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River Guide • Sayan and Baikal
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.

Sayan map
Sayan map

Sayan are old and quite low (no more than 3000m) mountains, extending almost 1000 km along the Mongolian border, from Altai in the west to Baikal Lake in the east. The region is distinctly separated in two areas: Western and Eastern Sayan.

Western Sayan surrounds the basin of upper Yenisey River, one of major Siberian rivers and covers the territory of Tuva autonomous district (administrative center is the small town of Kyzyl). All the rivers there are either sources or tributaries of Yenisey: Ka-Khem, Biy-Khem, Kyzyl-Khem, Ulug-O, Khamsara, Khemchik, Alash, Abakan, and Ona. The landscapes are mainly flat steppe valleys surrounded by low and eroded mountains, therefore most rivers are easy class 2-3, with exception of maybe Ulug-O and Ona being class 3-4. Western Sayan has very poor road network and logistics is difficult here, so putting all these factors together very few whitewater kayakers want to travel to the area.

Rest of the description here is dedicated to Eastern Sayan, which has much more whitewater interests. Eastern Sayan typically implies north-eastern slopes of the mountain range separating Tuva from Central Siberian Plateau near the city of Irkutsk. We also include here Khamar-Daban Mountains located straight south to Baikal Lake because they're very similar to Eastern Sayan in all aspects.

The locals populating this area are Buryats, the only Buddhist people in Russia. They speak a dialect of Turkic but Russian is no problem here too. Just like in the Altai and Tuva, drunk addiction is a major issue in local settlements, thus it is recommended not to stay there for long to avoid unpredictable conflicts.

Type of Paddling
Self-supported multi-day runs of medium difficulty. Average gradient of most rivers is low by modern standards and there are many flat sections on all rivers. Having said this, there are very nice gorges and sometimes even extreme sections on these rivers. Most rivers will involve long way to the put-in (trekking is often required) and long flat paddling to the take-out at the end. Therefore it would be difficult to run large number of rivers during one single trip and rented car is not too useful as it will stay idle most of the time. Almost no river has road alongside and emergency escape is difficult.

Season & Climate
July-August. Climate is much worse comparing to the Altai. It is typically colder and weather is very unstable with unpredictable heavy long rains all the summer. Rivers are mainly at moderate altitude of 500-1200 m and are rain-fed so water level depends on weather significantly. After some heavy rains up the valley it's likely to get sudden and huge floods in lower gorges where river raises 5-10 m within few hours and becomes unrunnable. Mosquitoes are - as almost everywhere in Siberia - wicked, hungry and countless, so appropriate precautions are necessary. Besides that, Sayan is a tick-prone area and proper vaccination against encephalitis is recommended.

Getting There & Away
The only reasonable way to get there is a flight to Irkutsk - the biggest city of Baikal region, having numerous flight connections to most of Russia. Train journey there is about 4 days (one-way) from Moscow and is not an option unless your time is unlimited.

Local access to most rivers is done by car via small town of Sludyanka on the west edge of Baikal. From here there's a road going west via Kyren, Mondy and Orlik to the hearth of Sayan Mountains. The road has some local forks passable for good 4x4 vehicle. Still, many rivers will require more or less trekking to get to the put-in.

Local access to river in Khamar-Daban range (south shore of Baikal Lake) also starts from Sludyanka, but then you should reckon on your feet only - there's no road in that direction.

There is an option to hire helicopter directly in Irkutsk which may be a wise alternative to a multiday car ride and trekking, especially for some remote rivers.

There's no paperwork required in East Sayan, despite proximity of the Mongolian border. Eastern part of Khamar-Daban is a strictly closed nature reserve prohibited to enter for anyone so you don't need (i.e. you can't get) any permit too.


This is the most visited river in the area due to its easy access and interesting class 4-5 whitewater. There are many small tributaries coming into Kitoy that offer some unexplored canyons and waterfalls for kayakers.

Next valley to Kitoy, Onot is on the opposite almost never visited due to very long trek to the put-in. Nevertheless, it also offers some of the best class 4-5 whitewater in Eastern Sayan.

Further to north-west, this is a medium difficulty class 3-4 river with easy access to the put-in.

Oka is the major river of East Sayan and its valley is the head of the road coming from Sludyanka, although this road does not go all the way through the lower valley back to the plains. River itself is big and easy class 2-3 but it has some small interesting class 3-4 tributaries - Dibi, Tissa, Jombolok, Khoyto-Oka which can be linked together in one journey.

Jombolok is a very distinct between other tributaries of Oka - the river starts from an ancient extinct volcano valley and cuts its channel through old clinker deposits, creating very unusual and impressive rapids and falls.

Uda is a very remote and inaccessible river of north-east corner of Sayan. Being easy class 2-3 most of the time, it cuts through several extreme difficult class 5 canyons. Unfortunately the only reasonable vehicle to the put-in is a helicopter.

Khamar-Daban, the mountain range along south shore of Baikal, offers several medium difficulty rivers flowing directly into the lake. Unfortunately all of them require either trek or helicopter hire to get to the put-in.

This is a medium difficulty class 3-4 river and it is the closest valley to Sludyanka which requires shortest possible trek among other Khamar-Daban rivers. The trek itself is very spectacular and highly recommended (provided weather is good).

Khara-Murin is the next valley to the east, it offers similar class 3-4 whitewater, but the trek is almost twice longer (as it goes through Utulik valley). Upper sections of the river and few upper tributaries have been once kayaked and reported as good class 4-5 canyons with many runnable waterfalls.

The third valley to the east and one of the most remote rivers in Khamar-Daban, Snejnaya is difficult to reach without a helicopter. Overall difficulty is the same class 3-4, but this river has a big volume 14 m waterfall, waiting for the first descent.

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