|Difficulty in August:||4+ (5)|
|From:||Bertek Weather Station – Alt. 2200 m (7220 ft)|
|To:||Katun Confluence - Alt. 760 m (2490 ft)|
|Distance:||220 km (137 miles)|
|Average Gradient:||7 m/km (35 ft/mile)|
|Est. Max Gradient:||15-20 m/km (75-100 ft/mile)|
|Typical Flow in August:||Upstream 40-60 cms (1400-2000 cfs)|
|Downstream 150-200 cms (5000-7000 cfs)|
|First-hand Information:||YES (From Karagem confluence)|
The Argut is one of the major rivers of the Altai, flowing in a remote valley between Katun and Chuya Ranges. As many rivers of the area, it starts on a vast damp plateau near Mongolian border and is quite flat in its upper stretches.
The upper part of the river, above Djazator confluence, actually bears the name of Ak-Alakha. From the put-in it is completely flat and meandering, until it hits first ranges of the Altai Mountains. Still, for most of the distance it continues to be flat; all whitewater is condensed in several gorges, each few kilometers long.
As the Ak-Alakha meets the Djazator, the combined river becomes Argut. From here it is almost completely flat for nearly 30 km, until it has to cut through massive gorge, the Karagem Breach, a definite class 6 section. It has been run once in a huge bublik (double-doughnut inflatable), but chances to successfully kayak this 5-km suicidal monster are rather zero.
The Karagem comes in from the right after the gorge, and from here the river is usually divided in three distinct sections:
“Steppe Argut” is a 25-km nearly flat easy section after Karagem confluence.
“Wild Argut” is actually what most groups come here for. It is a 50 km long gorge, full of big volume class 4 to 5 rapids; very remote and beautiful.
“Swift Argut” begins where Argut finally quits its gorge; it is a relatively easy but fast flowing section all the way down to Katun confluence.
The Argut has significant glacier flow component and in dry hot summer the water level can be very high. But the river itself is big and actually far from the glaciers; all the glacier-fed tributaries come in over a long distance; so morning-evening water fluctuations hardly exist.
Access & Logistics
The put-in point for the Argut is rather controversial. A rough local road forks the Chuya Road at Kosh-Agach, the last major settlements on this route before the Mongolian border. The road then crosses over to Djazator valley and follows Djazator down to village of the same name located at the confluence with Ak-Alakha. The road then continues down the Argut, along the Karagem Breach, to the Karagem confluence and some small settlements around.
As this road hits the Djazator valley, another fork (reported as hardly passable for even the best combination of a good 4x4 vehicle and a good driver) crosses over to Ak-Alakha valley and goes along the Chinese border to now abandoned Bertek weather station; it takes about 2 days drive from Kosh-Agach and a borderland permit is required. Due to these two obstacles, very few groups choose to start there.
On the other hand, starting anywhere on the Djazator makes no sense because this river is nearly completely flat, as well as the upper Argut is, followed by a full-day portage of the Karagem Breach. It is still possible to drive all the way down to the Karagem confluence, avoiding all class 1 and 6 headaches; but then it is much more sensible to run the Karagem instead – much less driving and much more whitewater! In fact, most groups go this way – combined Karagem-Argut trip is an obvious choice (see Karagem description for details about the river and access to the put-in).
There’s no road on the Katun river at the Argut confluence, and you will have to proceed down the Katun to at least Chuya confluence, where Chuya Road comes again. It takes only 2 or 3 hours though, and Katun here, even nearly flat, has quite a helpful flow.
The entire trip must be planned completely self-supported; there are settlements and the road between Djazator and Karagem confluences, but you better not rely on any supplies there. There is no wood in the upper Ak-Alakha valley, so for the camping at the put-in you have to bring a stove or some firewood; but you don’t really need to have a stove packed in the boat as the forest begins about 15-20 km downstream.
Emergency escape from the Ak-Alakha is possible by hiking over the mountains on the right side back to the Djazator valley and the road; Upper and Steppe Argut are quite populated and the road exist along the right bank.
Escape from the Wild Argut is an adventure you better avoid; both right and left side mountains require at least basic mountaineering skills and equipment. There are trails on the terraces along the river though, so you may try to hike up or down the gorge (depending where you are), but it may well take a week or so.