Дата публикации: 15 ноября 2021
Автор(ы): Nikolai VEKHOV
Публикатор: Научная библиотека Порталус
Источник: (c) Science in Russia, №1, 2014, C.40-45
Номер публикации: №1636973970

Nikolai VEKHOV, (c)

by Nikolai VEKHOV, Cand. Sc. (Biology), Russian Research Institute of Cultural and Natural Heritage named after Dmitry Likhachev, RF Ministry of Culture (Moscow)


Almost 2,000 km long vigorous mountain range, dividing Russia into two parts-the smaller European and bigger Siberian ones-was for centuries a kind of a vallum preventing the Slavonic peoples from getting to the East. However, at the turn of the 1st and 2nd millennia the brave Novgorod citizens crossed the northern rivers, approached the severe mountain peaks and through passages between them overcame the inaccessible stone obstacle.


Early in the 1580s, a Cossack detachment headed by the ataman Yermak started for the Siberian territory to put an end to continuous plundering inroads to our lands from the Siberian khanate extending behind the mountain country named the Siberian or Great Stone, the Stone or Terrestrial Belt*. This crusade initiated the era of great Russian geographical discoveries. Since then during many decades hunters, businessmen, seekers of a better fate and then scientists too headed for unfamiliar territories located beyond the Ural mountain range and examined it, as a rule, in passing.


* According to a number of explorers, the mountain range dividing Europe and Asia was named the Urals (from the Mansi "ur"--a mountain) by the geographer, economist, historian and statesman Vasily Tatishchev in late 17th century.--Auth.


Thus, in 1733 the member of the Petersburg Academy of Sciences (from 1726), the natural scientist Johann Georg Gmelin, on his way to the Far East during the Second Kamchatka Expedition*, organized in Ural making of botanical and historical collections, meteorological observations, and visited local works. Besides, during the First Orenburg Physical Expedition (1769-1774) its leader Encyclopaedist Peter Simon Pallas (member of the Petersburg Academy of Sciences from 1767) spent one and a half months in this wonderful region. For such


* The Second Expedition (1733-1743) was an ambitious undertaking of the Russian government to find possible navigation routes in the Arctic Ocean and to America, Japan, and also to map the territory, study the way of life and manners of peoples inhabiting Siberia and the Far East.--Ed.

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short time he managed to do quite a lot: he discovered an iron ore deposit in the Kachkanar Mountain and studied the vegetable and animal world and also the way of life of the aboriginal population (the Mari, Mordovians, Chuvashes and Bashkirs). As a result, the Cabinet of Curiosities, the only scientific museum in Russia at that time, was replenished with collections on geology, zoology, botany and ethnography of the region.


In the first half of the 19th century the mountain country dividing Europe and Asia was visited by the German physicist, meteorologist, geographer, botanist and zoologist Alexander Humboldt (honorary member of the Petersburg Academy of Sciences from 1818), his countrymen geologist and mineralogist Christian Gottfried Rose, biologist Gustav Ehrenberg (foreign members of the Petersburg Academy of Sciences from 1829) and professor of natural history Swedish Johann Peter Falk. However, the abovementioned studies were not sufficiently systematic and detailed.


The Russian geologist Ernst Gofman (1801-1871) was the first to explore the Urals in detail and thoroughly. However, he started his natural science studies as a conqueror not of mountains but of seas as a crew member of the Undertaking sloop, which circumnavigated the globe under the command of the world-famous Russian navigator Otto Kotsebu in 1823-1826. After his trip he graduated from the medical faculty at the Derpt University (today Tartu, Estonia) and defended his Ph.D. thesis on the subject Geological Description of Hochland in the Gulf of Finland.


In 1830-1832 Gofman attended lectures of competent zoologists, geographers, geologists and mineralogists from among professors of Berlin and Heidelberg universities. In 1837-1842 he was already an extraordinary professor and later head of the department of mineralogy and geology, dean of the school of philosophy at the Kiev University and--in 1845-1863 at the Petersburg University. For his fruitful research activities devoted to studies of unknown lands he was awarded the rank of colonel and later on lieutenant-general of the Mining Engineers Corps.


In the first half of the 19th century the Mining Department of the Ministry of Finance sponsored expeditions to different regions of the empire to search for precious metals. One of them carried out in 1828-1829 discovered South Ural for Gofman. He and his companions did not find gold there, but they studied soils, vegetable cover, measured the height of peaks and location of river heads, and revealed an exact layout of mountain ranges and spurs. They singled out three meridional mountain chains opening to the south, as they put down in the travel diary, in the form of a fan. "The first, western, chain is the highest and includes certain elongated hills.., the middle chain (Uraltau) is rocky and covered with a thick forest, is boggy on the slopes.., while the eastern chain, represented in the north by Ilmen Mountains and southwards by the Irendyk Range, consists of granite and is rich in different specimens of mineral kingdom."


