Lake received its name from the fact that several hundreds of Whooper swans arrive here from Northern Russia every winter. The reason they do so is that the water reservoir never freezes, and the water temperature never drops below 4-6°C (39.2-42.8°F) due to the springs, even in ˗40°C weather. An observation deck was constructed right above the lake to provide visitors with an exceptional view of the magnificent birds; from the deck, one can photograph the swans and admire the mesmerizing landscapes of the aquamarine lake, with its bluish tint surrounded by snow-white shores and the Karasuksky and Talitsky peaks nearby. Besides the swans, other birds also spend the winter at the lake, which include around 2,000 various types of wild ducks, from mallards to Northern pintails.
In ancient times, the shamans of Altai considered these places to be sacred. They believed that Belukha Mountain was a quintessence of power, the gateway to Shambala (heaven). Even now, the virgin beauty of mountainous landscapes – massive rocks covered by a thin glacier – attract esotery scientists who consider Belukha as the center of the Earth and energetically connected to the Universe.
This is in part due to the references made by mystical painter Nicholas Roerich, who visited Belukha during his expedition to Central Asia in 1926, and made many sketches as well as the painting "Belukha". The Belukha Mountain is considered to be the highest peak in Altai and all of Siberia.
The mountain got its name due to the abundance of snow that covers its surface. The Altai people most often call it Ak-Sumer (White head) and Ak-Su-Ru (White water). Belukha has two peaks – Eastern and Western (4,506 metres and 4,435 metres respectively) and between them lies a cavitation (around 4,000 metres) which is called the Belukha Saddle. The mountain is also surrounded by large glaciers. In 2000, the Belukha Mountain and adjacent Akkemsky and Kucherlinsky Lakes were granted National Park status and thus are currently under state protection.
Author: Olga Belkina