Thursday, November 2, 2017

Going back to the Youghiogheny


Sixteen years ago I hopped into a convertible with a few other raft guides for a day trip to a river a few hours north of the Gauley. The location was the magical Upper Youghiogheny. The slots were plentiful and tight, and while playing follow the leader we rounded countless blind corners interspaced with a myriad of fun ledges. Years later, I now refer to this section as a staple class 4 kayak run… that has drawn me back year after year.

So the question is, why? After paddling all over the globe and tons of extremely difficult sections, why do I, and why should you, continue to flock to the Upper Youghiogheny?

Let’s start with the location. Our take out is in Friendsville, Maryland, almost reason enough right there. Friendsville is home to pizza rolls, Maui sweet onion potato chips, and fancy Yuengling beer. It used to be home to one of my favorite restaurants anywhere, The Riverside Hotel. Agnes, the proprietor of the Riverside Hotel and Restaurant, concocted the best vegetarian food I could conceive. It was simple, they only served vegetarian soup and salad (Casey Tango had to twist my arm to try this place the first time (I was complaining,“But there’s no meat!”)). After the first bite I was a believer. Hardy soups, hot-from-the-oven blue corn muffins, edible flowers on the salad (that were picked out of the backyard garden while you were paddling on the river), Tandy Cake with home-churned ice cream for dessert. (Please Agnes come back and make us delicious food again! (the Riverside Hotel changed ownership in 2015, and again in 2017. No food now, almost a reason not to go…)).

Camping is free-ish and only ten minutes from the put-in. The dense forest of the campground reminds me of the woods from the Blair Witch movie. Over the years there have been some pretty epic parties that have occurred in these Blair Witch woods. Huge bonfires, tons of fireworks, friends from all over the world. Heck, there was the one year when some riggers showed up and constructed a 100 foot rope swing attached to the tippy tops of the surrounding trees.

During my first years to the Youghiogheny there always seemed to be a rumor in the air. The reservoir was too high, it was too low, the release was late, the flows were going to be HIGH, not enough water, were we in front of, or behind, the bubble? National Falls is on fire?! I don’t know why but the rumors always made me laugh and we almost always were perfectly on the bubble with an average flow.

On water the river seems to be very reciprocal. If you’re willing to put the effort in you can run some truly hard lines. It’s like the river almost wants you to play. There are hanging eddies everywhere, slots that shouldn’t go (Sid’s Squiggle, Time Warp, left left at Tommy’s), and a couple of communal stops to enjoy some bag wine with the river community (Wait Rock and National Falls). 

So, what brings you back to the Yough year after year after year… and if you haven’t checked this place out, why not??

adventure by Chris Baer

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Class Tree in Arizona, Christopher Creek and Hell’s Gate

Walled in would be an understatement, photo by Evan Stafford, hell's gate, Arizona Christopher Creek AZ, Chris Baer, kayak walled in chaos,
Walled in would be an understatement, photo by Evan Stafford

It was the middle of February in Arizona, and Avery Potter and I had just finished a mellow lap on the lower gorge of Tonto Creek when a voicemail came through on the phone. It was Evan Stafford and a posse of Colorado and Wyoming paddlers who were on their way to the area and looking to link Christopher Creek into the Hell’s Gate section of Tonto Creek. This would be a three-day mission through a truly wild and desolate portion of Arizona. I couldn’t respond fast enough… “YES!”

Christopher creek, hells gate

from Chris Baer on Vimeo.

Hiking into Christopher Creek, scenery Arizona beautiful landscape Chris Baer
Hiking into Christopher Creek

The team, Evan Stafford, Ted Decker, Thomas Herring, Austin Woody, Aaron Koontz, Caleb Owen and myself, converged in the Payson City Safeway parking lot. We all had a multitude of mutual friends, but there were still a number of introductions to be made in-between people tearing off to obtain last minute provisions for the upcoming multi-day. Luckily, Thomas was not feeling up for the Christopher Creek section, and offered to help the team by bringing in the majority of the multi-day supplies (overnight equipment and food) via truck into Bear Flats. Bear Flats is the traditional take-out for Christopher Creek and the put-in location for Hell’s Gate.

