the bashkaus

by mania

Welcome to Whitewater Addictions Rivers You Have Never Heard Of series of articles. Our first river is the Bashkaus located in the Altai region of Siberia, Russia. This is a long, difficult and remote river which is most certainly class V with portages. I interviewed Vladimir Gavrilov, author of Rivers of an Unknown Land who was kind enough to grant an interview since this is one of his favorite rivers.

picture of Bashkaus River
Looking down into the Bashkaus valley
(and you thought Siberia was cold?!)

What's it like?

[W.A.] Tell us what it is like to run the Bashkaus.

[Vladimir] Bashkaus is one of the finest and challenging rivers of the world. The run is 190km (119 mi) and has 212 rapids. It is running in almost unpopulated area, there are absolutely stunning landscapes around. River runs through many canyons locked in corridors with vertical walls. The water is green, transparent, unless you've got flooding. Upper part of the river has Class 4-5 rapids. It has four canyons "Straight", Il'dugem", "open", and "Saratanskiy". The 6km long last one is the most difficult. It was done in early 70s. After it river calmly run till the start of the Lower Canyon. In the middle of this section the Ust'-Ulagan village is located (79km), which has a good connection with Aktash town on Chuya Trakt. Lower canyon begins on 110km. It is very deep gorge with VERY limited chances to leave it after you entered it. There are 95 Class 4-6 rapids in there. There are very few campsites in the canyon. I have a list of them in my book. Your chances to run all rapids are slim and depend very much on a water level. The most challenging rapids in my opinion are: Barricade, Krutoy (Steep), Klyuchevoy (Key), Myasorubka (Meatgrinder), Tesnyy (Tight), and 202. THere are very few rapids one can run without scout. The canyon surrounded by vertical walls and practically does not have big animals and birds.

picture of Bashkaus River
Barricade rapid in the Lower Canyon
photo from Vladimir Gavrilov

[W.A.] What kind of preparations would you suggest before running it?

[Vladimir] As I told above, it is very difficult to leave the Lower Canyon in case of accident. If you lost a boat you may be in BIG trouble. There are only couple points where you can leave (expect long, steep, difficult hike to Chulyshman Valley). Forget about luxury in terms of food and camping equipment. You and your partners must be a team and not a group of high level river runners with personal agendas. Be ready to portages (depend on water level), but at the same time one Class 5 rapid you must run (portage and scout are impossible).

picture of Bashkaus River
Russian Paddle Cat
photo from Vladimir Gavrilov

[W.A.] What type of boats do you recommend? Can one buy or rent in Russia?

[Vladimir] I think the best is Russian 4, or 2-person paddle cat. It is light, easy to run, does not wrap, easy to repair and pack. It is possible to buy or rent it in Russia. It is not expensive. Kayak is OK if you are expert. Raft is possible but I do not think it is a best option. Upper part is doable on rafts and we even offer it to commercial people.

When should you go?

[W.A.] What is the best time of year to go?

[Vladimir] The best time is very end of July through September.

[W.A.] How long does a typical trip take?

[Vladimir] I would say the shortest is 12 days (if you are lucky with weather, do not have accidents, and do not have lay-over days) but it can be as long as 20 days on the river. Probably pure kayak group can do it faster.

Where is it?

[W.A.] How would one go about getting to the Bashkaus from the States?

[Vladimir] Flight to Moscow, then to Barnaul ($300-500 RT), rent a bus or truck to Ust'Ulagan, 4-wheel drive truck can take you a little bit upstream of Saratan village to put in upstream of Pryamoy (straight) canyon.

More Details

The Bashkaus river begins in the Siberian Altai region. It is North of China, East of Kazakhstan and West of Mongolia and is about the same latitude of Southern Alaska. Below you will find a google map to help you orient.

The put-in of Saratan Village is Southeast of Barnaul and the river flows Northwest to the takeout at Teleskoye Lake. A Russian guide is invaluable in this respect.

If you have Google Earth for OS X or Windows here are the place markers:

Russians vs. Americans

I asked Vlad to tell us about Russian boaters because I think we can learn a thing or two from them. Here is the question and reply.

[W.A.] How do you compare Russian boaters with American boaters?

[Vladimir] Russian boaters are more comfortable with such kind of trips because they use to live with very limited supplies: food, equipment. They do not use propane stoves, their groups are very light. An ax is their major instrument. Their huge advantage is that they are team workers. There are no personal egos in the group. With equal whitewater skills I would give advantage to Russian group.

So toughen up softies!

Resources

Excited yet? I am. If you want to make a trip of a lifetime I highly recommend Vlads book. In it you will find much more information and many other rivers of varying difficulty in the area. If you are a tough and experienced boater who is a team player and know at least 5 other people like you who would like to go on trip with Vlad and I, please contact me.

Books

Rivers of an Unknown Land covers many areas of the former Soviet Union including Siberia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Ukraine as well as Russia proper. I highly recommend it.

Brothers on the Bashkaus is a new book by the Editor of Paddling Life Magazine and is coming out soon.

Rivers of an Unknown Land Brothers on the Bashkaus
Rivers of an Unknown Land
A Whitewater Guide to the Former Soviet Union
by Vladimir Gavrilov
Brothers on the Bashkaus
by Eugene Buchanon

Websites

4 Corners Whitewater - wants to take you to the 4 corners of the earth. Just rally 6 to 12 hearty people who have some time and money and we can go anywhere in the world.

Raft Siberia - Vlads rafting company.

Kayaking.RU guide to the Bashkaus - good online resource for many Siberian rivers.