The Altai Mountain Range
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
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.