Friday, February 12, 2016

It's High Time!



It’s High Time

Book, flying off Everset, Dave Costello
Flying off Everest
I just finished reading “Flying off Everest” by Dave Costello. His fascinating book is about the two Nepali men, Sano Babu Sunuwar and Lakpa Tsheri Sherpa, who decided to climb Mount Everest together, jump off the top and paraglide down to the confluence of the Dudh Khosi and Sun Khosi River. From there they planned to kayak to the sea. 

But there is a catch, or two. For one there were insufficient funds, and no equipment. Oh, and no permission. Then there was the small problem that Babu who usually lived at lower altitude had no technical climbing experience and suffered from altitude sickness. Not such an advantage for an ascent of the World’s highest peak. The other had climbed Everest before but couldn’t swim, and had never kayaked before. You just know it’s going to end badly. 

I enjoy discovering about people who quietly take off and do something, simply because they want to. They make something happen, even if it’s not always precisely what they had originally envisioned. 

As the late Doctor Mike Jones said “You conceive the idea, you plan it, you carry it out and you get a great feeling of satisfaction.”

book, Canoeing down Everest, Mike Jones
Canoeing down Everest
Mike Jones conceived the idea of kayaking down Everest. In 1976 at the age of 24 he set out with a few friends to paddle the Dudh Kosi River from its melt-water lake source 17,500 feet high on Mount Everest to its junction with the Sun Kosi River. 

This set a new altitude record for kayaking. It was also rather steeper than anything they had paddled before. The Colorado River through Grand Canyon falls 10 feet per mile. The Dudh Kosi falls 280 feet per mile. 

You really get a real sense of his youthful exuberance from reading his book “Canoeing down Everest.”  (That of course is the old British usage of “canoeing” to describe “kayaking”. Those who enjoy a single bladed paddle in Britain get their fun “paddling Canadians”. I’ll say no more.)

Mike Jones had a series of amazing adventures with his friends because that's what he wanted to do. After great success on a number of significant rivers before and after including the Dudh Kosi, sadly one adventure went astray. In 1978 Mike Jones perished on the Braldu River in Pakistan, trying to save a friend. 

In his memory Mike’s parents Molly and Reg set up a charity, now part of the Winston Churchill Travel Scholarship. It is for “people doing expeditions, with preference given to kayaking and youth”. Dave Manby, who paddled with Mike Jones on the Dudh Kosi and also the Braldu, came up with the idea of a memorial Rally: the Mike Jones Rally, and organized it for ten years, hosting thousands of paddlers for riotous wet weekends in North Wales, white water kayaking the River Dee at Llangollen in cardboard kayaks with everyone dressed up as… well, you get the idea. These events raised significant funds for the charity. The rally still thrives, no longer on the Dee, but instead I believe mostly on the Tyne.

40 years after that first kayak descent of the Dudh Kosi River, I’m happy to see Dave Manby still out there and active. He has even been remastering the original film of the 1976 Everest Descent. He has made a huge contribution to the kayaking world, not least in taking disabled people on whitewater, and helping young paddlers fulfill their dreams. Likewise the legendary Mick Hopkinson, probably the most experienced in the 1976 team, is still out there making and playing waves in New Zealand and USA. I’m glad Mike Jones made such an impact, but sad that he was not around for longer.

But what of the two Nepali with the idea they conceived? Fast-forward to 2011: “Let’s climb to the top of Everest, jump off, paraglide to the river and paddle to the sea.” There is undeniably a poetic completeness about such a trip, from the word’s highest point above the sea, down to the sea. 

If their plan succeeded they would start kayaking at the place where Mike Jones and his team finished theirs in 1976. The Sun Khosi River is forceful here, with serious rapids, so what were these guys thinking? Lakpa could not swim. He had never sat in a kayak before. No problem, we’ll paddle tandem: really? I won't spoil the story; it's a good one and very well told in Flying off Everest.

Thank you Dave Costello for bringing this story out! It’s a great read! 

These two books do make a great pairing to read together:
Flying off Everest” by Dave Costello, Lyons Press, 2014
"Canoeing down Everest" by Mike Jones, Hodder & Stoughton, 1979

Open a new book! It’s High Time!

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