I probably shouldn’t but I will – A metaphor that comprehensively covers my latest trip.
I only had two weeks for this trip, where I would have a minimum of two travel days to get there and the same on the way back, leaving me with ten days to make the cost of the flight worth it. I probably shouldn’t, but I will.
I have been almost exclusively using a half slice kayak this year and the learning curve from using it as my main kayak has been wild. With the few times I have gotten back into a full size creek boat being for excessively rowdy pieces of whitewater and overnighters. Meghalaya has many overnighters, but you don’t need that much kit to camp overnight in warm weather … and I have been using the medium Ripper, and there is a large version … I probably shouldn’t, but I will!
Cheeky plane ticket booked, questionable kayak choice in hand, a random assortment of clothes stuffed into a bag and I was on my way.
Palm ambassador Joe Rea-Dickins and his crew have been exploring this region of India for years and recently wrote a guidebook to the area, this was a deciding factor in this trip being worth it for me. GPS co-ordinates of access points and info on all the rivers, photos, recommendations and advice galore. Simply brilliant. Or it would have been if I could have found mine before the trip. Fortunately, two people in my crew had one.
We soon put the guidebook to use finding our first river of the trip. The Lower Umtrew, this river is nothing short of a gift to kayakers, about ten kilometres of great whitewater with a couple of long flat pools at the start and end. The rapids have a really nice style to them, powerful and ranging from short to ‘Eurrgh ma gurd, it’s still going!’. The last rapid especially is good.
We did a few laps on this section and then headed over to the Kopili river, this river is widely reputed to be more fun than Disneyland. Unfortunately, as we were driving there we got word that the dam was having issues and the river was really low. There has been many a time in the past where we heard that the level was wrong and the wave or drop wasn’t in and we have gone anywhere and found it was actually still pretty sick. We decided to go anyway and see what it was like.
After spending five hours paddling flat water and low water chossy rapids I can inform you that it was too low. (Bugger).
Keen for more water underneath our kayaks we headed to the Kynshi river. From reading my mate’s guide book and looking at photos of this river, this is the one I was most excited to check out.
We packed up our kayaks for three days on the river and put on. There were a couple of small, fun rapids at the start and then all of a sudden we came to a mank rockpile with a tight line around them. I fired it up and it went well but I had to fight to control the loaded Ripper the whole way down. From there we had a couple more awesome rapids before arriving at the Shillong in a Box waterfall.
This thing was wild a perfect ledge folds away to the right before the whole of the rivers flow pumps down into the pool below. There was just so much power at the bottom of this thing. I decided against going for a traditional plug line because I didn’t want to deal with all the powerful water under the surface. The landing was so fluffy I felt good about just skying off the biggest boof that I could, take the hit and hopefully stay on top of the water.
Paddling up to that horizon line set on flying out as far and as hard as I could was wild. Generally speaking, that is not what you want to do off a waterfall much bigger than fifteen feet, this one was fifty. I probably shouldn’t, but I will.
I flew off the drop, felt myself falling, watched my landing spot get covered in water, felt no hit and then all of a sudden really powerful water all around me and my kayak folding in on me. At this point, I thought my leg was going to break from the kayak folding on it, which would suck because you really are out there on this river and a rescue would have been a long process.
I was contemplating my options of what to do underwater when all of a sudden the kayak full of water got sent to the bottom of the river and my leg ripped out of it. I popped up thinking I was past the next seam line, smiled and then realised I was actually just about to hit it. Sigh, big breath, One Mississippi, two Mississippi …. twelve Mississippi. Oh good, air. Delicious oxygen.
The lad who set safety for me was trying to rescue my kayak but honestly seemed really concerned with the next waterfall coming up (understandable) and my kayak went over the next drop. Again, you do not want to have to exit this canyon by any way other than the river.
‘Mate, I need your kayak and your paddle …’
I took of sprinting towards the next drop, was I really about to run this thing *blind with someone else’s gear and in a kayak I had never used before?
*By blind, I mean that I had seen this waterfall in a thousand photos and videos and knew it was a straightforward boof.
I probably shouldn’t but I will.
I boofed over the drop and took off for the next rapid, not seeing my kayak anywhere. I got to the top of the next rapid and could see it ended in a big hole. Keen not to swim again and lose a kayak that wasn’t mine I took out and scrambled down the bank. The kayak had saved itself in a pocket eddy and another one of the lads was grabbing it for me. (Thank you river gods and Gareth Lake).
The fold had popped out and left a small crease but other than that the kayak was in great shape.
We spent an awesome night under the stars, taking in the stunning scenery of this gorge, before continuing on down the river, the rest of the river delivered some easy rapids, some fun ones and a couple of really hard ones. Being honest, in a fully loaded Ripper there were not that many easy ones. The big powerful style and quantity of these rapids and the scenery are what put it firmly in my favourite rivers list.
We did another Lower Umtrew lap and then all of a sudden it was time to leave. My main goal for this trip was to see what all the hype was about this area of the world and even on such a short trip, I found out that the hype is real. With impending dams threatening to wipe more and more rivers out and the political instability and mounting tensions in many countries at the moment, it is refreshing to find a new warm water, winter destination filled with sick rapids.
I probably shouldn’t have, but I’m glad I did.
Catch you on the water, Bren
All photos by Kalob Grady, Jonny Chase, Carson Lindsay and Evan Moore.