Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Thuli Bheri

The Thuli Bheri is often talked about as the best grade 4 multiday in the world and so I eagerly agreed to join Dom, Jamie, Jake, Steph, Mark and Bob to see if it lived up to such a prestigious title. After arriving in Nepal and exploring Thamel, Mark and I headed for the Bhote Kosi for a warm up. A little swim half way down the river did not provide the ideal warm up I was hoping for but with no time for anything else I found myself travelling back to Kathmandu to meet the rest of the team. We took over the Buhhda Garden hotel restaurant to prepare and once our flight was confirmed I rather nervously boarded the bus to Nepalganj and then our private plane to Juphail.

Unloading kayaks in Juphail. Photo: Steph Higgins
The flight was breathtaking and gave us our first slight of the river while highlighting just how remote we were. Landing in Juphail we were greeted by our porters and told surprisingly there were no need for permits to get to Tarakot. We decided to walk a day up the river to make the most of being in such an amazing part of the world. This turned out to be a mistake. After a long day walking we found no rapids of interest and the only thing accomplished was some blistered feet and a confirmation the river was low, which at least for me was a relief. We set up camp and prepared for the next day when we would start our descent.

Walking towards Tarakot following the porters. Photo: Steph Higgins
After a short relaxed paddle back down to Juphail, the pace quickly picked up and from then on the river relentlessly loss gradient with pretty much everything runnable but nothing below grade 4. The days past in a blur along with the rapids as there was no way of telling where one ended and the next began. 

One of the many rapids leading to the Golden Canyon. Photo: Jamie Greenhalgh
I hadn't paddled much in the build up to the trip, so getting back in a boat, let alone one that was loaded with kit, made the first couple of days very daunting. I was happy to just survive down the rapids through the golden canyon and down to Tribeni. As the river grew in volume, I grew in confidence, but every horizon line was met with nervousness which was mentally exhausting and I was more than relieved to reach the bank safely at the end of each day.

Camping in the Golden Canyon. Photo: Jamie Greenhalgh
Camping at Awulgurta. Photo: Steph Higgins
Each night we camped on the river banks with spectacular views of the Himalayas and slept under stars. Surrounded by mountains and listening to the river we cooked rice, lentils and jerky on an open fire, which after a hard days kayaking was surprisingly tasty. Along with noodles and dal bhat from the local villages kept me well fed as we travelled downstream. Walking through the villages also allowed me to experience a more relaxed side of Nepal, even though there were hundreds of children watching everything we did, including bathroom breaks.

Jamie enjoying a rapid. Photo: Steph Higgins

Setting safety. Photo: Jamie Greenhalgh
Slowly I got into the swing of things just in time for what was described as the hardest section of the trip. After portaging around Awulgurta, I followed Jamie and Dom, boofing, punching and charging my way down what seemed like a never ending rapid for the next 20km. It was with great relief when the river eventually eased and a little way along we finally paddled into Ramnaghat and got the local bus back to Nepalganj and then onto Kathmandu, something which I think I am still recovering from.

Steph boofing. Photo: Jamie Greenhalgh
The Thuli Bheri lived up to its reputation as an amazing multiday in an even more amazing location. As for being the best of its grade in the world, I will have to do some more before I can make that conclusion.


Thanks for Bob Ashcroft for organising the trip and Jamie and Steph for the photos

Monday, 18 January 2016

The Kopili - A Dream of a River - Meghalaya Part 2

To me the Kopili really seemed to be the river of dreams. It has a perfect combination of whitewater that is big, challenging and serious with great moves coupled with large pools between most of the rapids, minimal easy portages and plenty of good places to scout. The water is warm and crystal clear and, although fairly remote, walking out is almost always an option. The scenery is great, if not quite a stunning as the Kynshi, and the white water rarely drops below grade 4. 

Kadox - Photo: Rowan James

Mike Bell - Photo: Rowan James
My first run of the Kopili came a few days after Will and I took of the Khri. As we had been warned, Shillong, the town we used as a base, eats days. However the days we lost were some of the most enjoyable I had. In the spirit of a trip that was vibrant and varied as well as random, I spent most of the day letting Joe sort out our logistics whilst chilling out at the Laloo household and enjoying the company of the many interesting people who visited. The logistics were challenging to say the least. Our ambitious plan was to go to the NH7 Weekender Festival to see the Wailers play (I did warn you it was random) and then to immediately drive the 8 hours overnight to the Kopili put in. 
Beth Hulme on the Double Drop - Photo: Rowan James
Kadox on Pink Slippers
Will Chick taking off!
So by the time 5pm came around I piled into a jeep with none of the people I was going to the Kopili with, none of my gear and no phone. What I did have was rum, great company in the form of Joe, Beth, Gus and Banjop. Just in case it all went wrong I had a note with the phone numbers of anyone Joe thought might help me get back to the right place on one side and instructions on where to return me to on the other, just in case! What followed was one of the best nights I have ever had and one of the worst mornings. Although Rowan certainly felt worse. 

