The Komi Republic

Protected mountains of the Polar Urals

The northernmost mountain in the Komi Republic, rafting on a polar river and the remains of an ancient sea in the middle of the tundra

22.08.2022// The nature of the Polar Urals is unapproachable and harsh in its laconic, austere beauty. To reach most of the wonders of the tundra of the Komi Republic will require considerable effort—a journey by helicopter, kayak or on foot with a rucksack on your back will require special preparation, careful planning and willpower. Rocks, wind and frost rule there and no mistake is forgiven. But just stand on top of Pemboy Mount or dip your hand into the clear waters of the Kara River and this land will forever remain in your heart. Why? Who knows. Few can give an unequivocal answer, but many return, again and again, to this protected Polar region. Apparently, the mountains of the Polar Urals sometimes share their secrets if you are a little quiet on their peaks.

The northernmost geological monument of the Komi Republic is located 15 km northwest of the uninhabited Halmer-Yu settlement. In the middle of the completely flat polar tundra, bizarre black rocks rise up to 20 m high. The wind has given them the most incredible shapes: to some, they look like dragons, to others they resemble humans. The rocky ridge of eight small stone ridges stretches for almost 7 km.

On the longest and highest ridge, named Pemboy Mount, there is an area where a helicopter can land. There is an observation tower next to it, which offers a panoramic view of the landscapes of the Bolshezemelskaya tundra. In clear weather, the Polar Urals can be clearly seen from its extreme north-eastern point—the Konstantinov Kamen and Bolshoy Minisey mountains—to Payer Mount in the south. In the foreground are the pointed peaks of the Ochenyrd Range. The eastern slope of Pemboy Ridge, a vertical cliff up to 60 m high, also makes a strong impression.

In 1984, Pemboy Mount was declared a geological natural monument of national importance. The total length of the rocky ridge is 3.25 km and the width is 400 m. It is one of the largest geological protected areas in the Komi Republic.

Arctic protected areas in the Komi Republic

There are 242 protected areas in the Komi Republic, and most are located in the taiga zone. There are only eight protected areas in the tundra zone, and only one of them is comprehensive—it protects all components of tundra natural landscapes. This is the Ridge Reserve, established in 1989. It is 35 km southeast of the Sovetsky settlement. On the southeastern slope of the Enganepe mountain range, on an area of 4,000 ha, both typical and rare species of tundra landscapes of the Polar Urals mountains are preserved in a reference form. Here visitors can see everything it is rich in: thermokarst and mountain lakes, mountain rivers, streams and waterfalls, rock outcrops along rivers, rare plants, red-listed insects and birds. Nature remains the same as it was before human arrival, allowing scientists to assess the anthropogenic pressure on other parts of the tundra and mountains of the Polar Urals.

Rafting down a polar river

The Kara River originates on the slopes of the Polar Urals. The picturesque Verkhnekarsly Canyon is 3 km from the confluence of the Bolshaya and Malaya Kara rivers. There is a calm splash in front and the gorge with its high sheer walls can be seen from afar. Verkhnekarsly Canyon is popular with kayaking enthusiasts, attracted by the relative ease of the route. There are nine short rapids in the canyon and the rapids alternate with waterfalls. The highest of the canyons is only 1–1.5-metres high, so even beginners can navigate the canyon.

The purest waters of the Kara River abound with fish of valuable species. Pink salmon, starred sturgeon, salmon, pike perch, grayling and char are the catch that awaits the fisherman here. And if you go a little further upstream in summer, you can visit a reindeer herder’s campsite.

Most tours of the Polar Urals in the Komi Republic involve active recreation. River rafting, motorbike riding, cycling or hiking require a visitor to the Arctic Circle to be physically sturdy and fit. Care should also be taken in the selection of equipment, which varies considerably according to the season.

Geological monuments in the tundra

The natural monument of Sharyu consists of continuous rock outcrops on both banks of the Sharyu River, about 50 km from its mouth. The cliffs stretch along the banks for 1 km. They are composed of steeply sloping strata of coralline, brachiopodic, gonyatitic limestone, mudstone, oil shale and dolomite. They are up to 60 m high and descend steeply, almost vertically, into the river. Scientists estimate the rock formations to be 420 million years old. It was declared a natural monument in 1984.

In the natural monument of Sharyu, both the rocks themselves and the sites where fossil fauna—corals, brachiopods, ammonites and conodonts—have been found, are subject to protection.

The entire valley of the Sharyu River has the status of a geological reserve, thanks to its picturesque cliffs and unique northern landscapes.

One of the most interesting sites on the Sharyu River is the Koltso Rock geological monument on its right bank. A large 2.5x5-metre diameter hole (ring) has been formed in one of the Silurian dolomite and dolomitised limestone layers located here.

And 3.5 km above the Koltso Rock is another geological monument, the 'Middle Gate of the Sharyu River.' This is a canyon-like section of 0.5 km long. The cliffs at this site are up to 70 m high and their positioning really does create an amazing gateway—an entrance to a world of northern legends and lore. And there are a lot of them about these amazing places.

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