Flowing 700 miles east across the Tibetan Plateau, the Tsangpo (called the Yarlung in Chinese) drains the north slope of the Himalayas before plunging into the gorge. Here it flows between two massive 23,000 foot-plus peaks, Namcha Barwa and Gyala Pelri, before hanging a sharp right and diving south through a corridor of almost vertical rock, eventually emerging onto the jungled plains of India as the Brahmaputra. From the plateau, the river loses 9,000 feet of altitude in 150 miles.
In February 2002, Scott Lindgren and six colleagues, powered their kayaks into a maelstrom of enormous boulders and deafening whitewater.
The Tsangpo was at its deep-winter low ebb. Still, the kayakers immediately felt the power of the biggest, most continuously fearsome water they had ever paddled—15,000 cubic feet per second, dropping 100 to 200 feet per mile in some sections.
Fourteen days after launch, when the seven kayakers eddied out just above the unrunnable torrents of Rainbow Falls, they had made history.
Extreme kayakers have developed new techniques to control their descents over massive falls. Boaters tuck forward like high divers, laying flat across the bow and angling their boats nose first, which reduces the surface area hitting the water and softens the impact. Some even attach fins to the back of the boats so that they drop straight down, like a dart. The most common injury, kayakers say, is a broken nose.
Sturdier equipment has spurred advances in the sport. Brittle fiberglass kayaks have been replaced by tougher, molded plastic boats that can absorb big impacts. Unlike their cigar-shaped predecessors, newer kayaks have flat bottoms like surf boards, allowing boaters to skip off crests of waves and bounce off rocks in a move kayakers call a “boof.”
It all sounds possible – but as you will see in the video below from EditorJud this is a terrifying and extreme journey that some will not come back from – in the video which was released earlier this year the story of Doug Gordon who was killed kayaking on the Tsangpo is retold. With respect.