Ted Decker launching his way into Christopher Creek, Arizona AZ Chris Baer, kayaking slot canyon cristopher creek
Ted Decker launching his way into Christopher Creek

Ted Decker on one of the numerous waterfalls contained in Christopher Creek , arizona kayaking Chris Baer
Ted Decker on one of the numerous waterfalls contained in Christopher Creek

It was approaching midday as we hiked off the highway into the Arizona wilderness. A brief half-mile hike in brought us above the very pronounced Christopher Creek slot canyon where we put on. Once on the water the crew moved well; we were scouting most of the large drops and following verbal beta for the in-betweens. The crew quickly formed a jovial rapport, with everyone smiling and joking together. As we completed an almost “todo” descent of Christopher Creek, the subpar flows combined with the tight canyon walls caused plenty of bloody knuckles. After the last of the hard rapids, downed trees, river cane, and willows became abundant, obstructing our downstream view and causing us to ricochet through our last few miles. It was a pin fest down to Bear Flats, by the time we bounced our way into Bear Flats it was well past dusk.

Austin Woody enjoying some air time in Christopher Creek, Arizona kayaking waterfall Chris Baer
Austin Woody enjoying some air time in Christopher Creek

Aaron Koontz running a marginal crack, I think this led to bloody knuckles and a bunch of us deciding it wasn't such a bad rapid after all, micro creeking kayak arizona Christopher creek Chris Baer
Aaron Koontz running a marginal crack, I think this led to bloody knuckles and a bunch of us deciding it wasn't such a bad rapid after all

Aaron Koontz running the marginally wet far left line at Big Lebowski, Christopher Creek arizona kayak waterfall Chris Baer
Aaron Koontz running the marginally wet far left line at Big Lebowski

Aaron Koontz airing out Little Lebowski, Christopher Creek kayaking waterfall Arizona Chris Baer
Aaron Koontz airing out Little Lebowski

Ted Decker looking for the auto flake , kayaking christopher creek Arizona sliding Chris Baer
Ted Decker looking for the auto flake

Since Thomas had opted out of Christopher Creek, there was a truck at Bear Flats and we took full advantage of it. Group consensus was to use the truck to get the other vehicle off the side of the highway, and to acquire plentiful and cheap cold beer and pizza. The getting-to-know-you’s continued into the evening, with everyone laughing and recounting how many times they had been pinned on the way out of Christopher Creek.

Setting up camp at Bear Flats, car camping in Arizona Christopher creek Hell's gate, kayak Chris Baer
Setting up camp at Bear Flats

AZ wilderness and scenery living up to the hype, photo by Evan Stafford, arizona kayak Hell's Gate wilderness, canyon slot whitewater arizona Chris Baer
AZ wilderness and scenery living up to the hype, photo by Evan Stafford

Day Two

We headed into the Hell’s Gate section of Tonto Creek, twenty-six miles that we planned on traveling over two long days. The walls quickly grew to towering heights, and we found ourselves in classic Arizona scenery. The water level was still a bit low for my taste, and we again found ourselves bashing through willows and bouncing our way through marginal rapids, just to be greeted with yet another classic Class 5 rapid. Our pace was strong and we were crushing miles, but I could see the group tiring as we neared 12 hours in our boats. It was late on day two when we finally reached the confluence with Spring Creek and set up our camp. Everyone was a bit beaten up from the low water and a second long day on the river. I fell asleep early and woke up excited to see what day three had in store.

Austin Woody, another classic in Hell's Gate arizona kayak whitewater Chris Baer canyon
Austin Woody, another classic in Hell's Gate

Austin Woody and Tom Herring eyeing up another marginal line in Hell's Gate, kayak canyon whitewater red rocks beautiful dificult slot Chris Baer
Austin Woody and Tom Herring eyeing up another marginal line in Hell's Gate

Day Three

Thankfully, with the added water flow of Spring Creek, the rapids became less jarring. As we continued downstream the walls continued to grow and the scenery just kept getting better. I rounded yet another blind corner to see Evan Stafford lying on the back deck of his kayak with his mouth agape. We were making our way through one of the more beautiful locations that I have ever paddled. The whitewater was plentiful, and made for yet another long, strenuous day of scouting and probing countless Class 4 mank piles inter-spaced with plentiful and quintessential Class 5 slot canyon rapids.

