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River Guide • Altai • Chulcha
Rivers by Region

Difficulty in August: 5 (5+)
From: Great Chulcha Falls - Alt. 750 m (2460 ft)
To: Chulyshman Confluence - Alt. 470 m (1540 ft)
Distance: 8 km (5 miles)
River Days: 1-3
Average Gradient: 35 m/km (175 ft/mile)
Est. Max Gradient: 40-50 m/km (200-250 ft/mile)
Typical Flow in August: 30-40 cms (1000-1400 cfs)
Best Season: July-August
First-hand Information: YES

Chulcha area map
Chulcha area map

The Chulcha is the second biggest tributary of the Chulyshman and it is quite famous for the probably most spectacular waterfall in the Altai Mountains. When it comes to the whitewater, the section just below the fall is a pure technical continuous class 5 run all the way to the confluence.

The river itself makes long way from the eastern edge of the Altai (or the western edge of the Sayan if you like) to join the Chulyshman in its lower stretches. Up there, it is rather straight class 4 river with many flat sections between gorges. The way to the put-in on the upper river involves arduous 50 km trek from Tuva.

Some 10 km before the confluence with the Chulyshman a 200-years old landslide (possibly an earthquake) has formed a huge natural dam nearly 200 m high. It is now known as the Great Chulcha Falls and being easily accessible from Teletskoye Lake it attracts numerous tourists and holiday-makers. The fall is not a freefall though; it is rather a 45 degree ramp where the water bounces down in a series of stunning cascades. The fall itself is better looked at in high water (May-June), but the gorge below is then far too difficult and dangerous.

The fall ends up in a big flat pool, 100 or 200 m in diameter. The river reportedly has been run in bubliks (double-doughnut inflatables) right from here, but first kilometer or so looks quite suicidal class 5+/6. For the next 5-6 km the Chulcha provides one of the best technical class 5 sections in the Altai, and then gradually eases to flat at the Chulyshman confluence.

Access & Logistics
The road that connects Ulagan to Teletskoye Lake passes by the Chulcha confluence (see Bashkaus and Chulyshman descriptions for details).

The only way to the Great Chulcha Falls is then hiking up along the trail on the right bank of the Chulcha. Note that road goes along the left bank of the Chulyshman, while Chulcha comes in from the right, so you’ll have to cross the Chulyshman. Simplest way can be to ferry glide and then carry the boats up for half a day or so. Otherwise you can try to find horses (and ferry) down in the Balykcha village near the lake, but then it takes nearly 40 km to go back to the confluence along the right bank of the Chulyshman.

At the confluence the sightseeing trail to the falls goes beside the hills of the Chulyshman valley, quite far from both rivers. If you start hiking from here (remember to be on the right bank of the Chulcha, thus the river has to be right of you if go up) then you need to cross large flat grass, stone and bush field, about 2 km in size to reach the foot of the hills and thus the trail.

The trail then enters the gorge of the Chulcha and passes through a check post that collects a small fee for visiting the falls (as the territory belongs to the Altai Nature Reserve). Here is the only place where the trail quits the river for a while and goes around a small hill by the tiny creek. From here on you will generally see the river and decide for yourself about the put-in point. The higher you hike, the more difficult the river becomes and so the worse the trail.

Take-out is obviously at the Chulyshman confluence (see Chulyshman descriptions for details).

If you cannot manage the river in one day (which is quite likely the case) you have an option to camp in the gorge (but then you need to carry additional equipment and food) or just to keep your boats there and walk down (1-1.5 hours) to get to the car and to the evening beer, if you have them. The second option requires swimming across the Chulyshman though.

River Description
There is no need or sense to describe this section in details as you have to and will scout nearly everything.

In general, first kilometer after the falls is the most difficult class 5+ (possibly there are some 6 in there). After that the river becomes more feasible class 4+ to 5 for the next 2-3 km and then flattens out a bit before making turn around a hill where the trail goes off and where the check post is. Here is a one-kilometer nearly-no-escape gorge with two or three substantial class 5 rapids.

After the gorge ends around a sharp right bend, the tiny creek (that flows by the check post) comes from the right. By the way, the creek itself runs inside a deep crack and may be quite interesting rock bouncing if the water level allows – have a look at it on the way up.

From here down the Chulcha eases to class 4/4- for next 1-2 km and then gradually flattens out at the Chulyshman confluence.

Trekking towards Chulcha Gorge Approaching Chulcha Falls The Great Chulcha Falls in low water Inside Chulcha Gorge
Inside Chulcha Gorge Inside Chulcha Gorge Inside Chulcha Gorge Inside Chulcha Gorge
Inside Chulcha Gorge Inside Chulcha Gorge Inside Chulcha Gorge Inside Chulcha Gorge

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