Monday, March 23, 2015

Solo paddling big volume waterfalls? 4,000 Islands Lao

Sun setting on Cambodia

Lush green islands speckle the five mile wide Mekong river, creating intricate mazes of big volume waterfalls. This area is known as the 4,000 Island section of the Mekong River, and it ought to be on your whitewater radar!

So many options

Between the countless islands are paddleable sections of whitewater! The location was created by a plate tectonic shift, steeply lowering the downstream portion of the river by 40 vertical feet. In some areas this means big volume waterfalls, in other areas are steep multi-tiered ledges, while others become massive bird sucking hydraulics (the birds actually get sucked out of the sky into the massive crushing force of the water).

bird sucking hole

Picking your daily adventure can, and will always, be a bit of guess work. The islands overlap each other, and the scenery looks very similar right up to the horizon line.

4,000 Islands Lao! Solo? from Chris Baer on Vimeo

Accommodations are available on the island of Don Det, a relatively big island smack in the middle of the Mekong. The island has only recently come by relatively stable electricity. The only access to the island is by a small flat bottom boat pushed by a "long tail" outboard motor so make sure your gear is in a dry bag. Over the years it has become known as the party island, and its location in-between the borders of Lao and Cambodia allow it to have a very lackadaisical legal enforcement system, with “happy“ shakes available on the menu in many of the rustic restaurants.

the crew taking off

Paddling solo is dangerous.

With a lack of local paddlers and the rest of the international team heading “home”, I found myself solo in the midst of the limitless waterfalls. Deciding to paddle class 5 solo is really hard. Thoughts of injury, flush drowning in the massive boils, getting caught in a fisherman snare, and fist pumping at the bottom of one of the big drops all spun through my head. With some tough decision making and hearty scouting, I made the very selfish decision to fire up some of the gems solo. It was worth it!

adventure by Chris Baer

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