Gofman and his colleagues drew a weighty conclusion (confirmed by national geologists on the basis of studies of the Earth crust in the middle of the 20th century): "The southern end of the Ural range is located not in the Ust-Urt high plain (the contemporary Ustyurt plateau between Caspian and Aral seas.--TV. Vekhov) but in Mugodzhar Hills*." And, of course, it is recognized that the primeval nature, fantastic landscapes of the region struck not only his mind, but also his heart, though he


* Mugodzhar Hills (Kazakhstan)--a southern spur of the Ural mountains. It is a chain of small stone ranges (hills) mainly 300-400 m high. The Boktybay Mountain (657 m) is the highest point.--Ed.

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had already seen not a few beauties of nature: ranges covered with wild forests, cliffs of inconceivable shapes, intricate forms of weathering, precipices and rocks formed by strata embedded fancifully, which won his heart forever.


The second trip of Gofman to the Urals took place in 1830-1834. The natural scientists covered only 430 km, but then in a locality unexplored before. For the first time they described a narrow (up to 60 km) strip of land of the eastern slope of the Urals confined in the west by a continuous chain of steep and almost woodless huge mountains stretched to the north. Besides, in 1846 a big expedition headed by Gofman set off to this severe territory to explore the boundaries between Europe and Asia, which became the first official action of the newly established Imperial Russian Geographical Society. It included the mining engineer Nikifor Strazhevsky, astronomer Marian Kovalsky and two topographers.


In the spring of 1847, the researchers reached the Pechora and then divided into two parties. The first party headed by Gofman moved to the north, drew a map of headstreams, streams of major upper tributaries (Unya, Ilych, Podcherem, Shchugor) of this river and discovered a number of parms* extending to more than 300 km in parallel to the Ural range. Meanwhile, the second party headed by Strazhevsky moved across the range hacking through the way by axes in the taiga thicket. According to the travel diary, in the west and the east the pathfinders saw only "an infinite sea of forests cut in a serpentine pattern by rivers, whose silver splendor seems bold at a black surface of the forest in the sunlight".


* Parms (in the language of the Komi people) are flat-topped uplands and ridges covered with spruce and fir forests. They are formed by limestones and quarzites up to 700 m high.--Ed.


The travelers found out that the Urals are "suddenly lowering fast" to the north of 62° N, then divided into several small ridges, "which have no regular location, and a watershed line becomes extremely crooked", hereafter there extend two almost parallel branches, the lower one to the east. In this place both parties joined to complete the field season before winter and down the river Sosva reached the town of Berezov. In the summer of 1848, they approached the Ob and went down to the estuary of Voykar, from where they moved in different directions.


Gofman's party started in the direction of the Arctic Ocean and in the mid-July reached the foot of the Pay-Er Mountain ("Master of Mountains" in the Nenets language), one of the highest in the Polar Ural (1,499 m above sea level). According to natural scientists, its peak "just out by far from surrounding peaks, its slopes are steep and narrow. Snow on the peak does not melt at all". On the western slope of the Ural Range, they reached the Usa, the biggest tributary of the Pechora, and found themselves in the northernmost part of the mountain country in early August.


There the researchers discovered three small independent risings: Arka-Pay in the north-east, Minisey in the north (place of worship of the Nenets people) and a nameless rising (492 m high) in the north-west, "from where the Arctic Sea comes into view, a boundary stronghold of two continents... A really staggering view. A really northernmost mountain of the Ural Range, abruptly falling into the tundra. From its height your eyes reach easily a continuous plain of the sea at a distance of 40 or 50 km." The expedition members named this peak as Konstantin's Stone in honor of the then president of the Russian Geographical Society Grand

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Prince Konstantin Nikolayevich and erected there a pyramid made of three stone plates.


After bending round Konstantin's Stone and moving further to the north, Gofman's party passed along a small mountain range consisting of hills and ridges situated in parallel to the coast of Baydaratskaya Bay (Kara Sea). The researchers called it Pay-Khoy ("Stone Range" in the Nenets language) and drew a map of it. According to Gofman, it was an independent formation as it was separated "from the Urals proper by a strip of a low 40 km wide tundra; moreover, the direction of Pay-Khoy deviates from that of the Urals by 90°"*. Having examined the southern slope of the discovered mountain chain, the travelers descended along the rivers Vorkuta, Usa and Pechora, reached the river Mezen and then Arkhangelsk and returned to Petersburg.


In the autumn of 1848, another expedition party headed by Kovalsky passed along the Kara Sea coastline, turned to the river Shuchya running to the south of the Yamal Peninsula and reached the Ob by boat. But this


* The geological relation between Pay-Khoy and the Urals, the islands of Vaigach and Novaya Zemlya, was proved by scientists only in the mid-20th century.-- Auth.


region was seized by Siberian plague, a dangerous illness killing deer. Without draft animals, the researchers left foodstuffs and "wandered on foot and without a guide for 22 days between the Ural Range and the Ob in a wild valley filled with impassable swamps living on moss, mushrooms and berries", until they reached the town of Obdorsk. Only in January of 1849, when shepherds brought healthy animals from the European Russia, Kovalsky and his companions bought several animals and moved through the Urals and the Pechora to Cherdyn and then to Petersburg.


