With Sri lanka providing us with 'liquid gems' time after time , an incredible driver and so many successful days we were starting to worry the trip was turning into a holiday.
The Kehelgamu, a tributary of the Kelani, seemed super steep on the map, but we knew a large portion of that was soaked up by the massive Laxapana waterfall. How much though, we couldn't tell. With heavy rain in the valley, we decided to hit the gamble button.
The most paddling we did on the first day of this mission
Three hours of walking to, through and around a river made us remember how lucky we've been to find the amount of clean classics we have done so far. It was like canyoning...but with awkward heavy boats.
The canyoning would have been so much easier without unnecessary chunks of colourful plastic!
After putting in at the mahoosive waterfall our portage fest (helped by yet another mini-hydro project) around the next 4 km left us leech coated, aching and knackered, but also feeling content that we were satisfying our mission to explore Sri Lanka's rivers.
Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.
We met some interesting wildlife on our portage
And the remains of others we were happy to avoid.
After our interesting previous day and with limited time left, some of us were dubious about returning to the same unsatisfying river. But with monsoon rain pouring all night long the majority were confident that the river could turn a corner and turn into another Sri Lankan classic . And guess what.. it did!
The turning point on the river!
We had to work hard for this one, but an intense 4 hours of continuous grade 3-4 grew and grew with the addition of numerous pumping tribs, ending in clean grade IV-V boulder garden excitement.
More read and run than you could shake a paddle at!
And the best bit about the whole river? It flowed straight into the tonking Upper Kelani, then through our home run (the rafting section), and it was just a 10 meter walk to the cold beers in the fridge back at Borderlands base!
Apologies for the quality of pictures, it was a pretty wet day!
We didn't know it at the time, but for this first descent, the effort was well worth the reward!
A massive part of our expedition has been to try and promote adventure tourism in Sri Lanka, and expose as many people to kayaking as possible. To this end we have spent the past couple of days coaching the local raft guides, safety kayakers, and even the trainee chef at Borderlands.
To receive coaching on rolling technique was a popular request
The Kelani river has proved to be an excellent training ground for this. A large flat pool at the top of the river to practice rolling and basics, then a lovely continuous grade 3 playground with a couple of trickier drops.
Video and stills coaching seemed work well
Still lots to improve on!
Everyone seemed to appreciate the video coaching we provided, and the safety session was also enjoyed. We were happy to see the raft guides were spot on with their throwbag accuracy, so we were able to push on with more complicated drills.
Briefing before the safety session
Abilities with rope work were a mixed bag...
Despite the coaching sessions, normal rules apply! (not our idea to enforce this!)
The reason for the title of this blog post? Well. for the second day of our coaching sessions we had at film crew from MTV along! However this is not MTV as we know it. This is Maharaja TV, Sri Lanka's largest private network.
Niamh gets her first coating of make up in almost a month.
We're only used to a hand held video camera pointing in our direction
After some surreal interviews it was off to the top of the river, where Niamh coached the presenter while the rest of us continued the previous days coaching work with the rest of the Borderlands crew.
Not the best weather for filming with a massive non-waterproof video camera!
With the river rising, more play holes developed so it was up to us to show off to the cameras. ...shame none of us are expert playboaters!
Thilack ditching the creekboat for a playboat while the camera crew film.
We're all pretty excited and intrigued to see what becomes of the footage. It's supposed to be a 1/2 hour adventure travel program, and we're representing the extreme end of this.
It's due to be released in this coming week to be broadcast not only in Sri Lanka, but across South Asia too.
Buddha's tears ran dry for a few days after the brilliant Goorook Oya. Maybe he stopped crying in protest at the number of rivers that have been or are being dammed in this country. Very few drainages are still completely free flowing. Two days of driving and looking at dry river beds finally came to fruition as we made it to Devon and St Claire's falls, famous tourist attractions in the Horton Plains area of Sri Lankan Highlands.
The takeout above St Clair's Falls
We were denied access at the site of another massive dam, thankfully not yet completed. Not to be defeated, Mahesh got off the beaten track and forged a trail in the bright yellow truck down through a tea plantation on old roads, not exactly stealthy. Our scouting yielded two sections, a short upper section and 15km lower. With some of the day already behind us we decided to take our time and session the drops on the upper. Again big slides and drops were the order of the day and we ran every line we could all the way to the take out above St Claire's Falls and the epic hike up the hill to the truck.
