The Altai Mountains are a mountain range located on the border of Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and China. It is one of the most beautiful places on the planet, known for its high mountain peaks, clear rivers and lakes, and diverse flora and fauna.
The Altai Mountains are important for biodiversity. The region is home to many rare and unique animal and plant species, such as the snow sheep, argali, forest cat, mountain goat, maral and Siberian tiger.
The Altai Mountains are important for tourism and recreation. This region offers mountain tourism, mountain climbing, fishing, hunting, and other outdoor activities. There are also many resorts where you can relax and restore your health thanks to the healing mineral waters and air.
The Golden Mountains of Altai
Altai is the highest mountains in Siberia. The few travelers of the 19th century who made it to this remote corner of the Russian Empire called it the Siberian Switzerland and admired the rugged beauty of the local mountains. The name Altai is derived from the Mongolian Altan-tau, which means “Golden Mountains. In ancient times, gold was mined here. Later, other minerals were discovered in the bowels of Altai. But the main treasure of these places is the untouched mountain landscapes of amazing beauty.
In the southeast of Western Siberia is the Altai Mountains with the Gornaya Shoria and the Kuznetsk Alatau adjoining it from the north. Some of the Altai Mountains extend into Kazakhstan, while others are located in Mongolia and China. Altai is a complex system of ridges up to 4,500 m high. The highest point of these mountains, Mount Belukha, has two peaks: the Eastern (4,506 m) and the Western (4,460 m). The whole massif is made of solid crystalline schists and gneisses. In ancient times, about 300 million years ago, in the Paleozoic Era, the first rise of the Altai mountain country took place. Over time, the mountains collapsed and turned almost into a plain. About 25 million years ago, the Earth’s crust moved again in many places on the globe. Many old ruined mountains began to rise again. The Altai Mountains were also rejuvenated. During this movement, the crust of the Earth cracked, and some parts of it rose and others fell. That’s how the Altai mountain system was formed, with its high ridges and deep gorges. The tectonic process continues even now. By a lucky chance, there were no victims, but almost two thousand houses were destroyed and Chui tract was seriously damaged.
As soon as the mountains rose, snow began to accumulate on their tops. Such snow tops were called squirrels. Huge accumulations of snow in the high ridges of Altai gave rise to glaciers, which feed numerous mountain rivers that carry their waters into the longest river in Russia, the Ob.
The Nature of Altai
From the plane flying over Altai, you can see the endless mountains below, looking like a petrified sea. They are low and dark from the forests growing on them in the north, but towards the south they become higher and higher.
The Altai Territory is cut through by a dense network of rivers and streams. All the rivers of the area belong to the Ob basin. The largest of them are the Biya, Katun, Argut, Chuya, Chumysh, and Alei. Most of the mountain rivers are not suitable for navigation because of their rough currents and rapids. Many of them have waterfalls. In late October, the rivers freeze over and remain blocked by ice until late April. There are not many fish in them.
There are many lakes in the Altai Mountains, the largest of which, Teletskoye and Markakol (Kazakhstan), are located in basins of tectonic origin. Mountain lakes are covered with a layer of ice up to 100 cm thick, often surviving until the end of June.
The valleys of the Altai are covered with coniferous forests (larch, cedar, pine, and fir) with an admixture of deciduous species. There is an abundance of berry bushes (raspberries, currants, honeysuckle, sea buckthorn) and medicinal plants (golden and maral root). The animal world is rich and diverse: here you can meet bear, lynx, fox, sable, musk deer, maral and many other animals. There are many species of birds in Altai: the wood grouse, the hazel grouse, the grouse, the nutcracker, etc. The high-mountain zone has its own peculiar fauna: one can meet here the Altai pika, the mountain goat, the snow leopard, the yak and other animals. In the intermountain basins are located highland steppes: Kuraiskaya, Chuyskaya and others. On their fertile land, various crops are grown and cattle graze.
The region is also rich in natural resources. For example, its hydropower potential is estimated at 80 billion kWh. Among the mineral resources, deposits of polymetallic ores, gold, mercury, antimony, tungsten, manganese, iron, marble, ornamental stones and lignite are especially important. The picturesque views of the Teletskoye and Markakol lakes and the Katun River valley and the beauty of high-altitude landscapes attract thousands of tourists and mountain climbers to these places. Various yoga tours to Altai are organized for experienced practitioners and beginners. There are two nature reserves in the Altai Mountains: Altai and Markakolsky.
- Average altitude of the Altai Mountains: 2500 m.
- Highest peak: Mount Belukha (Eastern peak, 4,506 m).
- Length of the mountain chain: more than 2000 km.
Climate and weather
- The climate in the Altai is much cooler and more humid than in the neighbouring plains of the south of Western Siberia, and it is very cold and wet in the highlands.
- The temperature in the mountains ranges from +10°C to +18°C in the summer and from -28°C in the winter.
- There are 32 glaciers descending from Mount Belukha alone. They give rise to the Katun River, the source of the great Ob.
- The first conquest of the Eastern peak of the Belukha Mountain almost ended in a tragedy. In 1914 the Tronovs brothers climbed the mountain, but because of their carelessness on a steep icy slope they fell down. Fortunately, both climbers got stuck in the loose snow and remained unharmed.
- The glaciers of the Altai were first studied by Professor V.V. Sapozhnikov, who from 1895 to 1911 made nine trips across the Russian and Mongolian Altai.
There are about 1,500 glaciers in the Altai highlands. The glaciation area exceeds 900 km2.
- Very low winter temperatures (up to -35°С) and rather high summer temperatures (up to +25°С) with small quantity of precipitations are observed in hollows of Mountain Altai because of stagnation of air.
- In the mountain-taiga zone, red deer breeding state farms have been established. Horns of red deer, antlers, are used for the manufacture of medicines.