RaftSiberia Logo The Katun River

The Altai Mountain Range

A River in the Altai MountainsThe Altai Mountains of are situated in southwestern Siberia near the Mongolian border. The range expands into China and Mongolia, but we will describe them in the context of Siberia and Kazakhstan where their greatest rivers are located. The name Altai is from mongolian word "altan" which means "golden." The Altai are the highest mountain range in Siberia and the tallest group of mountains known as the Katunskiy Khrebet includes the regions highest peak, Mount Belukha, which stands at 4506 meters (14540 feet).

The weather is usually pleasant during the summers, with air temperatures around 25 C (83 F), and water temperatures around 11 to 14 C. Rain is relatively rare here. Most of the water comes from the huge glaciers and because of this, the river levels are highest in the early part of July.

The forest-mountainous zone are the richest in fauna. Here one can find bear, lynx, fox, sables, kolinskies (Asian mink), stoats (weasels), squirrels, marals (the Siberian stag), and a rich array of birds. Further up in the alpine region one may also find mountain goats and snow panthers.

Of course, there are great rivers in these mountains, too. The largest and most interesting for rafting are the Katun', Argut, Bashkaus, Chulyshman, Chuya, Shavla, and Chulcha rivers. Most of them have steep gradients as they bend their way through the mountains. Typically, the water level in these rivers rises rapidly during a rainstorm and returns to normal soon after. One will also discover that the valleys in the higher regions are wide and, thus, the currents are relatively weak here. But in the middle and lower reaches, the valleys are narrow and deeply cut. The rivers are often squeezed by sheer walls, known in Russia as "cheeks." Many of these rivers then run out of the gorges in the form or waterfalls, the largest of which is the Chulchinskiy Waterfall.

Gornyy Altai is a sparsely settled region with a population of around 200,000 people, mostly Altais, Kazakhs, and Russians. The main occupation is breeding sheep and cattle, though the area has also attracted significant mining activity, including the extraction of mercury, gold, iron, and various minerals.

Throughout this region there is only one major road, the Chuiskiy Trakt, stretching from the city of Biysk through Gorno-Altaisk to the Mongolian border. Most airlines connect the remote areas of Altai with the cities of Barnaul and Gorno-Altaysk.

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