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River Guide • Tien-Shan • Greater Naryn
Rivers by Region

Difficulty in September: 4+ (5)
From: Karakol - Alt. 3000 m (9840 ft)
To: Sm. Naryn confluence - Alt. 2250 m (7380 ft)
Distance: 120 km (75 miles)
River Days: 3-4
Average Gradient: 6 m/km (30 ft/mile)
Est. Max Gradient: 15-20 m/km (75-100 ft/mile)
Typical Flow in September: 60-90 cms (2000-3000 cfs)
Best Season: Late August-September
First-hand Information: YES

Greater Naryn area map
Greater Naryn area map

Summary
The Greater Naryn is the left source of the mighty Naryn - the major river of the Central Tien-Shan. As the name suggests, it brings about 2/3 of the volume at the confluence with the other source, the Smaller Naryn.

The river sources from a remote high-altitude basin (Taragai basin) located pretty much in the middle of nowhere between Issyk-Kul Lake and the Chinese border. For the whole length Greater Naryn flows almost straight west all the way until Smaller Naryn confluence.

Until the river leaves the basin, it is more a river of the plains than that of the mountains. After the Karakol, a significant left tributary and a settlement of the same name, the valley begins to narrow and first rapids appear. More interesting section starts where another left tributary, Ulan, comes in; from here the Greater Naryn valley remains quite narrow all the way down. Still, there's a large amount of flat between rapids and gorges.

The most remarkable part of the river, known as the Naryn Falls Canyon, comes just before the confluence and many groups choose to go only for this section - a nice one-day class 4 to 5 run inside a very impressive canyon with much easier access than the upper river.

Despite the Greater Naryn has significant glacier component, morning-evening water fluctuations hardly exist due to its length.

Bear in mind that upper valley lies above 3000 m and going there straight from Bishkek you may experience symptoms of mountain sickness. There is no firewood all the way down to Karakol confluence - actually the Taragai Basin looks more like a desert than a mountain plateau.

Access & Logistics
The only sensible road to the Taragai basin and the upper stretches of the Greater Naryn goes from southern shore of Issyk-Kul Lake up the Barskoon River and then crosses two passes (one above 4000 m); while the road along the Barskoon is good enough, beyond the first pass it is very bad and rough.

The road actually goes to a small settlement of Karasai and crosses the Taragai river, one of the Greater Naryn sources; but the lower you put-in, the better - another road goes along the river at least as far as the Karakol confluence.

If you only plan to run the Naryn Falls Canyon, then the way to the put-in is completely different, as there's no road along the river below Karakol (nor it would be a best route even if a road were there). You should first go to Naryn town, and from there drive to the Tash-Bashat village, near the Greater/Smaller Naryn confluence on the road that goes up Smaller Naryn valley. No road goes up the Greater Naryn, but there is a rough track, passable for 4x4 vehicles, that forks east at Tash-Bashat and shortcuts the bend that Greater Naryn makes before the confluence. The road climbs up on the plateau, crosses one small pass, then a small tributary of Greater Naryn and finally climbs the second pass, from where you can see the river above the canyon. There's no road down to the river, so you'll have to walk about 2 km dropping some 500 m of altitude.

Take out is at the road bridge few hundred meters before Smaller Naryn confluence - it is the same road that goes from Naryn town to the Smaller Naryn valley.

There's no road along the river for its whole length, so you should be self-supported if you start around Karakol. If you only go for the Naryn Falls Canyon, it's easily done in one day (in fact, it is 2 hours run) so you can quite safely leave all your gear behind and go empty.

The Taragai Basin is a borderland restricted area and you need a borderland permit to drive there.

River Description

Karakol to Naryn Falls Canyon, 110 km (69 miles) – 2-3 days
This section of the river is rather easy and quite boring - many flat stretches and few small rapids that rarely exceed class 3+/4-; in fact most people seeking whitewater rivers do not go there.

From Karakol the river is a straightforward class 2-3 for about 10 km - good warm-up. There's no whitewater all the way to Ulan confluence from the left (another 10-15 km). About 5 km below Ulan first class 4 gorge (The Zoo) starts - there are several long (up to a kilometer) powerful and bouncy rapids inside. The river gradually eases by the end of the gorge and valley opens for 5-7 km; then the second gorge starts, quite similar to the first one.

The river then flattens out for almost 20 km; there are occasional class 2-3 drops only. Another short gorge and class 4 section is marked by a sturdy wooden bridge over the Greater Naryn near the end of the gorge.

The river then flattens again and for the next 10-15 km there are occasional easy rapids, separated by long flat stretches. Finally the river enters its next canyon (The Serenity Canyon) - very spectacular walled corridor 7-8 km long; there's nothing inside apart from short class 2-3 rapids though.

Below the Serenity Canyon valley opens and shortly (in about 4-5 km) the river makes smooth right turn to the north - it's the entrance into the Naryn Falls Canyon.

Naryn Falls Canyon to Smaller Naryn, 10 km (6 miles) – 1 day
As the Greater Naryn turns to the north, it shortly enters a deep gorge and the cliffs on both sides makes return by the shore nearly impossible. There are two distinct class 4 rapids within first 1.5-2 km of the gorge and then around the left bend the climax of the section comes - stop on the left and scout.

The river has sawn a "canyon in the canyon" here - for about 300 m it flows in a rocky corridor carved out in the bottom of the gorge. The corridor begins with a nasty 5 m narrow drop with terminal-looking hole, known as the Great Naryn Fall. After a short pool, the rest of the corridor is a class 4+/5 rapid (The Five Corners) - a ping-pong game from wall to wall - scout whole section from the left. Portage of the Great Fall is easy, but the Five Corners are quite difficult to walk around.

There's no feasible way to scout next 500-600 m stretch below the Five Corners apart from a distant look from the top of the left cliff - there are three or four powerful class 4 rapids on this stretch which you'll have to run from the boat.

The gorge then makes sharp left turn towards the west and the river eases significantly. It's about 7-8 km left to the Smaller Naryn confluence which are mostly class 2-3 with one or two big class 4 rapids; there are no more canyon-like sections and scouting (if required) is not a problem anymore. A left tributary that you cross on the road from Tash-Bashat enters in the middle of this stretch.

The bridge on the road to Smaller Naryn valley crosses the Greater Naryn few hundred meters before the confluence and marks the take-out.

GPS Waypoint

Place North East
Naryn Falls Canyon (entrance) 41.483520 76.517430
Great Naryn Fall 41.488460 76.519790
Smaller/Greater Naryn confluence 41.495790 76.422580

The first gorge of the Greater Naryn The second gorge of the Greater Naryn The gorge near the wooden bridge The Serenity Canyon
Entrance into the Naryn Falls Canyon from the road head First rapids of the Naryn Falls Canyon Entrance into the Great Fall The Great Naryn Fall
Entrance into the Five Corners below the Great Fall The Five Corners The Five Corners The stretch below the Five Corners

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