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River Guide • Altai • Chulyshman
Rivers by Region

Difficulty in August: 4+ (5)
From: Yazula (Karakem Bridge) - Alt. 1500 m (4920 ft)
To: Teletskoye Lake - Alt. 440 m (1450 ft)
Distance: 170 km (105 miles)
River Days: 5-8
Average Gradient: 6 m/km (30 ft/mile)
Est. Max Gradient: 15-20 m/km (75-100 ft/mile)
Typical Flow in August: Upstream 30-40 cms (1000-1400 cfs)
Downstream 60-80 cms (2000-2800 cfs)
Best Season: July-August
First-hand Information: YES

Chulyshman area map
Chulyshman area map

The Chulyshman is definitely one of the best rivers of the Altai, with excellent whitewater and little self-support.

The river sources from Djulukul Lake on vast and rather flat damp plateau near Mongolian border. For the first 70-80 km it flows in a wide open valley, frequently dropping with steep but very shallow rapids. It is possible to drive from the Chuya Road to a small left tributary (the Bogoyash) near the source of the Chulyshman and have a remarkable descent through wild and magnificent steppe scenery, but in low water it will involve tremendous 3-day self-support run full of lengthy portages.

Some 15 km above the village of Yazula the river enters its most famous gorge, full of class 4 to 5 rapids, and it is the recommended starting point if you generally seek the whitewater. There is a good trail and even road to Yazula on the right bank terrace some 150-200 m above the river.

The gorge ends at the road bridge connecting Yazula to Saratan village on the Bashkaus, and it is possible to take out here if you consider middle and lower river not of much interest. After the bridge the Chulyshman is flat and easy for 10-12 km and then gradually enters its middle 15-km class 4 gorge lasting till Shavla confluence (note, it is NOT the Argut’s Shavla described separately, it’s just another stream of the same name).

The next 20-25 km is again mostly flat with just occasional class 3 rapids. The Chodro village is just a couple of hunter’s huts not even seen from the shore. Some 10 km before the road from Ulagan comes to the river (marked as Katu-Yaryk, but again, there’s no village there) a long and difficult powerful rapid (The Mess) needs serious attention.

From here down to Teletskoye Lake there are only occasional class 3-4 rapids and exhaustingly long flat sections, so it may be wise to take out as soon as the road comes to the river.

Access & Logistics
The small village of Yazula is located at the bottom of the most interesting river section (the Yazula Gorge) and is connected by a 4x4 passable road to Saratan on the Bashkaus (and then to Ulagan and Aktash, see Bashkaus description for details). Both Saratan and Yazula do not have much food to offer and should not be reckoned upon.

The rough track goes from Yazula up the river for some 4-7 km and allows driving to near the Karakem confluence from the left. There is no road from Yazula down the river and the village itself is far and not seen from the shore.

Another road comes to the lower river from Ulagan on the Bashkaus and then continues all the way down to Teletskoye Lake. There is a small village of Ko some distance below Chulcha confluence, but just as Yazula and Saratan it does not have much supply.

Put-in is possible near the horse bridge at the Karakem confluence, midway down the Yazula Gorge (or midway up if you like). You can also hike a few kilometers higher up if you wish, but there are no substantial rapids there.

If you do not consider the middle and lower river at all, take-out is possible at the road bridge just below the Yazula Gorge. Other options for the take-out are at Katu-Yaryk, where road from Ulagan comes to the lower river, and then basically at any place as the road goes along the left bank. From here you can drive back to Ulagan, but you better have a vehicle arranged for pick-up, there are almost no local cars on that road. Otherwise continue further down and take out at the entrance into Teletskoye Lake. There are a few leisure camps and there’s no problem to hire a motor ship across the lake to the road head at its northern end (there’s no road along the lake).

Remember that from Yazula to Katu-Yaryk there are no roads or settlements, and you should run it self-supported. This section typically takes 2-3 days and there are trails along the river and usually some people near Chodro.

River Description

The Yazula Gorge: Karakem Bridge to Yazula Bridge, 8-10 km (5-6 miles) – 1-2 days
The Karakem Bridge is a wooden horse bridge over the Chulyshman few hundreds meters upstream the Karakem confluence. Usual starting point is some distance higher up to run a nice rapid at the entrance into a rocky corridor where the bridge is laid over.

There are several class 4/4- rapids for the next 1-1.5 km, until Kulash, the only noticeable right stream in the gorge, comes in. Watch out, some 300 m below is a class 5 rapid, The Devil’s Bridge, clearly marked by an old tumbledown bridge exactly over final 5 m drop – scout right. Unfortunately the bridge is only seen after right hand bend when you have already entered a rocky corridor with no way up.