Quintessential scenery in the Arizona wilderness , Hell's gate wilderness kayaking canyon whitewater Chris Baer
Quintessential scenery in the Arizona wilderness

Chris Baer finishing up the last canyon, photo by Evan Stafford, Hell's Gate wilderness whitewater Arizona, orange zet kayak wood paddle kokatat wrsi helmet
Chris Baer finishing up the last canyon, photo by Evan Stafford

How do we get out of here? Hell's Gate wilderness Arizona canyon kayak whitewater, crazy portage, Chris Baer
How do we get out of here?

Eight hours into day three, the walls finally subsided. We were then met with our last challenge: shallow, braided flows through a willow jungle. We slowly trudged our way through to the very sketchy “town” of Gisela. Gisela reminded me of a Breaking Bad set: dilapidated trailers and police rolling through and joking with us about how they were looking to arrest a few of the locals.

The crew celebrating exiting the canyon and looking forward to cold beer, arizona hell's gate wilderness sun set scenery catus Saguaro Chris Baer
The crew celebrating exiting the canyon and looking forward to cold beer

yucca arizona hell's gate wilderness, river whitewater, rocks, Chris Baer

This run should be on your radar… but understand this is not a “give me”; appropriate flows are rare, and it’s absolutely in the middle of nowhere. That being said, the Hell’s Gate Wilderness is spectacular and linking Christopher Creek into it is a legitimate multi-day adventure.

Chris Baer rafting helmet pfd
Adventure by Chris Baer

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Feeling Lucky in Arizona’s Fickle Paddling Season? Pump House Wash

Feeling Lucky in Arizona’s Fickle Paddling Season? Pump House Wash

Ted Decker sliding into Mexican Pocket, pump house wash kayak snow cold Chris Baer
Ted Decker sliding into Mexican Pocket

Timing the Arizona paddling season is just shy of impossible. Good flows on some of the classic sections might last for only a week, and catching the correct flow on an obscure river might just take luck. Fortune favored Tom Herring, Ted Decker, Dave Sherman, Pete Traylor, and me when early spring rain began to fall on a substantial snow pack just south of Flagstaff, Arizona.   

Pump House wash, Arizona street sign kayak whitewater, Flagstaff, Chris Baer Sedona

Pump House Wash begins atop the Mogollon Rim, just south of Flagstaff. It quickly plummets through spectacular sandstone layers to a confluence with another small tributary creating Oak Creek. Oak Creek then produces a couple of classic whitewater sections as it cascades its way down, through the city of Sedona.

Sedona, arizona flag staff hiking river pump house wash, Chris Baer, kayak
Hiking down to the put in

Accessing Pump House Wash

From Flagstaff, head south on 89A to County Road 237. Early spring missions usually mean that the 237 road is closed. If this is the case, park at the gate. Walk on the seasonally sloppy, muddy road for about a 1/4 mile and then veer right into the woods and continue downhill. Once in the trees, follow your ears and you should be able to make out the flow of the small wash. Put in where you can and deal with a short-lived, bouncy paddle in. Soon you will be at the first major horizon line, Mexican Pocket. Scout or portage from river left, but remember: this is what you came for. This is by far the best rapid on the section. Mexican Pocket offers a bouncy slide that puts you dangerously close to the right wall which then drops you into a boiling hallway at the precipice of a 15’ drop. After the drop, you quickly descend into the sandstone layers. Stark white Coconino sandstone caps the classic red sandstone of the Supai Group. It’s this Coconino that you will only see high up in the drainage and the red Supai below comprises the majority of the paddling run. This relatively soft sandstone has been carved into a myriad of tiny slots, sluices, and pocketed ledges, intermixed with a few complicated, multistage rapids. Just to add character, the wash also has plenty of blind corners and partially submerged trees.

