We are standing at the edge of an impressive deep gorge in the middle of Siberia and watching the Kitoy River from about 300ft above. In front of us the river flows down the famous Motkin Cheeks and we are discussing if it’s runnable at this flow or not.
While taking a look from this height above the water we are not sure if it is really possible to portage the main rapid over a big syph on the river left. After about half an hour we decided that we will give a try to make a second descent, running these rapids.
But let’s start from the beginning: As we arrived at the airport of Irkutsk in the southern Baikal Area in Siberia we walked out of the gate and there a guy waited for us in the arrival hall. We didn’t know each other but he came straight towards us and asked if we are the kayakers. There have to be some differences between normal travelers and kayakers. Why the hell he recognized within a few seconds that we are kayakers? Funny.
Well, if you’re coming to Russia there is no way to leave the airport without anyone is able to speak and particularly to read Russian language. There is even no way to read the displays at the airport because everything is written Cyrillic. But we managed to get out of the airport and got to a small hostel, backed up by two heavy steel doors. Walking out on the balcony, there is a lattice directly in front of us. Where are we? As the girl from the reception told us not to leave the hostel when it’s getting dark, we could imagine what’s going on here at night.
We did some shopping in the evening and started early the next day with a ten-hour drive along the Mongolian border into the middle of nowhere. The plan was to drive about six hours to our put-in. However our taxi broke down on one of these endless gravel roads in Siberia and we had to wait another few hours for a second car. Therefore we decided to spend the time at a nearby lake, took a bath and chilled while drinking Vodka in the sun. As we arrived at the put-in a few hours later we just had to paddle about half an hour class 1 whitewater until we reached the first camp shortly before dark.
The following three days we paddled a lot of easy class 2 and 3 rapids mixed with some of class 5. It is just amazing how the Kitoy River flows through absolute remoteness and untouched wilderness, between high mountains and through deep gorges. Some of these rapids we had to scout from the shore but many were also scoutable from the boat.
On the fourth day the difficulties increased from rapid to rapid and the canyon became more and more narrow. There were countless cool runnable rapids until we reached a point where we left the boats and took all the heavy stuff out of the boats and brought it to the end of the following. After a 20-minutes walk we reached the point where we could scout the Motkin Cheeks from 300ft above these steep rapids. We figured out that if it is too hard we can still take the chicken line everywhere besides one rapid. And of all rapids, this was the hardest one and very difficult to portage. A lot of the water flows through a big syph on the river left and that would be the only way to portage, over the syph. After about half an hour analyzing and discussing we decided to run this section.
Being back in our boats there were two more rapids we need to scout until we reached the first rapid we could see from our scouting point. Everything went well until we reached the rapid with the big syph. There was a huge hole in the entry followed by three channels where you really should take the center one. The right channel ended in a 6ft drop with a scary hole and the left one is going straight into the big syph. Tomass ran first, followed by all others. All went well, but we had another heavy rapid until we reached the end of this difficult section. In the end we knew why it was better to run this section without our heavy stuff in the boats. We met the other guys who portaged that section and paddled the last few rapids to the next camp. We all were really happy about running this gorge – it was an amazing day. Because of rain the following day, we stayed the whole day on the camp. As we walked downhill to our boats, we recognized that the water was rising overnight for about 10ft, while the river is about 180ft wide. It was a scary view to watch the brown flood flowing down into the second part of the gorge. Tomass, who was the only one who know this section at normal flows just said: “maybe it is hard, maybe it is too hard”. At this point nobody knew what was around the next corner. As we decided to run this section we took something about 30 minutes for about three miles, included two times scouting. Everything was runnable and it was absolute fun. The other guys who portaged this section took about four hours to get to the end of the difficult section. From this point we had to pass a few more class 5 rapids until the end of the gorge. Afterwards we arrived at the confluence of the Biluti River. The Biluti is a right tributary to the Kitoy with nice drop and pool kayaking. So we walked uphill for 4,5 hours through the jungle until we reached the put-in at the lib of a clean 35ft drop. This cool put-in-drop was followed by some more really nice drops between 10 and 20ft in an amazing gorge with vertical walls. As we arrived at the confluence of this short tributary we all said that it was really worth the hike-up. Running the Biluti was the last challenge on this trip. From the confluence we had to paddle another hour on the Kitoy River, starting with a few class 4 rapids and ended up with class 1 and 2 which could give us an idea of the “work” of the next day. The next – and also the last day – was a ten hours class 1 and 2 paddling out of the Sayan Mountain Range to the first road access. On the next morning our taxis picked us up at the take out and brought us back to Irkutsk. At night we joined a cool Russian party in a bar, where the waitresses wear traditionally Bavarian clothes and you could order Bavarian beer. Nevertheless we decided to drink Vodka as the typical drink in Russia. But remember if you ever want to visit Russia sometimes, not to try to drink more than a Russian guy.
This challenge won’t have a happy end for you.
The next morning we took our flight back home and left this amazing place called Siberia. Thanks to all the guys out there who made this trip to an unforgettable adventure.
Pictures by Martin Kaltenbach and Guillaume Hernandez