After a decade of failed attempts and fatal rebuffs, an Outside-sponsored expedition runs Tibet’s Upper Tsanpgo Gorge—and lives to tell about it.
ON FEBRUARY 16, 2002, Scott Lindgren powered his kayak into a maelstrom of enormous boulders and deafening whitewater, boofed a ten-foot vertical drop, and sliced smoothly left through a needle’s eye of rock at the bottom before the thundering water could pile-drive him into an undercut block. Farther downriver, he hit the edge of a six-foot-deep, river-wide hole and rode a jet of current around to the right before sprinting to safety in a boiling eddy. One after another, his companions—a handpicked squad of six of the world’s most able big-water kayakers—hit other shore eddies, threw their paddles clattering among the boulders, and stood to look at each other with a wild surmise. Fourteen days and dozens of Class V+ rapids after setting off from the remote Tibetan village of Pe, they had completed the first descent of the Upper Tsangpo Gorge—known among paddlers as the “Everest of Rivers”—one of the most daunting and dangerous adventures ever undertaken.