Global Spotlight: Siang River Trip November 2009 By David Dill, Global Descents guide Fellow Global Descents guide Matt West and I arrived in Delhi Nov. 3rd and were met at the airport by Global Descents owner Duke Bradford. In the morning, the three of us set off with our driver at 4 am for Rishikesh, the Yoga Capital of the World, and the Ganges River, determined to get in some of our own kayaking before beginning our commercial Siang expedition. The 7-hour drive was unlike any road travel I have experienced. Our gracious hosts at Snow Leopard Rafting had us set up with first class accommodations on the banks of the Ganges. Our first day of kayaking we paddled by a funeral happening right along the river and saw monkeys, cormorants and what looked like a night hawk. The next day we paddled the stretch from camp down to Rishikesh-with some big class IV rapids-and that evening we attended the nightly ganga aarti ceremony at a riverside temple. The Snow Leopard has three amazing camps with very comfortable accommodations and a great staff that sets the bar in guest service. We hated to leave but it was time to get back to smoggy Delhi to reorganize and meet our clients, and we opted for a flight from Dehra Dun instead of the return drive. After our first night's dinner with the Siang River Expedition clients (Jim, Wally, Ted, Wiley, and Jim) at the luxurious Trident Hotel, we discussed the plan for the next few weeks and what to expect. The logistics of getting to our put-in at Palsi in the state of Arunachal Pradesh where challenging, to say the least. Thanks to our inside man Roland Stevenson of RiverIndia, who met us at the airport in Dibrugarh after our flight from Delhi, things went as smoothly as can be expected in India. From Dibrugarh we hopped on a ferry for a few hours, crossing to a ghat on the other side of the Brahmaputra River. From here we took a Coach to the border of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. At the border we had to switch to different vehicles and continued on to Pasighat for the night. The next morning we got an early start and started up into the mountains for Jengging. It was a long day on the road but with incredible scenery, as we passed through villages and crossed many crystal clear tributaries and the occasional view of the Siang River.
We stayed in Jengging at the Circuit House, which typically hosts government officials. After another early start and long day on the road we finally reached our put-in at Palsi and met up with the rest of the crew, who had been rigging the boats and getting all of the gear ready. Camp in Palsi was a little tight but we knew from our drive that the Siang was loaded with gigantic beaches and that this would be our only tight camp. After a good night's rest we were finally ready to get on the water. But first we had to line the boats upstream in order to set up for Palsi Rapid. The plan for running Palsi was to enter left of center and move right to avoid the explosive laterals coming from the left. Jeremy's boat with Graham, Roland and Bodke went first so they could set up for photos. We gave them a few minutes then Matt-who was rowing a cat-dropped in, followed by me in the 16 ft. paddle boat, then Rick in an 18 ft. oar rig. It seemed like we were on line in the paddle boat but out of nowhere we got the smack down and flipped. Between our two safety kayakers and Jeremy's boat the mess was quickly picked up and we pulled in for lunch. But bad news: at lunch we found out Matt had had a swimmer in the rapid. One of the chickens he was carrying on the cat got out of the basket and took a bad swim. Evidently chickens don't swim so well and sadly we lost a good chicken that day. Back on the water, we were blown away by the scenery, with waterfall after waterfall dropping into the Siang. The rapids continued and can be described as Lava Falls on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon, only bigger, longer and more powerful. The estimated flow was roughly 40,000-60,000 at Palsi. After multiple large rapids we started looking for camp but weren't finding much. Suddenly we entered another large rapid and again the paddle boat received a healthy smack down. Flip #2 on Day One! The river gods were angry that day, my friends. We finally found a large sandy beach and settled in with some wine and whiskey.
Day 2: More waterfalls and big rapids. We pulled in to lunch and camped above our possible portage at Marta Rapid. We had a relaxing afternoon and enjoyed the sight and sound of a very powerful and intimidating rapid.
Day 3: In the morning a few local villagers wondered into camp to check us out. They left and returned with a bunch of guys with guns. They passed by Rick sitting on the groover (toilet) and we all got a good laugh. They were just curious about us and we all posed for a photo with the armed villagers. The villagers roamed around near camp collecting some kind of beetle they like to eat. We spent the morning getting boats through Marta by lining the paddle boat and rowing the oar boats with a rope attached to the stern in order to belay them into the eddy at the bottom. We lunched at the bottom of Marta then headed directly into the next big rapid. Below the next rapid we crossed under a sketchy hanging footbridge and continue to enjoy waterfalls dropping in to the river. Things finally eased up for a bit and we pulled into camp near Gette.
Day 4: We stopped to scout Yingkiong rapid which was a bit challenging as the rapid seems to go on and on. After a lengthy scout and lunch the paddle boaters decided to walk and Dave Kashinski towed the paddle boat out behind his kayak, set it up for a good line and turned it loose. The paddle boat ran a clean line and Dave towed it to shore at the bottom. All day, there were truly impressive sights to take in.
Day 5: We passed by two of the most beautiful surf waves I have ever seen. The first wave had a nice fluffy pile and the second wave had a beak on top. It was a wet and rainy day so the paddleboat ran conservative lines in an attempt to stay warm. At this stage we experienced unseasonable rain fairly steadily for the remainder of the trip. As a result of the rain, we decided to push downriver and set up for either a layover at our last camp or to get off a day early if the rains continued. Sadly the rain continued and we opted to take out a day early. The rain continued for the next two days while we stayed in Pasighat, so in the end it was best we got off the river early. We awoke the last morning on the river to find the river rising fast. We hurriedly moved the kitchen and a few guide tents and did so just in the nick of time. It was difficult to say what kind of flow we had on the last day. Estimates amongst the guides ranged from 60,000 cfs to over 100,000 cfs: who knows. No USGS river gauges there! Every day we experienced big volume, intimidating and powerful rapids, mean eddylines and deep seams. Every day we also experienced stunning scenery, waterfalls, hanging bridges, flora and curious locals. Sadly, late in the trip upstream from Boleng we started seeing what I believe were benchmarks from survey and engineering crews looking for a suitable dam sight. The Siang River is a world-class river trip, unlike any other river I have seen in the world. Take advantage while you can, who knows how long before the dam construction begins. This trip can be described as an exploratory expedition style trip. The section from Palsi to Yingkiong sees very few river trips each year and the rapids change from year to year and have varying flows. Special thanks to my fellow crew members who put so much time and energy into this trip before, during and after.
Also special thanks to Jim King, Wylie Greig, Ted Fouts, Wally Limburg, and Jim Martin for all your efforts and great attitudes. Looking forward to my return to the Siang River next fall, Dave Dill.