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River Guide • Tien-Shan • Kekdjerty
Rivers by Region

Difficulty in September: 4 (5+)
From: Son-Kul Lake - Alt. 3010 m (9880 ft)
To: Naryn Confluence - Alt. 1850 m (6070 ft)
Distance: 60 km (37 miles)
River Days: 2-4
Average Gradient: 20 m/km (100 ft/mile)
Est. Max Gradient: 50-60 m/km (250-300 ft/mile)
Typical Flow in September: 8-12 cms (300-400 cfs)
Best Season: August-September
First-hand Information: YES

Kekdjerty area map
Kekdjerty area map

The Kekdjerty, a small right tributary of Naryn, is a nearly unknown river despite its proximity to one of the major roads (Bishkek-Naryn) and one of the major attractions (high-altitude Son-Kul Lake) - possibly because of definite lack of water for catarafts.

The river is the only outlet of Son-Kul, a nearly round lake about 25 km in diameter, situated at altitude of 3000 m in the middle of a flat plateau, surrounded by distant mountain ranges. There are numerous herds of yaks, cows and sheep grazing on the shores during the summer; but no permanent settlements exist there though.

The source of the river is in the south-eastern corner of the lake; at the beginning it is hardly distinguishable from a lake bay. Gradually the Kekdjerty (sometimes called Son-Kul here) begins to cut the mountain range surrounding the lake and in 4-5 km from the source river gradient increases drastically for another 4-5 km; this section has not been run yet.

The river then practically flattens out, passing through two open sections of the valley and a small easy gorge between them. From here down there are no roads and settlements all the way down to Naryn confluence.

Unfortunately the river profile is too steady, so the altitude is dropped too evenly and there are no really hard sections, despite relatively high average gradient. The most outstanding river features are "slots" - extremely narrow (2-3 m) twisting corridors with curved walls several dozen meters high - some of them cannot be scouted at all!

The river runs through the mountains with no major snow and ice fields; and the flow is buffered by the huge lake so there's no major volume increase in the summer; the river has mainly spring flood (winter snow melting) that gradually finishes by August. The water is desilted in the lake and so is pretty clean, with no usual mountain mud.

Access & Logistics
There are several roads that go to Son-Kul Lake, the most convenient (and of the best quality) forks the Bishkek - Naryn road just after crossing the pass from Kara-Kudjur to Naryn valley, not far from the Karaunkur village. The road comes to the Kekdjerty valley just below the lakeside gorge section and then goes up and towards the lake; there are some astonishing 35-40 loops of the road serpentine as it climbs up the plateau. Having reached the lake, the road goes along its southern shore and the other end of it crosses another pass near the coal mines of Karakichi to finally join Aral - Kochkorka road, so if you drive from Kekemeren it's the more sensible and much shorter way to the lake (see Kekemeren description for more details).

The road comes close to the source of the Kekdjerty and there is a road bridge over the river here; if you are putting in for the lakeside gorge section, then start near the bridge. Below this point the road goes 2-3 km away from the river until the bottom of the serpentine, just at the end of the gorge. The road then follows the river for another 5-6 km and finally leaves the Kekdjerty by a side creek named Korgo. Here is the put-in for the lower part of the river.

Take out is possible just few hundred meters before the Naryn confluence, where a road along the Naryn crosses Kekdjerty. There are roads some distance up the river, and it is apparently possible to take out few kilometers earlier. It is only 30 km to the town of Naryn from the confluence.

The lower part of the river should be run completely self-supported; there are no roads or settlements along the way. The lakeside gorge seems to be short enough for one-day run, but perhaps a pre-scouting is a good idea to decide if it worth to go inside.

River Description

Son-Kul Lake to Korgo, 15 km (9 miles) – 1-2 days
Below the road bridge at the lake the river is initially flat for about a kilometer, then gradient starts to increase and in another 1-2 km the first (unrunnable) double-drop waterfall comes - both drops are only 7-8 m high, but their bottoms are nicely sharpened rocks.

Next 3-4 km consist of mainly class 5 to 5+ rapids, one after another, with lot of rocks, very high gradient and sometimes very difficult shore situation to scout or portage.

Finally the second waterfall comes, about 14-15 m high - this one is probably runnable, there is some kind of pool at the bottom, but the entrance is very difficult and may require mountaineering work to start in the canyon just at the edge of the fall.

The river eases to class 2 immediately after the fall, the gorge opens sharply and the road comes down to the river on the right. There is an excellent sightseeing trail along the right bank from the bottom of the road serpentine to the bottom of the waterfall, but walking around to the top of the fall is difficult. All in all, the entire waterfall can be easily accessed and investigated from the bottom without the need to run the whole gorge.

From this place there is an easy class 2 section to the Korgo confluence from the left (about 4-5 km), the road crosses the river and leaves the valley.

Korgo to Naryn, 45 km (28 miles) – 2 days
From the Korgo confluence the river enters a short 3-4 km gorge; there is nothing more than class 3 inside though. The road still continues down the left bank within the gorge for some time; the valley then opens for several kilometers.

The major gorge of Kekdjerty begins where the valley narrows again; although only 3-4 km long it is very deep and impressive; there are some quite difficult class 4/4+ rapids inside, with possibly some 5 and some portages too. A major right tributary, Karatal, comes in just after the gorge and the valley opens again.

From here down major obstacles on the river are "slots" - narrow rocky corridors formed where the river saws through converging valley sides - some of them are blocked by the rocks so never go inside if you can't scout the slot.

There is one major slot which is nearly 50 m deep and only 2-3 m wide; there's really no way to look inside without full-scale rock climbing work - very difficult portage on the right. Another smaller slot is located just 300 m downstream but this one can be seen through from the distance and from the wall on the right.

The mountains on both sides gradually go away and the Kekdjerty exits into the Naryn basin; there is one last but wide conglomerate slot, easy and harmless. It is about 15-20 km of class 1-2 to the Naryn confluence, but apparently there are some roads around and it should be possible to take out earlier. If you paddle down the river beware of two irrigation dams - they show up suddenly and pose real danger as you may be sucked in the gates and stuck underwater. Watch for concrete tiles facing the river banks - a dam is coming then.

The last trap is located immediately under the road bridge at the take-out - pin-friendly 1 m wide slot, swallowing the whole river - take-out before this nasty thing.

Kekdjerty source from Son-Kul Lake The first fall (only last drop is seen) Lakeside gorge below the 1st fall Some tough stuff in the gorge
The second fall The second fall from the bottom Kekdjerty gorge near Karatal Kekdjerty gorge near Karatal
The bigger slot - view at the entrance The bigger slot - rear view from the top The smaller slot - front view from the top Kekdjerty in the Naryn basin near take-out

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