Our group portaged two successive drops near the middle of the run. The first one lands on rock, and the second is a very tight, complex lead-in to a fifteen-ish foot drop that recirculates under the left wall. Thankfully, this horizon line is rather obvious from inside your boat, and relatively easy to portage river left. Stay heads up for fallen trees and blind corners all the way down to the 89A bridge, your take out.

A motley and slightly chilly crew at the take out , kayak sedona pump house wash, sedona flag staff arizona Chris Baer
A motley and slightly chilly crew at the take out

Water levels are determined on a hydrological barometer gauge that can be found at:
Our flows peaked at 1,400 cfs the night before and were hovering around 1,000 cfs on the barometer gauge when we put on, meaning we were really paddling on 200 cfs at the put in and 500 cfs by the take out.

pump house wash kayak log whitewater, red rocks canyon arizona sedona flagstaff, Chris Baer
keep your eyes peeled all the way to the take out

If this stretch were all Mexican Pocket-esque drops, it would be a 5 star mission, however it never really comes together. Floating underneath arches and through tight, inescapable clefts of towering bright red sandstone makes for a spectacular location, but the rock structure never combines with the gradient at the correct time to build great whitewater. Not to mention that the water level rarely gets high enough, and when it does you’re scouting and portaging in snow. But when serendipity strikes, it’s definitely a worthwhile adventure. Chris Baeer raft kayak pump house wash arizona sedona flag staff
adventure by Chris Baer

Monday, March 6, 2017

Sometimes the logistics aren’t as legal as you might want.

Sometimes the logistics aren’t as legal as you might want.

an amazing canyon

serenity above chaos
Kayaking missions sometimes lead us into murky waters, legally. Technically when I’m changing into or out of wet shorts on the side of the road I’m committing public indecency. Post-run cold ones, hopefully in a coozie and not a bootie, are open containers. Scouting, and occasionally accessing, really means trespassing. In all of these circumstances I ask myself the same question: If I’m not hurting anyone else, what does it matter?

the boys below a rather nasty hydraulic
desert run off
By no means would I ever suggest breaking a law, but sometimes it’s a necessary evil in kayaking, and sometimes the risk is worth the reward.

Adventure by Chris Baer

Friday, February 24, 2017

Biggest Class 3 in the World? Siang River, Arunachal Pradesh, India

Biggest Class 3 in the World? Siang River, Arunachal Pradesh, India

Colin Aitken looking microscopic on the Siang River, himilayas India, Chris Baer, huge river whitewater kayak
Colin Aitken looking microscopic on the Siang River

The small jet was making its final approach into Katmandu International Airport. I knew we were close to the ground with wing flaps wide open and the slight feel of falling, but I still couldn’t see the ground. It wasn’t until we were less than hundred feet off the tarmac that I could see through the smog. While collecting my baggage, I was overrun by some of my worst fears of traveling in huge cities: rudeness, pollution, trash everywhere, horns constantly honking, and haggling for everything. After an hour of haggling at the airport, I found transportation to a dingy hotel, with non-locking doors, a cold shower, and plenty of rodent roommates. Fortunately it was just for a night, and I was able to fly out the next day, this time landing in Guwahati and somewhat more reasonable international chaos.

just a random intersection in India , chaotic motor cycles road india, Chris Baer
just a random intersection in India

The Assam region isn’t part of most people’s mental map of India. Its location and indigenous culture create a beautiful landscape reminding me more of Northern Myanmar than the hustle and bustle of Delhi. Colin Aitken and I had a few mutual acquaintances and were both looking for an opportunity to explore via kayak. We shook hands for the first time in a bus station in eastern India, exchanged pleasantries, and bought tickets to make our way to Pasighat. The bus ride was overnight, close to 16 hours of bouncing through the far Indian wild (east). The view out of the bus window of the countryside was of beautiful, distant rolling hills that fed into the Himalayas. Occasionally the bus would come to a stop and all of the occupants would file out and into what I could only describe as an Indian truck stop. I still can't believe I didn't get food poisoning during this leg of the trip.

