Posts Tagged ‘Kayak trip’

A First Descent In Bhutan- The Sonam Section Of The Kuri Chu

We’re planning a repeat of this section and all the classics across Bhutan Nov 6- 27th, 2016. We hope you’ll consider joining us.

 

Cup o Joe, Ben scouts his first rapid of the day, day two.

Cup o’ Joe, Ben scouts his first rapid of the day, day two.

It was 3:00 PM, late November in eastern Bhutan. Day 1 of the first descent of the Kuri Chu. This was the hour we told ourselves we would start looking for camp. These deadlines are often better in theory than practice as we found ourselves in a section of canyon with near-vertical walls. Below us was a horizon line spewing mist. It wouldn’t be long before the low-angled sun would slip behind the ridge. It was beginning to look like we might be late for dinner.

Just beyond the horizon line we could make out a spot where the entire river, all 4500 cfs of it, flowed through a gap not much more than 15 feet wide. This narrowing we expected from our Google Earth review of the river prior to the trip. We weren’t worried about it because we knew that it sat in a pool. It was this rapid that sat between us and that pool that was a surprise to me.

We were a team of six made up of one Canadian, one Bhutanese and four from the U.S.. Thinley Thoben, Ben Morton and I were guiding Sarah Cunningham, David Lech and David Focardi. This was Sarah and Thinley’s first multi-day and the 1st time some in the group had done a first descent. I had become aware of the river in 2010 when I floated past its confluence while doing a multi-day river trip on the Drangme Chu, a drainage to the east. Curious to learn more about the Kuri, I had asked our Bhutanese outfitter, Ugyen “Yougs” Dorje what he knew. He gave me three important pieces of information: it hadn’t been done, he could get the permit and I was welcome to put together the first trip.

Our team L to R; Thinley Thobden, Ben Morton, Phil DeRiemer, David Lech, Sarah Cunningham, David Focardi.

Our team L to R; Thinley Thobden, Ben Morton, Phil DeRiemer, David Lech, Sarah Cunningham, David Focardi.

Ben got the group organized in eating a late lunch while Thinley and I floated downstream to have a closer look at this rapid. Without verbally communicating, I knew Thinley was also concerned about what it held, how we might get around it and how long it would take. He popped out of his kayak onto the rocks to have a look just ahead of me. I kept an eye on him as I pulled my boat out of the water, watching his body English carefully to see what it might tell me of the rapid. After a short time he turned to me and flashed a big smile while giving the “thumbs up” with one hand and tapping his head in the universal “O.K”. sign with the other. There was a way around this.

This wide rapid was broken by a ledge system, which in turn was sprinkled with numerous rocks, and holes. We were committed to running the left side. After a technical top section, the flow formed an intimidating pillow as it slammed into the left wall and exited in a 90-degree turn.

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“Sonam” rapid

The word sonam means good luck, the kind of “luck” that comes from good living. And right now sonam was with us! We could portage the difficult top part and put into an eddy exactly where we needed one just upstream of the pillow. This eddy would allow us one by one to get into our boat and execute a ferry in front of the cushion. This intimidating yet doable move led into the pool above the narrow gap. Failure to drive far enough out into the current would result in getting pushed back leftby the force field effect of the pillow. If that happened and the paddler was still upright, they’d have to scramble back into the eddy and get themselves psyched up to try again.

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David Lech takes it all in at the critical eddy toward the end of day one.

We fire-lined the kayaks over the rocks and into position. Ben lead off with a perfect demo, always good for moral to see that first run go so well. We took our turns with no two runs the same. David F. had the most exciting run. He experience the “what if” line when he immediately flipped upon entering the current, rolled, flipped again then disappeared our of view from those of us waiting below. It was a tense moment. David ended up out of his boat, all the pieces together in a pocket eddy against the left cliff wall still above the pillow. Thinley, who was running sweep, was able to scramble from above to extract him from the eddy and hike his boat back into position. Dave now had to try the move again- not easy after such an experience. The second run came up with the goods. He stayed upright long enough to hit the right side of the pillow. Our cheering echoed off the canyon walls.

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David F. makes a critical cushion move on the Kuri Chu.

