Kayaking Bashkaus

After two weeks in Altay, time has come for us to put on the lower canyon of the famous Bashkaus river. We’ve heard many stories about the run and with the fresh first hand info from another group, we were just looking forward for a lot of classy whitewater. We spent one day chilling at the put-in and a group of 3 Russian kayakers came by saying the water level is medium and wishing us good luck for our descend.

On day one, we woke up early, brewed a lot of tea and cooked delicious poridge as usual. Packing our boats was already a routine and shortly after 10 AM we took a group photo, set off and waved back to our driver Sasha standing on the shore by his UAZ slowly vanishing in the distance.

According to the guide, there was some 55 kilometers of easy paddling all the way to the Tuskol tributary marking the start of the lower gorge. We enjoyed paddling in the sun, kept paddling and after couple of hours started to look for a traditional campsite on day one. There was a small rocky beach by a left hand tributary but then I thought we just can’t be there yet. We paddled a bit more and suddenly I spotted huge boulders blocking the whole river and realized that we’re in the canyon already and this is the Barricade rapid. Well, even though others were not pleased with the news there was no turning back. I got out to scout the line and tell the others. One after another, we peeled out of the eddy and dropped into the Barricade and then the river decided to give us a lesson as Tereza got caught in a hole in the middle, swam and stayed in an eddy in the middle of the river. Peter ran past her into the first eddy on the right and managed to rope Tereza out and back to the shore quite fast, which was a relief, but her loaded boat had already gone downstream about 2 minutes ago. The chase began as me and Tomas charged downstream knowing that without the boat, one would have to hike for 3 days to get back to civiziation. Luckily, we found it about a kilometer downstream reluctantly waiting in an eddy. That being enough excitement for the day, we carefully moved on through some class 3 to 5- rapids to the Onysh tributary coming from the river right. This place, just as the guide says, is quite unusal for the Lower Gorge and a big flat terrace offers a perfect camp spot sheltered by the trees. In no time, we had a fire running, tarp set up and the dinner on the way. Knowing what class 5 looks like on Bashkaus we went to sleep.

Second day we got up early knowing that this would be a long day. Fire, tea, poridge, another tea, packing and our four boats slided into the river before 10 o’clock. Couple of easier rapids warmed us up and after some class 4 we noticed a distant reflection on left bank. We quickly scouted the Key rapid and maybe my line through it was not very convincing so others portaged while I scouted around the corner to see what’s next. Once we were all in the eddy below the Key, we all climbed up to the memorial to write our names into the Book of Legends.

After writing our message and taking necessary photographs, we got in our boats and continued in steady pace with 2 portages of the Trap (blocked by a tree in the middle) and Meatgrinder rapid, which led us to the traditional camp spot, the Tavern. There we recorded our descend once more into the second book, ate some chalva and dropped into the Kamikaze rapid. For next 6 kilometers the river was quite continuous but manageable class 4 to 5- and once in a while it reminded us to stay alert with its power. Sun was shining and one couldn’t ask for better conditions on a such remote run.

Around 3 PM, we reached the Family rapid. I assume that the name might have come from its character. 3 big staggered holes in serious gradient. There was a river wide mamma hole in the beginning, quickly flowing into even bigger papa hole which could be avoided on the left and finally there was a grandpa hole at the bottom, which in turn should be ran right. There was a line and there was a big pool at the bottom to pick up pieces if you messed up. I passed the first hole far left, caught an unplanned eddy on the left and then went back into the main current just to push hard left again to avoid the second hole. That one endered me and not having time to maneuvre I went straight into the meat of the third one, rolled and surfed out on the right side, breathing heavily. Well, it was bigger that it looked from the bank as usual.

Next class 5 rapid, the Stubborn, was longer but not so steep and had a big wavetrain at the exit. While scouting, we found a perfect camp site on the river right just below the rapid about 3 meters above the river where flood conditions created flat sandy beach large enough to make camp for maybe 8 people. The sun was still shining so we took off our clothes, jumped into the river and then just chilled on hot rocks, sharing our impressions from a long day. The canyon is still very deep at this point so we lost the sun before 5 PM, went up to our sandy campsite, had a dinner and lot of tea and made huge bonfire to scare off any clouds. Darkness came onto us and we slowly fell asleep watching stars and light from the fire flickering on the rocks around us

There was no rush in the morning of our last day on Bashkaus. There was only one difficult rapid ahead and one portage so we relaxed and put on the when the sun made it to the deep canyon. Couple of class 4 rapids woke us up and then we just enjoyed sunny weather and deep scenic canyon with only some class 3 in it. The Tight rapid, which is described as nasty class 4, didn’t really have a nice entrance but I gave it a shot anyway and with huge ender and backflip I made it through. Shortly after we paddled across a lake created by a landslide back in 1989 and started to portage the class 5+/6 Landslide rapid. Small trail took us up the hill and we assumed that the portage leads across the landslide because its impossible to walk by the river. We couldn’t be more wrong with that assumption. After 20 minutes of crossing steep rocky slope, I fell, dropped my boat and watched it flying down some 100 metres towards the Landslide rapid. Luckilly enough, it didn’t make it all the way to the river and stayed on the rocky bank instead. We roped other boats down to the river and found a the proper portage trail down there. Well next time we will know better, at least no one got hurt. So we put on and floated down as the valley gradually opened up and we shared our impressions from the river, sang random songs and tortured each other with descriptions of all kinds of different meals. Finally we saw the bridge so we took out our boats, called Sasha to pick us up and Tomas shared his smokes to celebrate our latest accomplishment. The Bashkaus is beautiful, commiting multi-day trip which I hope will do again some day.

story by Jakub Suchy

photos by Jakub Suchy and Petr Snizek