|The Sayan mountain range|
The Sayans got their name after a Turkic tribe of Sayans who inhabited the upper reaches of the Siberian rivers Yenisei and Oka and who mixed with other Turkic tribes and became a part of Tuva people. For the first time it was reported about the tribe of Sayans by Cossacks V. Tyumenets and I. Petrov who visited the patrimony of Altyn-Khan in 1615. The Sayan tribe ethnically belongs to Samoyedic tribes. The Sayans called the mountains which they inhabited “Kogmen”, the Buryats called them “Sardyk”. The names Sayans and the Sayan mountains firstly appeared in records of Russian travelers in Siberia and then it became in general use.
The Sayan mountain range stretches between 91° and 111° of EL. It is the continuation of the Altai mountain system and serves as a borderline between Russian and Chinese territories.
The Sayans stretch along the southern outlying of Yenisei and south-western part of Irkutsk Region and Trans-Baikal Region. The Sayans are a row of parallel chains of mountains bound by high mountain junctions. The Sayan mountain range is connected with the Altai mountain system by a high mountain junction which is called Shabin-Davana. Some knolls even if they do not cross snow line they hold snow for 10,5 months. From the mountain junction close to the sources of the river Chakhan the mountain ridge Kaltanovskiy heads for northwards and north-westwards. It is high in the beginning. But further from the Sayans it goes down and then sets against the rocky mountain ridge Itemskiy which stretches from east to south-west and more to the west from the left bank of the river Yenisei. It got its name after the high flat-topped knoll Item. The Itemskiy mountain ridge goes between the rivers Jaey and Uy. Further southwards the Kaltanovskiy mountain range merges with the rocky mountain ridge Omaytura.
From Shabin-davanskiy mountain district it has eastern direction. At this extent the Sayan mountain range is nodivided in two parallel chains. The southern one is called by the locals Tuna-taiga, and the northern one - Kur-taiga. From the latter one close to the sources of the rivers Kyzyn-su and Sosnovka a low mountain ridge is separated which stretches up to the junction of the river Kantegira with the Yenisei. The mountain ridge serves as a watershed of flowing in the river Kantegir from the right and the river Yenisei from the left.
After crossing the river Yenisei the Sayan mountain range stretches north-eastwards by few parallel chains. The borderline main chain has few names: so from the left bank of the river Yenisei up to the sources of the river Uk it is called Tarkhok-shan. Up to the sources of the river Kayarta the influx of the river Us is called Ergik-shan. From there up to the sources of the river Tikhaya (“Silent”). Then from the mountain Kenjin-Davan from where the river Us starts up to the mountain mass Munku-Sardyk Sayan it has the local name Ergik-Tarkhok-taiti or toothed wooded crest.
The river Yenisei downwards from the hole Kemchik-bom makes its way through a row of almost parallel mountain ranges which form numerous rapids. From the main chain the mountain ranges of Sayans imperceptibly merge with high steppes of Minusinskiy district which is situated from the right side of the river Yenisei. These parallel mountain ranges the height of which in some areas is more or less estimated have different names. The Kyzyrsukskiy mountain range coming up to the Yenisei conditions the origin of a unusually narrow gorge which squeezes the river up to 25 sazhens (58,5 metres) and forms in its channel a huge waterfall which has the name Bolshaya Poroga. Further the chain goes down up to 4000, 3000, 2500 and finally passes to the heights not more than 1500-1600 feet. Besides these more significant according to their extent mountain ridges, from the same mountain junction goes the mountain ridge which serves as a watershed of the rivers Kazyra and Kizira. Then there is the Agulskiy mountain ridge which goes northwards and north-westwards and serves as a watershed between the rivers Agul and Tagul. The height of this two mountain ridges firstly reaches from 4500 up to 5600 feet, soon falls up to 3800, and then up to 2700 feet.
According to the words of the first explorer of Sayans, boundary commissioner Pesterev, close to the sources of the river Kazyr a pillar-formed mountain Epie rises; its height is 1800 m. From the above-mentioned mountain junction the direction of the mountain range Sayan becomes more to the south-east up to the sources of the river Sentsy. In all this extent there is a boundary major chain. The mountain passes which go through this segment of the mountain range have the following heights: Mustag - from the upper reaches of the river Jelomalgo to the sources of the river Khamsara it is 6940 feet, Saltysty-art - 7070 feet, Toros-davan - in the upper reaches of the river Bidikema by the border mark №19 - 6980 feet, finally , Mongol-davan - in the upper reaches of the river Tissy - 1941 metres. The high points of this part of Sayan are 8410 feet in height. Slightly aside from the main chain, between the upper reaches of the rivers Tissy and Sentsy there are high peaks, for example, Khara-khardyk and Middendorfa, which are up to 11000 feet in height according to the words of the geologist Yachevskiy who traveled there. They are covered with eternal snow and have vast glaciers; one of them descending from the peak Middendorf from its northern slope was called the glacier Middendorfa.
