Aside from it being a convenient stop along the Trans-Siberian route, Krasnoyarsk had one other particular thing to recommend itself – the Stolby Nature Reserve. I’d seen a few pictures and it looked beautiful. I’d told John about it, but hadn’t told him that it was going to be a bit of a hike to get to…at least not until we were on the bus on the way there!
It seems a little crazy that a stunningly beautiful national park could be located so close to a city, but Stolby is only about 30 minutes away by bus. There are two main options for getting there:
1. Take a bus to the ‘entrance’ and hike uphill for 7km before entering the park
2. Take a bus to Bobovry Log, a ski resort/adventure park, and take the chairlift up to the top. Then hike for about 7km to reach the main formations.
We decided to take option number two, as it didn’t involve 7km uphill along a rather uninteresting road, but 7km through the forest along gorgeous little tracks and varying terrain. Also, the chairlift sounded like fun. It’s open year-round, but obviously during the warmer months there’s no skiing. And the view from the entrance of the resort was rather nice.
It was about a ten minute chairlift ride to the top of the mountain, over and through the forest with beautiful views.
At the top we started along the path. While the rain held off that day, it had rained for the last few days and so much of the trail was muddy and we had to bush-bash around a few sections. Planning to return the same way, we took few photos and didn’t stop to explore many of the stolby rock formations to the sides of the track. We were intent on getting to the main rock formations and hiking back, stopping off along the way. The trail went up and down and around and over and it was a truly pleasant, if long, hike. Trees were marked with painted stripes to reassure you that you’re going the right way. It took us almost two hours to reach the main section.
Stolby is the plural of the Russian word ‘stolb’ meaning ‘pillar’, and refers to the incredible rock formations the park is known for. The stolby formations were impressive. Absolutely huge and towering above us, it was easy to imagine that a bunch of giants had got into a fight and someone started tossing boulders. Some were relatively simple to scramble up and around, while others clearly required a bit more equipment. As we arrived at the main formation we saw experienced rock-climbers in full gear making their way up the sheer cliff-faces of some, while other groups nervously hung onto ropes. The park is clearly popular with the locals and plenty of families were having picnics while kids ran riot.
For me though, one of the coolest things about Stolby Nature Reserve was the wildlife. In particular, the squirrels. They were just so damn cute! We don’t have squirrels in Australia so they’re a bit of a novelty and while I think they look like they want cuddles, John was insistent that this was not the case. Still, a few posed conveniently for photos for me. Feeding the squirrels and birds seems a common activity for kids there, so there was plenty of seeds around for them to stuff their little cheeks with.
We were exhausted. Neither John nor I are especially fit and it had been a while since we’ve hiked even 7km. The cold didn’t help either. We headed down the steps to a small shop selling food and bought some pirozhki and hot dogs. I was trying to translate the menu for John when the couple in front of us offered to help. They couldn’t understand how two people coming from Australia could possibly have heard of the nature reserve and thought it was amazing that we had heard of it and visited it.
I would have liked to return the way we had come, but John didn’t think he’d make it. While none of the hills along the trail were excessive, the prospect of just walking downhill for 7km was more appealing…except to my knees, which started shaking about a third of the way down. The disappointing part of this was that we’d skipped so many stolby formations on our way there, planning to go back.
I was surprised that, while there’s a perfectly good road leading all the way to the park entrance, cars aren’t allowed to use it. And this was especially surprising given the number of families with really young kids we saw there, and passed on the long trek down. Surely 7km uphill is a long hike for a four-year-old with short little legs! A few little trails led down to a nearby river, and little wooden birdhouses perched along the side of the road attracted some beautiful but flighty native birds as well as plenty more squirrels. The squirrels didn’t startle like the birds did, and were mostly fairly content to let you get close provided you didn’t threaten to steal their precious piles of sunflower seeds.
We followed the crowds to the bus stop and quickly found a bus to take us back to Krasnoyarsk. Stolby Nature Reserve was undoubtedly the highlight of Krasnoyarsk, and, being open year-round, is somewhere that I would love to go back to in the winter. Maybe on a guided hike though, so that we can see all the really amazing formations that you see in the photos. They were a little hard to find, especially as most arrows pointed up very steep hills!