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Bashkaus river

Difficulty: 5
From: Saratan - Alt. 1400 m (4600ft)
To: Teletskoye Lake - Alt. 440 m (1450 ft)
Distance: 160 km (100 miles)
River days: 5-7
Average Gradient: 6 m/km (30 ft/mile)
Est. Max Gradient: 20-25 m/km (100-125 ft/mile)
Flow: 50-70 cms (1700-2400 cfs)
Best season: July – August

Altay - Bashkaus river photos

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The Bashkaus is no doubt the most famous river of the Altai, not only because of the whitewater, but also for its scenery and wilderness.

The river sources from vast and rather flat damp plateau near Mongolian border and for the first 100 or so km it flows in a wide open valley. There are few small canyons and easy rapids, but otherwise the river is mostly flat and is probably not worth paddling.

Below the village of Saratan the river enters a scenic canyon with beautiful rock walls and a couple of more difficult rapids. The river then flattens again while passing a large village of Ulagan, a district headquarter.

Below Ulagan the river continues as easy class 1-2 while gradually entering what is commonly known as the Lower Gorge of the Bashkaus. This 40-km long, 1-km deep crack in the mountains surrounding Teletskoye Lake is what actually makes this river a jewel of the Altai. The gorge is completely uninhabited for its whole length and is full of class 4 and 5 rapids in some incredibly impressive surroundings.

Access & Logistics
The district headquarter, Ulagan (sometimes called Ust-Ulagan), is located exactly in the middle stretch of the Bashkaus and is connected by a quite good road to the Aktash village on the Chuya Road, the principal route connecting Siberia and Mongolia. Due to their proximity to the major “highway” both Aktash and Ulagan have a number of shops where most basic supplies can be purchased.

Beyond Ulagan there are three further roads. First one goes up the valley to the village of Saratan and then perhaps some more 15-20 km higher up. Another road goes down the valley to the village of Karakudur and also continues 15-20 more km to local pastures. Third road goes over the pass to lower Chulyshman River, Bashkaus confluence and southern end of Teletskoye Lake.

Put-in is possible a few kilometers below Saratan (if you want to run the canyon above Ulagan), or, otherwise a few kilometers below Ulagan or Karakudur (if you intend to go straight into the Lower Gorge).

If you have a car arranged to pick you up, the best take-out is at the road bridge one kilometer before the Chulyshman confluence, from where you can drive back to Ulagan (don’t rely on local traffic, it hardly exists on that road). Otherwise continue further down and take out at the southern shore of Teletskoye Lake (in the mouth of the Chulyshman). There are a few leisure camps and there’s no problem to hire a motor ship across the lake to the road head at its northern end (there’s no road along the lake).

Remember that from Ulagan to Chulyshman confluence there are no roads nor even people or trails in the gorge, and you must be entirely self-supported. In right conditions this section can be run in just 3 days, but reckon on at least 5 days if things go wrong.

Emergency escape from the gorge is only possible over the mountains on the right side (to the road in lower Chulyshman valley) and takes 2-3 days if you do not carry boats and nobody is injured. There are pastures and quite a good trail network up there, and you may even meet local shepherds or hunters on the plateau. Note that climbing out of the gorge in some places can be very difficult, if not impossible at all.

Trekking over the mountains on the left side (to lower Katun valley) is very long and arduous and would take at least 5-7 days. Don’t even think to hike along the river; there is no passable path through the gorge.

River Description

Saratan to Ulagan, 30 km (19 miles) – 1 day
Below Saratan the Bashkaus is nearly a flat river for several kilometers. First rapid to wake you up is clearly marked by a 100-m rock corridor and few hundred meters afterwards the road on the right climbs up and the river enters a canyon-like gorge. The gorge is 3-4 km long, sometimes with vertical rock walls and is very beautiful. The water is not really difficult, may be only class 3, with just two or three noticeable rapids that can be graded 4-.

The gorge gradually disappears, the river becomes flat, valley opens and you see large village of Ulagan on the right bank.

Ulagan to Tuskol, 60 km (37 miles) – 1 day
At the village of Ulagan the river is completely flat and this is the right place to estimate river volume. A brown flooded stream should make you on the alert, the Lower Gorge is hardly runnable in high water and there were many fatal accidents there.