kayaks loaded, not ready for 16 hours of bus travel, traveling with kayaks on busses in india painted bus india bus stop kayak zet whitewater himalayas, Chris Baer
kayaks loaded, not ready for 16 hours of bus travel

Arriving in the small, jump-off town of Pasighat meant that the chaotic pace of the big city was behind us. While sipping Assam tea we chatted with locals about the logistical challenge of getting our boats to the town of Tuting. Our local advice had us arranging a two day, jarring jeep ride north to the border town. It was seven hours up the watershed to the midway point and the mountain town of Yingkiong. There we chatted with yet more drivers about getting our equipment further up the drainage. With our limited local language skills, we attempted to schedule for a driver to meet us at our hotel the following morning. Seven in the morning came early as we waited outside our prayer flag-adorned hotel. We watched a handful of taxis and tuk-tuks rallying by, but to where? We started asking questions and determined that we ought to catch a taxi to destination unknown… hopefully where the jeep was awaiting. The microscopic taxi, with our two multi-day laden kayaks on top, bounced and bottomed out on our way to a partially completed bridge. Here, the driver gave us the international hand signal of, “Get out and walk across the bridge.”

Colin Aitken waiting outside our luxury amenities for transportation that would never arrive, Arunachal pradesh, Siang river prayer flags block street himalayas Chris Baer
Colin Aitken waiting outside our luxury amenities for transportation that would never arrive

Colin, damn that bridge is sketchy, bridge wire broken fog river Arunachal Pradesh india himalayas, kayaking kayak cold morning Chris Baer
Colin, damn that bridge is sketchy

It may have been that I hadn’t had my morning allotment of caffeine yet, but the bridge was sketchy and I wasn’t really feeling it. I’m pretty sure it was erected mostly with driftwood and bailing wire. There were missing boards everywhere, and it swayed with the lightest breeze. To top it off, the early morning fog was thick and you couldn’t tell how long, or for that matter how high up, the bridge was. Then I had the unnerving thought that I alone might be the heaviest thing that the bridge had transported in quite some time, not to mention I was shouldering my loaded down creek boat.

We scurried across the bridge and walked up the steep embankment on the other side to see a myriad of loaded down jeeps. Their drivers were attaching bags and pots onto the roofs of the vehicles. We were quickly greeted and given another hand signal, “Tie your boats down, we are about to go!” Still unsure if this was exactly the ride we had paid for, but not caring so long as we had a ride, we helped tie our kayaks to the roof and crammed ourselves inside with seven other passengers. We bounced another seven hours up the valley. Arriving in Tuting late in the afternoon on December 30th, Colin and I were exhausted from the travel and wanted to enjoy the labor of our work. We decided to spend New Year’s Eve in Tuting, which allowed me to capture some photo/video clips and explore the uniquely located mountain town. January 1st, we awoke to a partly cloudy sky, and we wandered down to the massive blue-green river. The hike in gave us a good vantage of the first rapid, it looked like it was going to be big. Trying to get comfortable in massive volume water, I paddled out to the main current and felt what seemed like ocean waves coming at me from every angle.

Buddhist monastery outside of Tuting, Arunachal Pradesh India Himalayas, kayaking  Chris Baer
Buddhist monastery outside of Tuting
Tuting, Siang River, the beginning prayer flags wind blowing huge river whitewater waves distance valley mountains arunachal pradesh india himalayas kayak Chris Baer
Tuting, Siang River, the beginning

The first day on the river produced by far the best whitewater of the section, including two utterly massive rapids. The first was caused by the delta of a tributary entering on the right forcing 100,000 cfs into a huge bedrock wall on the left. The water surged upward into a handful of fifteen-plus foot tall crashing waves. Coming over the first lead-in wave, I finally grasped how huge the rapid was. I was quickly entrenched in the pit of the wave and all I could see was water. The second enormous rapid was again caused by a tributary coming in on the right, but this time, instead of compression waves, it had scattered, house-sized boulders throughout the riverbed making a variety of features to avoid, and a couple of Himalayan-sized waves to blast over. The whitewater stayed world class throughout the entire day. With huge smiles, we pulled over on river left at about five o’clock in the evening to set up camp.

