Caucasus – mountains that hold the sky
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. Russia has an impressive amount of different mountain ranges and thousands of rivers what makes this country one of the best places for whitewater kayakers.
One of these mountain ranges are Caucasus Mountains which contain Europe’s highest peak – Mt. Elbrus (18,510 ft./ 5642 m). The Caucasus Mountains are usually considered the dividing line between Asia and Europe bounded on the west by the Black Sea and on the east by the Caspian Sea. Historically, this region has been a battleground of different cultures and religions. The Caucasus is one of the most linguistically and culturally diverse regions on Earth. The assembly of a wide variety of languages and nations along with a unique mountain landscape make the Caucasus one of the most fabulous places on the planet.
This summer the group of 5 paddlers together with filming crew went to Caucasus Mountains to film “Ride The Planet” project.
Ride The Planet – the first Russian media project on action sport and travelling, brings together best athletes and mountain guides, professional filming team, action photographers and journalists to make a series of trips to remote regions of the planet, untouched by tourism industry, ethnically appealing and little known to wide audience.
The essence of the project is creating a series of short video stories about kayaking and travelling in eco-friendly way in spectacular and authentic locations. It is made to show the importance of lively emotions, active and healthy lifestyle, that action sport represents, and ecological awareness for modern society.
Aim of project is to show, through the eyes of Russian riders, cameramen and photographers, the different mountain regions of planet, convey their beauty and possibilities for travelling and action sports.
We went to the Caucasus in June when the water level in Caucasian rivers reaches the maximum
and rapids in canyons turns into the white madness.
Somehow kayaking in Caucasus Mountains is similar to kayaking in Alps: there are many roads around the rivers, town and small villages, locals are friendly and hospitable people, but at the same time it is quite wild place surrounded by huge mountains, amazing glaciers and scenic landscapes. All of us had feeling that development of civilization stopped without having reached these places and the people here are still open to you and happy to share their culture and traditions which were preserved since many centuries.
“I do travel a lot all around the world and I have never seen something similar to this place. Paddling in different places on a planet, seeing different mountain systems, I continue to be surprised how unique are those places where I am brought by kayaking.” – Tomass Marnics
The Caucasian mountains amaze you with their greatness, the sizes and inaccessibility. Everything here is very big: mountains, glaciers, valleys and rivers. Sometimes you wonder about the first people in these mountains, who have been living here for thousands years, but how did they get here?
We’ve got to the Caucasus during plentiful thawing of glaciers and kayaking here was similar to a fight. Caucasian rivers are steep. There are no big drops and waterfalls; it is many kilometers of one very steep rapid with just few eddies.
The first river we’ve paddled was Chegem. The river flows from eternal snow and glaciers of the Greater Caucasus ridge to the East from Elbrus. There are many different sections on this river with different gradient and difficulty. Some years ago this place was quite famous for Russian extreme kayak races. Who knows, maybe in future Chegem valley will see numerous amount of international paddlers.
The valley of the river is remarkable with their ancient structures of the people occupying these lands several centuries ago. When you see this place you start to realize how short and thin is humans’ life on this planet.
After deep canyons of Chegem river our team managed to get to the place, where kayakers have never been before… Elbrus – the highest mountain in Europe. Amazing landscapes, the deep canyons which have been cut through by water for thousands years, eternal ice of blue glaciers and famous Elbrus – such picture opened to us from height of bird’s flight.
“I always wanted to see this mountain, and it turned out even more, we managed to paddle the source of Malka river, which flowing from Elbrus. Sometimes dreams may come true”- shares Tomass Marnics.
Dombai region and Gonachhir river was the following step for our crew. Dombai! This name — is a synonym to the word “mountains” for many generations. Probably the most beautiful mountain region in Caucasus — an excellent playground for all types of action sports. Snow activities in winter and different summer sports: mountain biking, tracking, rock-climbing and of course rafting and kayaking.
In general all rivers in Caucasus are very similar to each other – they are very fast, with no pools, high density of rapids and very steep with big amount of water. Gonachhir is local “classic” – “There is a line down the river on each and every rapid, but you don’t want to mess it up, because even the small mistake with 100% guarantee leads you to serious problems” – Alexey Lukin says.
Gonachhir is like Little white Salmon, but much steeper. Definitely one of the most interesting rivers in this region. Dark-green forests, the colors of alpine meadows, impetuous rivers, waterfalls, eternal snows and glaciers make this place extremely beautiful.
After manic run on Gonachhir river team decided to run something less stressful and drove to Dombai village. This is quite famous the ski resort in Russia surrounded with huge mountains, glaciers and snowy peaks. In a warm day water level in Amanauz river changes from medium to flood, taking down some big logs.
The section of the river is about 1-2 km with powerful water, big holes and quite good steepness. But at the same time – everything is soft and good to go. Kayaking causes a great interest among locals who always come to watch, to film and just talk to colored kayakers.
After nearly a week of filming and kayaking in Dombai our next plan was to move to North Ossetia that is very close to Chechnya. Before this trip we heard many bad stories about Caucasus: corrupt police, crazy locals and difficult military situation. Maybe we were lucky, but reality was totally different. Contrary to all these hearings it appeared that in Caucasus live kind and hospitable people who joyfully met and helped us everywhere where we would go. We were guests everywhere and it looked like after many years of war, peace finally overtook this part of Russia.
The territory of North Ossetia has been inhabited for thousands of years, being both a very fertile agricultural region and a key trade route through the Caucasus Mountains. By about the 9th century North Ossetiya became a powerful state in the Caucasus, profiting greatly from the legendary Silk Road to China, which passed through its territory.
Our aim in Ossetia were Ardon river and its tributary Ceidon river. Ardon river flows from a reservoir of Zaramagsky hydroelectric power station. With lower flow it is possible to start right below the dam, but we had too much water for this stretch. It is remarkable that practically across all North Ossetia it is possible to find ancient structures, monuments and the obelisks speaking about century history of this land.
“Kayaking on Ardon was very similar to African «big volume kayaking». The only difference was crazy speed of Caucasian river. You disappear in huge mass of water and you feel alone, because you can’t see your mates. You can’t really see your line from the boat, because everything is so big and fast and the only way is to guess what is next. But at the same time everything is so big, that flushes you out.” – Egor Voskoboynikov.
No doubts Caucasus is a place for people who do different adventurous and sports activities. There are a lot of rivers waiting for their pioneers and strong boaters. Hopefully one day it will be possible to travel on other republics of the Caucasus and to enjoy magnificence of these fine and majestic mountains.