Kadox deep in Pink Slippers
Some how the plan worked and we arrived at the put in just after sunrise. Having driven through the night the drivers seemed a bit miffed when we promptly fell asleep for several hours before finally rousing Rowan and gently cajoling him on to the river.

After a short flat section we dropped into the first rapid, wake up call. Somehow the river starts with a real big volume feel and we spent most of the first day scouting and running big wave trains and boofing big holes. There were a good few surfs being had for sure! Sometime in the mid afternoon our hangovers got the better of us and we decided to call it a day. Initially I couldn't understand why Kadox was so insistent that we sleep on a sandy beech however it soon became apparent that in true No Pasa Nada style he had brought a hammock and not a roll mat so the prospect of sleeping on rocks was not an appealing one.  

Rowan James
Day 2 saw the style of the river change almost constantly. As the river channelized we experienced huge boulder gardens, bedrock drops, creek lines and as if conscious of the few styles it had thus far missed out the final two rapids are a perfect 20ft waterfall and a big slide. There is even a big crowd to amaze at the water fall! 
Kadox gives the Kopili the thumbs up!
A busy day at the waterfall - Photo: Rowan James
After the Kopili we headed back to town to regroup for a mass decent of the Kynshi. However I loved the Kopili so much I had to come back and I ended my trip with four consecutive day laps. The fastest time we clocked was four and a half hours. Not bad for 27km of quality river.


Thanks to Rowan James for his photos!

P.S. Here is the video from the All India Kayak expedition which includes the first decent: 

Thursday, 26 November 2015

The Incedible Khri - Meghalaya Part 1

It's Tuesday of week two. I am sat on the beach at the put in for the Kynshi. It is as beautiful as any beach I have been to. White sand only tarnished with specks of coal, a clue as to the major driver of the local economy. The turquoise water of the Wha Blei, the Kynishi's major tributary meanders past. Above the river seems to be endless jungle. Our 14 person group drove here the night before. The roads from Shillong were pretty questionable but the sumo's (jeeps) did a great job. With stops for food, shopping and tea (Sha dut) it took us about 12 hours.

Paddler: Jake Holland, Photo: Rowan James
Looking back; the last week has been phenomenal. After a 20 hour lay over in New Delhi, spent sleeping on the floor of the ticket office, Will Chick and I arrived in Shillong around lunch time on Tuesday. Two full days traveling left me feeling a bit drained but we were not going to miss an opportunity for an adventure. So when Zorba told us a group was coming through town, having driven to a dry river, we jumped at the chance to join them.

My bed for 14 of the 20 hours in Delhi
Views of Everest from the plane.

Getting loaded up just a few hours after arriving in the middle of Shillong. Photo: Rowan James
After buying some supplies Will and I joined, Beth, Riley, Jake, Rowan, Kenyan Mike & Canadian Mike. Beth and Jake sorted all the logistics for what was set to be the second descent of the Khri Bah (pronounced Cree Bar). The team on the first descent had had a bit of a hard time in the upper canyon so Beth & Jake managed to find a lower put on for us using google maps! Logistics are super easy when someone else is sorting them.

Paddler: Mike Bell, Photo: Rowan James
Setting up camp at the put on Kenyan Mike ran into a Water Buffalo and promptly ran away, saying "I know what African Buffalo are like". After reassuring him that they are basically cows with a different name we settled down, excited with the prospect of my first Indian river the next day.

Paddler: Jake Holland
The first day on the Khri was great! Proper jungle boating. Loads of great read and run, plus a few good drops thrown in for good measure. Some great moves in their for sure. We had lunch on an Island in the middle of the river. To the left was a 100 ft slide that looked run-able, but ended in two huge holes, to the right was a 25ft waterfall with a tight line. No one fancied the risk the slide offered. Riley showed the group the way down the waterfall with a sweet line boofing off the reconnect. After taking photos, portaging a big hole, setting safety and running the next rapid we were all pretty tired and ended up camping at an awesome camp spot within sight of our lunch site!

Paddler: Riley Best, Photo: Rowan James
The camp spot was truly awesome. After a bit of a portage to get there we were greeted with a natural Jacuzzi. After two sips of rum I felt drunk and the simple dinner of rice and lentils tasted great!

The first rapid of day 2. Paddler: Jake Holland
On the second day I was beginning to feel good in my boat. The day started with a great rapid right out of the camp site and more fun rapids followed. The river gradually mellowed off but still had a few fun class 3 rapids almost all the way to the end. We took out in a super cool village in Assam (north of Meghalaya). Magically the Sumo's turned up a few minuets after us. The road back to Shillong was not great and we had to get out and walk a few times but we stopped for some top notch curry on the way back!

