When I think of Nepal, images of massive mountains, interesting and beautiful culture, epic river trips, endless rapids, long and bumpy bus rides, crowded cities, friendly people, dense jungle, and a whole other swarm of visions, flood my mind.
The Thule Beri Photo Gallery
But the thing I think about most, are the river trips.From start to finish. You see, a river trip in Nepal is no normal river trip. Many trips in Nepal start days, or weeks, before you ever even see the river you are aiming to paddle. There is more to getting on a river in Nepal than just grabbing your paddle and going. It takes a lot of planning and a good team. River trips in Nepal are commonly referred to as “Missions”. They are exactly that, a mission. For the big missions, it takes an infinite amount of effort and perseverance to get from your starting point, to the river, down the river safely, and back to your starting point happily, with the group all as one. This is why I traveled to Nepal this past fall for my second time, to get in on some big missions, and to come away with a feeling of accomplishment that you can only receive from something that you put so much time and effort into. The Main goal in my five week trip: The Thule Bheri.
We Landed in Kathmandu 3 1/2 weeks prior to when we needed to start for the Thule. The Team: 4 friends, both new and old, Me (John Abercrombie), Todd Collins, Luc Strickland, and Tony Nigon. The Vision: paddle as many of the rivers in eastern Nepal as we could. Then, after 3 1/2 weeks, make a game plan, and head to the Thule Bheri. We spent our first two nights acclimating, wide eyed, in Thamel, the tourist district of Kathmandu, where we picked up two more paddlers to add to our growing group of international paddlers. The eccentric Sir Kelly, and Patrick, would now make our team 6 as we headed East into Nepal by river.
Over the course of the next couple of weeks, we checked many rivers off of our list in our quest to “train” for the Thule Bheri. Here is a list of of the ” must do rivers in Nepal” that we got on before it was Thule time: Bhote Kosi, Balephi Kola, Sun Kosi, Tamur, Buri Gandaki, Modi Kola, and the upper Seti Kola.
By the end of the first 3 weeks of non stop paddling, and after a lot of discussion and soul searching, 3 of us out of the original group were ready to head out for the Thule Bheri. Myself, Luc, and Kelly. And so it began.
But first, a little back ground for those of you who have been wondering, “What is so special about this Thule Bheri?” The Opening sentence in the Nepal guide book reads: ” One of the best kayak expeditions in the world- challenging and hugely enjoyable whitewater in one of the most remote and exotic regions of Nepal.” This is an accurate statement. The put in for the Thule has no road access. The only way into the Thule is to charter a plane from far western Nepal to fly you into the high Himalaya. The section of the Thule we were going to paddle, Juphail to Devisthal, was 100 km, this is roughly 60 miles. Of this 60 miles of river, about 40 miles of it contained magnificent, non-stop class 4 to 5 whitewater. Everything in this section, with the exception of one or two rapids, is runnable, and everything is portageable. There is a class 5+/6 gorge in the middle that some choose to run or not run. This many rapids with so little portaging is unheard of for a run of this length. World class!!
So, back to the mission. We spent 2 full days in Pokhara getting gear ready, and organizing a maze of logistics, which would get us from Pokhara to the airport (18 hour drive), and from that airport to the put in. In an effort to make the trip cheaper, and to put together a strong team, more paddlers joined the ranks, our group was now 8. Finally, we were almost ready to get going on the mission of a lifetime! But first, we had to have all the right gear with us. This mission was going to take up to 2 weeks round trip. We were only able to take as much stuff with us as we were willing to carry in our boats. On an expedition like this, you want to have as light of a boat as possible, with out sacrificing any necessary gear that you must have. So things get a little interesting. Soon, I found myself cutting my toothbrush in half, taking outfitting out of my boat that had been deemed useless, throwing out my expensive Thermarest b/c it was too heavy. ( I opted to sleep on 1/4 inch thick sheet of foam that was feather light instead, questionable decision) Also, you find yourself wearing your river clothes for two weeks because there is no room for extra clothes. An extra pair of dry socks and a puffy, and extra river/ camp top layer is it. If things get rainy, you just have to sleep in your dry suit…..
So, after all of this, we were loading 8 kayaks onto a Toyota Hiace for a 18 hr. van ride into the wild west. The mission was in full swing. About 24 hours later……WHAM!!!!! We were BOUNCING like a basketball down a runway in the Himalaya as if Shiva Himself had thrown us from the heavens. In a time of 45 minutes in the air, we were shuttled from the jungles of Molgli, into the Himalayas, where Legends are born. We emerged out of the plane, elated to still be alive after a Nepali plane ride, and stoked/ nervous/ focused beyond description on the mission at hand: get to the river, and paddle. Finally!! I was immediately presented with views of snow-capped mountains, ancient villages, and the river. All slightly familiar from all of the trip reports and pictures I had studied in the months leading up to this expedition.
