Exploration – the art of finding the parapet over which to poke your head!

Posted By: Jon 'Spike' Green Published: 20/07/2022

I’ve just returned from a country which my research leads me to think has rarely been visited by white water paddlers, so I thought I’d share a few ideas about exploration…

By the way I’m not claiming that I do any of the below to any level of competence, I’m just claiming that I know I should do them!

It’s probably worth considering what ‘exploration’ means? I’m going to go with a generous interpretation – ‘to visit an environment, place or country that those concerned have little or no knowledge of. The activity to be undertaken is relatively uncommon in that area, with information scarce and infrastructure limited’.

A failed attempt at a first in Peru – had to carry back out the next day!

Conversely a ‘Boating holiday would be – ‘a trip to an area, which may well be unknown to those concerned, but is regularly visited, information plentiful and has a developed paddlesport infrastructure’.

True exploration involves being the ‘first’ to visit or undertake an activity in an area – increasingly rare nowadays! Consequently I’m happy to use the term ‘exploration’ to reflect the psychological and/or developmental stage that a paddler has reached. I think a paddler whose experience is limited to the UK and Western Europe could claim to be ‘exploring’ in the more remote regions of Nepal (but not safety kayaking the Sun Khosi!) – But the bottom line is ‘who cares’! Get out there, go boating!

Still unpaddled (I think)! The locals don’t venture far down this valley…. Too many snakes when it turns to Jungle apparently!

The start point for any exploratory journey may well be to decide exactly what is it that you want from the trip –

• ‘Firsts?’

• ‘Quality WW?’

• To go HARD/ Easy?

• To visit the country/ experience the culture?

15 days on the river… time for vitamins!

Once you have the aim, you can then start putting together the right team to fulfil this aim. Arguably the most crucial element for any trip.

• Compatibility on and off the water?

• Ability on and off the river?

• Experience – of these environments/ travel?

• Reliability – physically, emotionally, technically?

• The desire to suffer?

I’m assuming time and money to be in plentiful supply!

This next stage is equally important – Research and pre-trip issues….

How sure are you that the area you plan to visit has the rivers (of the right ‘nature’) that you seek. The area I’ve just visited I could only get information from Google Earth and this was not sufficient to get the team to commit! Consequently I made the decision to visit the country myself.

Do you want low or high water season? What do you think the nature of the rivers to be – will you need snow/ glacier melt? Avoid or seek out monsoon season?

Politics/ war/ famine/ etc. – how comfortable are you with these issues? Can you get insurance?

Possibilities for Rescue?

• Is there a mountain rescue system – that you could access?

• Can the in-country military provide rescue services?

• Is there a home country (i.e. UK) embassy/ consulate?

• Are there helicopters available to hire in-country?

• Is there an ambulance service?

• Are there clinics/ hospitals in the area?

• How are your wilderness medical skills?!

• Do you need in-country support/ fixers?

• Just how much insurance might you need!?

Typical Kenya.

How will you get your boats there? It’s worth starting this process WAY before expected departure – at least 6 months?

• Freight?• Overland?

• Do the airlines take kayaks?

• Where is the nearest place you could get boats (i.e. a dealer in a neighbouring country?).

• Are there boats (of a quality? Take spares/ repair kit?) already in-country (from a previous trip)?

I can’t see much point in actually starting to put a trip together until the issues above are at least partially addressed. Any of the issues above could easily put a complete halt on your plans, so they need some consideration.


Off searching for another first in the Mount Kenya National Park.

Let’s look in more detail at ensuring you have achievable objectives. Google Earth is clearly a great place to start. Don’t forget you can work out the rivers height loss from Google Earth too. Compare the decent rate with your local runs – the last ‘First’ I was involved with, we worked out that the next section of river was twice as steep as a home Gd 5 and in a box canyon (time for me to get off)!

On my recent exploration I discovered that the predominant rock type was limestone, so it’s likely that we would lose a lot of water underground and that rivers may disappear in caves/ boulderchokes. The WW paddling in the UK is pretty damn good – and we’ve only got tiny mountains/ hills. Any country that has hills and rain must surely be worth a look! So any country with mountains and snow must also be worth a look – when does the snow melt? What happens before the snow falls, is there a period of rain immediately before the snow fall period?How about access to your objectives – helicopter in/ truck/ porters?

Spend some time asking around – who has been there (climbing/ skiing/ caving?) or been to a neighbouring country? Google and You Tube searches are mandatory! Try just Googling for photos of ‘waterfalls/ gorges/ trekking’ etc. Also you can bet that John Wasson/ Dave Mamby/ Cam Mclay/ the AKC/ Slime/ et al. will know something! Somewhere there is a expedition report typed on yellowing, dogeared A4 that refers in some way to exactly what you need!

As I did, you could do a recce. I was lucky to have an in-country contact that happens to own motorcycles. So I had myself a really brilliant touring holiday, with most of my time spent peering off bridges!

Before you ask… No! It’s still secret (ish).

During your Recce, ask as many questions as you can regarding your plans - ‘Are we allowed here?’ ‘Can we walk there?’ ‘Will anyone mind…?’ ‘Is this river level normal?’ ‘What’s the water like in the rainy season?’ Etc… I also like to start the process of learning some of the language – really helps to build bridges and generally make buying beer easier!

Hopefully you now have a venue in mind, time to think about obstacles to the trip – I’m still assuming that money and time are plentiful!

In addition to the real show stopping issues mentioned earlier it’s time consider…

• Weather/ cold/ heat/ earthquake/ etc.

• Water quality – I discovered on my recent trip, that paddling downstream of major settlements was a bad idea (nuff said)!

• Hydro stations or irrigation swiping the water?

• River related risks - Tree dams/ rock type/ Box canyons/ catchment type/ etc.

• Wildlife – in and around the river!

Last morning on the Rio Maranon, Peru.

• Health issues

• Cultural issues

Once you have addressed this next set of obstacles and you’re happy to go for it you can actually start planning the trip…!

• Got a valid Passport?

• Visas needed?

• Vaccinations needed?

• Travel arrangements?

Luxury travel on the Rio Maranon, Peru.

• In-country support?

• Boats?

• Support/ sponsorship – BC expedition fund, etc.

• Accom – On and off river?

• Food?

• Drinking water – filters, etc.

• Insurance?

• In-country issues…

  • ATMs
  • Pharmacies?
  • Clinics/ hospitals.
  • Embassy/ consulate?
  • Transport/ Logistics

Petroglyphs in the Atacama.
  • Communication system?
  • Fixer/ Translator/ Guides/ Porters.
  • Mules?
  • Power – as in electricity supply system!
  • Sort a quality 1st aid kit!
  • Corruption?
  • Safety – Bandits, Tories, etc?

• Approx. itinerary.

• Email yourself copies of your – Passport/ Visas/ Insurance/ etc?

So did I find much on my Recce….? What do you reckon!?

50km + of this…. Yes please!

Unpaddled (probably)!

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