Go ahead, laugh. The bublik raft is named after a traditional Russian bread roll (bigger and chewier than a bagel), and it looks for all the world like a pair of Homer Simpson-sized donuts lashed to a couple of logs. But this goofy-looking contraption is what enabled the first and only descent of the extremely radical rapids of the Karagemsky Gorge in south-central Russia.
The Argut River starts near the Mongolian border and drops for several hundred miles through the region of Altai, a huge and mostly mountainous republic on the border of Kazakhstan, China, and Mongolia. Right before the confluence with the Karagem River it runs through a three-mile gorge known as the Karagemsky Breach. The canyon had been attempted a few times prior to this 2003 expedition, all unsuccessfully, with two deaths.
This crew pulled it off. They built the bublik with felled trees and rope, put in, and somehow, by the grace of whatever gods watch over Russian river runners, navigated one of the gnarliest stretches of whitewater imaginable. It wasn’t without its mishaps, either, as the bublik gets hung up on the rocks with two of the boaters trapped beneath what looks like a Niagra Falls of torrent. Their attempts to get free make up an extra-sporty moment in a descent that was filled with plenty of drama already.