|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)|
|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)|
|First-hand Information:||YES (From Argut confluence)|
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.