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Stookesbery and Korbulic Reach the River on the Irrawaddy Mission
Posted on February 4, 2016

Good morning from beautiful Dahangdam! Yesterday afternoon we finished the most arduous river access of our lives by taking the final steps of the 83 mile trek to the uppermost habitation of the Maykha valley, known as Tibet in Myanmar for its Tibetan population and culture. Today, even though we're going to walk another few miles upstream, the paddling chapter begins and regardless of the unknowns downstream, it's going to be amazing to take the boats off our backs and paddle in this incredible river.

Three weeks back, we highlighted the kick off for a mission of magnitude worthy of only Chris Korbulic and Ben Stookesberry. It’s a one-way kayaking journey that charts a course from the most remote corner of the Himalaya, 1,200 miles south into Myanmar through stretches of river never seen before by the outside world. The objective—a first kayak descent of the Upper Maykha River, the highest headstream of the legendary Irrawaddy—is ambitious like many of their previous expeditions. But what is unique is that they are being tracked by Delorme GPS in a remote region that is completely off the grid.

The trip hasn’t gone entirely as planned with kayaks (aka windsurf boards) arriving weeks late via overland journey, injuries slowing their progress to the put in and complex terrain complicating an already complicated mission in a newly-opened region near the border with Tibet. It was an 83-mile trek to the put in alone.

For those who have been following along at home, via Gramwire, this struggle is not new news. But today we’re checking back in with the two Nat Geo Adventurers of the Year and posting a few of the images they’ve been able to send out via sat phone. We’ll have a more comprehensive recap of their mission next month on the Live Your Adventure blog, but you can track their real time progress and daily epics below.

Images and Captions by Ben Stookesberry and Chris Korbulic

Crossing the Maykha. Of many bridges on the way upstream, this is one of the worst that crosses the main river, but great relative to all the tiny creek and ravine crossings with only a piece of bamboo as a shaky balance beam.

Ben and Chris have been uploading Soundcloud dispatches from the field, check out the moment they finally reached the river below.

Heat and cold, rain and wind, this trek is the real deal. Here Stookesberry negotiates one of the many exposed and continuously shifting sections of trail. We've made it to Dahangdan after 85 miles of trekking to end the trail chapter of the journey, now begins the river chapter. Regardless of the unknowns downstream, it's going to be amazing to get the boats off our backs and into this incredible river!

Ben Stookesberry’s recap of the objective:

The trek alone to the put-in near Hkakabo Razi base camp will be a 70-mile, 10,000- vertical-foot epic just to access one of the most remote descents this team has ever attempted, which is saying something, considering the places these National Geographic Adventurers of the Year have gone and the long list of first descents on their achievement list. Once on the river, the pair anticipates a stretch of Himalayan-sized river that drops 5,000 feet in the first 55 miles, with another 150 miles to follow, described by locals as remote and unrunnable.

The trek has been brutal at times, fun at others, hot and long and grueling by any standard. Here on one of the many ladders and bridges, I was especially feeling the heat!

If all goes well they will follow these, the highest headwaters of the Irrawaddy, via paddle and local river boats all the way down one of the largest, still free-flowing rivers on earth to the Andaman Sea and the country’s largest city of Yangon. Unfortunately, with the impending major hydroelectric development, this may be one of the last opportunities to navigate the great Irrawaddy from source to sea. Here’s hoping Ben and Chris can make it happen, and tell us a few tales from along the way.

The boat-pack might not be the most photogenic carrying system but it's definitely the best at what it does, which is allow us to trek from 1500' to around 7000' over 9 days. Through jungle and eventually into the snow, this is by far the hardest river access we've attempted. With three days to go, we're sore and a little beaten but seeing amazing whitewater on the Maykha reminds us what all the struggle is for!

Check out the First Ascent series of gear Ben and Chris packed on their mission at eddiebauer.com.

Author: - Thursday, February 4th, 2016
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  1. Minty Mile

    Wow… will follow these guys… will be great they do this… again dam a beautiful river!! … why can’t they leave it free, the beatiful rivers we have… best of luck guys, this is so touching and exciting not to mention inspiring.

  2. Jonathan Moore

    This story is inspiring and amazing. This is the adventure of my dreams. I just bought an Airstream and I am about to set out on my own adventure with my wife and our chihuahua so are looking forward to our cross country US travels this year.

  3. Eddie Bauer Social

    Have fun on your road trip, Jonathan.

  4. Ronald climber

    great adventure, full of challenges and friendship

  5. Jalu

    Halo there, my name Jalu Lintang, could you get me a FAQ for this trip? me and my team just planned to go rafting to myanmar and some around. im from Indonesia btw


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