This is the video footage from a group of 6 kayakers from the UK who completed successful expedition to explore the white water in Sri Lanka.
There have been a couple of previous trips to Sri Lanka before, but this one was the first to be held in August, during the heart of the monsoon.
The expedition, lead by Dave Burne, saw the team searching out rivers in the Southern Central mountain range. Some rivers, such as the world class Kokmole Oya, have had previous descents. However, there is still so much to discover on the island and the expedition claimed numerous first descents.
There was another major aim to the expedition though - to leave a lasting legacy in Sri Lanka. This was achieved with the help of Borderlands, a Rafting and Outdoor Education company.
Amongst other things, the team ran coaching and safety sessions for the raft guides and safety kayakers. These sessions helped change the attitudes of staff from that of kayaking being a job, to playing the river and enjoying kayaking as a hobby. The training also raised their awareness of current safety and rescue techniques.
The highlight of the expedition for the team was paddling the Goorook Oya, a probable first descent, with Thilack, one of the Borderlands staff. Not only was this was the first time any of the team had completed a first descent with a kayaker from the host nation, but it also turned out to be an amazingly clean grade 5 steep creek which (aside from the green rainforest scenery) wouldn't be out of place in California. And the best thing? Thilack nailed it. His third ever river and his first taste of waterfalls - this guy has got bottle!
The team would like to thank Palm Equipment Europe, ZET Kayaks UK, Lyon Equipment, and of course, Borderlands for their support.
To find out more about Dave, Tom, Niamh, Sean, Nick and Will got on, check out their profiles
Following our good work in Sri Lanka in Aug/Sept 2011, Nathan Fletcher (UK) felt inspired to spend the first part 2012 continuing where we left off.
Here is a video of his 3 months in at Borderlands:
Looks like things are coming on nicely!
"In January 2012 I traveled to Kithugala, Sri Lanka to work as a raft guide and to train the local staff of outdoor adventure company, Discover Borderlands.
This is a collection of the footage I collected over the 3 months I lived in the Sri Lankan Jungle.
Many thanks to the staff at Borderlands and all those I met on my travels who made the trip possible!"
In the last week we tried our best to keep up our hit rate of new rivers and headed to the river which runs parallel with the Kelani (the rafting river). During the drive up the stunning valley we manged to get the odd look at the river and despite a few hydos it looked like it could be a fun one. While the rapids at the put on went smoothly.....
....... the siphons and bolder chokes soon appeared and the portages came thick and fast.
After a couple of kilometers of regular portaging we reached a bridge where half the group decided to call it a day and call Mahesh. The rest (inspired by a super keen Nick!) forged on, determined that around the corner was some class whitewater...however what actually met us around the corner was a large dam removing all the water from the river. So 5 minutes later after finding a nice wide track with which to make their retreat, the team was reunitied. Half were smug and rested, the other half a little out of breath! But all keen to make the most of the remaining days.
Dams are a real problem with this country. When it's not dammed and you get the gradient right the rivers are simply amazing. A little too steep however makes for a lot of portaging through what is often some pretty dense jungle.
We decided to give the expedition a nice bit of symmetry with another run down the classic Sitawaka river, this time encompassing a the seldom run (ever run?) 'minus rapids' and a bridge jump, both of which put bit smiles on our faces.
Our only real dissapointment is that the Upper Plantation Falls did not come into condition following our initial early evening scouting mission. Now the locals have had some coaching then perhaps this is a first descent for them to tick off!
Inspecting the Upper Plantation
Treating the staff at Borderlands to a traditional British bangers and mash.
We presented our brilliant driver Mahesh with a Palm Extreme Buoyancy aid to show our thanks for the excellent job he did. We couldn't have hoped for a better driver and we hope the buoyancy aid will keep him safe in Nepal where he is spending a few weeks at the Borderlands Nepal site, rafting guiding the Bhote Kosi on his first trip outside of Sri Lanka!
Good Luck Mahesh!
On our return to Colombo we hastily put together, with the help of Wade, a video of the trip and got together a slide show. An interesting variety of friends we had met along the way, Sri Lankan government officials, businessmen, tourists and ex-pats attended the wrap-up and it was a great success.
As well as our video and presentation, some videos were shown of the Borderlands Mahaweli river safari, with an amazing encounter with elephants, and some incredible footage of a Borderlands whale watching trip involving swimming with (well... near) a blue whale.
Sean describes the risk reward relationship. And why paddling into fecking big stoppers carries a high risk of swimming!
Overall a cracking trip with several world class first descents and other amazing runs. There is easily enough boating for a 2 week grade 4/5 creeking trip and that's just the stuff we ran. We only covered one relatively small section of the highlands, if you can work out the crazy Sri Lankan weather systems there is still a lot more to do. With incredibly friendly people, good food, amazing wildlife and warm rivers we can definitely recommend Sri Lanka as a destination.
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.