The Call of the Mountains

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Why the Khibiny Mountains are an unmissable part of your trip to the Arctic Circle

The largest mountain range in the Kola Peninsula, Russia, attracts thousands of tourists from the Murmansk Region and its neighbouring areas, but is almost completely unknown beyond its surrounding environs. However, there is a great deal to please both fans of culture and sightseeing and for avid skiers and hikers. Lenta.Ru explains why it's worth spending a week there.

The Khibiny Mountain Range was formed approximately 350 million years ago and its highest point, Mount Yudychvumchorr, stands 1201 metres high (3940 ft.). The cities of Apatity and Kirovsk lie at the foot of the mountains: the latter served as the setting for Leviathan, an award-winning film by Andrey Zvyagintsev, which inspired hundreds of tourists to visit. To the north of the mountains you'll find the city of Monchegorsk, the home town of the Kola Mining and Metallurgical Company, which is part of Norilsk Nickel.

Urban Landscape

Kirovsk and Apatity enjoy magnificent views over the mountain range from practically anywhere in town. When accompanied by the aurora borealis, the sight becomes even more breathtaking. During the winter, the sun does not rise above the horizon for 40 days, so the end of the polar night is a cause for great celebration.

In addition to the aurora borealis, the collection at the Geological and Mineralogical Museum in Apatity is also worth seeing. It contains over nine thousand samples of various minerals, metals and rocks from all over the Kola Peninsula.

Those who want even more minerals can visit the only open-air geological park in Russia, or the museum-apartment of Aleksandr Sidorenko, who served as the USSR's Minister of Geology between 1962 and 1975.

Another interesting museum in the town of Apatity is devoted to the study and exploration of the Russian North. Its collection includes original expedition documents, rare editions and unique photographs showing the Arctic Circle as it was a century ago.

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The Stone Flower Expo and Fair, which takes place every year at the beginning of February, is an event not to be missed.

The nearby city of Kirovsk is also worth seeing. In winter, it makes sense to start the walk through the city at the snow village which has been built every year since 2008. It is one of the main sights of the Kola Peninsula and holds a place in The Russian Book of Records as the country’s largest structure of its kind. In 2013, an Ice Wedding Palace was built here, and this year the snow village's theme is Russian cartoon characters. The village is not set to melt before May 1.

Russia’s northernmost Botanical Gardens, founded in 1931 is also not far from the town. In the gardens' open-air section, there are some plants which are more commonly found in the south, but which have been masterfully adapted to the climate of the Arctic North. The greenhouse is full of tropical and subtropical plant life all year round.

Kirovsk also has a Mining and Geological Museum located in the former fire station.

Fans of the poem Moscow to the End of the Line will enjoy visiting the Venedict Yerofeyev Museum. The author was born in Kandalaksha and grew up in Kirovsk, where he graduated from high school with honours: his high school medal is still on display at the museum. The tour of the museum is accompanied by the sound of the author reciting his famous poem.

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Venedict Yerofeyev Museum in Kirovsk

If you are taking a family trip, you should definitely check out the Hibinium Adventure Centre, where children can learn to drive a snowmobile, shoot a crossbow, ride an inflatable sledge or do some cliff climbing.

The Joys of Skiing

Sports lovers will find two ski resorts with names that are quite impossible to pronounce: Aykuayvenchorr (Bolshoy Vudyavr) and Kukisvumchorr. They are both located right in Kirovsk itself.

Skiing

The total length of runs in Aykuayvenchorr is 1.5-2 km, with a vertical descent of 450-600m and a highest point of 1075 metres. There are several beginner routes as well as runs for more experienced riders, which are serviced by seven T-bar lifts and one chairlift. The resort is fairly cheap: a two-day ski pass costs $35, while a nine-day ski pass is $103. One hour at a ski school will set you back $15 per hour.

In the smaller resort of Kukisyumchorr, there are six trails and four chairlifts. The highest point is at 886 metres. In the lower part of the resort, there is even a night-time trail. A ski pass for one day costs $18 and a five-day pass is $68.

At the foot of the mountain, there is a cafe and hostel with two, three or four bed rooms. Rooms with a bathroom are $11-13 per night and there is a communal kitchen.

The Romance of the Mountains

If you have no hiking experience, the Khibiny Mountains is a great place to gain some. The mountains aren't too steep and are perfect for hikers with no serious skills, yet there is an abundance of natural wonders.

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To begin with, you should set out from the cities of Apatity or Kirovsk and make for Maly Vudyavr, a mountain lake surrounded by wetlands with a plethora of wild berries and mushrooms.

For a more challenging trail to the lake, head through Geographers' Pass, between the mountains of Vudyavrchorr and Tahtarvumchorr, then follow the right tributary of the River Belaya along the valley. The stream eventually disappears into the rocks, and the mountain ridge rises up before your eyes. The way down to the lake is more dangerous than the way up because the slope on this side of the ridge is steeper.

From Maly Vudyavr, take a trip to Schel’ Pass: not many tourists go this far. To the south of this pass are apatite quarries, the area’s main treasure. From this height, the huge trucks carrying ore look like toy cars. If you go in the opposite direction, you will find yourself on the shores of Akademicheskoye Lake. It is one of the most high-altitude lakes here, located only 200 metres lower than the nearby mountain ridges. The best place to take a break is on the gently sloping eastern shore.

If you still have some energy left, you can hike around Akademicheskoye Lake or set out for the Risyok River and its waterfall.

All in all, there are plenty of routes you can take in and around the Khibiny Mountains. It is best to pick your route once you have arrived in the area, based on your mood and state of health. The most important thing though, is spontaneity: like any other mountain range, the Khibiny love to mess with hikers’ plans and lead them into hidden and completely unexpected places.

Author: Timur Yusupov