Yenisei River

From snow-covered crests through mountains and plains, forests and steppes, from southern latitudes to the cold Arctic Ocean – the Yenisei, the greatest river of Russia, flows. The length of the river is 3487 km. The Yenisei goes through all Siberia dividing it into two even-sized parts with western Siberia falling to the Ob River and eastern Siberia – to the Lena River.

On its long way the Yenisei passes areas of different landscapes and climate zones. The river basin’s structure is very complicated: there are high mountains topped with glaciers and snowfields, table-lands carved by deep gorges, plains with slow rivers and flat lichen tundra. To the Yenisei’s left the endless plains of the Western Siberian Lowland lie; the forest-covered Central Siberian Table-land dominates on the right side. Therefore the river’s left bank is predominantly low and meadowy, the right bank is high and steep, often with vertical cliffs.

The Western Siberian Lowland scarcely provides the Yenisei with water: there are few feeders from this side and no big rivers among them. All the significant tributaries flow in from the right side including the Kan, the Angara, the Big Pit, the Stony Tunguska and the Lower Tunguska. That’s why the river basin is that asymmetrical: its right side is well-developed and over a half of catchment area is accounted for it while the left side, the one that borders lowland, looks like a narrow strip.
A total of about 500 more or less big rivers empty themselves into the Yenisei with their total length exceeding 300,000 km.
The Angara River connects Yenisei with the Baikal Lake – the deepest lake on Earth and an enormous reservoir of crystal-clear fresh water.

In the depths of the Sayan highlands, at the base of the Topographers’ Peak (3044 meters above sea level), there is the narrow Kara-Balyk lake lying in a deep mountain kettle hole. This lake is the Yenisei’s cradle. The bald rocky mountains tower around it, 800-1000 metres high like silent guards. The blue band of the lake runs for several kilometres. The crystal clear cold flow – the Biy Hem (the Big Yenisey), the river’s main headwater – breaks loose from the lake’s south-western end through the dam of moraine deposits.

Powering through mountain offshoots, flowing down in rapids and waterfalls the Biy Hem eventually comes to a vast inter-mountain Tuvinsk kettle hole after having travelled over 500 kilometres. Near the town of Kyzyl the river meets with its “younger” brother – Ka Hem (Small Yenisei) – the mountain river that flows from the flanks of Sangilen mountain chain.
The combined flow is called by Tuvinians the Ulug Hem – the Great River which is symbolic because the Ulug Hem is the biggest river of Tuva making it a truly great river for this region. And further, the river matches up to its name; the Yenisei, as we already know, is the greatest Russian river and one of the biggest in the world.

As if it got tired of its “wild ride” in the mountains the Yenisei slows down in the Tuvinsk kettle hole, the river valley gets broader and its flow break up into branches. This part of the river course is called “Forty Yeniseis”.
When the Yenisei leaves Tuva it gathers its waters into one stream-bed. At this point it is already a large river, half a kilometre in width, which cuts through the Western Sayan offshoots in a deep canyon. The Yenisei is the most water-abundant river of Russia. It brings more water to the ocean than all the rivers of European Russia. The Volga’s flow is two and half times smaller than Yenisei’s. The highest water level in Yenisei is observed during the summer – from June to August.
The Yenisei starts to get covered with ice in its bottom course in the middle of October. The ice-edge gradually moves up along the river-course and the Yenisei is firmly covered in ice by the middle of November.

For almost half a year (in the north – a little bit longer) the Yenisei stays covered by a thick ice coat. The river starts to break loose from icy captivity in the beginning of May. But it takes a whole month for the Yenisei to completely get rid of the ice. This is the time of the grandiose ice-drift. Big ice-blocks often get stuck at sharp turns of the river-course resulting in the accumulation of large masses of ice –ice-jams. They limit the flow leading to the water-level going up and the river overflowing its banks and finally – to strong floods.

The floods at the Yenisei take place not only in spring but also in summer. The summer floods are conditioned by another reason – too much snow thawing high in the mountains and too much summer rains. The construction of hydroelectric facilities – Krasnoyarskaya and Sayano-Shushenskaya HPPs – has helped in regulating the Yenisei’s water-flow.
If we call the Volga River the “Big Blue Road of Europe” then the Yenisei is Siberia’s grand water high-way. The river connects the Siberian rail-way that crosses Asian Russia west-to-east with the Northern Sea Route at the Far North. Every year millions of tons of cargo are transported through the Yenisei and its tributaries. The basin of the river is rich everything. Earlier it was famous for gold and furs; now it is known as an inexhaustible deposit of coal, iron and other metals.

Krasnoyarsk Territory is one of major timber-suppliers for all Russian and certain foreign states. The Yenisei river basin is the place where one fifth of all Russian timber is situated. Timber accounts for 65-70% of all cargo transported by the river. The main cargo flow goes from the Lower Angara to ports of Dudinka and Ingarka where the timber is shipped and sent to different countries. Apart from timber, the local rivers are used for the transportation of grain, fish, charcoal, ores, oil, construction materials and fertilisers.

A number of powerful hydroelectric power plants are built on this great river and its tributaries. trans siberian railway