From Seigen-davan the boundary chain of Sayan goes south-eastwards again up to the mountain mass Munku-Sardyk. There are the following passes: Tengiz, also called Vostochniy (6730 feet) and Uryuk-davan (6700 feet). The last segment of Sayan from the pass Uryuk up to the source of the river Oka has the local name Nukhitu-davana. In the last segment the mountain range Sayan has few difficult passes. They are Garganskiy in the upper reaches of the river Khare (up to 7680 feet) and Yangit-davan (6980 feet). From the peak of the river Tayozhnaya the major chain of the mountain range Sayan moves to Mongolia up to the lake Kosogola. There it serves as a borderline between Russia and China. There on the border of two empires the highest peak of Siberia and Sayan rises - the mountain Munku-Sardyk, the northern slopes of which are situated within the bounds of Russia.
The mountain Maknu-Sardyk is 11452 feet in height and covered with eternal snows. Few glaciers descend from it, and the foot of the mountain in the southern slope is situated at a height of 10400 feet, and the foot of the glacier in the northern slope is situated at a height of 6900 feet. Two rivers which serve as upper reaches of the rivers Irkut and Obogol spring from the Munku-Sardykskiy mass of Sayan as well as the influxes of the rivers Khare, Zhekhoy, Oka, Bogute, Khairem and Khairmen. In upper reaches they produce cascades and waterfalls and bear huge blocks and rubbles of rock. Except the peak Munku-Sardyk the explorer Yachevskiy saw three more peaks at a short distance which were not inferior to Munku-Sardyk in height.
The relief of the mountain range Sayan is rather complicated. Numerous mountain ridges of Sayan are separated from the major chain in north-west, north and north-east gradually bending to the left bank of the river Angara and nodividing in secondary branches. The most significant in their extent and height mountain ranges are Kitoyskiy, Idinskiy and Kuytun-Khardykskiy. South-eastwards from Munku-Sardyk the mountain range Sayan is nodivided by the longitudinal valley of the river Irkut in two almost parallel mountain ranges. The southern one is called Gurbi-davan, and the north-eastern one is called the mountain range Tunkinskiy. The direction of the southern boundary branch of Sayan is up to Tunkinskiy border marker. At this extent Gurbi-davan also preserves the complicated relief. It sends mountain ranges to different directions, and they have many secondary branches.
The first explorer of Sayans was a boundary commissioner Pesterev who in 17780-80s traveled to the mountains Sayans in order to research a borderline and to check up border markers and boundary posts. His reports are unprinted and only known by small extracts. A more detailed and scientific research of the Sayans began since the middle of XIX century. Naturalists, geologists, topographers and other scientists were engaged in it. They are Schmidt, Radde, Meglitskiy, Kryzhyn, Cherskiy, Chekanovskiy, Polyakov, Bobyr, Yachevskiy, Krylov and Andreyanov.
The climate of Sayans is acutely continental. Cold and moderately severe winter starts in November and ends in March, average temperature - 22-25 degrees. Dry unstable weather prevails in spring, summer is moderately cool and rainy, the average temperature is 15-18 degrees. Autumn is early and cold. In winter the temperature may fall up to -52 degrees in some days, in summer it may rise up to 38 degrees. A lot of snow falls in winter in the mountains of Sayans - up to 1200 millemetres a year, the height of the snow cover rises up to 1,5 metres. The greater part of snow is on the northern slopes of Sayans. Many sectors of mountains are dangerous because of avalanches.
Flora and fauna of Sayans are extremely rich and nodiverse. Due to its isolation and sparse population there preserved many kinds of animals which almost disappeared in other areas; they are red dogs, snow leopards, wild rams or argali, Tuvinian beavers, reindeers.
Eastern Sayans are not only an interesting geological, botanical, zoological object but it is also an object which is connected with spiritual culture of local people. In the mythology of local people Eastern Sayans is a place where gods and heroes live. One of them is Geser-Khan. In the heroic epos of people of Central Asia “Geser-Khan” it is said that all mountains of Sayans are turned to stone powerful warriors of Geser.
Many peaks of the Sayan mountains are derived from legends and have ancient names, often forgotten. That is why very often people set up “obo” since long ago on the peaks of the Sayan mountains and on those place which are pointed by shamans and later by Buddhist lamas. “Obo” is a cultic construction in the shape of a heap of stones and poles. This custom came from Tibet. Contributions to gods, masters of the area, are left there, people prey for luck.
The mountain tourism of Sayans has been investigated by scientists and mastered by tourists for a long time, that is why many areas got new names after some time. Sayans is a very prospective region for development of different kinds of tourism and recreation. A big number of walking tours of different difficulties and kinds are traditionally held there. The majority of tourists come in summer but quite often walking tours are held in low seasons and in winter. Many popular tourist routes are known there. The bulk of them are classified as well as many passes. There are sectors which are suitable for mountaineering, climbing and other kinds of sport.