We started planning our trip to the Asian part of Russia one year ago. We wanted to go for something new, so we decided for Altai Mountains, which lie on the border of Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan. We got some information about the rivers and the weather from our friends and they also gave us a contact to local kayakers. So nothing stood in our way to take a plane and go the Altai region in early July.
After a long flight to Novosibirsk and even longer drive to the Altai Mountains, we found ourselves on the lower part of the Katun river, the largest source of monster river Ob. Here we packed for "Sumulta river", our first mission. The Altai rivers are very different from what we´re used to in Europe. There is almost no road access and most of the rivers are multiday big volume white water in the middle of nowhere. And that was what we were going to do during next four weeks.
We had to walk almost whole day to get to the put in of Sumulta river. The river is beautiful and really ideal to find out how to work with fully loaded boats on white water. We prepared a dinner on the fire in the evening and everything was just perfect. Sumulta got a big tributary after the first day of paddling and it got really pushy after that, but still manageable without big problems. After four days we came back to the civilization...well, we reached the end of a dirt road, where you could drive a four wheel drive car, but it was still in the middle of nowhere. We met a group of Russian climbers on the take out by accident. They offered us a welcome vodka and then many more shots during next eight hours while we were waiting for a car to pick us up. Since we didn´t have proper food for four days, our vodka session with the Russian group became quite challenging.... Nevertheless, Honza (big Honza) managed to beat them all.
Another river to go was Argut, a big volume river again. Argut takes two or three days, plus one day Argut´s tributary “Karagem” and one or two days walking to the put in…depends on how much snow there is on the road ... So all together it takes nearly a week on the river with all the equipment and food. We got a solid load of snow, so the car could not pass over a 3000m high saddle. Vasil (our driver and local kayak legend) dropped us just under the saddle. Walking with heavy boats over the saddle between high mountains with snow was really incredible. After one-day-hike we reached the put in of Karagem. The river offeres a beautiful view to the glaciers. After one and a half day of paddling we reached the confluence with Argut. This river had a mega water... high water is 200 cumecs and we had twice that much. We had more fun than we expected and sometimes more than we wanted. We had to scout almost everything which made the trip a bit slow, but we had plenty of time and you can always find great places to camp with lots of wood for the fire. Argut is flowing through deep valleys and sometimes gets closed between vertical rock walls.
More about other rivers and adventures in Siberia will come in the next article.