Now as we floated through the narrows and into the next rapid, our focus was to find a camp. Once again sonam was with us when I followed my instincts and veered off to find a hidden pool at the top of a rapid. There, at the far end nestled amongst the rocks surrounded by the steep canyon walls, was a sandy beach. Home for the night! With dusk upon us we scrambled for driftwood and filtered water, settling into the routine of making dinner and setting camp as we relaxed into the beauty and magic of this most remote place.

Sarah C., cocoa never tasted so good. End of day one on the Kuri Chu.

Sarah C., cocoa never tasted so good. End of day one on the Kuri Chu.

Clear night in the Kuri Chu canyon.

Clear night in the Kuri Chu canyon.

Packing boats on the morning of day two.

Packing boats on the morning of day two.

The 3-day descent included a day and a half of paddling 20 miles of the Kuri Chu and a another 30 after joining with the larger and easier Drangme Chu. We reached the confluence at 4:00 p.m. the next day after a full day of challenging and rewarding rapids. It was in this place 5 years earlier, during a descent of the Drangme Chu with Thinley that he and I first peered curiously up the Kuri and wondered about it’s rapids. Now, five years later, we could see some significant changes had taken place as roads were being built on the steep sides of both rivers where there had once been only forest. A dust storm blew up the Drangme as workers cleared a freshly blasted area. The threat of rock fall kept us moving, robbing us of a chance to absorb the energy of the bleanding of these two rivers. The hard rapids were behind us and the group was keen to put in another hour so as to nibble away at some of the last day’s mileage, so we pushed on and made camp in the dark.

Dust from road construction on the Drangme Chu blows up river at the confluence with the Kuri Chu.

Dust from road construction on the Drangme Chu blows up river at the confluence with the Kuri Chu.

 

As we broke camp our last day the view downstream was already very different than the previous camp. The air was warmer and the banks were lined with thick tropical vegetation. This is tiger country. The topography was easing back and we could sense the river canyon giving way to the flats of India. During our final day, our driver Shatu and our cultural guide Kinga were finishing up an adventure of their own. Bhutan’s rugged terrain meant they had to drive for 2 ½ days to meet us at Manas National Park, our take-out on the Indian side of the border. As we approached the take we could see their silhouettes enthusiastically waving from the shore and feel the warmth of their smiles.

 

 

Paddling the Drangme Chu en route to the border with India. It was starting to fel pretty tropical.

Paddling the Drangme Chu en route to the border with India. It was starting to fel pretty tropical.

End of the line. De- rig on the Indian side of the border.

End of the line. Derig on the Indian side of the border.

Our trip had begun in Paro far to the west, on the other side of the country. Had we driven it in one push, it would have been three long days of continuous driving over winding, mountainous roads, and crossing numerous passes. Fortunately the Drangme Chu and Kuri Chu are only two of many incredible rivers Bhutan has to offer. With the Himalayan range and Tibetan Plateau as their source, the rivers flow north to south before spilling out into India. During our 16 days in country we took part in celebrating the fourth King’s birthday with the country and enjoyed a festival where few tourists ever go, we hit up eight awesome Class IV and IV+ runs as we worked our way east to this successful  and rewarding run of the Kuri Chu.

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The Kuri may be the finest multi-day run I’ve done in Bhutan. The quality of this river exceeded my expectations; numerous rapids at the class IV+ level, minimal portaging, stunning scenery, multiple days of living out of our kayaks and finishing in another country! I am already planning my return.

Consider this an invitation.

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Photos and content ©DeRiemer Adventure Kayaking all rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

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2015 Bhutan Schedule Is Up On Our Website

 

Our fall 2015 Bhutan schedule of trips and itineraries are up on our website. We’ve got some really great opportunities to experience paddling and the culture in this wonderful corner of the world. We hope you can join us. Click here to learn more:

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Summer Newsletter Is Available On Our Website

We hope you have some great fun planned for this summer. Our current Newsletter is available for download here.

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Return To The Rogue

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A  tanker helicopter works it’s way up the Howard Creek drainage along the Rogue River.