river kayaking tributarty siang river arunachal Pradesh Himalayas, kayak fire locals, Chris Baer
feeling small in India
camping side of river Arunachal Pradesh kayak himalayas Siang river Chris Baer
our kitchen, night one

Awaking on the second morning to no sun, my tarp was drenched with dew and the temperature was just shy of cold. Knitted beanie and puffy jacket on, I made a delicious breakfast of oats and Nescafe. On the water, we were greeted with more giant features and a couple of intense river directional changes. While a 90° turn of the river usually isn’t scary, when there is 100,000 cfs smashing into a cliff and creating enormous swirling whirlpools, things start to get entertaining. Mid-afternoon on day two, we passed under the sketchy Yingkiong bridge which we had crossed on foot in fog only a few days before. We continued downstream through one more splashy wave train and then eddied out on river left so we could hike up to town, where we were excited to find a filling meal and an okay bed to sleep in.

evening view from Yingkiong, india arunachal Pradesh kayak river Siang, himalayas Chris Baer
evening view from Yingkiong

The roosters were crowing as we awoke in Yingkiong on the morning of day three. The very accommodating hotel owner was already up, and quietly sang to herself in a monk-like, chanting style as she made us a hardy breakfast. The rapids were slightly subdued compared to the previous days, and we were able to cover some substantial mileage. By mid-afternoon we had stopped for a good camp location just upstream of the town of Boleng, allowing us to gather firewood and the chance to set up tarps before the sun set and the thick dew set in.

Chris Baer disheveled tired steripen kayak india himalayas Siang River tuting
Chris Baer, disheveled, exhausted, and thirsty
camoing side of river big agnes tarp kayak whitewater sand beach sun set Siang River Himalayas Arunachal Pradesh Chris Baer
camp, night three
Colin Aitken, looking small on the Siang River, kayak green river huge rock formation Arunachal pradesh India Himalayas, Siang River, Chris Baer
Colin Aitken, looking small on the Siang River

Extra-heavy dew and thick clouds awaited us on the fourth morning. We took our time getting off the beach, trying to let the obscured sun dry our sleeping bags and tarps. When it was time to get on the river, we started out strong, paddling a handful of good rapids and then some long pools, and then some more long pools until finally we hit the confluence with yet another substantial tributary, the Yamne River. We were now on multiple hundreds of thousands of cfs. Random boils and massive whirlpools would erupt out of nowhere. It felt more like the ocean than a river. We pushed on, skipping lunch and eating a quick snack while in our kayaks. We paddled and paddled. My hands and shoulders were sore and the sun was starting to set. From everything we had gathered, we shouldn’t have been too far from Pasighat, so we paddled on. By the time we got a glimpse of the Pasighat bridge, it wasn’t so much that I could make out that it was a bridge than there were levitating headlights in the distance.

colorful food at market vegetables india Arunachal Pradesh Himalayas Siang River, Chris Baer
local market

Climbing out of our kayaks after a solid eight hours of paddling was painful. We sluggishly carried them up to the bridge and hitchhiked into town. Luckily, kayakers are an extreme oddity in these parts and a few young men getting off their shift, with smiles and multiple handshakes, quickly picked us up and drove us into downtown. We eagerly, hungrily, hopped out of the truck and made our way to our favorite hole in the wall eatery. With a solid meal in us we wandered back to our local accommodations, blowing off return logistics until morning. river blue india Siang river kayak himalayas Arunachal Pradesh Siang river
adventure by Chris Baer

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Feeling Small in Nepal, Upper Marsyangdi

Feeling Small in Nepal, Upper Marsyangdi

Looking north into the tallest mountains in the world, nepal, himilayan mountains snow capped peaks river Upper Marsyangdi, river kayak whitewater, Chris Baer
Looking north into the tallest mountains in the world

