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The Indus River through the Rondu Gorge
Northern Territories, Pakistan V+

Episode Eleven

   In my short career of paddling, Pakistan wins the prize for the lowest cost of living in country. Being a notoriously cheap kayaker, this motel was right up my alley at thirty cents per person. We never spent a night in a heated building while in Pakistan, so as an added bonus, this one was warm.

   Over cups of chai in the morning Chris decided his stomach still wasn't up to par, so he would go media from the road with my old camera. Down at water level we got into the mix of things right away.

Myself hiking down to put-in. Just like one of the locals...well maybe not, mutual goodwill was shared.

Ben Stookesberry leads the charge under ideal lighting.

   While on the trip I really thought so many days of similar big water would blend together, and I would write about them in one big summary. Each day had its own challenges and stand out rapids, and on day sixteen one of the most memorable came early in the day.

Ben Stookesberry - the look says it all...

   The river split around a bedrock island, and rejoined into a maelstrom of waves, holes and folds, all leading into a fifty foot wide hole that could potentially surf a kayaker into a pile of boulders. After that it was simply a hundred yard long run out of monster breaking waves.

First off though, a stout boof move. 

   We would come down the alley way, wait to pass a lateral ledge, then drive far to river left, completely avoiding the monster hole. At least that was the plan.

Ben Stookesberry gearing up to cross some currents.

   The Indus set the example for the complexity of scouting big water, and Ben quickly realized he wouldn't be going left of the hole. He squared up and dropped in, disappearing for a tense moment but resurfacing clear of backwash.

Ben Stookesberry in the run out.

Phil Boyer decided to go next, but opted to cut left earlier rather than later.

The large horizon downstream is the big hole, Phil Boyer gets setup to punch.

   Phil emerged from the hole unscathed, so I told myself it was really just a big class IV...as long as you don't screw up. I gave a thumbs up and hiked back to my boat, knowing that it would be big and a lot of it would have to be figured out at river level. On a river of this proportions, features constantly change and luck can play a large role in lines.

Oh shit - the author

   I came into the boof hot and got enough of one to be stable and in control through the alley way. I knew the rapid was too long to paddle at full speed the whole time, and this seemed like a good time for a break, when Phil made the move through the lateral folding hole it looked pretty mellow.

   As my bow dropped into the fold I realized it wasn't going to be mellow at all, and I should have a lot more momentum but it was too late. I went deep and resurfaced upright but facing upstream. As I turned around a wave broke over my head and knocked me over, forcing a quick roll. I told myself it would be ok as I rolled up. While scouting I had liked a right of center line where the big hole looked more like a wave, so I lined up for the wave train. To my displeasure the first big wave broke as I came into it, and with no speed I was surfed to the left and once again, not facing the right direction and the hole was approaching too fast.

Already short on breath I spun my boat around and got ready for the ride...

   It felt like dropping into the base of a big waterfall, but I remembered what I had heard from big water veterans, tucked in tight and protected my skirt and paddle.

The author with some big water play boating.

The hole quickly had its way with me, typewritering me to river right where I had planned on going originally.

I felt immense relief as the hole released me to finish the rest of the rapid, where two more waves knocked me over, but I stayed in my boat and sought the haven of calm water.

Humbled yet again by the power of the "Lion River" we continued on. Ben Stookesberry, Phil Boyer and the author.

   Our next cascade had looked very questionable from the Karakoram Highway, but from river level it looked friendlier than expected. Or perhaps the last rapid had just put things in perspective.

Ben Stookesberry approaches a boulder garden of Karakoram proportions. 

A quick scout and there was no doubt the right side was good to go, so Phil Boyer fired away through the beautiful garden.

The author on the same spectacular rapid.

One truly breathtaking section of whitewater...

   Happy to have two huge puzzles behind us, we split off from the road. Chris and Roland drove downstream to speak at the school while we finished up the section. The corner revealed one more long scout, and my eyes widened but mouth stayed shut as Ben routed Phil through a big rapid.

Phil Boyer showing his experience and having no problems.

   The walls opened again, and gradient eased off, letting us get away lots of read n run with the occasional quick scout from shore.

Ben Stookesberry and Phil Boyer enjoying some of the more relaxed whitewater on the Indus.

Sometimes we had more spectators than many freestyle events.

At take out we met our new Police escort. We had just moved from Skardu police district to Gilgits zone, and the new officers were very friendly.

   They knew there wouldn't be lodgings for quite a ways downstream, so we returned to our cozy accommodations of the previous eve.