Inspecting the first rapid
Which line to take?
Nick walking back up for another go
A short drive later and we were drinking fresh tea, eating cake and ice cream in the sun and anticipating the next day's paddling.
"One is rather fond of tea"
The following morning we hiked back down into the valley through some thick vegetation and were met with a huge slide above the put in. We decided not to climb up to it as we had 15km of grade 4/5 ahead of us to get through. A wise decision it turned out, as the rest of the river gave us big slides, awesome drops and countless clean lines.
Cleaner than it looked, the first rapid of the day
Niamh gets some air
One of the more difficult rapids "50/50" consisted of an intense series of drops followed by a big slide with a meaty hole which claimed several victims and the first swims of the trip, providing some much needed carnage shots for the video camera.
Sean dropping into the final slide of 50/50
We knew the take out was a road bridge and when we got to the first one, fully satisfied with an amazing days paddling, we thought the river was over. However there was no sign of Mahesh or the truck and some sign language with the locals told us that there was another bridge 2km downstream. As we headed down river, more clean drops and slides appeared until the second bridge where we found that the major road bridge was was another kilometer downstream. As we paddled through a beautiful gorge we could not believe that the river just kept giving and giving until we saw our yellow truck on the bridge and the fun was finally over.
It would be great to see as many people as possible at this event on the 28th Augus in Colombo.
Not only will there be pictures, stories and video of white water kayaking in Sri Lanka, but also promotion of other aspects of tourism in Sri Lanka. All the details are on the following poster.
We're looking forward to it!
So the Perihala festival promised us rain..and the rain came...
And it poured. All night long. On us. After being told the night before there was a serial killer "The greasy murderer" on the loose, we squeezed into a failed excuse of a tent to have the worst nights sleep of our lives. But we didn't die so we decided we couldn't complain all day and headed to the Goorook Oya, a promising bedrock run we had scouted the day before. From the road it looked amazing and we were really excited especially as it seemed not to have been run before. We had a get in and get out scouted, but decided to make the most of the rain and headed even further upstream so as not to miss anything while the river was high.
Will drops into the gorge
This upper section is a hard one to catch due to a mini hydro scheme in construction removing water at the top. Clean drops and slides were the order of the day, but also a few siphons to avoid. This section also contained a fairly major portage round a beast of a double drop, which would be sweet to run if it wasn't for an unwelcome protruding rock slab at the top. Such a shame! That disappointment was short-lived as the river cleaned up from this point on.
Happy Birthday Tom!! Celebrating in style
The middle section got better and better as we descended. One big flair move was so clean that we thought we must have hit the best rapid on the run. 100 metres further down and unbelievably we were standing on top of a 7-8 metre fall with a clean lead in and pool, happy birthday Tom!! A tricky move to make went well for everyone, clean lines all round.
Will hits the line on "Birthday Falls"
This includes Tilak, a raft guide and safety kayaker at Borderlands who joined us for some “training.” We were extremely happy to have a Sri Lankan with us on a probable first descent (let us know if you’ve been there already!) Tilak styled all the big moves on this his third river, amazing stuff, the boy is brave.
Tilac brings out the old school moves.
We met Mahesh with the truck at a bridge as the river gradient flattened and the valley began to open up, the end of a classic run in stunning surroundings. World class creeking.
Niamh lines up another big slide
Sean in the slot
There was enough time left in the day to run the last 5 kilometres of the river down to the confluence with the Mahawelli Oya, Sri Lanka’s longest river. This grade 3/4 section was totally worthwhile for its stunning village life surroundings, vibrant bird life and the open mouthed, wide eyed expressions on the faces of local bathers as the aliens paddled by, good times. We celebrate with a night on the town of Gompola for Tom’s birthday, drinks and food at the Cricket club, a throw back to colonial times. What a day!
After some hard days on the road it’s always nice to come back to a familiar place to chill. That place for us is Borderlands base on the Kitugala River. Thing is, this time round there wasn’t much in the way of chilling. We were helping Wade out taking over 100 Sri Lankans, from Victoria Secret, rafting and canyoning. We met some really interesting people, Niamh even nearly got some free underwear! Turned out to be a great weekend. Don’t know who enjoyed it more, the clients or us!
