Tsangpo River
Sherab and his friend, Dawa, two of the porter guides. Sherab was with Ken Storm on his 1993 trip to the Tsangpo Gorge.

Tsangpo Dispatch—February 6, 2002

Tsangpo River
Allan Ellard

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Gyala, Tsangpo Gorge—We have been on the river now for four days and many things have happened. For one, we have realized just how small we are. Since reaching the end of the road, we have hired 68 porters that have carried all our equipment from camp to camp. This had been relatively easy until today. From Camp 3 to Camp 4, the trail rose about 2,300 feet above river level before coming back again—this took the sturdy porters a solid day to complete. For the river crew it was total opposite. We only had to paddle one rapid and round the corner; our total distance was only two miles and it only took us half an hour. This was a great rest as we had a full on first day.

Tsangpo River

Tsangpo River Sherab and his friend, Dawa, two of the porter guides. Sherab was with Ken Storm on his 1993 trip to the Tsangpo Gorge.

The river is incredibly powerful, but as we expected also very low compared to its normal flows. This still leaves it running at around 15,000 cfs. The first day we completed 11 rapids, some of which were huge and we were forced to sneak by the main flow close to the bank. Even these routes were pushy and all of us were exhausted at the end of the day.

The trail crew also has been having quite a time as they pass through the country by foot. The people here are not accustomed to porter work, so hiring 68 of them was quite a mission. They have to carry enough food for themselves for a month and warm cloths for the cold nights. For the first three days they used ponies (two men to one pony). Now the trail is too rough for the ponies and they will have to continue on foot. Every day there are porter issues, usually based upon the weight they will carry, the distance they will be walking the next day, or camp sites. These are usually resolved by Dave Allardice over a meeting of head porters and a jar of local rice wine. They leave feeling good and a compromise is set.

Today we reached a major milestone in our journey. The mighty rapids below camp marks the gateway to the inner gorge and an entrance to the Pemakochung section of the river. The river drops 30 feet over a 200-meter section—some of the wildest whitewater we have ever seen. There are definitely lines down there, but there are also hotel-sized hydraulics waiting to take you to Nirvana in an instant.

Day five on the river will take us down to the rapids that took Doug Gordon from the world. We will pay our respects in a minute of silence at the rapid and hope to do him proud as we pass by.

Our progress has been remarkable due to low water level and dry winter conditions. There is so much riverbed to move around on and nearly always riverbank to climb around things if needed. Further down this will be far more important as the gorge walls pinch together and bedrock walls enclose the river. We will be camping just upstream of the deepest point of the gorge, the point directly below a hypothetical line between the peaks of Namcha Barwa and Gyala Pelri. Right now I would say morale is high. There have been no major setbacks, and on the river there have been no close calls or mishaps.

As the gorge intensifies, I don’t know how often we will be able to get things out, but I hope to write again when we reach the abandoned monastery of Pemakochung.