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River Guide • Tien-Shan • Chong-Kemin
Rivers by Region

Difficulty in September: 4+ (5)
From: Djindy-Su - Alt. 2460 m (8070 ft)
To: Tegirmenty - Alt. 1680 m (5510 ft)
Distance: 55 km (34 miles)
River Days: 2-3
Average Gradient: 14 m/km (70 ft/mile)
Est. Max Gradient: 25-30 m/km (125-150 ft/mile)
Typical Flow in September: 20-30 cms (700-1000 cfs)
Best Season: Late August-September
First-hand Information: YES

Chong-Kemin area map
Chong-Kemin area map

Summary
The Chong-Kemin is the only significant tributary of Chu, flowing straight west in a sparsely populated valley north of Issyk-Kul Lake. Difficult, but manageable whitewater and trivial access from both Bishkek and Almaty has made this river a very popular choice.

The Chong-Kemin starts from a glacier vertex (that also gives source to the Chilik in the east) beyond a mountain range along the northern shore of Issyk-Kul. The upper valley for 35-40 km is mostly wide open and woodless at altitude close to 3000 m; although there are some class 2-3 sections, most the upper river is flat and meandering.

From the place where the valley narrows, Chong-Kemin enters a series of pine-forested gorges with more interesting whitewater. This stretch is some 55 km long and is usually counted as five gorges numbered 4 to 8 (numbers 1 to 3 being in the upper valley), but they are not always look like definite gorges; in fact these are rather names of difficult stretches of the river.

After the 8th gorge valley opens again and for nearly 40 km Chong-Kemin meanders along wide basin with numerous villages on both shores. Only few kilometers before confluence it narrows for the last time to finally join Chu at the end of its Boom Gorge. This last stretch is no more than class 2 and is probably not worth 40 km flat paddling.

The Chong-Kemin is certainly glacier-fed river; it is also quite short so in August water level rises sharply in the afternoon (if the sun is shining) and most people prefer to stop and camp by 2 or 3 pm. These fluctuations are much less noticeable in September.

Access & Logistics
The road goes all the way up the river, from Bishkek - Issyk-Kul road in Chu valley, to the pastures in the upper Chong-Kemin valley; driving to the usual put-in at the beginning of 4th gorge does not even require a 4x4 vehicle. This place is commonly known as Djindy-Su, by the name of a noticeable left tributary rushing straight into the middle of the gorge.

As you drive up the valley, notice the only place where the road climbs away from the river around a big hill; there's a small green lake on the top of the pass. Down there is the most difficult, 7th gorge of the Chong-Kemin, unseen from the road - remember the place.

10-12 km further up, notice few houses of a small settlement of Buzulgansai; now you have driven past the 6th gorge. Yet another 10-12 km brings you to bridge and the road crosses to the left side of the river; here you have driven past the 5th gorge.

6-7 km above the bridge the road crosses sizeable tributary, Djindy-Su and the valley opens; here is the 4th gorge and the usual starting point. Few people actually drive past this place as the road becomes much worse and the river - much easier; those groups that run the upper Chong-Kemin usually drive/walk from Kazakhstan over a pass from the north (there is a road coming there from Almaty in Kazakhstan, but it is regularly washed away by landslides and, as it obviously crosses the border, it's rather illegal for non-C.I.S. citizens).

Usual take-out is at the end of the 8th gorge, where the river flattens out; near or above first village of Tegirmenty. Few people choose to continue down the river - there's not much interest in the lower stretches.

The whole Chong-Kemin valley forms a kind of national park and you'll be prompted to pay a fee (expect $2-3 per person) at the check post near Chu confluence. Rules and regulations are not completely clear though; someone up the valley may want his share too - obtain a receipt and stand your ground.

River Description
From the put-in the river immediately enters short (4th) gorge, 700-800 m long. There is one class 4- rapid inside - scout left. Djindy-Su comes in from the left directly in the middle of the rapid and in high water it may be difficult to walk across it. From here to the road bridge and 2-3 km further down the Chong-Kemin is mostly flat class 1-2.

The 5th gorge is generally seen from the road on the way up; most of it is straightforward class 3 to 4- rapids that can be run with minimal, if any, bank scouting. Few kilometers below the 5th gorge, near the houses of Buzulgansai, is another short class 3 to 4- stretch.

3-4 km below Buzulgansai road climbs up and the river enters its 6th gorge, about 5 km long. There are two long and difficult rapids in the first half of the gorge - The Mine (class 4+) and The Mess (class 5- to 5), each 400-500 long, separated by a 800 m easy stretch - scout right. After the Mess Chong-Kemin calms down for few hundred meters and then drops into continuous class 4 for nearly 3 km, all the way to the exit of the gorge. There is one more long class 4 rapid about a kilometer below the gorge.

The river then flattens out for 4-5 km before entering its most difficult 7th gorge, about 3 km long. The road clearly climbs away from the river around a big hill on the right while the river enters a narrow crack left of it. There is one long class 5 rapid (The Green, by the color of the lake on the top of the hill) at the entrance of the gorge. It is about 800 m long and the most difficult is the second part of it - scout right. After the Green river eases to class 4- for about a kilometer and then gradually flattens out near the end of the gorge.

The last, 8th gorge of the Chong-Kemin comes in about 2-3 km. It is rather straightforward, but powerful class 4 section, mostly runnable from the boat. At the end of the gorge the road comes back to the river and it's the place to take out - further below the valley opens, the river becomes completely flat and a lot of villages appear.

GPS Waypoint

Place North East
The 4th gorge (entrance) 42.864930 76.662690
The 6th gorge (entrance) 42.816690 76.442170
The 7th (Green) gorge (entrance) 42.784180 76.370720

Chong-Kemin valley upstream of 4th gorge The rapid inside 4th gorge The 5th gorge The 5th gorge
Chong-Kemin valley before 6th gorge Entrance into 6th gorge (The Mine) The 6th gorge The 6th gorge (The Mess)
Last half of 6th gorge Last half of6th gorge The 7th gorge (The Green) The 7th gorge (The Green)

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