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All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

- JRR Tolkien


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Adventure Travel

Jul 31, 2017

Discovering ‘Horizon’s End’ in India’s Whitewater at the Kynshi River

By sunset on the second day of our descent into the Kynshi River, two things were clear.

WRITTEN BY

Joe Rea-Dickins

First, we discovered a true gem of a river with a variety of obstacles and some of the most breathtaking scenery anywhere in the world. Second, this 30-kilometre section would take more than the anticipated two days, and our food supplies were running out fast.

Whitewater kayaking can be broken down into three different categories: Big volume, medium volume and low volume.

Big volume involves large features, such as waves and whirlpools. The moves kayakers have to make on such rivers require long, simple, slow and precise maneuvering to avoid the dangers and to keep on line as they paddle down the river. It’s certainly no place for beginner kayakers.

The classic medium volume feature is known as the “boulder garden,” a set of rapids flowing through large rocks where kayakers will have to find a line through and sometimes avoid dangerous boulders. At other times, they may use the more suitable boulders to help navigation and stay on course.

Finally, there’s low volume, also known as “creeking.” Low volume takes place on steep streams and creeks and takes the kayaker to high-paced waterfalls and rocky slides. Picture a rollercoaster set in a river, but with a paddle and boat replacing the seatbelt and rails.

Historically, India has been renowned for its exceptional Himalayan big and medium volume paddling. Many groups visiting India will warm up on the medium volume sections of the Beas (Himichal Pradesh) or Alaknandar (Uttarakhand) before heading to the famed big rivers, such as the Indus (Ladakh), Ganges (Uttarakhand) or Siang (Arunachal Pradesh).

Over the past few years, more kayakers have discovered India’s creeking potential. Kayakers have paddled a handful of tight Indian rivers, such as the upper stretches of the Teesta and Talung (Sikkim), the Kaveri (Karnataka) and the Nayyar and Bhilanga (Uttarakhand). And with the heaviest monsoon rains that fall on some of the most diverse mountain ranges in the world, India has much more waiting to be paddled.

I recently returned from a five-month trip to south Asia where a group of friends and I kayaked classic rivers and first descents in Pakistan, and then India and documented as much as we could (including videos). The plan was simple. Paddle some of the best big volume in the area famed for the best big rivers in world: The Himalayas.

We did learn, however, after ticking off some of the giants, such as the Gilgit in Pakistan and the Indus in India, that big volume can become quite repetitive. Therefore we decided on a change.

I had always wanted to visit northeast India. Having travelled around the country twice before, I had seen a great deal but had never ventured any farther east than Darjeeling or Sikkim. A trip to Nagaland was the plan, but when we found out we might have to spend a few days obtaining permits, we had a quick re-think and chose nearby Meghalaya. We only knew three things about it: 1) Meghalaya was famous for being the wettest place on earth. 2) No one had ever kayaked in the state before. 3) No permits were required. Perfect!

We chose to paddle the rivers flowing off the southern ridge of the Meghalayan mountain ranges because they’re steeper than those in the north. Coming from the U.K., we often search out the steepest sections because they usually hold all the great waterfalls and slides; applying this theory to Meghalaya made perfect sense to us.

What we didn’t consider was that things can get too crazy.

On day two of a descent of the Umngot river, we came to what kayakers refer to as a “horizon line,” a line across water where you cannot see any farther due to a dramatic loss of gradient.

This phenomenon isn’t uncommon when creeking, but this particular horizon line was bigger than any we had ever encountered. What followed was a set of backed-up waterfalls flowing through an inescapable canyon dropping 160 metres [525 feet] in gradient with no clear signs of letting up as it rounded the next corner out of sight. Because of the intensity and geology of the gorge, we were unable to find a route around the waterfalls and were forced to pull off the river. We spent the next two days dragging our 45-kilogram [100-pound] kayaks packed with camping gear and supplies through thick, steep jungle.

Lesson learned. We finished our trip to Meghalaya on a remote 30-kilometre [18.6-mile] stretch of the Kynshi River which drops at a more appropriate gradient than the Umngot. Our first descent of the Kynshi River was an incredible experience, but the water level was still too high in places, making many of the rapids too dangerous for kayaking. We completed the descent in three days, taking a day longer than anticipated due to slow walks around rapids. Fortunately, we arrived at the village of Ranikor just as we were getting hungry.

With no rain for two weeks, we decided to go back to the Kynshi River in hope of a lower water level. We were lucky enough to return to almost perfect conditions and we completed the full 30-kilometre [18.6-mile] stretch in three days (we had packed enough food for five days this time), only walking around four rapids.