The Big Windy fire that kept us away from the Rogue River for our first two trips had, as much as a fire can, settled into a more predictable pattern.  It wasn’t crowning from tree top to tree top and it hadn’t jumped the river. Officials were calling it a “healthy fire” since it’s behavior was to creep along at ground level confined to just the understory, despite having burned thousands of acres.

The BLM reopened the river corridor allowing trips to resume.  There were still restrictions in place from Howard Creek down to Missouri Creek with regards to where you could stop during the day as well as camp each night. The normal shuttle route over Bear Camp Road was closed meaning trips would have to return via the coastal route. We were pretty excited about the prospects of getting at least one trip in on the Rogue this season.  Thanks to Jim Ritter at RRJ we had been keeping our guests on each trip up to date on the fire’s status. This third group was happy to hear about the reopening and they understood there would be smoke for part of the trip- how much and where was up to the wind.

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First camp at Wildcat

In addition to the great white water and instructional opportunities the Rogue presents, we were all pretty curious about seeing the effects of the fire. From our first night’s camp at Wildcat we could see the smoke and occasional flames from the Howard Creek area a mile downstream.  Thankfully we had downstream wind and air at camp was clean with blue sky above.

Howard Creek, we were told, was where fire crews were putting in a fire line to form the eastern boundary of the fire. Just before we arrived in camp, in the flats above Tyee rapid, a large tanker helicopter dropped down to within feet of the water’s surface and began slurping up water.  It flew off in the direction of the Howard Creek drainage and returned to begin the process all over again.

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Day two started out smokey.

Day 2 dawned an eerie, heavy day. The clouds built as we packed up, obscuring the sun and holding the smoke in while the rain began to fall. We made our way past the most active part of the fire visible from the river.  It was the most bizarre scene, the trees were green and healthy while underneath, smoldering moss and grass occasionally gave rise to a small flareup. Rarely on the hillside we saw the glow from a burning tree trunk -surrounded by green trees!  We could see scorched areas where the fire had come down almost to the water’s edge.  It looked as if fingers of the fire had extended down the hill.  The worst area was around Horseshoe bend where a stretch of shoreline from Jenny Creek down to the point at Horseshoe had been scorched.  We learned later that was the result of a back burn that firemen set to prevent the fire from jumping the river.

As the cool, steady rain fell, all I could think about were the positive affects as it washed the smoke from the sky.  By the time we made it to camp at Mule Creek the air was clean and altho we set up tents, the skies cleared and the stars were bright.

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Nine year old Johnny kayaks near camp at Mule Creek.

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Super guide Katherine Luscher surveying her domain

Day 3 dawned clear and the Rogue was looking like it’s old self again.  We paddled Mule Creek Canyon and Blossom Bar under sunny skies, watched Johnny skip stones and talked him into his first session of bottom walking (picture big rock, calm pool, start walking, hold breath- oh and heavy parental supervision and approval) all before lunch.

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Clifford S. exiting Mule Creek Canyon under mostly blue skies.

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Nature’s cooler.

On the last night, after the evening’s festivities and dinner, people wandered off to bed, tired from another good day. Three of us remained, standing at the edge of camp looking up at the night’s sky.  Mostly we were silent, enjoying the beauty of the moment.

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The group from our August 21st Rogue trip

Adventure is defined as “outcome unknown”.  Thanks to all that joined us on this and the trip on the Deschutes this year.  We are grateful for your adventurous spirit and for placing your trust in us and the fantastic crew we work with from Rogue River Journeys.  Together we all made some great memories.

Photos and content ©DeRiemer Adventure Kayaking all rights reserved.

Hot Lemonade And The Rogue Less Traveled

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Deschutes River, Oregon

When fires ignited by lightning began to burn in the Rogue River corridor on July 26th we held our breaths to see what would happen next and how that might affect our August trips.  The Rogue is a beautifully forested river that hasn’t seen a major fire in many years.  It had been spared from being involved in the 500,000 acre Biscuit Fire complex back in 2002 when that fire stopped just shy of the southern boundary of the river’s view shed along Bear Camp Road. This time the fire had started within the corridor and the potential for a big burn seemed high.

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I wish it were this simple. Fires were a big factor on many rivers in the west this year.