From above the river looked like a bright blue ribbon of peaceful water draped in-between massive brown mountains, a contrast of beauty. We waited in the small traditional village of Juphail, while our plane returned for our kayaks. While waiting, we partook in a traditional pastime that just about every river trip in Nepal starts with, haggling with the ENTIRE village for porters to carry our boats down to the river. Once we had negotiated a price that everyone was happy with, our boats had arrived and it was time to head to the river via a mile long trail that dropped maybe 1500 feet, strait to the river! Although the river looked peaceful from above, we know what lay just downstream.
After a long hot walk down to the river side, we ate a quick lunch with our porters, who were watching our every move. They were very interested in all the bright strange gear that we had strewn about the river side in preparation for launch. Before we knew it, we were floating. The water was ice cold from the Himalayan glaciers that the river drained. The warm wind that accompanied us on the hike down had turned into an icy headwind on the water. In spite of starting the trip a little cold, we were all in good spirits, and ready for what was to come. After 30 minutes of class 2, we approached the first significant rapids, starting out as easy class 4, and quickly turning into a 1/2 mile long class 5 boulder jumble, just to start things off. There wasn’t much warm up at all, and we were all forced to shake all the nerves out quickly, as this would be the pace of the next 4 days, class 4+ inter-spaced with class 5, all day, for 4 days.
The group was paddling well together, taking turns boat scouting, bank scouting, and leading through blind rapids. On the Thule, you have to be willing to boat scout class 4+, or take your partners word on lines without looking at them yourself. If you scout too much, it would take you far too long, there are just too many rapids!! Luckily for us though, the large majority of the rapids were totally clean, big, and hugely enjoyable!! One person would run a ledge or a section, eddy out, give a thumbs up, or a go left or right, and we would all follow suit. We made our way down the river in this fashion successfully for 3 or 4 hours or so for our first day.
We camped in the middle of the Golden Canyon on day one. Golden Canyon is exactly that, golden!! Massive rock buttresses make their way from river level, to towering heights above you, and the rock walls glow golden in the evening sun. A memory I will not easily let go of. The gorges in Nepal are truly impressive, and give you the incredible perspective of what it truly feels like to paddle a river that cuts through the Himalayas. This river was living up to it’s hype! The next morning we woke to the sounds of donkey trains moving their way up the river on the opposite side.
This river is an ancient trade route into Tibet, just several Km upstream. We put on that morning in a field of wild ganga, and continued for the next four days through countless rapids of the highest quality. We continued to work our system of boat scouting, or one person hopping out to tell the rest of the group where to go. If the rapid was really big, the person who was on shore would give the sign for scout, which was pointing their middle finger and pointer finger at their eyes. We worked this system efficiently and continued to make good time on the river. We would pass villages and everyone who saw us would run down to the river side to wave and yell “bye bye!!!” as we passed. We camped river side every night, exhausted from the best day of kayaking any of us had ever done, looking forward to the next day, which would surely top the previous.
It was such an amazing experience. The river transported us from the high, barren, cold Himalaya, to the warm, lush surroundings of southern Nepal’s jungle. A true river trip, a true mission. On our last night on the river, we celebrated by buying 2 chickens from a river side village. We grilled them on a rock over a fire on an island at the confluence of the Thule Bheri and Bheri rivers. A truly special place, and a very holy one for the people of Nepal. I am so thankful to have been a part of this rare trip, with incredible people. You finish the trip on a flat water paddle out on the Bheri river. A full day of paddling to reflect on what you have just accomplished.
To this day the Thule Bheri is at the top of my list of rivers that I have paddled. If you are a dedicated kayaker, who loves adventures, it should be at the top of your list. You will not be disappointed. But do it quickly!!! Nepal is developing rapidly, and the magic of the Thule may one day be dampened by the unstoppable spread of the modern world.
Nepal is an expedition kayaker’s dreamland. Almost every river can be paddled from its source, and there are endless options!! Tons of overnighters from class 2 to class 5 attract adventurers of all levels, and all water crafts. From Kayaks to Rafts, Nepal holds some of the best and most epic multi-day river trips in the world, all draining from the highest mountains in the world!! How can you resist??!! Go get it!!
Author: John Abercrombie has made missions to Nepal for two different winters, and currently calls the Gorge and the White Salmon Valley home. He works full-time for Wet Planet in the whitewater season guiding rafts and teaching kayaking.