At 30,5 metres, Estonia's (and the Baltic region's) highest waterfall Valaste juga has become a giant jäätisekokteil (ice cream sundae). It is located on the north shore, 50 km west of Narva. During average, more placid winters, its spray freezes into amazing ice crystal formations around the falling water. This year, with temperatures remaining well below zero for 76 consecutive days (a new record set in nearby Jõhvi), an ice column formed and was still standing tall on March 27.
People know Keila juga and Jägala juga, accessible tourist attractions, located just west and east of Tallinn respectively. And a lot of people who have visited them from abroad might have been tempted to call them a KOSK instead of a JUGA. ("Niagara kosk", sound familiar?) Niagara is in fact a juga – a steep fall of water off an escarpment. A kosk can be extremely steep as well; the distinction lies in free-falling water (juga) vs water cascading along the surface of rocks (kosk). A series of many falls (pl. = joad) is called a joastik. With a decreased gradient, we arrive at rapids (kärestik), the home of parvetamine aka rafting.
I learned of Valaste juga thanks to a factual mistake I made in this very paper. Or maybe it wasn't a mistake... In April 2004 I visited the over 50 m wide Jägala juga and wrote it was Eesti's highest (8,1 m). Naturally I was confidently quoting Vikipeedia (the Estonian version of the online Free Encyclopedia), but a gentleman posted a comment in the paper's internet version correcting me, that Valaste was in fact the highest at "ca 20" (m).
Vikipeedia says Jägala is the highest natural falls in Estonia, while Valaste is the highest falls (30,5 m)... The devil is in the details: it turns out the source of Valaste falls is Valaste oja (stream), which the locals call Suurkraav (the Great Ditch), since the stream bed has been widened to facilitate drainage on many occasions. This has led to the belief that Valaste oja and juga are in fact man-made. There is even talk of a man (making the term man-made fully justified on this occasion) named Kraavi Jüri who is said to have dug the stream bed countless generations ago. Whether water flowed naturally before the supposed "Ditch George" and his deeds, no one knows.
As for the discrepansies in height, 30,5 m is the maximum that was measured during the period of high water (suurvesi) in August 1998, when the force of the falling water flushed debris from and further eroded the sandstone at its base. Earlier and later measurements have varied from 26 to 28 m.
Even at times when the falls are dry, climbing down the impressive double spiral staircase onto the viewing platform, completed in 1999, is worth overcoming the fear factor. Standing before you like an open book are the colourful rock strata of the 90 million year formation story of the Baltic Klint – a 1200 km long system of erosional escarpments in Lower Palaeozoic sedimentary rocks between the southern end of Öland Island in Sweden and Lake Ladoga in Russia. There is a thorough webpage (www.klint.envir.ee) dedicated to Northern Estonian Klint "as a symbol of Estonian nature", which happens to also be featured on the reverse of the 100 kroon note. The Estonian portion of the coastal escarpment is highest near Valaste, where the Ontika limestone bluff (paekallas) reaches 56 m.
It seems unbelievable in hindsight, but Postimees has written ("Kunagi tundmatu Valaste juga meelitab turiste" on August 12, 2004) that Valaste was largely unknown to people during the Soviet era, since it was located in the coastal piiritsoon – the patrolled border zone, which was largely off limits.
This year's "Valaste icicle" made many an ice climber's day, since there are few places in Estonia where such inclined ice formations or "ice walls" (jääseinad) form. Valaste is also one of many places, (incl. bridges) where couples from the Russian community come after their wedding ceremony. The custom is to attach a padlock (engraved with the newlyweds names) to the staircase or viewing platform and then throw the key into the depths below. Those fearing heights no doubt attach theirs near the top, on terra firma, since the grated metal (i.e. transparent) stairs suspended above the drop to the klint forest and Gulf of Finland are not for the faint of heart.
World's tallest ice cream sundae?