On July 31st the BLM closed the Wild and Scenic portion of the river from the put in at Grave Creek to Marial, just above Mule Creek Canyon.  In some cases the fire had burned very close to the river and, remarkably, it had been solely limited to the south (river left) side. We had to cancel our August 7th trip.

We then turned our attention to our August 14 and 21st dates. Brainstorming with our outfitter, Jim Ritter of Rogue River Journeys, we decided to move the next trip to the Deschutes in Northeastern Oregon, just north of Bend. The Deschutes fit a number of criteria in terms of length of run, difficulty and a location that wasn’t ridiculously far from people’s original travel plans.  Most of all, it wasn’t on fire.

Making the switch wasn’t without its challenges and rewarding moments.  I love the boating community and the way the outfitters support each other, kinda like living in a small town where everyone is willing to pitch in and help. We activated the boating network and reconnected with friends we hadn’t talked with in a long time. Fellow kayak instructors, raft company owners and private boaters all helped us gather info about the run before we ever paddled it.

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Mary and our vehicle’s solar powered BPS (Buddhist Positioning System) otherwise know as a prayer wheel.

Since this would be our first time down the Deschutes and wanting to provide the best trip possible, Mary and I headed to the north with enough time to get in a quick two-day paddle of the 52 mile stretch from Warm Springs to Sandy Beach before our August 14th launch. The experience was greatly aided with the help of Brian Sykes and his guides at Ouzel Rafting who let us paddle along on an overnight trip and pick the brains of the guides about camps and the like.

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Bucksin Mary putting the hammer down on a 32 mile scouting day.

RRJ guides Katherine, Saylor, Ross and Esa showed up late the night before the launch, weary from the travel but excited about a new adventure and all of us being together again on the water.  The next morning we rigged and talk more with Tim, an Ouzel guide with great knowledge who guided with our trip. Jim Ritter, RRJ manager extraordinaire and our kayak guests arrived in time for lunch after a scenic drive from Medford along the upper reaches of the Rogue. Then we hit the water.

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First night’s camp.

What I  saw during the trip was the coming together of a great group of folks; guides who were motivated to run the best trip possible and guests who wanted to spend multiple days on the river while having a good time, learning new skills and improving existing ones.  The Deschutes did not disappoint.  The last day of our run was a nice climax to the trip, full of great rapids.

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Classroom with a view. Mary leads a “chalk talk” about strategies before leaving camp day 2.

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Super guides that know how to keep it fun while providing a great trip.

The most common comment we got from folks as we said good bye? “See you on the Rogue next year”.

Photos and content ©DeRiemer Adventure Kayaking all rights reserved.

Middle Fork Salmon July 3 – 8, 2013

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A glance over the bank at Boundary Creek put in revealed some color in the water after a night’s heavy rain.

A gully washer upstream of the Middle Fork’s put in of Boundary Creek the night before our launch didn’t bring the river up, but it did wash a lot of ash from an old forest fire into the river.  The unusual silt in the river made it a challenge to read the water where shallow rocks lurked invisibly just under the surface.

With the challenges of those first 12 miles behind us, we settled into camp at Sheepeater Hot Springs. With a walk of about 300 yards from the kitchen, you can bet there was a hole lot of soaking going on! Nothing better than waking up in the hot springs with a cup of hot coffee in hand!

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Evening color at Sheepeater camp at the end of the day.

Day two was the fourth of July and we were bound for Marble Camp. The river was still turbid but more channelized so it was easier to navigate. This stretch provides a good warm up leading down to Pistol Creek, the key rapid of the day.  From there the rapids ease and it is a nice paddle to camp.

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Sweep boat driver and game master Zack B. ready for the fourth of July.

Marble is home to one of the finest surf waves on the river. It’s nice to camp there because if you don’t have the energy to surf at the end of the day, there is always the next morning.  We don’t always luck out and get Marble camp, but when we do, we make the most of it.

