How to determine how many images to post? No amount of pictures can tell the story. But here is a taste of my story.
The flight into Bhutan is itself an adventure. Views of the Himalayas, tallest mountain range in the world! Views of the pine needles, so close to the wing tips it seems you could reach out and touch them as the plane drops in preparation for landing! These are 2 of the many reasons to be happy to be on the tarmac in Paro!
We kayak on clear, cold, pristine rivers winding through stunning valleys. In our effort to see as much of Bhutan as we can in our twelve days, we hike through villages, we boat, we drive to the next monastery. Some days we join the locals in religious festivals. Karma, raft guide for those on the land tour and cultural guide for all, has a knack of assimilating us into the local activities. If there’s something going on, we’re in the thick of it! Fresh popped rice anyone? The shadiest spot to sip the coldest brew in town? Nuances of Buddhist imagery? He knows it all. Buffet lunches arrive riverside as we finish our day on a new run. How does he do it?
The road travel is at times as exciting as the flights. A landslide? No worries! After a few hours mingling with the Bhutanese (who are picnicking as they wait for the road crew to cut a new mountainside road) we are heading toward a new adventure! Like visiting the Takin Reserve. (That’s the muskox-like national animal of Bhutan.) Or hiking in search of the black-necked crane that overwinters from Mongolia. Or taking time to visit to the School of Traditional Arts. Then, shopping anyone?
Beyond Karma’s magic, there are so many serendipitous events that occur as to be inexplicable! As I said earlier, no amount of pictures can tell the story. You just have to come and experience the adventure of Bhutan for yourself!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!!
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!
Steve gets some coaching before going to battle.
The view looking back upstream at Rattlesnake cave.
Kayakers in Pistol Creek rapid.
Mary works on keeping her back surfing skills sharp.
Kayaks at Woolard camp.
Somewhere in the Impassable Canyon.
Jeff celebrates his victory over Hoola.
Some of the great crew on the trip: Anika, Zack, Tessa and Colleen.
The massage train leaving the station.
Emily learning the hard way to beware when Phil says, “Want to try something fun”.
Ready to load on day one Ed takes charge of the hoola hoops.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!
Click photos for larger view.
The view looking out from under Veil Falls, a must visit side hike.
Paul and Anika soak it in amongst the grotto at the base of veil falls.
Setting up home for the night at Cliffside camp
Steve A feeling the stoke of surfing at Marble wave.
Andrew trying his luck in front of camp.
Morning at Marble camp looking upstream.
Jim S. puts his 4 fun to good use on Marble wave.
The raft guides take advantage of a little down time before jumping in the kitchen to prep dinner.
Father and son, Kurt and Tristin attempt the very difficult art of tandem relaxing in a pack raft.
Drying out after rain.
Colleen smiling and in the kitchen.
Love that garlic bread.
Raft guide John checks out the acoustics at Veil Falls.
Chances are you have a bucket list of rivers you would love to do some day. On our list has always been the Selway River in Idaho, one of the original rivers included into the wild and scenic river system back in 1968. The permitted section is forty-five miles long, is located in the rugged Selway-Bitteroot wilderness in Idaho and boasts a healthy forest of Red Cedar and Douglas Fir. The forest service only allows one launch a day which makes these permits hard to get, combine this with a short window of runnable flows and you can see why it might take a while to get on it.
We had been invited before, more than once, but for one reason or another it never worked out, until this year. Our good friend Dave S. pulled the permit and put together a fun group of folks from across the country. The launch date in mid- June meant it would fit perfectly before our annual Middle Fork Salmon trips. We were 16 people in five rafts and five kayaks on what seemed to be a user friendly flow of between 5,000-6,000 cfs (gauge at Lowell below take out). While we never really added it up, the combined years of river experience were probably close to 1,000 (o.k., I exaggerate, but it was a lot). The poor folks who were on their first multi-day trip had to endure a lot of year’s worth of river stories. For the five days we were on the water, we saw no other groups floating the river and we felt like we had the place to ourselves.
Clear skies and sunshine were with us for the first three days, then the sun gave way to clouds and rain for the remainder of the trip- it didn’t seem to matter, we were prepared and having an outstanding time! We hope to be back but I’d prefer not to wait another 30 years to make it happen.
If it’s not there already, put the Selway on your list.
A little aside: Along with us on the trip were Kevin Lewis of Idaho Rivers United and Dave Steindorf of American Whitewater. We learned a lot from these two about the challenges our country’s rivers and their ecosystems face. Please click on the links, learn about the important work these organizations do and please support them.