Lena River

A small torrent flows from the slopes of the Baikal Mountains, encircling Lake Baikal from the west. The further the torrent moves from its cradle the wider it becomes before finally turning into a powerful, full-flowing 4400 km long river – the Lena.
The basin of the Lena River is mostly a taiga region that is large enough to fit Germany, Italy, Sweden, Norway and Finland all inside.

The upper Lena is a rapid mountain river. Its course gets slower after the work settlement of Kachug and shallow rifts become deep, wide river reaches. Pine woods are clustered at the Lena’s high banks; the steep cliffs overhang the mirror-like surface of the river.

There are famous Shishkin Rocks near Shishkino village with well-preserved carvings made by the ancient inhabitants of the region. The rocks are covered with pictures and paintings dating back to the Stone Age over a length of 3 kilometres; there are images of people and animals, hunting scenes and so on.

The largest port on the Lena – Osetrovo – is situated near Ust-Kut town. An enormous amount of cargo arrives at the port and then goes to various parts of the river basin. Winding like a giant snake, the Lena flows further to the north. Before Kirensk the river passes around a rocky outcrop in a loop – the Big Bend. The river valley gets narrow in places forming these “cheeks” – the bottlenecks situated between steep banks.

Following its junction with the Olekma River the Lena becomes a very abundant river; its width reaches 2 km. Further down along the river-course the 180km-long section of the Lena Pillars begins.
The Lena Pillars are one of the most amazing works of nature. The river slowly wears away the stone, making the banks crumble sharply. The decayed rock gradually formed these chaotic cliff masses that resemble castle wrecks, minarets and pillars.

Then the Lena moves to the vast Central Yakutian Plain where it is met by the biggest city of the river basin – Yakutsk. Today the city is the capital of Yakutia-Sakha republic, a major economic and cultural centre of Eastern Siberia.
Wide and magnificent, the Lena River flows alongside the city to the north at the same direction as the plain that pushes aside the endless taiga. Due to low humidity and hot summers the steppe vegetation is predominant in the valley meadows making the Lena river-basin the only place on earth where the steppes wedge in northern latitudes that far.

Then the river banks get walled with trees and it is only after Zhigansk that the Lena leaves the taiga. There are no thick forests anymore; instead they give place to dwarf trees and shrubbery vegetation. A new change happens further down the course: the Lena enters the tundra. The vegetation at the river banks disappears. Only the rocks covered with lichen-spots can be seen. Thus, the river flows up to the Laptev Sea where it runs into several arms forming a vast estuary.

Lucrative deposits of gold were discovered at the Lena region in the first half of the 19th century. At the time there were only a few Russian villages but Siberian merchants often visited these places. They used to sail down the river on laden boats, come alongside the shores and arrange fairs. Yakuts and Tungus (the Evenkis were called then) brought furs and exchanged them for drapery, tools, guns, gun powder and other things.

It was impossible to conceal the discovery of the gold. Soon news of the Lena’s fabulous wealth was spread all over Siberia and Russia and the gold rush broke out, similar to those that took place in California, South America, Alaska and Australia.
Shortly before 1917 the gold was found at Aldan – Lena’s biggest tributary. One discovery was followed by another. It turned out that the gold also exists at Kolyma and Chukotka.

But the Lena is rich not only with gold. In 1955 deposits of diamonds were discovered in western Yakutia, within the Viluya river basin – Lena’s biggest left feeder. It emerged that a large diamond deposit existed underground. But in order to access it, decades of scientific and engineering work was required.

The new town Mirny appeared near the discovered deposits. It is the diamond capital of the Lena basin.
The Lena’s natural resources are not limited to gold and diamonds. To the east of the diamond area is a massive gas field, salt deposits were discovered near Olekminsk town and iron and coal were struck in southern Yakutia.

Boundless taiga forests of the Lena’s basin are the “green gold”. The Lena taiga mostly consists of larch-tree and is called a light forest because the trees branches covered with rare fir-needles permit a lot of light through to the ground. It is always light in the larch taiga. This taiga does not resemble the dark Turuhansk taiga of the Yenisei’s lower reaches. The trees are 30-40, sometimes 50 metres high.

A larсh-tree grows well on ever-frozen soil because its roots do not dig deep beneath but spread horizontally. The goods made of larch are endurable and preserved for thousands of years. Moreover, with time they acquire a nice-looking colour. There are many other trees in the Lena’s forests that make themselves useful: pine, Siberian cedar and birch. trans siberian railway