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River Guide • Caucasus
Rivers by Region

There's no detailed description of the rivers of this region available yet. If you need further information please feel free to contact us directly.

Caucasus map
Caucasus map

Overview
The Caucasus is a major mountain range in southern Russia, extending some 800 km west to east, from Black to Caspian Sea. Less known though, this range is the biggest in Europe, with several peaks over 5000 m, and the highest point of Europe, Mt. Elbrus (5642 m, 18510 ft) is here.

The region is densely populated and roads go up almost every valley, making river access easy. The range itself is a border between Russia (northern slopes) and now independent country of Georgia (southern slopes); the same border geographically separates Europe and Asia.

The major concern of the area is an unstable political situation. Eastern half of north (Russian) Caucasus if currently off-limits due to the war in Chechnya (despite authorities say the war is over, the situation outside major towns is obviously out of control). Three eastern districts - Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia are not recommended and are not described here.

Further west, Osetia (Alania) is still under the question. Too close to Chechnya and Ingushetia, no one is currently eager to check it out. But because there was no war here, the situation may stabilize soon, and we describe some rivers in Osetia too.

Western half, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachaevo-Cherkessia and Adygea are stable and safe enough, there were no assaults or conflicts with locals reported (unless you're asking for troubles being drunk and trying to date someone's girl).

Southern slopes of the Caucasus are not a wise option to go at the moment; Georgian government is too weak and hardly controls anything outside the capital. They have had numerous tribal conflicts and there're many Chechen's fighters camps in the gorges due to unsecured border with Chechnya. It's a pity, because Georgia was a very welcoming place in the past.

The only exception is Abkhazia, western Georgian province, an actually independent (thought unrecognized) country completely separated from Georgia after they were in a war some 8 years ago. Abkhazia used to be recreational paradise for countless holiday-makers, and thanks to currently almost transparent border with Russia it slowly gets back.

Type of Paddling
Typically short (rarely multi-day) runs of any level of difficulty. Because the road follows almost every river, it's a good idea to have a car support and paddle light, jumping from one river to another.

Season & Climate
April till October (even March and November if you can tolerate cold). The climate is warm, rather hot in the summer, but in April and in early May it's easy to get an occasional snowstorm at altitude. There are practically no mosquitoes in this area. River altitude increases from west to east, from 700-1000 m in Adygea and Abkhazia up to 1500-1900 m in Kabardino-Balkaria. The same way, rivers in the west are mainly snow and rain fed (high level in May-June, low in August-September) but coming east, they become mainly glacier-fed (high level in July, low in May and September).

Getting There & Away
Because the Caucasus is a major holiday destinations, there are numerous flights and trains from almost everywhere in Russia (but getting a reservation in peak season is a hard job).

For most of the Northwest Caucasus, Mineralnye Vody, a famous mineral water resort, is the best option to fly into. Coming by train (25-30 hrs from Moscow, 30-35 hrs from St.Petersburg), the destination might be Mineralnye Vody or Kislovodsk (for the Central Caucasus) and Nevinnomyssk or Belorechensk (for the western part). There are belt roads in the foothills allowing quick move from river to river, as well as roads up almost every valley (some are unpaved, but 4x4 drive is rarely necessary).

For the Black Sea coastline, including Abkhazia, the destination (either flight or train) is Sochi (Adler), a famous sea resort.

Permits
Because the main range acts as a border with Georgia, the borderland permits may be necessary for upper valleys. There is little bother for river runners as most of the runnable sections are quite far from the border, but for trekking or mountaineering this issue should be noticed.

The Caucasus Nature Reserve occupies upper valleys of Belaya and Malaya Laba and also requires permit, but getting this one is easy and can be done on arrival for a reasonable fee.

Rivers

The Western Caucasus consists of relatively low ranges in Adygea and Karachaevo-Cherkessia; most rivers are snow-fed and thus high in the spring and through June. Rivers are listed west to east.

