Is it true? Is it possible to go paddling in Siberia?
Russia – is the biggest country in the world with almost no end that spans 9 time zones and covers more than one eighth of the world’s inhabited land area. No doubt this country offers great potential for all kind of travelers, explorers and adrenalin junkies. This country has impressive amount of different mountain ranges and thousands of rivers what makes this country one of the best places for whitewater kayakers.
Such popular names as Caucasus, Altai Mountains, Kamchatka peninsula always have been the aim for paddlers from all over the world. But only some of them know about another side of this amazingly huge country – Sayan Mountains, remote mountain range next to biggest, deepest and oldest lake on the planet – Lake Baikal. The Sayan Mountains towering peaks and cool lakes southwest of Lake Baikal give rise to the tributaries that merge to become one of Siberia’s major rivers, the Yenisei River, which flows north over 2000 miles to the Arctic Ocean. It is protected and isolated area that has been kept closed by the Soviet Union since 1944. One of the sources of one of the worlds biggest water artery located high in Sayan mountains has a name: Kitoy river. On its long way to the Arctic Ocean Kitoy river cuts deep gorges of East Sayan mountain system with the help of amazingly clean water.
I do travel a lot all around the world and I have never seen something similar to this place. Only here you could see the combination of roughness, the uniqueness of the sceneries, color of the water and the color of rock, the amount of fish in the river, mushrooms and berries and just huge amount of fun that you are getting from the kayaking here. And now I will try to give you more information about the place what I love to visit again and again.
Kayaking in Siberia is special as it differs on so many levels: there are not many roads around the rivers, no cities or villages, no people and here you cannot find all these things what exist in modern world, and what make you feel tired. Life is simple here – just you, your friends and kayaking. What else can beat this feeling?!
All the rivers in Sayan Mountains are multiday trips where you have to carry all your equipment with you. The Kitoy river with its tributary’s is the best choice for expedition kayakers in this area. The length of the route is about 270km – 11 days of very very good whitewater, lots of different waterfalls and rapids, unbelievable sceneries and amazing lifestyle.
The trip starts in Irkutsk, which is one of the largest cities in Siberia with population about 600.000 people. From Irkutsk to the river itself is around 5 hours drive along the Lake Baikal, through small local villages, taiga and you reach the “put-in”. The first impression is false: the small river slowly flowing through the green fields. But no worries, the next 2 days river picks up numerous creeks and you will get to the first gorge with couple of big class IV rapids and good opportunity to catch your first fish.
The following couple of days are the most scenic – beautiful scenery, clear water, big volume river, great camps with good fishing. All these things will stay in your heart forever!
On the fifth day of the trip the valley gets a bit narrow and the river enters the lower canyon named Motkin Gorge. The canyon itself is around 10km with a lot of class IV big volume rapids and only 1 portage. The first day in Moktin gorge makes you feel like a small ant: everything is big and powerful around you, but still good to go. Once you get to the left tributary, you see the famous Ekhe-Gol waterfall – 16m high monster is great test for the real warriors.
The second day of the Motkin Gorge probably the best paddling day on Kitoy river. Big rapids, width lines, nice slalom between the huge holes and deep vertical walls of the canyon. After you reach the exit of the Motkin Gorge you feel like you’ve got something special inside you, stepped forward in your kayaking skills, have seen something unique. And you can be absolutely sure, this is a right feeling. But don’t rush, this is just a first part of the big adventure… There is another river waiting for you – Biluti river “The Siberian treasure”
Biluti – is the right tributary of Kitoy river in its middle stream. The river takes its beginning in Tunkintsky Golci, which has amazingly beautiful sceneries and colors that are possible to observe only here. The section on the Biluti river which is interesting for kayaking is around 8 km; this distance is divided to two canyons and has huge amount of waterfalls and different drops that could be 1-12 m high.
The difficulty of the river is rated as class IV. Depending on the water level the river could look absolutely differently, but all rapids and waterfalls are clean, with the big pools behind them; and there are no dangerous places (siphons, pockets, undercuts etc.). There are 2 portages on the river. I did paddle both of them this year, therefore, relying on concrete circumstances I can tell that it is possible to paddle the whole river. Anyway the portage is very easy to do and is not complicated at all.
If I would say that I like this river, I would say nothing, I am definitely in love with this amazing «phenomenon» that has been created by nature thousands years ago. It was my 5th visit on this river during last 4 years and I want to go back there again and again. All theses things: self supported kayak trip, remoteness and wild life, untouched nature, deep gorges with amazingly clean water and feeling that you are in the middle of nowhere, makes this place one of the best on Earth for expedition kayaking. I have been here many times and each and every of them was unique. I know for sure, that in the August 2012 I will do this trip again. There are not so many places as this one and they do remain in our hearts and souls forever, taking some part of our internal world.
This part is inside us, it is alive…
After 11 days of paddling and seeing the unique places, what is possible to see only if you are kayaker, the trip is finished. You get the first village on Kitoy river and after some hours of driving you coming back to Irkutsk.
The big adventure is over and you flying home tired, but happy. Because you know that a little part of your soul is still there, somewhere in deepness of Sayan Mountains, in Siberia…