Be First recipient Gerry Moffatt has set out across the Kingdom of Bhutan to complete his 14-year quest to paddle all of Bhutan’s major rivers and to help pave the way for a sustainable Bhutanese adventure travel industry. Our Be First program is an opportunity to get sponsored when you go for your own summit, whatever that may be. To learn more and submit your proposals, visit Be First.
By Gerry Moffatt
A hive of activity precedes our entry into the canyon. Each of us meticulously packs the self-support gear required for the journey ahead: sleeping bag, Therm-a-Rest, tarp, food, first aid kit, rescue rope, First Ascent BC-200, expedition-weight underwear, break-down paddle, cooking pot, lighter, water bottle, toothbrush, and—everyone’s favorite—camera equipment!
The night is accompanied with a familiar, mixed bag of emotions prior to entering a difficult section of unfamiliar river. I weigh the task at hand—given the current water levels and unpredictability of a late monsoon—against 27 years of experience expedition kayaking throughout the Karakorum, Hindu Kush, Tibetan plateau, Indian and Nepalese Himalaya. I have good reason to be concerned.
We woke early, and it came as no surprise when the indomitable Willie Kern led the charge into the first series of rapids. Once committed to this type of trip, there is no turning back, no retreat. The canyon is unimaginably spectacular. Wildlife is abundant in this part of the kingdom. Tiger, leopard, red panda, golden langur and wild elephant are but a few of the exotic species residing in what the map describes as “dense mixed jungle.” The beauty of this remote place is staggering, reminding me exactly why I kayak, and why I sought out to become the first person to paddle all of Bhutan’s major rivers.
Eastern Bhutan is one of the last remaining pieces of the puzzle in the country to be mapped and, now that it is becoming better understood, the future of river running in the kingdom seems brighter than ever. This trip had already served an important purpose, for it wasn’t long before we reached the conclusion that these high November flows would be potentially lethal for commercial descents—not necessarily bad news. At night we talked of a new and exciting season for Bhutan’s emerging whitewater industry: a warm, low-elevation season in the sub-tropical climate of the far east lasting from January to March, adding perfectly to the existing fall and spring seasons of the higher elevated western and central regions.
As we pack our duffels and prepare for the next adventure, we are again thankful to know that this paradise exists. And that it won’t be long before we will return to the kingdom in the clouds.
In closing, I’d like to thank Mr Ugyen Dorji (Xplore Bhutan) who has made all our endeavors in the kingdom possible. You are a legend. As for anyone interested in traveling to Bhutan, or any other destination, throw caution to the wind, make a plan and travel as far from the beaten track as possible.
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