The tallest mountains in the world surround us. Their brilliant, snow-encrusted peaks seem almost dull in comparison to the vibrant prayer flags and audaciously painted structures here in the quintessential Himalayan mountain town of Jagat. From this microscopic Nepali village, Garen Stephens and myself would start yet another trip of a lifetime. The plan was simple; kayak from just north of Jagat nineteen miles down to the slack water of the Mid-Marsyangdi hydro-dam, located just to the south of the town of Besisahar.

the $10 a night hotel in Jagat had a view, Upper Marsangdi river nepal himalayas mountains valley snow caped Chris Baer
the $10 a night hotel in Jagat had a view

Finding Poise in International Logistics

Just under a week before arriving in Jagat, I was meeting up with Kate Stepan and Justin Kleberg in Pokhara, Nepal. We were hashing out plans for what seemed like a fairly straightforward mission… But international logistics always seem to have a dozen wrenches in them; it’s just a matter of trying to determine where they might pop up, and how to deal with them as smoothly as possible when they do. It might be that the vehicle breaks down, it might be that your language skills fail you and you end up in a town hours away from your destination, it might be that the boats don’t fit, or they get denied, or there is sharp metal that will wear through your boat on the roof rack. Or it might be that your attempt at local haggling doesn’t work in your favor, or you get food poisoning from what looked like delicious street food, or the fact that nothing is on schedule and arriving three hours late is standard. Trying to combine what seem to be simple logistics almost never works internationally, but when it does it feels almost magical.

loading kayaks for the trip to Besisahar, bus kayak mountains himalayas snow Chris Baer
loading kayaks for the trip to Besisahar

bus overcrowded nepal, Chris Baer mirror
this bus isn't even close to full

Upper Marsyangdi, kayak city bus whitewater, Chris Baer
arriving in Besisahar

kid in kayak in nepal, prayer flags, child cute, Upper Marsyangdi Himalayas Chris Baer
local greeting committee

This first leg of the trip, we actually pulled it off: our tourist bus (has less chickens on it, and you usually get a seat) left Pokhara almost on time, it didn’t break down or get in an accident, and we arrived in Besisahar at about noon. Upon arrival, the team broke into different roles: watching the equipment, looking for a room, and searching for a jeep. With the tasks completed, we reconvened and walked to the “hotel”, tossed our bags into the room, dug out our paddling equipment, then walked back across the street to our awaiting jeep. We quickly piled boats and ourselves into the jeep and started to bounce our way up the dirt “road” to Simpani (the border of the Annapurna Conservation area). There we quickly geared up and got on the river. It was a blast! Nearly eight miles of splashy, continuous class 4 water.

annapurna mountain range, Marsyangdi upper, nepal Himalayas, Chris Baer river whitewater snow capped peaks
looking back on the Annapurna Range

After two days of quintessential class 4, Justin Kleberg and I walked down the street from our hotel to the Annapurna Conservation Area permit office and doled out twenty dollars each to attain our special access permit. This would allow us to travel further up into the drainage. Four more miles up the road, we went to Lamjung and put on at the brink of yet another dam. Subsequently, the section had a portion of its water pulled out and through the hydro scheme. Although the section was partially dewatered, it had a slightly steeper gradient profile then the lower section. It was again spectacular class 4/4+ whitewater. The lines were significantly tighter with more river-wide, dynamic features then the lower section, but thankfully it was entirely boat-scoutable.

Annapurna special access permit, mountains Upper Marsyangdi river whitewater, kayak Chris Baer
Annapurna special access permit

the lady standing in the aisle just out of frame pawned this chicken-in-a-bag off on these guys, they didn't seem so stoked, overcrowded bus nepal rural mountain Chris Baer
the lady standing in the aisle just out of frame pawned this chicken-in-a-bag off on these guys, they didn't seem so stoked

The following day Kate and Justin had to leave, so I messaged Garen Stephens. He said he was on his way, and wanted to know if I would stick around for a couple more days. I couldn’t say yes fast enough. The sections that we had paddled so far were classic, and a couple more laps on these gems seemed obligatory. Garen made it to Besisahar the next day around midday, and we rallied up for a quick get-to-know-you lap to make sure we would make good paddling partners. We instantly bonded and agreed it would be an exciting mission to head yet further up into the drainage.

