Whitewater Kayaking the Seti River

It’s rather impossible to come to Nepal and not engage in some sort of crazy adventurous outdoor activity, and after some consultation with the weather and my mood I decided to go for whitewater kayaking school instead of trekking. The pre-monsoon weather showed up early in Nepal this year, and frankly to me the thought of hiking up steps for 4 hours combined with minimal views and potentially doing it in the rain was just not appealing.
Plus hey, I’d tried whitewater kayaking before so knew I’d like it and that I’d be wet all day anyway, so monsoon season didn’t matter. And so we set out to master the Seti River, whose hardest thing now is not writing it in all caps a la the alien searchers…

Yes, there are rafts in this picture instead of kayaks because this is a common launch point on the road from Kathmandu to Pokhara, and we hadn’t brought the kayaks down yet. Except by “we” I mean “someone else brought down my kayak and I just took down some lighter stuff” because it turns out whitewater kayaking is more gender imbalanced than a physics department so in our party of 11 (6 customers and 5 instructors/ safety kyakers) I was the only woman. Inquiries revealed that this isn’t unusual and the most they ever get is 50/50 as women tend to opt for rafting instead because it’s easier/ less dangerous. Well yeah, but what’s the fun in that?!

Spotted at the launch site were the first of many, many kids we’d run into during our trip down the river. (It was midweek but we passed through areas were the families were too remote/poor to send their kids to school for the most part- in Nepal you have to pay.) You can’t tell from the picture but these kids were actually 50 feet above our heads navigating the beams of the highway bridge on the bottom- and let me say, while I’ve seen kids doing things plenty of people would call beyond unsafe in the West, I’m pretty sure their mothers would have worried about them on this one. As they were absent, I worried on their behalf.

But anyway, kayaking! It was a 4 day program with three on the river itself (one day was spent learning basic skills in the lake by Pokhara, like the all-important technique of bailing out) and the Seti River is quite ideally set up as the first day is rather gentle, the second encounters a few Class 2 rapids, and the third is essentially one Class 2 rapid after the other culminating in a Class rapid where all of us save one fell in. I definitely had a higher record of falling in on the higher class rapids because I just plain don’t have the mass and power of a guy (an instructor shouting “paddle paddle paddle!” at you isn’t helpful when you literally can’t lift your paddle anymore), but the safety dudes were expecting that so rescue was never more than a few foamy whitewater seconds away. During which I learned a fair bit about the typical girl who does these trips because they kept assuring me “don’t be scared, don’t be scared!” with each rescue and I kept assuring them I wasn’t, just appropriately concerned about the situation at hand. And being concerned often doesn’t leave much room for hysterics, you know?

I made up for this deficiency though by being awesome at one thing not one of the other strapping lads mastered- rolling a kayak!

Here is how you roll a kayak: you take your paddle and hold it on the end and middle and place it as low into the water while the paddle is parallel to the kayak, and take a deep breath and flip over. (At this point water will go up your nose. If you are me and are still a little kid when it comes to getting water up your nose you use a sexy nose plug which you may not criticize unless you too can roll a kayak.) After waiting a few seconds you move from that position to turning your paddle 90 degrees so part of it is under the water- a move the instructor above is trying to show me- and do a quick-but-strong flick of your hips and lean backwards which should do the trick if done correctly. I didn’t realize this but the flick is actually the most important part of this process meaning dancers are at a distinct advantage here…
Me after a triumphant flip of the kayak- you could tell when it worked versus when it didn’t because I never got past the euphoric shout of success stage. Towards the last day I also pretty much got each one I attempted so hey, gentlemen, that is how we do that!

By the way, I should also mention somewhere along the journey I named my kayak the Yellow Yeti. I had this thing as a little kid in that I was forever disappointed in having lame words starting with “Y” in that “what objects start with the same letter as your name?” game to the point where yellow is my favorite color because it also starts with a “y”- really, if it wasn’t for this I’d probably be a fan of blue- so “Yvette’s Yellow Yeti” was particularly satisfying to me.

Moving along from my resurfacing pre-school traumas, I unfortunately don’t have too many pictures from this trip because copious amounts of water you keep falling in doesn’t mean good things for your camera. This doesn’t mean the scenery was any less than spectacular- rolling lush jungle hills, swaying suspension bridges overhead, fishermen and children working/ playing/ hoping to see you fall in as part of the day’s entertainment. It was an amazing experience because it was just exactly what you’d imagine charting an exotic jungle river should be like, and I loved every minute of it.

At night we camped like proper river jungle expeditions are wont to do, and after the requisite roll practice and swim we were off to figure out how to entertain ourselves in the remaining daylight. Luckily the other guys were fun to hang out and one had a treasure trove of random games to play with minimal materials- the one pictured above was just called “Rocks” where the point was for someone to throw a rock and then everyone else tried to get their rock closest to that one. Strangely captivating, likely because our ancestors didn’t have much else to occupy them save this and the game “Flame On” where you take a previously burning stick from the campfire and blow on it in an attempt to relight it.

The best entertainment though happened the first night when a flickering thunderstorm appeared on the horizon. It soon evolved into the most magnificent thunderstorm I’ve seen in my entire life with several flashes a second and bolts racing from cloud to cloud. None of us had seen a thing like it and we sat for hours mesmerized by the sight, and I for one was pretty close to converting to Zeus worship. Ok not really, but certainly understanding why you would choose a lightning god as your king deity in your belief system!

All in all I am very happy I chose this adventure because it definitely took us on a route far off the beaten path and I enjoyed whitewater kayaking so much I was looking up some potential rivers to paddle in New England this summer. After all, why let a good kayak roll go to waste?

2 responses to “Whitewater Kayaking the Seti River

  1. I guess it’s my nerd showing, but I’d expect the Seti River to have radio antennas lining both shores. 😉

  2. Pingback: 2011: A Year in Review | Where is Yvette?

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