Cherchen River, South Eastern Xinjiang, 2012

Put-in: 37.665235°, 86.443786°
Put-in elevation: 3060m
Put-in date: 08 Sep 2012

Take-out: 37.718106°, 85.699004°
Take-out elevation: 1800m
Take-out date: 24 Sep 2012

Rafted distance – 100km.
Size of group – 8 people, 2 katamarans


Cherchen is one of the five major rivers, flowing from the Kunlun mountains to the Takla-Makan desert. The river is clamped in narrow canyons with exits, that could be counted on fingers. Sometimes we had to explore downstream sections virtually, using only satellite images. Sometimes even the images could not help – meandering walls of the canyon overlaid the river course, hiding it from the satellite. We called such sections “Subway”.

We met six subway sections of this kind on the river. We floated through the first four of them and had to portage the remaining two. This was the only portage on the river, about 2 km long.

The Cherchen discharge according to our estimates was 60 cubic meters per second. Water level doesn't change within 24 hours owing to the upper stream on the plateau, where the Cherchen flows slowly, having many arms. At a different water level (whether lower or higher) the third and fourth "subway" sections may be impassable for the whitewater crafts as wide as ours (220 cm), as the distance between the walls of the passage may become smaller than the width of the craft.

Main time of the expedition was spent on exploration and scouting the river sections in canyons and especially the "subway" passages. For the teams, planning to try the descent of the Cherchen, we strongly recommend scouting and checking out the unseen sections of the river. Walls of the canyon are composed of loosely bound conglomerate, so there's potential for rockslides and syphons on the river.

See (also has a video link): Cherchen: the Idea of Expedition

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Info on rivers in Tibet and western China