Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Sayano-Shushensky Biosphere Reserve (Aug 17-20)
Anya and I spent our first weekend on the edge of Sayano-Shushensky Biosphere Reserve, a huge territory with an area of almost 400,000 hectares. The reserve is a strict protected area and therefore no tourists are allowed into the reserve territory. The enormous Enisei River makes up the eastern border of the reserve and is also the reserve's buffer zone. All boats in the section of the river bordering the reserve have to have special permission from the reserve and have to register on site. We lived on the other side of the river, in the so-called "biosphere polygon." Under UNESCO biosphere reserves should have a strictly protected territory, that is the reserve itself, and a "polygon" where limited natural resource use is allowed with the goal of demonstrating sustainable economic development. Hunting and fishing tourism are the main activities in Sayano-Shushensky's polygon. In the first picture is the Enisei River; the reserve is on the right side, and the polygon is on the left side.
Here is a picture of Anya and the little boat we took almost 200 km (a 4-5 hour trip) down the Enisei River to the ranger station where we stayed. Anya is feeding this dog sunflower seeds, and he could actually shell and eat them.
Sayano-Shushensky Reserve was created in 1976 partially to offset and study the effects of the construction of Sayano-Shushensky Hydroelectric Dam on the Enisei River. This is why the river, much like the Columbia, doesn't look like a wild river with rapids, etc., but rather like a large peaceful sea.
Russians claim Sayano-Shushensky Dam is the largest on earth, which I haven't been able to confirm. However, it is huge. (It is the largest hydroelectric station in Russia.) When it was built the water level on the Enisei River behind the dam rose 240 meters up the sides of the mountains along the river!
These mountain sides were forested, and unfortunately they were not logged before the dam began to operate and the water level rose. Not only were millions of dollars of valuable timber lost, but dead logs still float on the reservoir nearly 25 years after the completion of the dam. The decaying logs pollute the river and make the water not so clear underwater, too. (I checked it out when I went swimming in the reservoir.) They say the logs that have sunk actually haven't reached the bottom of the river, either, but rather are floating as a huge underwater forest about 40 meters below the surface.
Logs still floating on the surface of the Enisei. Makes for interesting navigation for water craft.
Huge letters on the mountain side saying "Sayano-Shushensky Reserve." You can't miss that!
We stayed at the reserve's nicest ranger station, which was really, REALLY nice. Like a fancy ski lodge in the U.S. Here are me and Anya next to the fireplace.
This is a view from the ranger station in the evening.
Here is a view of the house we stayed in from the outside. Swimming was pretty chilly but still fun.
This is Valery, our super guide during our time in the reserve. There are just not enough positive adjectives to describe him. On our first day he took us on a hike over the cliffs near where we stayed, totally redefining the definition of "trail." Here he is probably waiting for us to hurry up and stop taking pictures of the great views we saw.
Anya and I became quite the rock climbers.
Valery also took us to search for the wild mountain goats that inhabit the steep slopes of the reserve. Amazingly, he could spot them with no trouble, even though they were hard for us to find even using binoculars! In hot weather the goats will come down close to the water level, but since it was chilly and misty when we went looking for them, we only saw them from far away. Which was still really cool!
Some cool pictures with reflections in the water. If you closely look at the bottom of the slopes you can see a little grey-brown edge right at the water level. That is the start of the "dead zone," where annually rising water levels from the dam don't allow anything to grow. In the spring, when the water is at its lowest level, this zone is 40 meters wide and very easy to see. Now it is only about 2 meters wide.
Me sitting in the rocky and dead-woody dead zone on the shore of the mighty Enisei.