Two or three more class 4/4+ rapids are found before yet another horse bridge 700-800 m further down from the Devil’s Bridge. Immediately after the bridge is a nasty class 5- rapid, The Werewolf, with a huge undercut in the right cliff at the end – scout right. Next 1.5-2 km or so contains even more class 4/4+ rapids, and one possibly class 5-, The Big Boulders, easily identifiable by its name. Finally this stretch ends up with a 6 m river-wide waterfall (Three Johns) and another powerful class 5 rapid (The Bung) after a 50 m flat reach – scout right or left.

After the Bung the gorge becomes more canyon-like, the trail along the right bank climbs up from the river and access to it becomes problematic in many places. Class 4 rapids continue, but overall gradient of the river decreases and it becomes more of a pool-drop style. Last difficult class 5 rapid, The Screw, comes in another 1.5-2 km and is prominent with a huge spiral wave reflecting from the left wall after final 4 m drop - scout left. After some 200 m flat reach a quite straight 3 m drop comes – scout right.

River then eases even more for last 3-4 km of the gorge with exception of a weird rapid called Marianne – it is not difficult at all, but so much obstructed with huge stones that the correct route is not seen from the boat and shore scouting is very difficult (thankfully it is preceded by perfectly flat water and you can cruise there forth and back as much as you want). Last noticeable 2 m drop across the river is located on a left bend where trail finally leaves the river and goes to Yazula village behind a big hill on the right. From here down to the end of the gorge is no more than 20-30 min paddling with easy class 2-3 water. The road bridge to Yazula comes right after the gorge.

Yazula Bridge to Katu-Yaryk, 70 km (43 miles) – 2-3 days
After the Yazula Bridge river is flat class 1-2 for about 10 km and then gradually enters its middle gorge. This gorge is some 15 km long and is quite distinct from the upper one; there are mainly big bouncing rapids with hippo-like boulders in them. Most of the rapids are straightforward class 3-4; all runnable from the water, with exception of may be few class 4+ in the middle stretch of the gorge which possibly need to be looked at.

Shortly after the gorge ends, the valley opens really wide for the first time and a big tributary, the Shavla, comes in from the right in 4-5 km. From now on, the valley generally remains open down to Teletskoye Lake, with just a few occasional narrow spots.

From the Shavla confluence the Chulyshman is again flat for some 20 km with just couple of easy class 3 bouncing rapids. The last class 5 is a 2 km long powerful rapid, The Mess, whose landmark is a huge terrace jutting out of the left side of the valley and easily seen from the distance. Actually, it is the terrace that pushes the riverbed off to the right and creates the rapid, which itself consist of 4 or 5 quite separated sections - scout by either shore.

Shortly after the Mess valley makes noticeable right, then left turn. Watch out, there is an easy but very nasty rapid around the corner called The Gate. Here two or three large rocks obstruct right half of the river and convert it into a huge syphon – scout left. Some friends reported that in 2004 another cliff fallen from the left blocked passage completely and made it unrunnable.

In 3-4 km after the Gate look for Kurkure - a side creek coming from a narrow crack on the right with a 30 m waterfall. The fall itself is rather unrunnable, but very beautiful. There are many smaller (and definitely runnable) falls higher up, but they do require solid mountaineering skills and equipment to climb up and down the canyon.

From Kurkure it’s only 10 km of flat left to the place where the road from Ulagan comes down the left side of the valley. Despite the place is named Katu-Yaryk, there are no houses here at all.

Katu-Yaryk to Teletskoye Lake, 90 km (56 miles) – 2-3 days
The Chulyshman continues to be flat for the next 10-15 km after Katu-Yaryk. Finally the valley narrows a bit and some class 4/4- rapids follow. The section starts with a large drop in several channels between huge rocks standing across the river. Quite continuous class 3-4 whitewater follows in next 5-7 km, and then gradually eases to class 2-3 in another 5-7 km, and eventually comes to a flat by the confluence with Chulcha from the right.

The 50 km stretch below Chulcha is actually a flat way to the take-out, and it is better avoided if you have an opportunity to drive back. Otherwise continue down to Teletskoye Lake (1-1.5 days) passing small village of Ko, Bashkaus confluence and a large settlement of Balykcha on the left bank.

Bogoyash (source of the Chulyshman) Shallow section on Bogoyash Beginning of Yazula Gorge The Devil’s Bridge
The Devil’s Bridge The Big Boulders The Three Johns The Bung
A section in Yazula Gorge A section in Yazula Gorge The Mess Kurkure waterfall

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