Rowan James on the last big rapid of the Khri.
Back in Shillong we made plans to see the Wailers before heading to the Kopili. What a way to start the trip!

Massive thanks to Zorba and the Laloo family for all their help! Thanks to Rowan for the photos.


Tuesday, 13 October 2015

A lovely time with the big bad bears and monsterous moose.

“And whatever you do, don’t venture up the Upper Bowron River” the lady ranger said, concluding her pre-trip talk.  “You really don’t want to go there; there are a LOT of grizzlies up there.”

I gazed around at the five other people in the room.  Some looked non-plussed – meh, bears, whatever - others excited for the upcoming circuit (Ben). I gulped. So we have to remember that camp 31 is always under water, and to be careful not to overturn in the eddying currents on the Caribou, and to check we’re alright to run that rapid called The Chute. Oh, and moose will come through our camp but apparently that’s fine, and on the portages remember there may be bears.  Don’t forget the bears…

I suppose the lead up to my first Canadian wilderness experience was going to be wrapped in typical Haylett worry. We were about to embark on the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit, a one hundred and sixteen kilometre, week-long trip, paddling almost a perfect parallelogram of lakes and rivers to end up back at the welcoming shores of Bowron Lake itself.

It was time to embark.  “Don’t get too put off by the first day”, Ben said as he lugged his rucksack onto his back.  “Today will be the day with the most portages.”  A young couple had already begun trundling their canoe down the path into the woods, sunlight streaming through the leaves.  Good, I thought.  They can scare the bears away.
We’d started off in the afternoon, so it was a short day’s portaging and paddling.  Our first lake was Kibee Lake, deep green and surrounded by bright yellow marshes in the summer light. After another pot-holey, leg-bruising portage we reached Indianpoint Lake, where the mountains surrounded us in green grandeur and the lake glowed blue.  Fish followed along our canoe – too many to count – as we paddled alongside the northern shore, little campsites sheltering in the trees with little orange signs to show canoeists they’re there.  Another portage, and we were on brilliantly blue Issac Lake, with a campsite all to ourselves and enough sunshine left for that swim I’d been longing for all day.  Bikini weather until well into the evening – yes, this was the summer we’d missed in Scotland.  We were tucked up in our tent just before it got dark, both wanting to prevent our imaginations running away from us into those mysterious black woods.

Out of five nights camping, we had four campsites to ourselves.  Evenings involved simple cooking, the melting of chocolate over campfires to make smores, reading, and a lot of sheltering from the wind.  The first few days of paddling were pure Canadian summer, with our pale British skin on show for miles, desperate to soak up vitamin D.  Then the season changed.  One day it was summer, the next autumn had set in, with grey skies, pockets of passing rain and that wind.  That wind was great when it was helping you along; not so much when you were battling against it.

It was on the morning of our second day we saw a bear.  That elusive creature, so tied up in my fearful imagination, had swum across the lake ahead of us and was busy making his way along the shore.  We stopped and stared at one another, interested, and I was in awe of this beautiful black furred creature.  So innocent, so wild.  Why was I so afraid?

Isaac Lake was the longest lake on the circuit, and waiting for us at the end was the famous “Chute” – the only rapid on the circuit as the lake flows into the Isaac River. It was one of the areas where people bunched up – after a day of paddling and hardly seeing a soul, suddenly everyone was there, enquiring: “will you paddle it?  Or will you camp here and wait ‘til tomorrow?  Awesome, we’ll be there to watch and take photos!”  Wonderful.  An audience.  I looked at Ben, the canoe master, chief manoeuverer.  “Er... What do I do?”  He gave me a typical Ben stare, always used when I’m worrying about something stupid.  “Just do a cross-bow rudder when I tell you to.  Don’t worry, it’s not even really a rapid!” And he was right.  Easy peasy, another thing that had been preying on my mind had been crossed off the list.

The next few days passed in various shades of colour: the murky brown of the Caribou River, the misty grey of the surrounding mountains, and the moody teal of Lake Lenazi.  The rain seemed to follow us, finally abating for a sunny afternoon on Sandy Lake, and a chance to dry out.  The wind, of course, remained, and made for a noisy night in the tent.  As we lay there listening to the rattling, I thought I’d rather this than hear squirrels in the bushes and think it was a hungry bear.

On what was to be our final day paddling, we set off early and saw two moose ahead grazing on a grassy island.  It was a mother and her calf, and as we passed by mummy moose looked up and thought where we were seemed like a good place to be, so she led her calf across the lake, and we made sure to move out the way.  Moose are huge, and she was not to be reckoned with.  As we paddled into the Bowron River, we hoped to see beaver, but they hid from us.  We had to accept we couldn’t be everywhere in the early morning.