local festivities in Besisahar, ferris wheel with mountains in the background, snow himalayas, nepal Chris Baer
local festivities in Besisahar

Yet Further Up the Watershed

The jeep ride got sketchier and bouncier as we continued into the upper part of the drainage. A kilometer past Jagat, the road got relatively close to the river and we signaled to the driver to pull over. The Marsyangdi had changed character; it was now walled in and the rapids were stacked on top of each other. This section is relatively steep at 122 feet per mile, and had not been dewatered by a dam making it rather pushy. We could no longer boat scout as safely as we had in the middle section, and found ourselves out of our boats at almost every horizon line. 

one of the dozen or so cable bridges spanning the river, Upper Marsyangdi Nepal Himalayas mountains river cable bridge, whitewater kayak, Chris Baer
one of the dozen or so cable bridges spanning the river

Vertical Walls and Portaging Are a Trying Combination

We were only a kilometer downstream from the put in when Garen hopped out of his kayak to take a peek at yet another horizon line. This time, he had a different look on his face. There was contemplation, and maybe a bit of concern, as he shouted to me, “you’re going to want to take a peek at this!” The rapid was rather heinous. There was definitely a line, but it looked like one of those rapids that you fired up the day after you broke up with your significant other. Portaging looked almost equally heinous. We were heading into an uncertain black hole with overhanging boulders looming above and a 45 degree slope of slippery rocks coated in dark slime that all angled down towards the massive siphon that was the cause of our hike in the first place. Then there was a cave-like rock structure that we had to shoved our boats through. Then we precariously maneuvered a thin rock ridge thirty feet above yet more siphons. Next up was a small jump across a death crevasse, followed by a steep, overgrown hillside full of thorns. That led quickly into a dry creek bed with plenty of ankle-rolling sized cobble stones, and even more overgrown vegetation. I leaned into the melee of foliage with all my weight but the flora proved unresponsive to gravity.

Garen Stephens, enjoying another classic class 4 rapid, Upper Marsyangdi river blue water kayak rocks Chris Baer
Garen Stephens, enjoying another classic class 4 rapid

feeling small tucked into the Himalayas, huge mountains, blue river kayak zet director, Upper Marsyangdi nepal himalayas, Chris Baer
feeling small tucked into the Himalayas

An hour and a half later we made it back onto the water. We were making slow progress. Continuous scouting proved necessary with yet more difficult, stacked rapids that had plenty of no-go locations. Time wasn’t on our side as the sun soon dipped behind the Himalayas. Graciously, the canyon walls momentarily subsided and allowed us an escape from the river. We had made such little downstream progress that we decided to walk the kilometer or so back up to the picturesque village of Jagat, where we enjoyed a relatively soft bed, hot food, and a cold beer.

Garen Stephens heading into the unknown , blue river, upper marsyangdi river, nepal himalayas kayak werner paddles, Chris Baer
Garen Stephens heading into the unknown

Day Two, Marsyangdi

The early morning light illuminated the ridiculously steep valley as we hiked back down to the river. Our first rapid was rowdy and got us back in the spirit. The river was once again producing amazing whitewater, one great rapid after the next. Thankfully, we were able to boat scout significantly more rapids on the second day. The only portage that we encountered had a marginal line, but we just weren’t feeling it. Late on day two we stumbled upon a hot spring on river left (next time I might plan on camping at this location and enjoying the hot springs into the evening), but we continued down to the village of Lamjung where we spent the night.

put in, day two, blue river with water fall kayak whitewater, Upper Marsyangdi Nepal Himalayas, Chris Baer
put in, day two

Day three, we routed down the familiar lower section connecting nineteen miles of spectacular class 4, with a couple of bonus big rapids to contend with. If this river were stateside, it would be a true classic, with hordes of paddlers on it every day.

our daily commute tieing kayaks ontop of a bus in nepal himalayas Upper Marsyangdi river whitewater, Nepal, Chris Baer
our daily commute

Chris Baer, Upper Marsyangdi river Nepal Himalayas
adventure by Chris Baer