Tsangpo Dispatch—March 4, 2002

A river runs through it: Rainbow Falls viewed from downstream. Team member Andrew Sheppard was able to make the perilous traverse over and down to the very edge of the storied cascade.     Photo: Andrew Sheppard

Rainbow Falls, Tsangpo River

A river runs through it: Rainbow Falls viewed from downstream. Team member Andrew Sheppard was able to make the perilous traverse over and down to the very edge of the storied cascade.

Tsachu, Po Tsangpo River Today is a reunion day. We kayakers had been impatiently awaiting a scheduled sat-phone voicemail message from Ken Storm and the crew that trekked to Hidden and Rainbow Falls after the hellish portage. Likely due to the weather and depth of the inner gorge, they had not been able to leave a message. We grew slightly uneasy, as it would be incredibly hard to send help if they ran into trouble as they had almost all the locals who know the area with them. We checked the voicemail every hour until finally there was a faint message from Dustin Lingdren—he sounded tired but explained that they had returned to Payi and were heading to Tsachu.

For the rest of the day the kayakers sorted gear and excitedly awaited the return of the waterfall hunters. At about 4 P.M., a great "whoop" was heard from Johnny, who was taking photos down on the ridge. Soon after a bedraggled and weak Andrew Sheppard dragged himself into camp. The leader of the mountain sections and by far the strongest of the ground team was suffering from slight gut problems and looked tired and far skinnier than when we last saw him. But he was glowing. He gave a rapid brief of the past few days of adventure, explaining how they had pushed through fresh snow over the Sechen La and dropped into the inner gorge, then descended to Hidden and Rainbow Falls. Andrew had been able to rappel to the very lip of Hidden Falls, and traversed up to Rainbow Falls, walking all the way out to its brink. The team had photographed and filmed the entire trip and had re-measured the falls with Ken Storm's laser range finding equipment. At the low water level, they were indeed higher than previously recorded: Rainbow Falls stood at 78 feet and Hidden Falls 108 feet in its staggered drop.

One by one the team reached camp. Each man offered his own tales and each was handed a fresh beer and a chocolate bar. Ken was suffering. He has been into the gorge now six times and I think he might be happy to call this trip his last. Then again, give him a few months off, and I bet it wouldn't be hard to convince him to come again!

So we are all together again in the village of Tsachu. The river journey is complete, the waterfalls of the inner gorge have been reached, and everyone is safe and sound.

We have achieved far more than I think any of us had hoped for, and all the way the gorge has been opening up to us and closing behind as we passed. The river was as low as it gets and provided us banks allowing passage through many of the terminal, walled-in sections we thought we would have to hike around. The weather has been finer than any records we've seen. And we crossed over the 12,000-foot-plus pass on the critical and punishing four-day portage just before weather set in and closed it.

We are now just two days of hiking along the Po Tsangpo from the road and town of Pelung.

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