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River Guide • Altai • Katun
Rivers by Region

Difficulty in August: 2-3
From: Yazevoe Lake – Alt. 1570 m (5150 ft)
To: Chemal - Alt. 390 m (1280 ft)
Distance: 450 km (280 miles)
River Days: 11-14
Average Gradient: 2.5 m/km (12.5 ft/mile)
Est. Max Gradient: 5-7 m/km (25-35 ft/mile)
Typical Flow in August: Upstream 30-50 cms (900-1700 cfs)
Downstream 600-900 cms (20000-30000 cfs)
Best Season: June-August
First-hand Information: YES (From Argut confluence)

Upper/Middle Katun area map
Upper/Middle Katun area map
Lower Katun area map
Lower Katun area map

Summary
The Katun is the biggest water-way of the Altai, starting in a remote valley south of Mt. Belukha and Katun Range, then running clockwise all the way around the range, collecting water from at least 2/3 of the Altai territory, before finally becoming a mighty raft-friendly river near Gorno-Altaisk, the administrative center of the area.

For the whole length, 95% of the river are flat stretches, interleaved with short sections of whitewater whose difficulty hardly exceeds class 3. Therefore, the river is more aimed to commercial rafting and recreational kayaking, than to whitewater enthusiasts.

The upper part of the river (south of Belukha) is definitely glacier-fed, having high water in the hot summer; but once turning around the west side of the range, the rain-fed tributaries become dominant. This section of the river flows in a nice, nearly uninhabited valley, with some interesting rapids.

Before turning right again (around north side of the Belukha) the river exits into huge flat basin, known as Uimon Steppe, and for almost 100 km it is completely flat and meandering; the area is well populated – major settlements on the left side are Ust-Koksa, Uimon, Katanda and Tiungur; several significant tributaries come in from the right – Multa, Kuragan, Kucherla and Akkem. Below Akkem, the Katun finally enter the next gorge, known as Akkem Tube, with some big and bouncy rapids.

Shortly after the Akkem Tube, two biggest tributaries, Argut and Chuya, come in from the right. Below Chuya, the Katun is followed by the Chuya Road for about 25-30 km, then it quits again until final set of settlements near Gorno-Altaisk.

Access & Logistics
Few people actually run the whole river; and because there are quite a number of roads coming here and there, it is possible to select a section of the river that best suits particular trip.

The access for the upper Katun (south of Belukha) is now tricky, because the only road there goes from Kazakhstan and actually crosses the border few kilometers before Katun. This route requires quite a lot of paperwork from both Russian and Kazakh sides and is not likely to be available for non-C.I.S citizens due to absence of any official border posts (the road is actually a dead-end way to some abandoned mines). Few kilometers before hitting the Katun, the road passes beautiful Yazevoe Lake; and even though it is not connected to the river, it makes convenient label to name the place.

Another option, undertaken by some groups is 70 km hike from the north, starting from Katanda village in the Uimon Steppe, up the Kuragan valley and over the Katun Range. This route still requites a borderland permit.

Next point of access is the Uimon Steppe, connected by a road to Gorno-Altaisk. For take-out after upper part of the Katun, the first big settlement, Ust-Koksa, is an obvious choice; for put-in for the middle part of the river it makes sense to drive down to last settlement, which is Tiungur.

The put-in for the lower Katun, as well as take-out after its middle part, is a stretch of the river that is followed by the Chuya Road, some 25-30 km below Chuya confluence. This section sees quite a lot of commercial rafting groups, usually starting at nice beaches near Yaloman village.

Final take-out is anywhere around the village of Ust-Sema, where Chuya Road joins the river again. Most groups do not go that far and take out earlier, at the villages of Chemal, Elanda or Kuyus, connected by a road to Ust-Sema and further to Gorno-Altaisk.

As many parts of the river do not have settlements for long distances, it’s a good idea to be reasonably self-supported. Some supplies can be found in villages along the Uimon Steppe and Chuya Road.

River Description

Upper Katun: Yazevoe Lake to Ust-Koksa, 160 km (100 miles) – 4-5 days
This part of the river is most remote and nearly uninhabited; but all the whitewater is condensed on a short 10-km stretch in the “corner” where valley turns north, rounding the Katun Range. Here there are five short (500-700 m each) canyons, called “Cheeks”, with some class 3 rapids inside; Third Cheeks are known as the most difficult ones.

Apart from that, there are only some trivial class 1-2 rapids on this stretch.

Middle Katun: Ust-Koksa to Yaloman, 120 km (75 miles) – 3-4 days
From Ust-Koksa (actually, from some 20-30 km upstream) the Katun is nearly completely flat. The valley is wide; the river meanders along huge basin with distant mountains.

The valley begins to narrow before the village of Katanda; and three major tributary come in from the right – Kuragan, Kucherla and Akkem. After Akkem confluence, the valley becomes a gorge, settlements disappear and a class 3/3+ section, the Akkem Tube, follows in a few kilometers. It is said to contain nine “Drops” (which are actually the bouncy rapids), each separated by several hundred meters of flat water.

The gorge continues all the way down to Argut confluence (8-10 km); but difficulty decreases to usual class 1-2. Argut nearly doubles the volume of the Katun; combined river continues to be class 1-2 till Chuya confluence (20-25 km), and Yaloman village (another 20-25 km). Chuya Road crosses the Katun from right to left side at village of Inya, halfway between Chuya and Yaloman.

Lower Katun: Yaloman to Chemal, 170 km (105 miles) – 4-5 days
The Chuya Road leaves Katun valley by the Ilgumen creek, 10-12 km below Yaloman. Just right there a big and bouncy rapid, Ilgumensky, comes which can be seen from the road as it goes up the Ilgumen valley.

After 7-8 km a significant tributary, the Kadrin, comes in from the right and marks another class 3/3+ section, known as the Kadrin Tube. It is a narrow gorge, sometimes nearly a canyon, with substantial vertical turbulence that causes quite uncommon water features such as whirlpools, in high flow they are known as capable of sucking the whole boat (including its paddler) underwater!

The valley opens again and in a few kilometers, one of the biggest rapids, The Sabbath, follows (that can be class 4 in high water). It consist of two parts, each several hundred meters long, with some huge waves and depending on the water level, some huge holes too. Few kilometers downstream two more tributaries, the Ursul (left) and the Sumulta (right) come in one after another.

The river then generally eases, but still there are some bouncy rapids from time to time for the next 40-50 km. Shortly after village of Edigan (which is actually few kilometers away from river) there are two prominent class 3/3+ rapids, Teldekpen-1 and Teldekpen-2 – an enormous vertical turbulence inside long rock corridors, few hundred meters each. There is hardly any gradient in these “rapids”, but whirlpools generated by the squeezed flow are huge, especially in high water.

Some easy rapids then occasionally come down to village of Elanda (12-15 km) and Chemal (another 20 km).

Yazevoe Lake Upper Katun near the put-in Typical section of upper Katun Upper Katun, Third Cheeks
Middle Katun, Akkem Tube Middle Katun, Akkem Tube Lower Katun, Ilgumensky Rapid Lower Katun, Ilgumensky Rapid
Flat stretches of lower Katun The Sabbath Teldekpen-1 Teldekpen-2

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