With such a big group our help as raft guides, canyoning guides, safety kayakers and general entertainment was much appreciated. Our photos of the weekend were definitely a hit with the clients too. These were projected on the big screen before the evening party, along with a slide show of our exploits over the past two weeks. Many people were impressed and surprised at the quality of rivers and scenery in their own country.
After a late night of Arrack (local spirit), a million photos and some moves being thrown, on top of a few early mornings hard at work (with payment of copious amounts of excellent food), we were shattered. But with Sri Lankas biggest festival taking place an hour and a half away, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity of heading over to the Perihara ‘Festival of Lights’.
This takes place in Kandy, where a huge procession of musicians, dancers, fire spinners and of course, 60 elephants in fairy lights! The major reason for the festival is to parade Buddha’s tooth. It is said that this tooth was pulled out to make Buddha cry and signifies the start of the monsoon season in the North of the country. That’s what we like to hear!
Because da jungleistmassif
With only a couple of days left in this unexplored area, we decided to move on and see what else we could find. With time getting on we choose to get on a river, a tributary to the Sithawaka, and meet Mahesh downstream at the local tea factory. This didn’t quite go to plan....
A fairly bouldery start and quick portage saw us arrive at the first clean drop. After throwing some rocks into the plunge pool and hearing the satisfying sound of stone on water, it was game on. It was a difficult move to style, but gave us hope of what was to come downstream.
Dave & Nick throwing some shapes off the drop
The river continued with a series of fun moves interspersed with the occasional obligatory portage. However as we progressed the river got steeper and steeper, becoming choked with boulders, before long it seemed we were portaging more than we could paddle.
After spending an hour portaging through thick jungle around a heinous drop into an unpaddleable chasm we were running short of time and energy, thoughts of spending the night in the jungle in wet thermals in our head. The river changed from green to bright orange and back to green as intermittent downpours flowed into the river.
With half an hour of day light left we finally spotted the beginning of a tea plantation river left, the first sign of civilisation all day. Rounding the corner, we had never been so relieved to see a stretch of flat water ahead of us. We paddled across as the sun set and, clambering over the next boulder found to our surprise a narrow path heading up the valley. After stashing the boats in a clearing we fired up the sat phone and headed up the path. Before long we came across a house, and carrying on up a path met some helpful locals who lead us up the winding path to the road. Reaching the road and having had no luck with the sat phone we wondered how we would meet up with our truck. However it wasn’t long before we saw Roshan our fantastic local guide and Mahesh following in the truck, they had been concerned that we might not make it to the get out and had spent the afternoon walking up the river hoping to find us, we couldn’t ask for a better support team.
To complete the mission we started early the next day with a long hike in to get our boats. Mahesh had walked up the river bed in search of us and said he'd seen some nice rapids later on, so we powered on with aching muscles this time being led luxuriously by path, by some locals. He was right. We managed to finish the section with a couple hundred meters of smooth, clean slides. All in all, a pretty amazing adventure!
We managed to finish our day and exploration of the Sitahwaka valley with a tour of the tea factory in our favourite child filled village. Once we'd shaken the children of our boats we had a lovely, chilled few kilometers of clean bedrock fun.
We are now back at the Borderlands camp after quite the mission! We left you hanging as we headed to the Belihul Oya, bad news on that front. A stunning drive brought us to drier and drier lands. It hasn't rained in the region for three months and the monsoon is late, roughly a cumec was threading its way through the boulders of the river bed, no go. We drive around for a while hunting for fabled waterfalls. Bureaucracy and the govermental fear that still exists in a country so recently relieved of war keeps us away from a dam site from which we would walk into a fall, so we sack it off and go camping.
The next day we drive straight back the way we came in order to catch the water we know exists in the Sitawaka drainage, its time to go high, "oda oda." Its the start of four great days. Driving up and up we spy white through the jungle and tramp down through leech infested undergrowth to scout a decent grade five drop. These photos tell the story of a drop much cleaner than it looked.
Niamh hits the boof.
The view from above.
"As I pop into the eddy at the bottom a stunning Kingfisher lands on a branch in front of me, monkeys play in the trees above and vibrant wild flowers line the bank, not a bad place to be."