Belaya ("White")
Quite an easy river, used to be a training and competition place, it still contains few substantial drops and three difficult and rarely run gorges, including the most famous and incredibly impressive "Granite Canyon".

Malaya (Smaller) Laba and Urushten
This little traveled and rather difficult river does not have a road alongside. Its tributary, Urushten, contains many extreme sections; some of them seem to have never been run so far. Both rivers require hike 10-15 km upstream from the road head.

Bolshaya (Greater) Laba
Another common training place, the river has many rapids to build up confidence for intermediate and beginner kayakers. Valley is not populated and road is rough and dirty.

Bolshoy (Greater) Zelenchuk
An easy river in very nice mountain scenery, suitable for beginner kayakers. Can be used as a warm-up for intermediate paddlers too. There are many resorts in this valley and the road is excellent.

Aksaut
Small and steep, this medium difficulty river is better run in high water, which is in July because we're getting close to the Central Caucasus and the rivers become glacier-fed there.

Teberda with sources (Amanaus and Gonachkhir)
Teberda itself has almost no whitewater interest, but its sources, Amanaus and Gonachkhir, well worth a visit. Amanaus, flowing through a famous ski resort, Dombay, receives annual kayaking "Adrenaline Races" in July. Other source, Gonachkhir, is well suited for extreme hairboaters and has been run completely only recently due to its extreme difficulty.

Kuban with sources (Ullukam and Uzunkol)
Just like Teberda, Kuban is an easy and boring densely inhabited river with two extremely difficult sources, draining west slopes of Elbrus, the highest mountain of the Caucasus.

The Central Caucasus is quite high mountains with lot of glaciers, the rivers are at higher altitude and are glacier-fed with peak level in July, spring and fall are low-water seasons. The area spreads mainly across Kabardino-Balkaria and Osetia (Alania).

Malka
An unusual river for the Caucasus, Malka is a "mini-expedition" river with no roads or trails alongside, so you don't see it on the way up. Driving to the put-in over the mountains requires good 4x4 car. Draining north slopes of Elbrus, upper section of this river has not been run yet and was reported as very extreme.

Baksan and Adylsu
A well-populated valley full of ski and mountaineering resorts, Baksan drains east slopes of Elbrus and is obviously followed by good road all the way up. Some sections of Baksan River are quite difficult, and its right tributary, Adylsu, is rather extreme.

Chegem
Rarely traveled river with some extreme and dangerous canyons. Has been reported as "at high level it's a very beautiful river; at low level it even has some runnable sections".

Cherek Bezengiysky
The river starts right from the glacier at the foot of the Bezengi Wall, a mountaineer's Mecca. Flowing through awesome and almost unexplored gorges, this river seems to have never been run completely.

Cherek Balkarsky
Very similar to its western neighbor, this river (or, rather, its canyons) also probably waits for the first descent.

Urukh
Just like both Chereks, Urukh has unexplored gorges and canyons and is little known and traveled. The most well-known, Digori Gorge used to be a famous tourist attraction.

Terek
The valley of Terek is a primary way to Georgia; an ancient "Wartime Georgian Road" follows the river all the way up and continues to Georgia over the Cross Pass. The river itself is famous for its Daryal Gorge, extremely difficult and run only once or twice in catarafts.

Black Sea shoreline is actually southern slopes of the Caucasus, partially in Russia and partially in Abkhazia. The mountains are quite low here and all the rivers are snow and rain fed, with the peak level in May and June.

Mzymta
A very popular river, just 1-2 hours drive from the sea, it offers any kind of whitewater, from extreme steep creeking to playful waves, from technical Greek Gorge to big volume suicide of Akh-Tsu fall, both filmed in Corran's "End Game".

Bzyb
Located in Abkhazia, this river is an ultimate appeal for an extreme expedition. Run couple of times many years ago with some major portages, this river is an uninhabited "lost world" in the Caucasus, with jungle-forested canyons sometime so narrow and even closed from the top, that one of them was called "The Subway".

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