Krasnoyarsk Krai

Putorana Plateau

The Putorana lava plateau is located in the northwest of the Krasnoyarsk Territory, immediately beyond the Arctic Circle, south of the Taimyr Peninsula. The official geographic centre of Russia is located on Putorana. It was calculated at the end of the 20th century by geographer Petr Bakut to lie on the southeastern shore of Lake Vivi, 66°25′ N, 94°15′ E. This point is marked by a monument with a corresponding inscription, next to which is the wooden chapel of St. Sergius of Radonezh.

The plateau makes the range of mountain look as if their tops had been cut off. The elevated plateau is cut by deep canyons with stepped walls and is completely covered with the so-called Siberian ladders: solidified volcanic basaltic lava that flowed here in a red-hot stream 250 million years ago. In the centre of the plateau, the thickness of the lava layer reaches 1,500 m. Putorana occupies a vast area, 250,000 km², and is the second-largest lava plateau in the world. Only the Deccan Plateau in India is larger.

Site on the map

Putorana is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The pristine natural complexes of the plateau are protected by the Putorana State Nature Reserve.

The unusual relief of the Putorana landscape was created by tectonic faults. The slopes, composed of layers of different rocks, disintegrate unevenly, which is why corners, folds and steps that are almost even and seem to have been hewn are formed. Thousands of bodies of water have formed at the bottom of the valleys and faults. Deep (up to 400 m), narrow and long lakes, similar to fjords, store a supply of clean fresh water which is important for the entire planet. The exact depths of many lakes have not yet been measured and remain unknown due to their inaccessibility.

Mineralised healing springs and countless waterfalls gush from the slopes. One of them is Talnikovy, the highest waterfall in Eurasia (from 482 to 700 m). It has as many as 15 steps; in winter, it freezes and disappears. Therefore, Talnikovy has a dubious status: some people do not consider it a waterfall, but a seasonal river overflow. The official record holder in Putorana is the Kandinsky waterfall on the Kanda River (108 m).

The virgin landscapes of Putorana are diverse: taiga, mountain tundra, wooded tundra and arctic desert. The migration routes of wild reindeer pass through the plateau. Lynxes, wolverines, sables, bears, and hares live in the taiga and wooded tundra. A special Putorana species of snow sheep, the bighorn sheep, lives in the mountainous areas. Far from civilisation, almost inaccessible to people, the plateau is chosen as a nesting place by many migratory birds, including rare predators like the gyrfalcon and the white-tailed eagle. Since the microclimate in the canyons is softer and warmer than the average in these latitudes, there are also unexpected species: for example, swallowtail butterflies fly around the plateau and polar raspberries can be found.

Traces of both permanent and nomadic settlements, ancient and relatively recent, are found in various areas of the plateau. On the one side, there are the remnants of the Evenk tents and camps, and shamanic idols on the shores of the lakes. On the other side, there are two abandoned railway lines found, thanks to declassified Soviet maps, at the end of the 20th century in the most remote and inaccessible area of Putorana, the northeast. The purpose of the railways is not known with any degree of certainty. Maybe they were part of the infrastructure around the Lend-Lease airfield that existed here during World War II.

As for tourism, the Putorana plateau provides unique opportunities for climbers, paddlers and hikers. The main difficulty is that this is a remote, inaccessible area with harsh living conditions. Travelling to Putorana is a real expedition that requires serious preparation. First, you need equipment that is appropriate for the weather conditions. Frosts on the plateau start at the end of September, and in April, it can reach –40°C. On the lakes in the central part of the plateau, the ice melts by mid-July and reappears in early September. The average temperature in the summer months is + 12°C, while the weather is often windy and very temperamental, with sharp unexpected fluctuations and frequent precipitation: rain, and sometimes even snow. Warm clothes with wind and moisture protection are necessary even in summer.

To visit the protected areas, you need to submit an application to the administration of the Federal State-Funded Institution Taimyry Nature Reserve. You can do so on the official website, where you can find all the most up-to-date information.

The closest settlement to the plateau is Norilsk. The distance from Norilsk to the reserve is 180 km, but there is no road between the two. In winter, snowmobile transfers are possible, but finding a place to get the snowmobiles up the plateau is not easy. In summer, the reserve can be reached by water, but you must bear in mind that there are no state or municipal river vessels in Norilsk, there are only private boats.

Air transport is difficult in any season due to the difficult weather conditions and the limited number of helicopter landing areas. In addition, each flight hour on an MI-8 helicopter is expensive.