Last week, on the outskirts of Salt Lake City, I sat at a small table with Steve Fisher, considered by many to be the world’s best kayaker, two other friends, one old and one new, stuffed grape leaves, tabouleh, za’atar, some turkish coffee and a couple of local beers. We listened to a jet-lagged Fisher reminisce about his experience in Tibet’s Tsangpo Gorge, which would become a book, Hell Or High Water, by Outside writer Peter Heller, and a documentary, Into The Tsangpo Gorge, that you can watch for free on Hulu. It’s an amazing story, and while I had the advantage of hearing bits and pieces in between bites of pita bread, the short documentary on Hulu is well worth your time.
The Tsangpo Gorge in southeastern Tibet has lured explorers and adventurers since its discovery. Sacred to the Buddhists, the inspiration for Shangri La, the Gorge is as steeped in legend and mystery as any spot on earth. As a river-running challenge, the remote Tsangpo is relentlessly unforgiving, more difficult than any stretch of river ever attempted. Its mysteries have withstood a century’s worth of determined efforts to explore it’s length. The finest expedition paddlers on earth have tried. Several have died. All have failed. Until now.
In January 2002, in the heart of the Himalayan winter, a team of seven kayakers launched a meticulously planned assault of the Gorge. The paddlers were river cowboys, superstars in the universe of extreme kayaking who hop from continent to continent ready for the next death-defying pursuit.