Kayakers Risk Detainment to Paddle 220 Miles on Tibet’s Uncharted Mekong
Filed by Rivers in Demand team member Kyle Dickman
After we’d been in Tibet for two days, all travel was restricted and foreigners and nationals alike were prohibited from entering. No amount of negotiation would open the gate between us and our goal of kayaking the Upper Salween River.
So we changed plans to try an undocumented section of the Mekong still within Tibet that, in 2004, a kayaker had allegedly soloed during peak monsoon. He had lost all of his photos and video from the trip, so this would be an opportunity to film it for the first time.
Needless to say, we didn’t know what to expect on the river. All we knew was that it was supposedly 140 miles of unscoutable, unportagable whitewater that was unsuitable for kayaking. But because the water levels were low, we decided to give it a go in one of the most remote canyons in the world.
As we put in, the scenery was unbelievable with tall desert canyon walls and warm weather. The whitewater proved to be fun, Class IV/V rapids.
As we continued through the high-quality whitewater, we learned that our original take out, still deep in Tibet would not be an option because foreigners were no longer allowed in the region. We realized we had two options. We could take out as planned and risk being caught in Tibet—which could mean detainment or worse. Or we could paddle 70 extra miles through another undocumented canyon flanked by 20,000-foot peaks. Kayaking definitely seemed like the better of the two options, so we hugged the cliffs underneath a police checkpoint and passed unnoticed beneath a military convoy of 30 vehicles. Then the reality set in that we were seven days into our ten-day food supply and committed another long canyon.
The next 70 miles of river turned out to be the most challenging and most scenic whitewater of our trip. And, fortunately, our food supply lasted.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Finally, after nearly 210 miles of paddling the Mekong, we crossed into the relative safety of Yunnan province, China.We drove away psyched about how runnable the stretch had been. During the entire Mekong Gorges section, we had only portaged two rapids! It was truly a classic class IV/V expedition run.
Next up for the EP crew is what could be the last descent of the Great Bendof the Yangtze, stayed tuned at riversindemand.com
Photographs courtesy Adam Mills Elliott