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Whitewater Visionary: Q+A With Trip Jennings
A first-of-its-kind expedition to Papua New Guinea delivers first descents,
underground rapids, and a couple cases of malaria. 
Text by Kyle Dickman   Photograph by Matt Fields Johnson

Photo: Kayaking in Papua New Guinea

Trip Jennings paddles an underground section of the Pandi River.

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More on Trip Jennings:

Best of Adventure 2008:
Trip Jennings was named one of our Adventurers of the Year for leading this Papua New Guinea expedition.  
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Top Kayaking Videos:
See incredible kayaking footage courtesy of the amazing team at Epicocity Films.
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See More Instant Adventure Features >>

How about your closest call?
I've replayed the moment a thousand times in my head; it was definitely a lesson learned. It was starting to get dark at the end of the second day. Between the edge of this amphitheater and the place where we were wanted to camp was a 20-foot (6-meter) drop. There was an undercut cave to our right and an unportageable hole below it. Because it was a slotted gorge, if something went wrong, it would be a nightmare. So, of course, it did. 

Photographer and kayaker Matt Fields Johnson missed his line and got thrashed for a few minutes. Just as darkness fell, I saw his boat recirculating in the cave—but no Matt. I didn't take my eyes off the river for fifteen minutes, just in case he floated downstream unconscious. Otherwise there was nothing I could do. I kept imagining the phone call to his parents where I explained to them that their son had died kayaking in Papua New Guinea.

Finally, it got too dark to see the river so I put on my headlamp on and pointed it toward the cave. I then saw Brian Eustis, who hadn't run the drop yet, had thrown a rope into the amphitheater. Matt was swinging from the end of it trying to get a hold on the rock to pull himself up. He threw his legs above his head, wrapped them around this huge knob and, with the help of Brian, pulled himself out of the cave. That was the scariest moment I've ever had kayaking because I watched the whole thing unfold and there was nothing I could do to help. It reinforced to me how important it is not to take unnecessary risks, like running hard whitewater so close to nightfall.

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