I usually prefer the quieter and more contemplative outdoor pursuits – honestly, there’s really no need for me to sing around the campfire or anything, that’s just cruel and unusual punishment for all the woodland creatures – but when friends suggested a morning of whitewater rafting we couldn’t say no.
Rivers have cropped up in much of what we’ve been doing the past few weeks. We recently attended a National Geographic presentation, Chasing Rivers by photographer Pete McBride, where he discussed the importance of the Ganges and Colorado rivers. Using these mighty waterways as case studies, he spoke about how the health of a river is an excellent barometer of our environmental responsibility. The treatment a river gets from the humans relying on it for drinking water, agriculture, industry, or as a leisure resource can be quite astonishing. Rivers are such vital parts of our ecosystems, yet rarely get much attention or thought as we merrily extract millions of gallons to sprinkle our lawns, wash our vehicles or forgetfully leave taps running. Perhaps the best point McBride made was that we all live upstream of someone else. Thought provoking given that many rivers are running dry…
As well as the presentation, around the same time, and quite by coincidence, I read Peter Heller’s marvellous book Hell or High Water. Heller accompanied a group of kayakers on their expedition to Tibet, where they attempted the first successful descent of the Tsangpo Gorge through white waters that almost defy description in how dangerously wild they are.
Read this, it is an amazing true story!
If you enjoy reading first class writing about faraway places and grand (foolhardy?) adventures, then this is the book for you. I was mesmerized by Heller’s telling of the story. He captures the wonder of the locations as well as all the ego, bravado, bravery and dangerous politics of the expedition. He also provides astonishing background stories and histories of some earlier characters who attempted to uncover/discover the Gorge. It is a joy to read – even the very place names are a form of poetry:
Senchen La, Kondrasong La, Namcha Barwa, Gyala Peri, Sinji-Chogyal, Pemakochung. Just delightful sounding!
All this got me thinking back to last summer and our own little whitewater adventure. It was hardly riding Class V or VI rapids, but perfectly exciting Class III and IV water – more than enough for this novice. To put my nerves and fearlessness into perspective, when I say you couldn’t pay me to go on a rollercoaster, I’m being truthful. As I get older, the fear centre in my brain seems to increase in size. I shudder to recall the tree climbing and zip lining “exploits” of years gone by. What was I thinking?
So I was just a little apprehensive during the excellent and comprehensive safety talk our guide gave us before launch. It was detailed enough on the whole being thrown out of the raft mid rapids explanation that I was having serious second – and third – thoughts. But you can’t lose face in front of friends and family, and anyway, I appeared to be firmly stuck into the wetsuit. Good look for an old PlaidCamper. The best part was when our guide asked for two volunteers to take the front positions in the raft – allegedly the high responsibility places on board. We were all glancing at each other, shuffling a bit and hoping someone else volunteered. What happened was our fellow passengers all shuffled back a pace, making it look like my friend and I had stepped up. My pulse might have quickened…
It was such fun! Being sat at the front was tremendous. The first hole we plunged into left me feeling exhilarated – no time for nerves, you had to paddle as directed by our guide. I’m smiling now as I recall the sheer excitement of those rapids. I really hadn’t anticipated how thrilling our trip down the river would be. I’d go again tomorrow if friends suggested it (or when the rivers are ready, which is the next week or two). Sign me up!
The pictures of our little group you see on this post were supplied by the excellent outfitters who ran our expedition. I won’t advertise, but I have left a link to their site below if you are interested.
Anyway, there you have it. Something about how rivers have been on my mind recently, and a recollection of an exciting whitewater adventure from last July. Horseshoe Canyon on the Bow River isn’t the Tsango Po Gorge (thank goodness) but it did provide a great introduction to an exciting outdoor activity. I love being by rivers, and this was a new way to enjoy one. However, I’d have been equally as happy hiking, camping or sitting on the riverbank (and I did get as great a thrill the first time I tried fly fishing – but that’s for telling another day!) I’ll finish with a calming picture, soothing after the adrenaline rush:
Thanks for reading, please feel free to comment or share a whitewater adventure, and keep your guy ropes secure.