A river runs around it

Headphones in the helicopter, about to take off
The plateau
The helicopter leaves
View down to the river
Marching to the helicopter at the river for departure
Return flight, Roma and Seth in back ready to go
The town of Talnakh from the air

Today the wind was from the south, and it brought a thick blue haze of smoke from forest fires on the Putorana Plateau. That meant our helicopter ride was delayed, and the photos I have to show are not as clear as they might have been. It also meant warm, clear weather, more good luck.

What a day. It's right up there among my favorite geology days ever. We hired a helicopter to take us to the outcrop we wanted, about 50 km away, and instead of the big bus-like Mi-8s or -38s, we got a lithe little Eurocopter absolutely plated with windows. I've decided I am only traveling by helicopter in future. I think I'm in love.

First of all, we got to see everything on the way, the towns, the taiga, the mines, the rivers, lakes, snow patches, and the tundra. Like Christmas and your birthday all in one. Then, we were dropped on a broad green plateau sweeping away to the blue sky like something from The Sound of Music, only consisting of moss, lichen, herbs, and willow scrub rather than grass, oh, and also in Siberia rather than Austria. The helicopter whisked away and left us totally alone, just the sun and wind and warning calls from some bird of prey concerned about its cliff nest.

We walked along the edge of the plateau, overlooking a winding rocky river, studying the rubbly remnants of lava flows. These lavas, the Samoedsky formation, are the youngest flows of the Siberian flood basalts in the Noril'sk area. (By young I mean still around 252 million years old, just on top of and thus slightly younger than the rest of the lava pile.) The lavas here have different compositions and textures than those we have seen at the tops of the piles elsewhere, and spending all day looking at one after the other was a great education for our geologists' eyes. It was not, unfortunately, a source of any useful samples either for determining age with the precision possible with the U-Pb system, and nor did it add to our understanding of atmospheric volatile release, though the paleomagnetism team got a lot of good samples.

What we did find: Lovely calcite cystals that grew in large ex-bubbles in the lava, a caribou jaw that had been gnawed on by wolves, and some sunburn.

We had lunch in the form of a Cliff bar (this year's favorite flavor is apricot) and a handful of Trader Joe's trail mix, and we got significantly hot and sweaty  marching along the hilltop and looking down at the clear cold river below. At the end of sampling we heard the helicopter coming, and watched it land on a broad cobble beach along the river. We made our way down the hillside and through the willow scrub, over a series of deep frost-heave polygons, and to the river. Washing face and arms in that cold water felt spectacular. In most of Siberia it's safe to drink straight from the rivers, and so we did.

Back to Talnakh and some grilled meat and vegetables in honor of Roma's birthday, and the end of a great day.

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