All the kayakers on the trip decided the Kynshi River was the best river any of us had been on anywhere. It had everything from beautiful surroundings in an isolated area to rapids perfectly designed for top-level kayaking. To top it off, there was warm water and beaches with readily available firewood for camping, and virgin streams for drinking water.

Members of our group had kayaked from Venezuelan jungle rivers to the monster waterfalls of Norway, through the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River in the United States, to the source of the White Nile in Uganda. We had also just spent the last five months doing nothing but kayaking across India and Pakistan. We knew the best river when we found it.

The Kynshi River was a great discovery for low volume whitewater kayaking in India, but the discoveries don’t end there. Groups of kayakers have started looking at India’s creeks, and with a growing number of talented kayakers from all over, there will no doubt be countless more finds over the next decade. It’s an exciting time for whitewater in India, and I know I’ll be back next year. I don’t want to miss out on the fun.

Craving some whitewater? Let us take you there at The Outdoor Voyage.

This article was featured in the very first print issue of The Outdoor Journal. Story and images by Joe Rea-Dickins.

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Travel

Jan 15, 2019

Not Your Father’s Ski Trip: Jackson Hole, WY

Inspired by images of her dad’s Jackson Hole college ski trip, the author heads north to tour the Tetons and tack a few pictures to the family scrapbook.

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WRITTEN BY

Kela Fetters

The author’s father launching a cliff at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort cerca 1987

This film shot of my father going big on a set of ridiculously thin, twin-tipped K2s cerca 1987 instilled in me a deep gratitude for today’s fat freeride sticks and a sense of duty to keep the family’s cliff-hucking legacy alive. Scrapbook open on his lap, my dad extolled the terrain of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, which he visited “back in the good ol’ days” at Colorado State University. He described a steep wonderland besotted with cliffs that beg for reckoning. After the past several seasons of wimpy Colorado snow totals whilst Jackson churned out foot-deep day after foot-deep day, I was enthused by the resort’s inclusion on my 2018-2019 Ikon Pass. With my own graduation looming in May, I figured the time was right for some Teton escapades. Like father, like daughter.

Car outfitted with a socioeconomically oxymoronic stash of ramen and expensive ski gear, I punched seven hours northward and arrived the night after a vicious storm cycle spat 20 inches of fresh flakes onto the mountains. The next day popped bluebird and my posse navigated the foreign slopes via trial, error, and the inexhaustible freneticism of college kids on vacation. We nabbed fresh tracks on Headwall and Casper Bowl, giggled down pillows on the Crags, and pinballed around the Hobacks. A ride up in the iconic Jackson Hole tram revealed a closed Corbet’s Couloir, ostensibly requiring another wave of coverage before its seasonal unveiling. I was forced to settle for a waffle at Corbet’s Cabin instead of matching my dad’s drop into the legendary chute. With the blood of my father and powder-fueled adrenaline surging through my veins, I willed myself over the most tantalizing cliffs on offer in Rendezvous Bowl.

The iconic Jackson Hole Mountain Resort tram, cerca 1987
Corbet’s Couloir: a timeless classic
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, cerca 1987

In the words of the great Cyndi Lauper: Oh daddy dear, you know you’re still number one, but girls, they wanna have fun.

It’s part and parcel of parenthood to agitate over the safety and well-being of one’s children. I’ve subsumed backcountry skiing into my hobbiesnew territory for this family’s lineage. On my nascent out-of-bounds outings, my father, a textbook concerned parent, grumbled about avalanches, terrain traps, and my insurmountable naïvity. Several seasons of diligent education, one avy bag, and countless snow pits later, I’ve earned his reluctant acceptance, if not enthusiasm, for my backcountry pursuits.  In the words of the great Cyndi Lauper: Oh daddy dear, you know you’re still number one, but girls, they wanna have fun.

