Follow the Adventure

Kayaking – North India

I guess 2009 saw my most daring expedition to date.

I was part of a team of 14 white water kayakers who traveled to the remote Jamu & Kashmir Region of North India to take on the Tsarup Chu & Zanskar Rivers.

This trip was a remote wilderness paddle and we spent 10 days descending some of the most challenging, exposed white water I’ve ever encountered. The combination of the remoteness of the rivers, with the altitude made for a serious undertaking.

The Zanskar river is a classic, big volume, remote paddle. The river freezes over for 9 months of the year, meaning its only paddelable for 3 months. The frozen river acts as a means of accessing the Zanskar Valley by locals, as there are no roads into the valley and the mountains are so steep and rugged that paths and bridges are almost non existent. So for 9 months of the year locals walk up and down the frozen river.

The plan on this expedition was to split the group into 2 smaller groups of 7  and one group would go off and attempted a self supported descent of the Tsarup Chu, where the other would travel over land and then onto the Indus for a short section before both groups met up and paddled the Zanskar as one big group. 

I was part of the Tsarup Chu group and what a river that turned out to be. We got it on a high level, verging on spate conditions, which made everything that little bit more pushy. The Tsarup Chu is a box canyon river of massive proportions. With 7,ooo meter peaks all around us we certainly felt a little pinned in at times and once we committed to the canyon there really was only one way out and that was down river. What adds to the difficulty of this expedition was that it was self supported meaning we carried everything we needed in our kayaks from cooking stoves to sleeping bags to satellite phones.

The river itself is pool drop in nature, meaning that there would be sections of steep, tight rapids followed by sections of flat followed by another set of steep, tight rapids. The width of the river varied from around about 50 meters at its widest down to a section of around 3 meters, where the walls of  the canyon rose from water level to a eye watering height above.

After a days grade 5 bus journey through a moon-like landscape we eventually arrived at the put in to the river, at an altitude of 4,500 meters above sea level. This made for some hard work.

Once we were on the river the boats took on a completely different feeling and the weight was carried by the water as we bobbed around our first corner.

extracts from my diary………….

Day 1. “Put in on the upper Tsarup Chu this morning is beautiful sunshine and clear cold water. Paddled 17 km to camp 1. This place is unbelievable. The mountains rise straight up from the river and are colossal. You can see the folds of lava in the rocks shaped over millions of years. Its so barren with no vegetation and no wildlife, we could be on the moon. The river is going off and my paddling today was rusty to say the least. I’m over reacting to every little wobble, surge and eddy. I really hope this calms down a little. The feeling of exposure is something else.”

Day 3. This is what I’m taking about. I’m sitting in a spectacular campsite elevated about 150 meter up from the river bed. We have a panorama of river and mountains. the south side of the highest mountain range in the world, The Himalayas. Today has been one of the best days paddling days I have ever experienced. It didn’t take long to get into the swing of things and now there seems to be more flow within the group. The river has narrowed considerably, there were numerous tight, tight canyons with walls towering skyward out of sight. We are now reading and running lower end of grade 4, with the occasional scout of rapids. Every 200 meters today the river would take a sudden drop and swing in direction making it an exciting prospect at the front of the group. We take it in turns to lead and there seems to be an eagerness for the whole thing to step up a mark. The altitude is still making lifting and carrying a effort and the heart rate races when we exert energy, even on the river. This is amazing…..”

Day 4: Another great day with a massive portage. Came close to getting stuck in a big, big hole today. Managed to survive. Pretty tired……….