The wave at Marble is, for many, their first high speed surf.  Once established on the wave you feel as if the water is racing by at 60 mph.  The challenge is getting on the wave. While there is a great eddy on river left  to stage from, it is unforgiving if you are unable to scramble back into the eddy before you get washed downstream.  Once below the wave it’s either a tricky ferry from the opposite side of the river, a carry back up above the wave or, if the level is right, a human rope tow whereby someone stands in the water and pulls people past a surge of water that guards the eddy. The water level was right and with one of us positioned on a submerged rock in the eddy itself, we were able to push people onto the wave if they needed an assist. Between a session in the evening and another long one the next morning, everyone was giving it a go, including a 72 year old Henry. What a surf!!

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Normally guiding one of the rafts, Anika borrowed some gear and showed us how it was done.

Rather than give a blow-by-blow account of the trip, I’ll let these photos tell the rest of the story.  Lets just say this group was into having a good time, from playing and learning on the river to hoola-hooping in camp, we all had a lot of fun.  Special thanks to the crew at ECHO who provided great support; Anika, Zack, Tessa, Colleen and Dewi plus Chris Lewis, our third kayak guide. Great fun everyone!

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One big happy group on the Middle Fork.

Photos and content ©DeRiemer Adventure Kayaking all rights reserved.

Middle Fork Salmon, June 25, 2013

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Tristin ripping it up on the wave at Marble during an early morning surf.

There were lot’s of familiar faces for our first trip of the season down the Middle Fork Salmon. Tom, who probably has more trips on the MF than Mary and myself combined, made the long drive from Texas, Arn and Deb as well as Jim S. arrived from Colorado, Jane, one of Mary’s old friends from NOC days,  used the trip as an excuse to bring her busy kayaking family together from Maryland. California was well represented by Kurt, Tristin, Dave, Vicki, Pam and Bill K.  Also from Cali was our adopted raft passenger Bill W. who has done numerous trips with ECHO over the years. Once he stumbled onto a trip of ours, he had such a good time he’s now a member of the tribe. Rounding out the trip and all the way from the flooded city of Calgary, Canada was Paul.

For the first day and half we had a steady drizzle of rain and a stop at Trail Flat hot springs along the river’s edge gave temporary relief from the cold.

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Kayakers knocking down the chill of a rainy day with a soak in Trail Flat hot springs.

By the afternoon of day 2 the clouds were breaking and the sun warmed our camp at Marble and shown a spotlight on the surfwave just below. People took advantage of the sunshine to play frizbee golf & bacci ball, hike to a vista point behind camp or just sit and relax.

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One tight family, Luke, Steve, Jack and Jane discuss strategy during a lively game of bacci ball.

On day 3 the diehard surfers in the group enjoyed a morning surf session before paddling down to catch the rest of the group that were enjoying a soak at Sunflower hot springs. Luck had been with us on the assignment of camps and we scored Loon with one of the best hot springs on the entire trip just a mile up the creek.

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Loon Creek near it’s confluence with the Middle Fork.

Paddling into camp late afternoon of day 4 we had covered just over twenty four miles that were packed with great whitewater and dramatic changes in the canyon’s character. We were camped amongst the Ponderosa pines at Survey camp.  The margaritas had been out for an hour now and the guides had strung up a rope between trees and draped it with “dare wear”, a mix of thrift store costumes for all to wear should they decide to. I’m always surprised at who wears what, but hey, “what happens on the river, stays on the river”. Dressed up, seated in a circle, we listen intently as 16 year old Jack gave us his TED Talk (No kidding, to see the original talk, minus the costume, click here). Proof again that you never know what you’re going to learn on a river trip. Our many talented musicians played into the night with all of us enjoying one another’s company and conversation.

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No shortage of good conversation around camp.

Our last two days we paddled through the Impassable Canyon, a name that speaks of the steep terrain.  The river is by far the only way to navigate this rugged landscape. After an awesome morning of great rapids our final day, we confluenced with the Main then crashed through the mighty, Grand Canyon-style Kraemer rapid to reach the take-out. As Henry B says, “The Middle Fork trip references my whole year. There’s what happens after the Middle Fork, and then, there’s what happens before the Middle Fork.” We hope many wonderful things happen in your lives before your next Middle Fork trip!!

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The sweep boat leaves camp early morning our last day in the Impassable Canyon.

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Thanks everyone for kicking off the Middle Fork season with us.

Click photos for larger view.

Photos and content ©DeRiemer Adventure Kayaking all rights reserved.