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River Guide • Tien-Shan • Arpa / Alabuga
Rivers by Region

Difficulty in September: 5
From: Arpa Weather Station - Alt. 2800 m (9190 ft)
To: Koshtebe - Alt. 1850 m (6070 ft)
Distance: 100 km (62 miles)
River Days: 3-5
Average Gradient: 10 m/km (50 ft/mile)
Est. Max Gradient: 20-25 m/km (100-120 ft/mile)
Typical Flow in September: 25-40 cms (900-1400 cfs)
Best Season: Late August - Mid-September
First-hand Information: NO

Arpa area map
Arpa area map

Summary
The Arpa, the only left tributary of Naryn that deserves whitewater attention, starts at the southern edge of Kyrgyzstan, on a flat plateau near Chinese border. The river is very remote and its major gorge is quite extreme, so not many people ever went there.

Having collected the water on the plateau, the river sharply turns north and enters the 30 km Kentesh Gorge backed by the side ridge against the Fergana Range (that separates Inner Tien-Shan from the Fergana Valley). The gorge is deep and absolutely uninhabited, hardly passable by the shore; there is some brilliant whitewater inside as well as some terrific portages.

As the Arpa quits the gorge, Pychan, a major left tributary comes in and the river changes its name to Alabuga. There is a never-run waterfall on the Alabuga just after the confluence; the river then passes through a short nice conglomerate canyon and finally exits into Naryn basin. From here it basically flattens out all the way down to the confluence.

The upper Arpa valley is located in one of the coldest corners of the Tien-Shan and late September this area occasionally experiences severe snowstorms; so you better run the river a little bit earlier.

Access & Logistics
The only access to the upper Arpa valley is along the Bishkek-Naryn-Torugart road, a major route that links Kyrgyzstan to China over the 3700 m Torugart Pass. The road goes south from Naryn town, passes by a major village of At-Bashi and goes south-west towards the border. There is a side road than forks west at the small village of Akbeit and another (apparently more principal) one some distance beyond. Both roads lead to a now abandoned Arpa weather station, on the shores of the Arpa river - this area is now only used by local nomads and shepherds.

The upper Arpa valley is very wide, the river is flat, shallow and meandering so you better try to drive and put-in as far downstream as possible (reportedly there's a rough road as far as the Karakol confluence from the left, some 30 km below the weather station).

The take-out landmark - the Koshtebe village - is in fact located far and above on the river left (about an hour or two walk time) - the best actual take-out is some 10 km downstream at the bridge on the road connecting Koshtebe to Naryn town.

Some groups choose to continue further down, to the Naryn confluence (about 50 km from the bridge) and then through the gorges of the lower Naryn to the Toktogul reservoir (see Naryn description for details).

The Arpa valley is located just at the boundary of the borderland restricted area and you need appropriate permit to go there. Still, the first check post towards the Torugart stands just beyond Akbeit, so you may be able (or may be not) to drive to Arpa if you turn off the road at Akbeit.

The whole trip should be made completely self-supported; there are no roads or settlements in the Kentesh Gorge. There are no continuous trails through the gorge either, so the emergency escape may be very difficult. The most viable option to get out of the gorge is a trail that comes down by the Djilangach creek (left), crosses to the right, follows the river for about 8-10 km and goes up the Kyzkorgon creek (right). The trail up the Djilangach ultimately goes to the Koshtebe village; the trail up the Kyzkorgon goes to the road bridge at the take-out; both ways would take several days walk. The rest of the gorge is not a good place to think about climbing out.

There is no firewood in the upper valley until you hit the gorge; but this stretch should take less than a day, even if you start at the weather station.

River Description

Arpa weather station to Kichi-Kyzylbeles, 50 km (31 miles) – 0.5-1 day
From the Arpa weather station to the Karakol confluence (about 30 km) the river is completely flat, meandering along wide open valley. The best way to deal with this stretch is driving around, provided that a road exists there. The 20 km section from Karakol to the gorge entrance is not much better, although the valley begins to narrow, as well as the riverbed, and Arpa becomes less meandering and less shallow.