As the Bowron River meandered its way towards Bowron Lake, we passed another couple headed in the opposite direction.  “Hey!” he said in a loud Canadian voice.  “Looks like a storm’s a-comin!”  We smiled awkwardly and looked behind us.  Yikes, where did those clouds come from?  They loomed threateningly behind us, and thunder began to rumble.  We thought of the bonnie log cabin we’d left an hour or so previously, where that couple were no doubt headed, and grinded our teeth.  Rain started to ripple the river.  We looked at each other and shrugged.  We’d already made our decision to finish.  Time to put some real effort in and beat the storm.  We paddled hard, and I had to laugh.  The grand finale of the trip – avoiding being struck by lightning.  We left the river behind and began our paddle north up Bowron Lake.  The wind picked up.  I glanced behind me at the sail Ben had created, using two large sticks of wood and a Scottish saltire tarp.  We nodded at each other and I picked it up.  The wind pushed us faster up the Lake.  “Am I going to get struck by lightning?!” I asked, wondering if this was a stupid idea.  “No,” Ben said.  “The storm is moving west – we’re going to beat it!”  And so we sailed to Becker’s Landing, where we landed and were applauded by four ladies who had finished not long earlier.  “That was impressive!” one lady remarked.  “Yeah, we beat the storm!” I exclaimed, slightly overwhelmed at the thought that our canoe adventure was over.  We gazed back down Bowron Lake, it’s mountains enclosed in angry storm clouds. 

As we unpacked the canoe and cleaned it out, the lady ranger who set us off appeared to empty the bins.  “Hey, I’m sure glad you’re back already,” she said.  “There’s snow forecast for tomorrow!” 

Rachael x

More Photos.

Friday, 12 September 2014

The Grand Canyon of the Stikine

Paul Bayliss showing the Stikine some love...
After pretty much working the whole of August to save money the time finally came to finish up work and head north to paddle the Stikine. On the way Ash and I stopped off at the Thompson for a little bit of a class 3 big water warm up. As I hadn't been in a boat much for the most of the last month I really wanted a chance to warm up. That night we met the british lads that had come out to join us, Barney, James, Rob, Paul and Tom and Corey and Adrian came up from Whistler too. After two more days of driving and a day to do the shuttle we were putting on, all 11 of us. Leif and Natalie also joined....  
Photo - Leif and Natalie
Pass Fail. Photo - Leif and Natalie

Day 1 consists of Entrance falls, Wicked Wanda, Three Goats, Pass Fail and Wassons. Due to the huge group we split in to two for part of the day. When we put on in the morning the level was 265 but the rain overnight was clearly going to bring the river up. The first day was big, fun and scary. Paddling a heavily leaden boat had its advantages and disadvantages, maneuvering was harder and slower but one you are going you don't stop for much as I found out when I had a seriously questionable moment going through rather than around Wassons hole...

AFP - Photo: Barney Prees
At Site Zed camp that night the rain only picked up, and a mouse ate through one of my drybags. Day two started in the rain finishing the portage around Site Zed. The run out of Site Zed is great, a big wave train with some big holes to boot.  This is followed by a bunch of no name rapid which are great before AFP (Always a Fucking Problem), the Hole that ate the

Wassons. Photo - Leif and Natalie
Photo - Leif and Natalie
 Hole, Wall I and Garden of the Gods I. I had a bit of a problem with a pourover in AFP and the whole group portaged the Hole that at the Hole. Garden of the Gods I is great and a bit different to the other rapids as the river opens up a bit.

Scouting the Wall I - Photo: Barney Prees
Photo - Leif and Natalie

Adrian coming through Garden of the Gods I

Wolf Camp - Photo: Barney Prees

The camp that night is great! Wolf camp is under a cliff so nice and dry!

Day three has some of the best white water and waking up in Wolf camp is a great way to start the day. The temperature had however dropped quite a bit and the pogies got some use! After Garden of the Gods II the canyon encroaches and the rapids come thick and fast, the Wall II and Scissors are followed by The Hole that ate Chicago which we all portaged before you arrive at V-Drive.

Ash on Wall II
Adrian on Wall II
V-drive is a huge wave train hole mess..... hard to describe but its big and fun and scary all in one. We watched theother group get some fantastic lines such as Barneys air to plug and Rob getting totally eaten only to reappear 10 meters down stream getting bashed against the wall.
Barney on V-drive
Tom - V-drive
Rob before he got eaten...

After some rowdy read and run the whole river goes through Tanzilla slot and then has its last big rapid in Powerhouse. 

James on Tanzilla Slot - Photo: Barney Prees
After the slot - Photo: Barney Prees
Powerhouse - Photo: Barney Prees
Natalie on Powerhouse
Cold beers and big grins all around at the take out. The Stikine is a really fun, big water wilderness trip. Its a classic for a reason.

Driving back to get burgers - Photo: Barney Prees