We carry on downstream through a short section of roughly 3 km of grade 3/4 and pop out at Udimaliboda, a village built around a tea factory and mainly populated by its Tamil labourers, we are mobbed by youngsters who seem very happy to see us. Its a very cool end to what we assume is a first descent, if anyone has been here before, let us know!
The end of a good day.
Then we got mobbed!
Mahesh our driver has organised us some straight off the river curry and chappatis and has found us a place to stay, we are welcomed with open arms into the home of a local bus driver and his wife. Great food is eaten and we are entertained with traditional songs and an impromptu conga line begins in the sitting room, hilarious!
Thia valley is full of good and welcoming people.
The next day we rise early and head upstream to check out more fables of waterfalls, seven drops each of 20 feet! We drive up and up through tea plantations and lush green scenery. We spy huge waterfalls up on the hillside. These are the seven waterfalls and they are awesome to look at, definitely not to paddle. We keep driving and finally pop out at the dam building site of yet another mini hydro scheme, the final pool of the mountain sized cataract. Thankfully at this site they let us past the barrier and we scout a big slide that forms half of the last fall. It goes! A staunch clamber up and boat haul rewards us with another first descent of a 35 metre slide, again the photos tell the story.
Niamh's first ever slide, go figure!
Oh yeah, it's a Dave grab.
Some topless dreadlocked dude gives advice on eco tourism to goverment officials, note the note taking!
Its’ been raining hard here in the South East Highlands of Sri Lanka and the Kelani had us all ready for more. It was time to go and try the Sitawaka, a river that gets rafted, if rarely. Wade came with us for a scout out of the run as a potential move for his operation if the Kelani’s second dam project goes ahead (see this previous blog: http://www.kayaksrilanka.co.uk/2/post/2011/07/post-title-click-and-type-to-edit.html).
We were expecting another run of about class three if the flow was good, it turned into a great day out.
The generous offer of limes isn't such a sweet deal!
The river is set in a gorgeous, jungle bordered, bedrock gorge. Six rapids of good class four pool drop were interspersed with lots of grade three and minimal flat. A perfect step up in our warm up and loads of smiles all round!
Niamh nailing the first rapid
Tom takes the boof line into a tricky shoot early on in the river
Sean in the thick of it
The flow is good on this run and it feels like it has the volume to hold water, hopefully the monsoon rains will keep it up. We have no info at all on the upper stretches and have not heard of a group who has been in there, one to explore in the next couple of weeks for sure.
Nick riding out the boils down a tricky channel
The mission for tomorrow is to head for the Belihul oya, this run was run by an American team seven years ago as part of a film for National Geographic. The monsoon has not fully hit yet but the rivers are rising, were going to drive over to this area to try to catch it before the water rises too high. We also have hopes (as always) for more runs in this area, watch this space!
Dave Burne at he end of another class day boating in Sri Lanka
We have arrived in Sri Lanka! Travelling with the boats went suprisingly smoothly and bar the person throwing up on himself next to Will so did the flight. When we arrived in the airport we were met by Mahesh who is one of the raft guides working for Borderlands. We then went to the Borderlands office in Colombo which boasts the capitals only outdoors sports shop. Here we met with Wade and discussed our plan of action.
Chunky sharing some of his knowledge on the rivers of Sri Lanka.
A meeting with the Secretary General of the Sri Lanka National Commission for UNESCO (try sayingthat after a fe Arracks,) and president of the National Association of Canoeing and Kayaking Sri Lanka, Mr Prahara. His blessing and covering letter will hopefully go some way to easing any access issues as we begin to explore the country. This was also a pretty fun and strangely officious beginnings to the trip. That evening we headed for Borderlands and the Kelani river.
Dave getting involved with some serious fruit shopping,
First get on, Kelani raft run!
Warming up on the Kelani river
Day 2, Upper section of the Kelani
Day 2, best rapid on the upper Kelani.
Thilak, one of Borderlands safety kayakers, and chief raft guide on his first run of the upper section!
'Raptors' at rest, this is a wee shot of the Borderlands raft camp, our main base camp from which to explore for the next month. Were starting off on the rivers located within a day trip of this camp and will head off deeper into the hills to paddle over the next few days.