Quite a big left tributary, Kichi-Kyzylbeles, marks the entrance into the gorge; the major trail to Koshtebe quits the Arpa valley along this tributary to bypass the gorge (some sources say a road has been build in place of the trail, but the information is questionable). The forest appears some distance before the confluence.

The Kentesh Gorge: Kichi-Kyzylbeles to Pychan, 30 km (19 miles) - 2-3 days
Below Kichi-Kyzylbeles the valley narrows sharply, but first 1-2 km of the river are still easy. Watch out, a 1.5 kilometer long class 5/5+ section called "the 1st canyon" begins suddenly, with very high gradient and with very narrow to completely blocked passages - still not a true canyon, but shores are hardly passable. The river eases by the end of the canyon and then enters the so-called "1st slot" - a 1 m wide 20 m deep conglomerate corridor which is usually completely blocked by the rock falls. The whole stretch can be seen from a very bad trail (that vanishes at the end) on the left, high above the river. Both the canyon and the slot were too narrow for catarafts and so have not been run yet.

The following 2 km stretch from "1st slot" to the Djilangach confluence from the left is a deep lonely gorge, full of class 4 to 5 rapids. There're no trails along the river but scouting is possible by the shore.

A major trail comes down along the Djilangach and follows the left bank of the Arpa for about 3 km, then crosses to right by a bridge - this stretch is easy class 2-3 and the valley opens a little bit. Below the bridge the difficulty increases; the next 4 km are class 3-4. Finally the valley narrows again, the trail climbs up 100-150 m above the river and the "2nd canyon" begins - a 2 km long class 5/5+ stretch of the river; some rapids there were created by the trail construction. Just like the 1st canyon it ends with a [possibly blocked] narrow and deep conglomerate corridor (the "2nd slot"); a major class 5+ rapid is just before the slot entrance. And, just like the 1st canyon and the 1st slot, this second ones have not been run so far. The whole section can be seen from the trail on the right.

The 2 km long class 4-5 "3rd canyon" begins right after the 2nd slot, but now it is rather a gorge with steep conglomerate slopes; scouting is possible by the shore but access to the trail on the right terrace is very difficult. The canyon continues to the Kyzkorgon confluence from the right, where there is the last place to get to the trail that leaves the Kentesh Gorge here.

Another 4 km long conglomerate "the 4th" canyon begins few hundred meters below the confluence; this section is in fact continuation of the 3rd canyon with the same level of difficulty but scouting becomes more difficult and there are some true walled corridors.

Due to their conglomerate nature, there is significant rock fall danger in both 3rd and 4th canyons in wet weather; the same reason leads to continuous changes in the riverbed. It is completely wrong idea to go around blind corners and into blind corridors. Unfortunately, this may mean you may have to look at these stretches from the terraces high above the river (3rd canyon - from the right; 4th canyon - from the right), which would take several hours.

Below the 4th canyon is a 7-8 km easy class 2-3 stretch down to Pychan confluence from the left; a big right tributary, Kashkasu, comes in the middle of this section.

Pychan to Koshtebe bridge, 20 km (12 miles) - 0.5 day
Just few dozen meters below Pychan confluence the river that is now called Alabuga drops 3-3.5 m into a narrow crack just about 2 m wide - scout right. The "Alabuga canyon" then follows - a 2 km conglomerate and rock corridor with easy rapids inside.

The valley opens below the canyon and the mountains on both sides go away; the river enters the Naryn basin and eases to trivial class 1-2. The road bridge and the take-out is some 15 km downstream.

If you decide to continue to Naryn confluence, beware of a 2 m river-wide ledge some 6-8 km below the bridge; possibly unrunnable irrigation dams may be also built on this stretch.

Upper Arpa valley near Karakol 1st canyon from the trail on the left Inside the 1st canyon Entrance into the 1st slot
Arpa above Djilangach confluence Entrance into the 2nd canyon 2nd canyon from the trail on the right The 2nd slot
3rd canyon from right terrace (downstream view) 4th canyon from left terrace (upstream view) A hard rapid inside 4th canyon Alabuga fall and Pychan confluence

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