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Hell or High Water: Surviving Tibet's Tsangpo River (2004)

von Peter Heller

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1024215,031 (3.5)2
It is the Everest of rivers, a maelstrom of water and rocks, gradient and flow. It is the world's last great adventure prize, remote, forbidding, and hidden from Western eyes. Long considered unrunnable, the Tsangpo River has drawn extreme kayakers since the sport was born. It's killed them too. One group did it. A mammoth, old-school adventure team led by a young, fiery river cowboy battled the white water, their Sherpa, and a Himalayan winter to log the first descent of the Tsangpo. Peter Heller, himself an accomplished kayaker, was along for the ride. In this beautifully written and exciting tale, he takes us into the water and down the cataclysmic vertical drops, painting a portrait of a grand adventure in a place that time never touched.… (mehr)
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I really loved Heller's The Dog Stars and some of his other books, so was very hopeful for this non-fiction account of kayaking in Tibet. However, it never really grabbed me. A better river adventure book is River of Doubt, by Candice Millard. ( )
  exfed | Dec 7, 2019 |
In 2002 Scott Lindgren leads a group of kayakers on the first run of the Tsangpo Gorge, the Everest of rivers in the Eastern Himalaya, in a place so remote that it's near mythical Hidden Falls have been seen by only a handful of people. Peter Heller joins the company of Sherpas and porters that support them on shore. While the kayakers have some close calls on the river as they push the limits of the doable, the party on shore have to climb steep cliffs in difficult conditions to rejoin the river at the next camp as the river run through it's steep gorge.

I expected to love this one. But somehow I never really got into the story. One part was due to the fact that I just don't have an understanding of the sport. Though Heller gives a good introduction, I could not really get a feel for the skills needed, the difficulties the paddlers faced remained abstract. The other thing that felt weird, was that the book just seemed to skip from scene to scene without achieving a flow. I was often confused about the flow of time and had difficulties keeping the protagonists straight.

Nevertheless it was a fascinating tale and a grand adventure. There's also some interesting background on the history and culture of the place and a recounting of earlier visits. ( )
  sushicat | Jan 14, 2016 |
Reads as a white-water version of Lord of the Rings - epic adventure by a small cluster of die-hard kayakers along the Tsanpo, the ferocious river of Tibet. Encompasses the difficulty of navigating local politics, the beauty of Tibetan culture, and the harshness of the Chinese occupation. Written as a documentary/autobiography. ( )
  MarisaVarley | Oct 29, 2012 |
This book tells the story of kayaking down a large portion of the Tsangpo river gorge, in the winter to hit it at lowest flow. The author and a large support group hike along the sides of the canyon. The Tsangpo drains most of the north side of the Himalayas before turning south in an extremely deep gorge between 23,000-foot mountains and entering India as the Brahmaputra. The huge volume of water going through the narrow gorge makes the river a terrible challenge for kayaking. The location, with the river, the lush jungle and snow, and old Tibetan monasteries sounds stunning.

It is a good story. The author is a bit prone to exaggeration---e.g., talking about how they were entering an area where nobody had ever gone before when there are clear paths, or "It was the loveliest sunrise any of us had ever seen." This makes it hard to trust his descriptions of the river conditions. There aren't any photographs, nor a glossary to tell us the difference between a "hole" and a "pocket." It reads like an extended Outside magazine article, but it is still fun. He doesn't get too close to any of the kayakers, though, since there seem to be severe personal conflicts.

The historical parts of the book, although short, are quite intriguing, and he gives his references. Derek Waller's "Pundits, British exploration of Tibet and Central Asia," and F.M. Bailey's "No passport to Tibet" in particular sound great. The first tells the story of British spies sent from India in to try to explore Tibet, and has one fascinating piece on attempts to discover where the Tsangpo went by trekking through the gorge. ( )
  breic2 | Jun 19, 2008 |
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To my parents John and Caro
And to my grandmother Barbara Cheney Watkins who loved a river story
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The only sound was wind, rippling and snapping the prayer flags that ran down the riverbank and freezing the paddlers' hands as they zipped into drysuits.
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It is the Everest of rivers, a maelstrom of water and rocks, gradient and flow. It is the world's last great adventure prize, remote, forbidding, and hidden from Western eyes. Long considered unrunnable, the Tsangpo River has drawn extreme kayakers since the sport was born. It's killed them too. One group did it. A mammoth, old-school adventure team led by a young, fiery river cowboy battled the white water, their Sherpa, and a Himalayan winter to log the first descent of the Tsangpo. Peter Heller, himself an accomplished kayaker, was along for the ride. In this beautifully written and exciting tale, he takes us into the water and down the cataclysmic vertical drops, painting a portrait of a grand adventure in a place that time never touched.

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