Nov/Dec 2018 Current Moscow Time: 09:26:58
14 December 2018

  The world’s biggest country, in a magazine. Since 1956.

Returning to Putorana

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Returning to Putorana

by Ivan Kobilyakov

We asked Ivan Kobilyakov, whose story on filming wild wolves in Putorana appeared in the Sep/Oct 2014 issue of Russian Life, to give us an update on the project and how filming has gone this summer. He also supplied new photos.

We recently returned to noisy Moscow from the untouched wilds of Putorana. Yet, like a musician who can’t stop a favorite song from running through his head, my thoughts keep returning to my time in Putorana. Yes, the city has telephones, the internet, hot showers, the morning newspaper, and a cozy cafe near my house. But there is something important that can only be found in wild nature, something catastrophically lacking from life in the city...

After the events described in the September issue of Russian Life, this past spring Vasily Sarana once again traveled to Putorana and succeeded in capturing a not insignificant amount of really fine footage. My lifestyle, unfortunately, did not allow me to travel with him constantly. But this past summer, as soon as it became possible, I gladly joined him.

I flew into Norilsk at the end of June. Just like last year, a dense fog hovered over the northern city. Rain drizzled. We had to wait three days in the city for the weather to clear.

Finally, there was a clearing and we were given permission to fly. As the helicopter rose up into the sky, the flat foothill plains on which Norilsk rests was soon replaced by red basalt cliffs. The Putorana plateau was welcoming us into its embrace.

Putorana from the air
Arriving at Putorana in June

At the end of June, the Putorana lakes are only just becoming ice-free. Yet it is sufficiently warm that the deciduous trees growing along the mountainsides are beginning to show their leaves. The red basalt cliffs, the fresh green forest, and the cold blue ice combine into a fantastically beautiful landscape. My camera worked non-stop as soon as I was able to wiggle my way toward the window (this helicopter was rather smaller than the last one, and I had to pile into the back with the luggage).

June in Putorana

*  *  *  *  *

Returning again to Lake Ayan, I was happy to once again see the places that had become so familiar to me, where Vasily and Valera and I had spent the previous summer. It was unfortunate that Valera could not join us this year.

Yet not all was the same along the banks of the Ayan. The first thing we noticed was that the water in the river was significantly higher than last year. The spring floods were so great that they swept away our old hides – where we lie in wait for our quarry. We would have to build new ones.

There was good news, however, in that Vasily and Valera had found a wolf den during their last trip. It was not far from our camp, and, despite the difficulties of our getting to Putorana, we set out for it soon after arriving.

*  *  *  *  *

The den Vasily led me to was ideal for its lupine residents. It lay high on the banks of the Ayan, not far from a deep ravine that was thick with alder trees.

There were countless wolf tracks near the den, and the air smelled of wolves.

Vasily signaled that I should wait for him off to the side and he slowly went forward with a camera to where the smells were emanating from. While watching Vasily, I tried to make out any sort of sounds, but from the direction of the den there was no barking, howling or yelping...

Vasily carefully looked into the den.

It was empty.

A wolf den
A wolf den

*  *  *  *  *

All things in nature are cyclical. Things happen in their set order. There are years when the forest is filled with sounds, when it is teeming with animals and birds. And there are years when the forest is quiet, when there are no signs of life. This year was one of the latter. Many animals clearly did not survive the winter frosts, and their numbers had fallen.

Yet we still managed to have some successes in filming this summer, which I consider a huge achievement. For example, we were able to find the nest of a Northern Goshawk and watched as the momma and daddy hawk cared for their young. It was fascinating to watch the birds gain in strength and size each day, as they were fed by their parents. Toward the end, they even lost their white down and gained their feathers.

A goshawk and its chicks
The goshawk and its chicks

We watched other wildlife – sandpipers, bunting, bald eagles and partridge – raised their young... These forest denizens will be an excellent supporting cast for our film.

*  *  *  *  *

Nature is itself a rather expressive character for a documentarian. And this summer it did not stint on emotion. The northern skies grimaced and smiled and gifted us with rays of sunlight. We filmed under the most varied of conditions: pouring rain, mysterious fogs and even sudden snow squalls (in June, set against the backdrop of green forests) – all were captured for our archive.

We also got excellent footage of the flooding. And during the break-up of the ice, we succeeded in capturing huge blocks of blue ice cascading down into the river, crashing into one another with a sound just like church bells.

Ice break up, July 11
July 11, the ice breaks

*  *  *  *  *

If you shoot so much in wild nature, you never know what to expect. We went to Lake Ayan to shoot wolves and ended up capturing other things entirely. That’s just what happens, I thought, comforting myself. Yet still it was sort of embarrassing not to succeed in the main task.

*  *  *  *  *

A few days before our departure, Vasily winked at me and, as was typical each evening, invited me to view the screen of his notebook with him, so that he could show me what he had captured. I all but jumped up from surprise. On the screen was a pack of grey wolves, trotting across frozen Lake Ayan.

“When? When did you shoot this?”

“It was in the spring, when you were in Moscow,” Vasily answered with a smile.

I watched as the screen changed between shots of a wild mother wolf, walking along the riverbank, then climbing a rocky slope and disappearing into the forest. The taiga again seemed to be empty...

“That means there are wolves on the Ayan?” I asked, once again flush with hope.

“Of course there are,” Vasily answered.

More photos by Ivan Kobilyakov:


  • Partridge (without pear tree)

  • Sunset

  • Photographing Putorana

  • Snow falls on the camp, June 29

  • Vasily at work

  • Vasily Sarana and Ivan Kobilyakov

  • A hide subsumed by spring flooding

  • The banks of the Ayan River