Paddling in Nepal has been on my must-do list for a long time. Massive Himalayan mountains, endless multi-day river trips, big volume whitewater, and a nation rich in a culture very different from ours all make for a dream international paddling destination. So, when John Abercrombie invited me to join a paddling expedition to this Asian country this Fall, the opportunity was too good to pass up. After some deliberations about work and other responsibilities, I committed. I was in, and ready to head off to the other side of the world for another adventure with a kayak. Our small group consisted of three paddlers from Wet Planet (John, myself, and Tony Nigon) as well as Luke Strickland and Kelly Robinson, friends and fellow paddlers from the U.S. Our plan was to fly with kayaks to Nepal at the end of October, after the end of the Wet Planet whitewater season, and spend five weeks paddling as much as we could.
The following is my attempt to share some of our adventure …
There is no real way to capture everything that happens in an trip like this. The rivers are really just an access to an adventure, where the stories and memories created off the river are just as powerful as those created while paddling. I could write for days trying to capture all the crazy things we experienced: buying a live chicken for dinner in a remote town along the Sun Kosi river, running into paddling friends from the U.S. in the middle of nowhere and sharing camp with them, or waking up in the morning to find a Nepalese villager sitting in our camp with a pot of beans he had cooked for us. So, I’ll just try to share a bit of what we were up to while we were in the country, along with a few photos, and hopefully anyone reading this will be encouraged to visit the country themselves one day.
The Fall paddling season in Nepal is perfect for U.S paddlers working in the whitewater industry. Nepal’s monsoon season tapers off in October, changing to the dry season. This leads to perfect water levels and awesome weather in November. For those of us working as river guides and instructors in the U.S., we can finish our seasons and spend a month or two paddling in Nepal before the weather in the Himalayas gets too cold. This perfect paddling season also means that there are lots of paddlers in the country at this time. We knew that we would be meeting up with fellow Wet Planet paddlers Libby Tobey and Tyler Houck, who were both in the country working as guides, as well as a host of other kayakers from the Pacific Northwest. But, wait, I’m getting ahead of myself … first we had to actually get to Nepal.
We knew that we wouldn’t be able to find paddling gear in Nepal easily, so we planned to fly with all of our own equipment. With the plan including lots of multi-day trips, this meant flying, not only kayaks and paddles, but an entire set up of camping and cooking equipment as well. If you’ve never flown with a kayak as luggage, it is definitely entertaining. Or epically challenging if you lose your sense of humor. As more and more kayakers are flying internationally, more and more airlines are refusing to allow kayaks. In order to get your boat checked as luggage, you have two options: disguise it as a surfboard and hope the airline attendant has never seen a surfboard, or find one of the few airlines that specifically allows kayaks (for a fee) as checked luggage. We went with option two. I flew from Portland to Chicago with Alaska airlines, where I met the rest of the team. Then, we all flew from Chicago to Kathmandu, Nepal on Qatar airlines, which included an 18 hour layover in Doha, Qatar. All in all, my travel time was 53 hours, all of this lugging around a kayak, paddle, and gear through various airports and security checks. Did I mention the 18 hour layover in Doha? We left the U.S. on Oct 22nd and arrived in Kathmandu at night on Oct. 24th. Amazingly, the whole journey went as well as it could have. No cancelled flights, lost luggage, or any other problems.
We spent just one day in Kathmandu, working out logistics and re-packing gear. Our plan was to head east, paddling several different rivers that all flow eventually into the giant Septi Kosi (Seven Rivers). Knowing that we would be making some large multi-day river trips, in between our journeys by bus and jeep, we had to make sure that everything that went with us could fit into our kayaks while we were paddling. Having just packed everything as luggage, this was really pretty easy. It meant leaving any “town” clothes in a storage room at the hotel in Kathmandu and packing everything else into our kayaks.
Our second day in the country, we were already on the river. We started off with two days on the Upper Bote Kosi. This introduction to Nepal whitewater was a super continuous boulder garden style maelstrom, still running high from the recent monsoons. I flushed any remains of my jet lag out my sinuses just minutes from the put-in, as I got cartwheeled in a monstrous hole. Downstream of the section we paddled, the Balephi river flows into the Bote Kosi, forming the upper regions of the Sun Kosi. We spent two nights in the small town of Balephi, taking bus rides up the Balephi river and paddling back to town. The Balephi valley is stunningly beautiful, and the bus ride was just as exciting as the section of river we paddled.
After two days paddling on the Balephi, we took a bus as downstream on the Sun Kosi to the town of Dolalghat. From there, we began a 170 mile journey down the Sun Kosi River. This adventure took us almost 1/3 of the way across eastern Nepal, to the point where multiple rivers converge, creating the Septi Kosi. Our Sun Kosi trip took five amazing days on the river. It is probably best described as similar to the style of the Grand Canyon, with Nepal jungle scenery, long stretches of calm water between large big-volume rapids. The Jungle Corridor, a 6 km stretch with 6 huge rapids, had by far the most enjoyable rapids of the trip, with whitewater bigger than anything you would see on the Grand Canyon. As big as they were, they were also completely clean, just giant wave trains run down the middle and good to go. Super fun.
After the Sun Kosi, it was back to Kathmandu, via a grueling 18 hour bus ride. From here, our small group split up. John, Kelly, and Luke began working their way toward the Thule Berry (an epic class V multi-day run in remote western Nepal), while Tony and I headed toward Pokhara and the Kaligandaki river. In Pokhara, we were able to connect with Tyler and Tommy Giordano (they were spending part of their winter in the country working for Paddle Nepal) for a couple of days paddling on the Upper Seti before doing a three day self-support kayak run down the Lower Modi Khola into the Kaligandaki. This is a beautiful, super fun class III-IV run, starting with continuous technical paddling on the Modi and finishing with the bigger volume style of the Kaligandaki.
Back in Pokhara, we finally connected with Libby and Brian O’Neill and headed off for another three day self-support on the Kaligandaki.
At this point, with time running down on our trip, I hung up my paddling gear and took off for a trekking adventure in the Annapurna region. After asking a bunch of people, I finally figured out the difference between hiking (or backpacking) and trekking. With trekking, you are walking from one shelter or lodging facility to another. This is definitey the case in Nepal, where most of the multi-day trails have tea houses or small lodges every couple of hours along the trail, allowing you to have shelter and food for the night. I spent five days hiking to the Annapurna base camp and back. This trek spends several days hiking upstream up the Modi Khola to the Annapurna Sanctuary and the Annapurna base camp itself. Sitting at 13,549 feet, the Annapurna base camp is literally at the base of several of the massive 24,000 foot peaks of the Annapurna range. This hike was easily the most stunningly beautiful hike I have every done. The views were incredible, the tea houses and lodges were great cultural experiences, and the mountains surpassed any expectations.
After my trek, I reunited with John, Luke, and Tony in Pokhara, for a bus ride back to Kathmandu. From there, it was back to the airport and back to the Pacific Northwest. Adventure over.
My Nepal trip was incredible. However, as awesome as it was, I was still excited to get back to the Gorge. I’m always excited to get back to the Gorge after a big trip. We have everything here as well, from the mountains to the rivers. And that’s how I know that I live in the perfect place.