Mar 13, 2009

Pakistan, Indus River - Day Eighteen -

Rain started to drizzle down. Was in late in the night, or early in the morning? Either way it didn't matter, I had gone light and had no shelter. During the evening I had scouted out an alcove in the boulders, and was glad I had scoped it out. Under the dim light of my headlamp I squeezed through the entrance and went back to sleep safe from precipitation.

Waking up in the morning, this certainly isn't was I expected the day to greet us with; beautiful blue skies!

With a strong desire to make the confluence, we wasted no time putting on. Brief calm water led us to an extended scout over sculpted bedrock.

The rapid was tempting, but any mistake, or simply having a wave break at the wrong time, would land the paddler in a pocket where the situation would turn dire. Having made it safely so many kilometers we deemed it prudent to make quick work of it and portage.

Phil Boyer with a scenic portage route.

The bottom of the bedrock section had a nice early morning delight, enjoyed by Ben Stookesberry.

During the portage we had made contact with Roland via radio, and he warned of us of a very long rapid downstream. This perked our interest, at this point we knew that a rapid called "very long" must indeed fulfill that description.

From the top it was indeed long, and Ben led the group down a half kilometer class III lead in. Once out of our boats we were all in awe at the length of the rapid. Including the lead in, it was a true kilometer long beast.

Extensive scouting revealed several entrance moves, followed by, surprise surprise, a large hole. I was daunted by simply the challenge of memorizing the amount of moves needed to even get the hole, let alone the drive left needed to skirt the Goliath of hydraulics. Along with the rest of the group, I opted to sneak down the left side of the rapid, staying in my boat and making easy progress. Living up to the legend, Ben decided he would mainline the lengthy cascade.

Ben Stookesberry riding a big boil about halfway down the cataract.

Benjamin again, getting ready to get left of the hole.

Ben Stookesberry gets ready...

While behind the lens it's generally pretty hard to tell what is happening, but in this circumstance it was obvious things were not looking good.

Collectively we were stunned as Ben started the largest hole surf we had ever seen...

Quickly surfing to the right side of the hole, Ben proceeded to throw down with a quick succession of ends. Often he wasn't visible, but we could tell he was getting air, then he resurfaced on top of the pile and drove back into the pit and disappeared, resurfacing downstream of the boil.

Ben Stookesberry emerges in his boat after surfing the largest hole of his life.

Amazed by what we had seen, but numb from so many days of hard whitewater, we returned to our boats, the river, and beautiful weather.

Chris Korbulic and Ben Stookesberry, blue skies and gorgeous vistas.

One or two quick rapids and we were out for one more long walk. A rowdy lead in and a few big wave holes, but nothing too sticky. If we had all been wishing for a finale worthy of scouting but good to go, we couldn't have dreamed anything better.

Darin McQuoid enjoys a fun rapid.

Chris Korbulic approaches the exploding wave...

Ben Stookesberry looking minuscule in the lead in.

Coming in hot and airing through a wave, Ben Stookesberry styles the dream rapid.

With yet another large rapid behind us, we pushed downstream expecting more scouts and possibly a portage or two. As the Indus neared confluence with the Gilgit, gradient tapered off and we were able to stay in our boats, run some big wave trains and soak in what we had just accomplished.

As we paddled through splashy wave trains we were all relieved to have one-hundred kilometers of big water class V behind us. Emerging with no swims and the most complete descent of the Indus behind us, we were in awe of the river's power and might. Certainly nothing had been tamed, and we felt fortunate to have survived the dynamic force of the Indus, and reveled a the splendid glory of its sights. Respect to all those who came first to the Lion River.

Due to political unfriendliness downstream, our police escort advised taking our above the next town, so we took out at an abandoned bridge a kilometer below the confluence.

The group at take-out, with Naga Parbat in the background. From left to right: Ben Stookesberry, Phil Boyer, Chris Korbulic, Roland Stevenson and Darin McQuoid.

Our return tickets left us flying out in a few days, and weighing our options we decided to make the relatively short drive to Kunjareb Pass, the Worlds highest international border.

16,000' (4877m) at the China/Pakistan border and really cold.

In all directions the Himalayan views are epic.

While a recent Time Magazine called Pakistan "The most dangerous place in the world" our experience was the opposite. Like anywhere in the world, Pakistan has dangerous areas. So does the United States and every other country in the world. Traveling with a good guide and using common sense, the most dangerous part of Pakistan is the driving. Get a good driver, it's well worth the money. We used Shani Tours.

Thanks to:

Everyone who supplied gear: Jackson Kayaks, Kokatat, Sawyer Paddles, Snapdragon Design, and Greg Garrison of Integral Designs. All team members paid for this trip out of pocket.

The readers who motivated me to write this terribly long winded summary of our trip.

Special thanks go out to Roland Stevenson, the motivator, organizer and logistical master without whom this trip would never have been possible.

Most of all thanks to our drivers and the wonderful people of Pakistan, who made us feel at home and went our of their way to extend a warm welcome to their incredible country.

Look for this trip in Clear H2O Film’s upcoming release: Hotel Charley IV.


Jesse Kodadek said...

Thanks for taking the time for such a thorough report. I read it, cover to cover. Awesome.

Anonymous said...

Great Blog, great trip and fantastic photos guys.

I did the reconaisance for the 89 trip and keep in touch with those guys - all are still paddling but not perhaps at quite the same level as most have family commitments and have mellowed a bit.

I wimped out of the Indus but led a trip the following year with Whit Deshner where we paddled some easier and more friendly rivers without main highways alongside! Worth a read of Whits - Travel with a Kayak if you havent already.
I agree with your comments and would say that Pakistan was one of our most memorable and fun trips!

Safe travels and fun paddling,

Pete Knowles

yetigonecrazy said...

Wow. Those mountains are unreal. Darin, thanks for the tireless work in doing this, it is truly a great read, and I can't wait to see the footage! Keep it up, your site is becoming one of the best personal kayaking sites around!

Larry said...

I've never Kayak'd a serious rapid in my life, but I've always been captivated watching powerful rivers and rapids. Reading about this trip to the Indus, and viewing the unbelievable photos, was thrilling. Did you shoot any videos? Too bad Pakistan gets such bad press. The Karakoram and Baltoro glacier areas appear to have some of the most fabulous vistas in the world.

Darin said...

The trip was filmed and will be in the next video from ClearH20Films. There should be a teaser up soon too.


orion said...

Darin, great trip report. I cant wait to present some of the pics of your adventure to my class on "Three Cups of Tea". Ill be calling you soon with Q's about the schools.

Thanks for the exciting post!