Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Kayaking the Relentless River of Everest in Nepal

Canoe & Kayak magazine has posted a remarkable story on its website detailing an amazing paddling expedition that took place in Nepal earlier this year. This past spring, expedition kayaker Ben Stookesberry was joined by Nepalese paddler Surjan Tamang, on a journey to explore the Dudh Kosi River, a legendary stretch of water in traces its origins to Mt. Everest, but over the years has carved out an identity all its own.

Back in 1976, the river was originally explored by a team of British paddlers, who brought back an impressive amount of film that they shot while on their expedition. That footage eventually became the basis for the adventure film Dudh Kosi: Relentless River of Everest, which has gone on to become one of the more legendary kayaking movies of all time. The team of six Brits traveled to Nepal to take on the river, which at that point had been totally unexplored. They were pushed to their absolute limits, as the raging rapids, impenetrable gorges, and impassable rocks tested them at every turn. The team was forced to abandon their attempt to run the entire length of the Dudh Kosi in Lukla, the starting point for the trek to Everest Base Camp. There was far more river to run below that point, it simply was too dangerous to go any further.

But that is exactly where Stookesberry wanted to go, and he needed some help from Tamang to continue his exploration. The two men dropped into a 130-foot gorge on their first day, leaving behind their only climbing rope on their first rappel into the valley. Without a rope, they would have to trust that there would be other places to exit along the way, but that meant also braving a river that was raging well beyond Category V rapids in a canyon that didn't allow satellite phone reception, and would make a helicopter rescue impossible.


For five days, the two men made their way down river. They learned early on it was best to portage around the more dangerous sections – that is when they could find a place to portage at all. Tamang attempted to run a gnarly section of the river on the first day, and ended up flipping his boat, becoming lodged in a crack, and losing his paddle in the process. That taught them to respect the river very quickly, and caution became the better part of valor moving forward.

As they descended, Stookesberry and his companion discovered a river like none they had ever seen. In some points it dropped more than 800 feet over a mile, and passed through gorges with rock walls that towered high over head. Boulder, often the size of tall buildings, chocked their path, and the rushing waters were continually pushing their skills to the limits. Over the course of the five that they spent on the water, they managed to cover just 10 downriver miles.

Reading this story from C&K was incredibly interesting to me, as it was once again a reminder that not all of the blank spots on the map have been filled in just yet. There are still plenty of places that are prepared to test the resolve of any humans who dare explore their depths, but thankfully there are also explorers who are still ready to press ahead with that challenge. The article wraps up by saying that Stookesberry intends to return to the Dudh Kosi in the future, and hopes to explore it more fully. He is also hatching plans to paddle the Tsangpo in Tibet, which is the ultimate prize for an expedition kayaker for sure.  I'm looking forward to learning more about both of these expeditions in the future.

For an idea of what the Dudh Kosi is like, check out the video below. It is a teaser for the film that the British expedition made back in 1976, but conditions there remain mostly unchanged today.


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