It was Cherdyn, a major merchant center which for several centuries had supplied the surrounding population with bread, textiles, tea, groceries, etc., that became a starting point of the 1850 field season. Gofman and his colleagues moved along the Kolva, a tributary of the river Vishera, to the western slope of the Urals, where they saw a chain of ridges of the north-western extent and called it Polyudovy Ridge (about 100 km long). Herefrom they started for the Pechora, then sailed up along the rivers Shchugor and Bolshoy Patok, and reached the Sablya massif. This is what Gofman wrote in the travel diary: "Sablya is not a separate ridge of the Ural Range

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but is its western part. Its fourteen indented peaks were not covered with snow though the latter covered its remaining parts. The grand spire looks like a sharp nail and offers no opportunity for climbing it." No less emotional addition was made by Kovalsky: all mountains here "are rather steep, the peaks are sharp, even the Alps cannot astound spectators with its wild nature so much as this part of the Urals".


Here attention of the researchers was attracted to another strange phenomenon. Gofman wrote: "The valley twists opened before us a side view of the Manaraga Ridge, and its nail-shaped spire appeared as an unusually indented peak. The said ridge was given its name after this peak, which means 'The Bear Paw'." At that time the expedition members were in the highest and difficult of access part of the mountains, which was given the name of the "Polar Urals".


Moving on sledges to the north, Gofman discovered in passing "a high and wild chain of mountains", Western Saledy and Obeiz, proceeded surveying to the northeast, went down on the raft along the rivers Lemve and Usa to Pechora and returned to Cherdyn. Then he sailed by boat up the river Vishera, discovered a small meridional ridge Kvarkush and ascended Denezhkin Kamen (1,492 m), thus completing the 3-year studies of the first expedition of the Russian Geographical Society and the second expedition in his biography.


The discovery of the Pay-Khoy Ridge, a connecting link between Ural proper and Novaya Zemlya, can be considered one of the major results of this ambitious undertaking. Moreover, by covering 1,000 km to the north of 60°30' N, Gofman's expedition established continuity of the whole mountain massif and determined a number of peaks. The scientist wrote: "Despite its small width, it is often divided into two and sometimes three parallel chains separated from each other by wide lateral valleys... and has the Alpine appearance thanks to the steepness of its indented rocks...".


Besides, Gofman found out that the Urals for a long extension preserve a direction almost similar to the 59th meridian. But near 65 °N, they "expand and go deep into a plain, rising to the maximum height... turn

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abruptly to the east...", then narrowing markedly, the linear synclines disappear, "but numerous transverse valleys let its waters pass to both sides". Finally, the scientist proved that between 60°30' and 67°30' N the rivers of the eastern mountain slope pertain to the Ob basin, those of the western slope to the Pechora basin, and those flowing northwards fall directly into the sea.


"Topographic Description of the North Ural" by the expedition topographer Dmitry Yuryev published in 1852 was the first publication of the results of the conducted explorations. Later, in 1853-1856, followed the two-volume work "North Ural and Pay-Khoy Coast Range" and a map under the same title and compiled on the basis of instrumental surveying, which represented a territory equal to several European countries. Besides, its author Kovalsky used the names of localities and rivers, "which were used by local residents", but he used Russian names mainly for the regions long explored by the national researchers. It should be noted that the described territory is divided today into the North, Polar and Arctic Ural. Besides, the natural scientists brought a number of collections to the Academy of Sciences, which included samples of rocks and minerals, stuffed animals, ethnographic material and a herbarium with Alpine species little-known to science.


But it was not an end of Gofman's "Ural Epic". Annually from 1853 to 1859, from the end of spring to the start of autumn, after he had abandoned his pedagogical activities, he together with his companions again turned to territories, which attracted his attention by their mysteries, unexpected discoveries and wild beauty. On horseback for 10-12 hours daily, he climbed high mountains, sailed down by boat and rafted in rough rivers with rapids and rifts, not once fell into ice-holes under icy wind, used to ride teams of deer and dogs, visited on foot taiga thickets, camped out, froze up and was exhausted by heat, suffered from attacks of swarms of blood-sucking insects...


Gofman devoted these years to studies of Bogoslovsky, Votkinsk, Perm, Yekaterinburg, Zlatoust and Goroblagodatsky mining districts (the contemporary territories of Sverdlovsk and Chelyabinsk regions, Perm Territory and Udmurtia). The researchers covered several thousands of kilometers, carried out the ascent of Konzhakovsky (the highest peak in the Sverdlovsk Region), Kosvinsky, Pavdinsky and Magdalinsky Kamen, evaluated development perspectives of iron-ore deposits of Blagodat and Vysoky Kachkanar mountains, at the same time admiring the surrounding nature. They were especially astounded by the grand limestone skerries of the Middle Paleozoic (200-300 mln years) on the banks of the river Chusovaya, and some of them were explored in detail by Gofman and his colleagues.


The fearless trailblazer devoted almost 40 years to studies of the wonderful land he grew fond of. In 1929, the geologist Alexander Aleshkov discovered a glacier on the abovementioned Sablya massif and named it after Gofman, which gave an impulse to further exploration of the Urals, search for evidence of their contemporary and ancient glaciations.

Опубликовано на Порталусе 15 ноября 2021 года

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