Hey all you paddlers and water junkies: Imagine a river with steep, big water rapids like the Stikine in British Columbia running through deep-walled canyons like the Grand Canyon in Arizona. It’s understandably hard to visualize, but these pictures of Kyrgyzstan’s Sary-Jaz River should help. The river begins at the Inichelk Glacier—one of the largest non-polar icecaps—and descends through inescapable rapids and steep canyons that narrow to nearly one meter across in the tightest sections. That’s a description to send most people running. For others, like photographer and paddler Erik Boomer plus a team of proven international kayakers, it sounds like an invitation. Here, Boomer shares a few of his favorite images from the crew’s September expedition down one of Asia’s most difficult rivers.
Photo: Days felt short in the canyon as the sun would quickly pass and jump from one wall to the other. Here, paddler Jared Meehan flows into the shade.Possibly the best shuttle vehicle ever. Six hours of driving over high mountain passes in an old military truck brought us to the start of the river in the Tian Shan mountain range.Some of the crew (clockwise from left): Gerd Serrasolses, Spain; Tomass Marnics, Russia; Philip Baues, Germany; Egor Voskoboinikov, Russia.The rest of the crew (clockwise from left): Jared Meehan, New Zealand; Thilo Schmitt, Germany; Sam Sutton, New Zealand; Ivan Kochlakov, Russia; Olaf Obsommer, Germany; Fabian Dorfler, Germany.Paddler Sam Sutton takes a leap of faith. One of the most dangerous aspects of paddling the Sary-Jaz was moving around on shore. Landslides and unsteady rocks are common in the canyon due to the powerful river and surrounding mountains.Videographer and paddler Olaf Obsommer takes time to document the canyon on the upper stretches of river.Sore muscles and early mornings. Here, one of our makeshift camps as the crew wakes up.One of the greatest joys of paddling whitewater is bombing down continuous rapids, which the Sary-Jaz provided for nearly an entire week.The huge boulder in the center of the frame is called Manhattan Rock. The name was given to it by a brave group of Russian rafters who first descended the canyon sometime in 1990.Paddlers Thilo Schmitt and Fabian Dorfler battle the powerful water.Paddler Tomass Marnics keeps his boat straight through the narrow canyon. Just before the river enters China, it presented us with a final challenge. The river cracks and divides the into thirds funneling the water through very tight channels approximately a meter and a half wide.The tight constrictions of the canyon created extremely powerful whitewater that was hard to read.Sutton waits for our helicopter pick up at Cancer Camp at the end of our river expedition. The camp is named after the piles of broken asbestos roofing shingles laying around the old abandoned Soviet weather station.Gerd Serrasolses crosses the Sary-Jaz River on an old Soviet-era cable car, a relic from the abandoned Soviet weather station.Paddler Ivan Koslachkov hiking his boat and gear out of the canyon over loose rocks and cliffs to an area where a helicopter could pick us up just short of the Chinese border. In the canyon, called the Eyes of God, any slip or fall could easily lead to serious injury, or send us tumbling into the Class V river below.The M1-8 Russian helicopter landing to shuttle us and our boats back to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. After touching down the pilots were unable to restart the helicopter. With a small tool kit that included oily butter knives, they opened up a couple side panels and replaced some parts. Their quick fix worked, the helicopter carried us out of the canyon and back to our basecamp in the capital city.“Russian style” campfire cooking with the pot propped over the fire to celebrate our successful descent.
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