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

Difficulty in September: 4+ (5)
From: Djily-Su - Alt. 3120 m (10240 ft)
To: Gr. Naryn confluence - Alt. 2250 m (7380 ft)
Distance: 140 km (87 miles)
River Days: 4-5
Average Gradient: 6 m/km (30 ft/mile)
Est. Max Gradient: 20-25 m/km (100-125 ft/mile)
Typical Flow in September: 30-50 cms (1000-1700 cfs)
Best Season: Late August-September
First-hand Information: YES

Smaller Naryn area map
Smaller Naryn area map

The Smaller Naryn is the right source of the mighty Naryn - the major river of the Central Tien-Shan. As the name suggests, it brings about 1/3 of the volume at the confluence with the other source, the Greater Naryn.

The river flows in a remote and sparsely populated valley south of Issyk-Kul Lake; changing its name several times before becoming the Smaller Naryn (or Kichi-Naryn in local dialect). The very upper river above Burkan confluence is called Uchemchek, then Djily-Su; below Burkan it is known as Bolgart, and only below Archaly confluence it is officially becomes Smaller Naryn.

Until the river valley turns south at the Sary-Kungei confluence and starts cutting a mountain range separating it from its bigger brother, it is typically class 3, sometimes easy 4, with very long flat sections between the rapids. Actually, many groups choose to go only for the lower gorge of the Smaller Naryn below Sary-Kungei - a nice one-day class 4 to 5 run inside a very impressive canyon.

The Smaller Naryn has significant glacier component; upper stretches in August rise sharply in the afternoon (if the sun is shining); but these water fluctuations hardly exist in the lower gorge as it is far from the glaciers.

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 Archaly confluence.

Access & Logistics
Quite a decent road goes all the way up the Smaller Naryn valley, from the Naryn town and by the confluence with the Greater Naryn. It is probably the most sensible way to get to the river if you're already based around Naryn town or only want to run the lower part of the Smaller Naryn.

If you drive from Bishkek to the upper valley (Uchemchek/Djily-Su) then a shortcut is possible using a road that forks Bishkek-Naryn route and goes up the Kara-Kudjur River, crosses a pass and joins Smaller Naryn in its middle valley. But the shortest and the most spectacular road there goes from southern shore of Issyk-Kul Lake up the Tosor River and over the Tosor pass; unfortunately this road is poorly maintained and is regularly washed out by landslides - be absolutely sure it is passable before selecting this route.

It is difficult to point exact put-in place in the Djily-Su valley as there are no major landmarks. If you drive up the river, then start about 7-8 km upstream of Djily-Su hot springs (several ugly huts along the road; the pool is in the upstream house), just after the road goes around an obvious small gorge (The Dangerous Bend) - further up valley opens and there is no substantial whitewater.

If you only plan to run the lower gorge, put in at the Sary-Kungei confluence where the valley makes sharp turn to the south, about 20-25 km from the Greater Naryn confluence - this bend is quite hard to miss and the road is conveniently close to the river here.

Take out is best done at the last road bridge (it's third bridge after Sary-Kungei) located at the end of the gorge; remaining 10 km down to the Greater Naryn confluence are nearly flat.

As the road follows the river, there's no self-support required if you have a car with you; although below Sary-Kungei road is high up most of the time and there's a canyon section with no way out.

River Description

Djily-Su to Sary-Kungei, 120 km (75 miles) – 3-4 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.

Few hundred meters below the put-in the river enters a 300 m long class 4/4- canyon (The Dangerous Bend) after a sharp left bend - scout right. Valley opens again and there is another class 4- rapid about a kilometer below while valley remains wide open. Next 3-4 km are flat and only just before hot springs (Djily-Su) another couple of class 4/4- rapids come. Section below the hot springs is a quite continuous class 2-3 rapid as the river now turns south, cutting through towards Burkan confluence.

At the confluence the river changed its name to Bolgart and is 100% flat all the way down to Archaly (where it becomes Smaller Naryn). 8-10 km below Archaly the road from Kara-Kudjur comes into the valley (but it is not seen from the river). Valley here is very wide, very flat, very windy and completely woodless.

Some 5-6 km below the road intersection a class 4- stretch begins (known as the upper gorge of Smaller Naryn) - quite straightforward set of rapids several kilometers long. It may be a sensible idea to put-in here, especially if you're driving from Kara-Kudjur to the lower gorge and need some warm-up.

There's a bridge below the gorge and the road crosses from right to left for the first time. Next 15-20 km the river is flat again; there are several settlements on the left bank along the road. The valley then gradually narrows, some class 2-3 rapids appear and another bridge brings the road back to the right. About 2 km below the bridge the valley makes right angle turn to the left and Sary-Kungei comes in from the right just at the corner.

Sary-Kungei to Greater Naryn, 20 km (12 miles) – 1 day
From Sary-Kungei the river enters the gorge known as the Mini Canyon - 1.5-2 km long stretch, supposed to contain seven class 4 rapids (if you can count them so precisely) - still most of them are runnable just from the boat. Despite its name of a canyon, there are no real walls on this section. The road initially climbs away from the river, but then comes down and crosses to the left side ("1st bridge") near the end of the Mini Canyon.

The Smaller Naryn then eases to class 2-3 for about 4 km before entering the most difficult stretch of the river, known as the Impregnable Canyon. This canyon is about 3 km long and, indeed, most of it is a no-way-out walled corridor. It is also said to contain seven rapids, but apart from the first two you will hardly distinguish them.

First rapid (class 4+/5) is actually not in the canyon yet and there's hardly any landmark apart from the road bridge 400 m below the rapid - scout left. The second rapid (class 4+/5) begins straight under the bridge ("2nd bridge", road crosses to the right) and from here the river enters the canyon - scout right from the road and from the bridge. The river eases then, but there's no way to scout following rapids (3rd, 4th and 5th if you know them) unless you have walked on the road beforehand. They all can be run from the boat though, and there are long pools to recover and rescue.

Last difficult ("6th") rapid is located near the end of the canyon and can be scouted from the left - the wall here becomes a slide-rocks slope. The last ("7th") rapid is quite easy and is located just around the left bend - you can scout it together with the number six. Both rapids are easy seen from the road.

The gorge opens then and in about 1-2 km the last bridge ("3rd bridge") marks the take-out.

GPS Waypoint

Place North East
Sary-Kungei confluence 41.664950 76.430430
Impregnable Canyon (entrance) 41.615310 76.443110
Smaller/Greater Naryn confluence 41.495790 76.422580

The Dangerous Bend canyon The rapid near Djily-Su hot springs The upper gorge of Smaller Naryn The upper gorge of Smaller Naryn
The Mini Canyon The Mini Canyon The 1st bridge at the end of Mini Canyon The Impregnable Canyon, 1st rapid
The Impregnable, 2nd rapid from the bridge Inside the Impregnable Canyon Middle section of Impregnable from the road The Impregnable, 7th rapid from the road

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