Administrative region: the Krasnoyarsk region
Description: geological monument, forest, rocks
Recreation type: children’s, educational, family, rock climbing, speleology
The Krasnoyarsk Stolby (Pillars) State Nature Reserve is an area of unique and mystical beauty. The reserve’s most famous landmark is majestic, whimsically shaped rock formations or pillars, towering over the mountain taiga. The Reserve is famous not only for these stone giants, but also for their ardent fans –“stolbists” (Stolby climbers). No other natural site could boast such enthusiasm for its attractions. As a socio-cultural phenomenon, “stolbism” sprang up in the 19th century, and is now mentioned both in Russian and foreign encyclopedias.
At present, when the Krasnoyarsk Nature Reserve is famous all over the world, it seems incredible that not so long ago “Stolby” was known only to a few local hunters and gold diggers. One of the earliest descriptions of these rock formations, located on the Eastern Sayan Mountains north-eastern slope, dates back to 1823. It was made by the experienced Krasnoyarsk ore finder Prokhor Seleznev. “These rocks are really big and marvelous. They are located in a remote desert, at a distance of 15 or even 20 versts (24 – 32 km). But there’s no easy way to get there – neither on foot nor on horseback, and the area abounds in wild animals. I’ve heard all sorts of stories about these rocks. Many say that one can’t see such a sight in any other land, and I guess they are not lying. Nobody has ever climbed these rocks, so nobody knows anything about them,” wrote Seleznev.
Very soon, stories about the unusual rock giants spread among local people, who started flocking to the area to see “Stolby” with their own eyes. Looking at these rocks of quaint shapes, which sometimes resembled the head of a grey-bearded old man, and sometimes an impregnable fortress, or feathers of a giant bird, lost while flying, people gave them various names, which have survived until nowadays – Ded (old man), Perya (feathers), Bliznetsy (twins), Lvinye Vorota (lion’s gates) and so on. About 100 pillars stand in the reserve, with each of them carrying a name. Names have also been given to some stones and rock fragments.
Before long, visiting “Stolby” became an indispensable aesthetic element of Krasnoyarsk city culture, alongside with watching floating of ice along the Yenisei River and tea-drinking on top of the most beautiful local peaks on Trinity Day. Visiting “Stolby” was included on the itinerary of children’s roaming – an exclusively-Krasnoyarsk phenomenon, when during holidays groups of teenagers, without adult supervision, embarked on days-long hiking trips, spending nights outdoors by the fire on Yenisei islands, at the foot of the rocks and so on. They particularly took fancy to one of the nearest to the city pillars – Kizyami, and even tried climbing it.
Those who had visited the site and had a chance to admire the giant rocks at least once said they would remember it for life. People came to the area over and over again. This period is considered the advent of “stolbism” –a socio-cultural phenomenon that is now mentioned in encyclopedias and has no analogues in the world. “Stolbism” is a social movement and a way of life which involves rock climbing and informal communication on the territory of “Stolby”.
Unlike the majority of other grass roots popular movements, “stolbism” has never been an aggressive movement – peace, harmony and order reign in the world of “stolbists”. Sociologists explain this by the fact that “stolbism”, which unites people of all social groups, has imbibed the noble traditions of Siberia, a region that has always been distinguished for its high level of travelling culture and has always respected the laws of hospitality and mutual help. Otherwise it was impossible to survive in the harsh Siberian conditions.
Initially, every group of “stolbists” set up a camp near one of the pillars, adjusting special sheds or even building huts, which served a good place to get warm in cold weather, discuss interesting topics or plans for the future. Only dead-standing trees were used for construction, and the camps themselves were kept perfectly clean. Guests were welcome – both invited and non-invited; they were given the best seats and offered food and hot tea.
These traditions have been maintained until nowadays: different groups of “stolbists” still have their own huts; just as their predecessors, today’s “stolbists” have different social status and very often different outlook on life, but their mystical love for the reserve unites them better than any common interest. They spend almost all their free time in the reserve, maintain order and even invest their own money into environmental events. “Stolbists” are extraordinary people,” says Anastasia Knorre, the reserve’s deputy head for science, holder of PhD in Biology and member of the Russian Geographical Society. “We are committed to the same cause.”
In 1851, when a group of local sportsmen climbed to the top of the Perviy Stolb (the First Pillar), the future nature reserve was widely spoken of and was called a Siberian Switzerland. That same year marked the beginning of rock climbing in Russia, which developed into a separate sports discipline with time. By the way, today’s Krasnoyarsk rock climbers are bitterly hurt when called mountaineers. They are “stolbists” and “stolbists” regard rock climbing “not as sport, but as a way of life, and this makes all the difference!”
By the 1960s, the interest in “Stolby” was so high that many tourists and researches from other Russian cities started flocking to Krasnoyarsk. Since then, the number of “pilgrims” has steadily increased each year. In the summer of 2010, the reserve was visited by a record number of tourists – 7,000 people a day!
How it was formed
Rock pillars in the Krasnoyarsk Stolby Nature Reserve are syenite outcrops in the mountain taiga. Syenite is an intrusive igneous rock composed of pink feldspar, mica and hornblende (black inclusions). Unlike granite, syenite contains very little or practically no quartz.
Syenite outcrops all over the reserve have the same bedding and comprise a powerful intrusive body – rock formation which emerged as a result of magma freezing in the depth of the Earth’s crust. Later, the upper layer of sedimentary rock composed of clay shale and limestone was weathered by wind and water. As a result, the upper part of the intrusive rock exposed, forming the pillars, which continue to grow even now, due to weathering. Further on, wind, water, temperature fluctuations and microorganisms licked the rocks into whimsical shapes: cracks widened, forming various niches, caves, stools, cups, rocking stones, etc.
How to get there
The Krasnoyarsk Stolby Nature Reserve is located on the right bank of the Yenisei River and borders with the city of Krasnoyarsk. To get to the reserve from the rail station, take a bus No. 1, 17, 36, 37, 55 or 56. Get off at Teatr Opery i Baleta Station (Theatre of Opera and Ballet) and then take a bus No.50 or 50K until Turbaza Station (Tourist Camp).
If it’s a day off, just follow the other people – all passengers getting off the bus at this station will definitely walk to the reserve. Cross the road and walk about 200 metres in the direction of movement of bus. The road will turn left towards a gorge. Follow this road for about 6-7 kilometres. You will see the Laletinsky cordon on your way. There will be a kiosk where you could buy a map. Maps are also drawn on many road shields.
If you drive, follow the road to Divnogorsk. Once you arrive at the traffic police checkpoint, turn left; this road will take you to the reserve.
Photographs by Denis Kozlovtsev
Translated into English by Nadezhda Tsyba