First 15-20 km the river continues to be flat while passing by some smaller settlements. Then some easy rapids appear, valley sides become closer and higher and anyone there reported a feeling of slowly entering the hell.

First noticeable feature is a 200-m long crack-like canyon on a sharp left bend with an easy rapid inside. There is a horse bridge across the top of the canyon. Shortly after that the river passes through a 2-km long, “The Deep” canyon with many rock walls and some class 4- rapids inside.

After the gorge ends, the valley becomes a bit wider and on the next 20 km there are three significant tributaries from the left: Aspatty (in ~5 km), Djunduk (in another 5 km) and Tuskol (in another 10 km). The river eases though, and there are just trivial class 3 rapids all the way to Tuskol.

The Lower Gorge: Tuskol to Chebdar, 40 km (25 miles) – 2-4 days
Tuskol is an official “start” of the Lower Gorge and there is a nice but quite small camping place just after the confluence. Few hundred meters below first class 4 rapid comes, followed by a class 5, The Barricade, in a km – you will notice huge boulders blocking the river - scout right. Yet another kilometer of easy water leads to two class 4+/5- rapids, (The Steep and The Mill). First one comes around a right bend and is finished with a nasty hole (perhaps terminal in high water). The Mill follows after a 50 m flat reach and is quite a long slalom between huge pourovers.

The river then eases again for next 2 or so km before Onysh comes from the right. It is an unusual place for the Lower Gorge, there’s a large flat terrace at the confluence and it’s practically the only spot where a good trail comes from the plateau down to the river.

The section below Onysh is the climax of the Lower Gorge. For the next couple of kilometers there are few class 4- rapids while the canyon walls become several hundred meters high. Finally you end up with a class 5/5+ rapid, The Key, clearly marked by a huge metal reflector on the left cliff (installed in memory of a catarafter died there) – scout left. Class 4 water continues for 1-1.5 km in a very narrow gorge, finishing with a nasty 3m drop called The Trap (be careful, in low water it is a river-wide syphon) – scout right. Two hundred meters below a long class 5/5+ rapid, The Meatgrinder, leads to a classic camping spot under the overhang cliff on the right. This place is known as “The Chicken Leg Tavern” and is full of memorials of those who died running this river. There is a guestbook kept under the rock where every group writes their words.

Right beneath the Tavern, a rapid-of-no-return, The Kamikaze, starts – rather easy, but once you’re set off, there is no way back by either shore. For the next 5-6 km the river is a quite continuous class 4+ to 5-, very powerful and committing. Finally, you see a small stream, Ogozo, dropping from the left cliff by a 15-m waterfall. Here is an easily recognizable class 4 rapid, with the final drop in a nice rock corridor. A hundred meters below two long powerful class 5/5+ rapids start (The Family and The Stubborn, one after another) – scout right.

After The Stubborn there are several class 4 rapids and then river eases to class 2-3 for some 6-7 km. At the end of this relaxing stretch you will enter a small canyon – once you’re inside, stop on the right bank at the first opportunity to scout a nasty (but not really difficult) The Tight rapid in a narrow channel under the left wall. Depending on the water level it may be fully blocked and not runnable.

Some easier class 3-4 rapids come occasionally in the next 5-6 km before the Bashkaus flattens into nearly 3 km long lake formed by an enormous landslide in 1989. The heavy class 5+(6) Landslide rapid at the end has been run in bubliks (double-doughnut inflatables) just once or twice – scout (and nearly mandatory portage) right.

After the Landslide there are few easy class 3-4 rapids for the 5 kilometers where a large tributary, the Chebdar, comes from the left and marks the end of the Lower Gorge.

Chebdar to Teletskoye Lake, 30 km (19 miles) – 1 day
This section is actually a class 1-2 way to the take-out, so you better stop at the first opportunity. If you have a car waiting to pick you up, it’s only an hour floating to the road bridge near the Chulyshman confluence. Otherwise continue down to Teletskoye Lake (3-4 hours) passing a large settlement of Balykcha on the left bank.


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