Ben Stookesberry 24/12/2013 | Posted in 2013 Karma, Whitewater
Disclaimer – This could be a very contentious subject because that little creek in your back yard could make an epic 3 meter wave with the right 100 year flood conditions. So let me apply some criteria to help narrow down the nearly ubiquitous potential for big voluminous flow to just a few select rivers, or 10 to be exact. First I tried to think about rivers that would still be considered big water even at there lower flows. So I am sad to say that pretty much eliminates everything in the Continental US short of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado. But unfortunately both it and and Cataract canyon fail to make my list do to a lack of the truely massive rapids. Thus the order of Ranking itself is really based on big runnable rapids even though many times I may actually portage those rapids. As many of you are well aware I also don’t mind big heinous portages. But for the sake of kayaking purity, I have used that as a detractor here instead of an attribute. As always I appreciate your comments and amendments to my top 10 lists especially when it is an idea for a new first descent that I might borrow ;). But seriously, here is my list for Top 10 Big Water Rivers on the PLANET:
1. Rondu Gorge of the Indus River – When I said heinous portages would be a detractor, I purposefully did not also say heinous danger. By definition big water rivers are dangerous simply because if you get in trouble your life jacket counts for nothing. And the Rondu also has big rocks to go with the massive flow of the eastern half of the front range of the Himalaya Mountains. But that’s what really makes it so good. That and the amazing access of the Karakorum highway that is eched into it’s impossibly massive gorge walls. Actually what makes the danger heinous is some combination of our governments drone strikes, and the Taliban and Al Quiada infused regions very close to the river corridor. When I went in 2008 it was much safer and there was a full on war going on just across the border. Now the war is “over” and the plight of both Afghanistan and its neighbor Pakistan has only increased. I can only pray for all the good people we met on our trip through the truley spectacular region and hope that one day the Indus will take it’s place along side it’s Karakorum mountain brethren as one of the highest adventures available on earth.
2. Siang River/ Yarlung Tsang Po – I can only speculate how amazing the Yarlung Tsang Po is above the border with India. On the other hand I am 100% sure that when it crosses a disputed border with India and becomes the Siang the next 15 miles of big water are pure magic. Big thick tourqoius waves are well over 10 feet tall and I can describe one rapid called the Wall simply by comparing it to VDrive on the Stikine with 50cfs in low water.
It’s a long journey to the Putin at the India/ China border so why not spend a week floating all the way out to the legendary Brahmaputra flood plain. There are still plenty of big rapids to keep you entertained along the way!
3. Grand Canyon Stikine – There is some debate about how hard this run really is… But there is no debate about how good the whitewater is if everything goes well. But to paraphrase Rush Sturgess, it’s important to remember that some of the best paddlers on earth have nearly lost there lives o this river at higher flows and that the very well respected Jeff West lost his life there. That being said it is the river of a lifetime and the very real risk is considered by many top paddlers to be worth the price of admission.
4. White Nile ( Murchison Falls) – This section of river scares me more than any other on this list hands down. And it’s a real shame that the bugagali section upstream has been dammed because that PG version of the White Nile would have made this list as well. But if you like running Itunda Falls over and over and want to feel some of the very same mortal danger that Murchison himself faced, track down Pete Merideth and take out another life insurance policy.
5. Congo – Kinshasa to Matadi- By many accounts this stretch is the most ferocious big water on the planet with well over a million CFS erupting through massive cataracts in the Crystal gorge. Certainly the story and film of Steve Fisher, Rush Sturges, Tyler Bradt, and Ben Marr during their 2012 descent is enough to answer any doubts. But the story that stays with me is from Hendri Coetzee hand paddling alone in the same rapids that swam the legendary Fisher. To be clear I have not been to this stretch of river, but it seems to be big water taken to the next level.
6. Mekong (4000 Islands) – Upstream in China the Mekong and it’s Parallel sisters the Salween and the Yangtze are by many accounts deserving of a spot on this list. But the Chinese hydroelectrification of this region considered to be a World Herritage site is quickly putting an end to the voluminous rapids of the Chinese Yunnan province. Luckily a 1000 miles down stream on the Mekong one of the most unique features of all of the world’s great rivers remains unspoiled at 4 thousand Islands on the Laos/ Cambodia border. Here the river drops 60 – 100 feet through a literal labyrinth of channels that in low water number in the thousands and add up to at least 100,000 CFS. This river is so good that it might make my top 10 creeking list as well just to give you an idea of the flow diversity distributed amongst the 10 mile swath of Mekong.
7. Rio Baker – The Rio Baker is another of the two rivers on this list that I have not done. But like the Congo, I feel obligated to but it in the heart of this list simply from the stories and photos I have heard of this place. The three canyon’s of the baker that are the main drainage for Patagonia’s northern Ice field are supposedly very stout but also quite doable. I am doing everything in my power to get down to the baker before the Chilean government and ravenous hydroelectric corporations turn the power of the mighty Rio Baker into a thousand miles of powerlines leading to more mines in the Andes.
8. Caroni – The Caroni brakes some rules of this big water list in that it has some big long portages especially at the flow we had 4 year’s ago. Still the river flows through one of the most magical wildernesses on earth in Venezuela’s Gran Sabana and is the principle tributary to one of the largest river’s on earth the Orinoco.
9. Rio Teles Pires (7 Quedas) – When we attempted the Teles Pires 5 year’s ago it was a Amazonian monster with over 100,000 cfs surging through a relatively narrow river corridor. Infact we only ran a few Km’s of this stretch of the Teles Pires that forms the border between the states of Mato Grosso and Para in Brazil. Above there the river is still untested but like many if not all of the rivers on this list, it may too soon succumb in the insatiable cooperate appetite for cheap power.
10. Futlefue/ Zambezi – These are the two most classic big water runs in the world of whitewater kayaking. Both of them are in the Southern Hemisphere. One is tropical and the other is in Patagonia fed by glaciers. You make the call. They both have enough punch and push to make this list!
*Unfortunately all of the rivers on this list should be considered endangered as they are prime principle targets for Hydroelectric development! If you know how to safe these rivers from this multi – trillion dollar industry let us know.