Dispatches, November 1998
The producers have, for some reason, bleeped the expletive, but still we know what kayaker Scott Lindgren is shouting: "Grab the frickin' rope! Grab the frickin' rope!" A woman is flailing, her kayak out of control in a monstrous hole, and the MTV-style documentary Bolivia: Andes to Amazon rages on, replete with a thrash-rock soundtrack. Elsewhere on the film, Lindgren — who doubles as cinematographer — explains his thirst for this sort of mayhem. "I've always had this empty space in me," he intones, € la Kurt Cobain. "I never seem to get enough."
Addiction? Yes. A resident of Auburn, California, Lindgren, 26, is currently spearheading a campaign by a new generation of cocksure and ferociously talented young boaters to redefine the limits of expedition kayaking. As evidence, he can point to a string of feats that includes the first unsupported descent of British Columbia's Stikine River Gorge in 1993 and, that same year, the first descent of Nepal's formidable Thule Bheri. "He's the best guy to paddle with because he's like a probe," says veteran expedition kayaker Ed Lucero. "He'll try anything first."
Lindgren's confidence draws on equal measures of skill and bravado — qualities that he shares with many kayakers of his generation, and ones that can carry a high price. Last year, six of his friends drowned in whitewater accidents, part of a litany of fatalities for which Charlie Walbridge, safety coordinator for the American Whitewater Association, publicly blamed "invincible" young males with "a severe case of testosterone poisoning." Taking the slur personally, Lindgren E-mailed 33 of the sport's luminaries asking them to "get this guy ousted." Then he turned his focus to what he calls "the most powerful shit on the planet" — the waters of Tibet's Tsangpo River Gorge, a fire-hose-like torrent that drops through the Himalayas at an average rate of 65 feet per mile (the Colorado, by comparison, descends at an average of eight feet per mile).
Having undertaken a scouting trip last April, Lindgren returns this month to attempt a 50-mile stretch of the Tsangpo that wraps around the 25,000-foot Namch Barwa. Boasting suck holes the size of small houses, it has never been run, though another expedition, led by ex-Olympian kayaker Wick Walker, may attempt part of the same section a few weeks before Lindgren arrives. In any case, Lindgren's bid could either earn him distinction as one of the world's finest kayakers or consign him to the fate of his lost friends. "If Scott lives to be 45," muses Lars Holbek, who dominated expedition kayaking in the '80s, "well, then I'll say he knew what he was doing."
Photograph by Michael Llewellyn
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