Finding deep snow on Headwall
Pillows aplenty on the Crags

After two days of charging in-bounds, my psyche longed for the solitude of the skintrack. Teton Pass, Grand Teton National Park, and the resort sidecountry make the area a veritable playground for backcountry enthusiasts. It’s a family affair in Jackson; a fraternal ethos is evident in the fact that 97% of the nearly 4 million acres of Teton County are federally owned or state managed. Locals are quick to mark their territory on Teton Pass with the exclamatory hieroglyphs of first tracks, but the terrain is ample enough to find virgin snow. After giving the snowpack several days to stabilize post-squall, we found wiggle room on north-facing aspects along the Mail Cabin Creek drainage. Our final line of Day 1 was the Do-Its, a bifurcated powder track that converges and meanders twelve hundred feet back down to the road. At the hill’s zenith, minute snowflakes collapsed into liquid and rolled from our hardshells. We stood atop a wind-plumped knoll and observed the gnarl of peaks, foregrounded by Mount Taylor and Mount Glory, tumbling into a horizon of exposed rock and liquescent white. The unperturbed flank below screamed for human contact. I was all too happy to oblige the siren’s call with a quick tuck into the void. My skis made that sanctified first contact with the snow below. A crescendo of polestrokes invoked a maelstrom of flakes to drown the world in white. Hips squiggling, mind locked to the minutia, dopamine and adrenaline flooding the nervous system, and a raven on high with a vantage point a ski cinematographer would kill for. Then I burned through the mountain’s vertical; the dance with gravity ended in an expository wave of white smoke. I looked back and the sublime evidence was a single, undulating track across the otherwise unblemished face.

Cloud inversion over the Teton Valley from the top of Mt. Glory
Top of Mt. Glory

My final day in Jackson came courtesy of Exum Mountain Guides, an 80-year-old Teton-based guiding service that offers instruction and adventure on rope and skis in North America, the Alps, Andes, and Himalayas. The service traces their lineage to local legends of the 1930s like Glenn Exum, Paul Petzoldt, and Barry Corbet. They’re the granddaddy of Jackson guiding services and the resident experts on Grand Teton National Park. Despite the government shut-down and limited National Park operations, dedicated employees were plowing the entrance road and ensuring access to some of the Tetons best snow staches. My guide for the day was Brendan O’neill, who informed me of the birth of his daughter Jessie three weeks prior as we puttered to the Taggart Lake Trailhead.

If newborn Jessie was taxing this new dad’s sleep and energy reserves, his athletic, assiduous pace on the skintrack suggested otherwise. I asked Brendan about fatherhood, hoping to glean some insight into my own dad’s relationship with raising a daughter. He hopes to have Jessie on skis the second she can walk; he would be thrilled if she took to alpine or nordic racing, but amenable if she chose not to compete; he is excited to show her the world beyond the boundaries of a ski resort. As we muscled up towards Amphitheater Lake, I mused that twenty years from now, Jessie might look at pictures of her dad guiding in far-flung locales and make plans to fill and transcend those footsteps. I wonder if Brendan knows how much she will look up to him and his accomplishments.

Exum Guide and new father Brendan O’neill

  Even the evergreens projected patriarchy: the tallest trees nucleated their sapling broods with paternal solemnity, each molecule of powder glistening in the shaggy green branches. We broke through the forest onto snow-covered Amphitheater Lake, a cirque bounded by the bald, mangled granite of Teewinot to the north and Disappointment Peak to the west. On a snack pitstop, we watched another party of skiers lay down tracks in Spoon Couloir, a steep, enticing chute on Disappointment Peak’s lower haunch. Brendan seemed to sense my desire to get after a big alpine line and suggested we bootpack the Spoon must have been his newly acquired parental mind-reading superpower. After crossing the lake, we cut a haphazard zig-zag to the top of the Spoon’s apron and transitioned to the bootpack. 500 feet of vertical boot-punching propelled us up the gut and bookended the nearly 5,000 feet of vertical notched from trailhead to objective. From our humble perch on Disappointment’s flank, an electric blue sky slumbered atop a soupy mass of clouds, hallmark of a Teton Valley temperature inversion. Backgrounded by this topsy-turvy atmosphere, I skied down the hard-packed snow of the spoon’s handle into its apron of softer powder.

The Spoon Couloir visible on looker’s left of lower Disappointment Peak (center)
Bootpacking up the Spoon

Grand Teton, senior pinnacle of its range, poised with patriarchal authority over Middle Teton, Mt. Owen, and all the rest

To redeem the remainder of our hard-earned vertical, Brendan led us through a mellow glade percolated with unrumpled pillows aplenty. Matching his cuts through the pines was reminiscent of a childhood spent following my dad around the resort as I learned to trust my edges and my body. As I ripped skins back in the parking lot, giddy with alpine energy, I turned to gaze up at the Grand Teton, senior pinnacle of its range, poised with patriarchal authority over Middle Teton, Mt. Owen, and all the rest. I owe this unforgettable trip to Jackson Hole to my father for choosing to raise and inspire (and generously fund) a skier.

Thanks to Exum Mountain Guides for making this trip possible.

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