A New River
|by Antonio Graceffo
of today's great adventure writers: Tim Cahill, Paul Theroux, or Robert
Young Pelton, and they all agree on one point. "It's been done."
Basically everything on this planet which can be done has been. And even
more extreme is that with package tour operators making the most remote
corners of the globe accessible to everyday people, even formidable obstacles,
like climbing The Himalayas are options for the average tourist (more
accurately, the average tourist with $60,000, the price of a guided ascent
You can't be
first to row across the Pacific. A teen-ager has reached the South Pole.
Wilfred Thesiger already crossed the Open Quarter of the Sahara, more than
|And my neighbor,
Mimo Palmentera, who makes pizza back in Brooklyn, has summated mount Kilimanjaro.
So, when that once in a lifetime chance to do something new came my way,
I jumped at it.
On one of those
sleepy, dull Chiangmai mornings, when you drink a three-in-one coffee and
feel you couldn't possibly even look at another elephant ride or
bungee jump, I opened my email, and found a message from my good
friend, and in this case savior, Kevin Shane Barry, owner of Track of the
Tiger Tours, asking me if I would like to go, as part of a two man team,
to be the first people ever to trace the river at Doi Saket.
at the chance. Not only would the project renew my interest in life,
I had been considering hanging myself just as a change of pace, but it
would team me up with Shane's right hand man, Reinier, who had been my
adventure partner in an infamous canoe trip on the Maekok River, and who
will be accompanying me on an even more infamous trip down the entire Mekong,
as soon as we can find someone foolish enough to pay our way. Although
river tracing is a fairly new sport, in Thailand, it has been known
for years in Europe and the USA.
confuse river tracing with white water rafting, or they at least assume
that their some sort of a boat involved. But they couldn't be further from
the truth.To understand the phenomenon of river tracing is to understand
the mechanics of insanity.
has heard the stories about that maniac Captain Webb, who rode over
Niagara Falls in a barrel. Outwardly, we say he is crazy. But down deep,
doesnít plunging down all that white water sound like a good time?
you ever considered going up a waterfall?
is a new sport, where, not only do you climb up the waterfalls, but you
climb up and over every rock and obstacle in the river, tracing it to its
Offshore Resources Gallery
have donned your equipment, consisting of a swimsuit, life jacket,
helmet, kneepads, rubber boots, and a rappelling harness, itís time to
get wet. The best way to get into a cold river is to simply jump off of
a bridge. Your going to get soaked head to toe, anyway, so you might as
well just go for it. Taking that first step is a bit counter-intuitive,
but like any other controlled fright, it is a rush, and once you hit that
ice-cold water, youíll feel energized.
and I entered the river during the dry season, so we weren't exactly
inundated with water. There was no swimming involved, but the low river
presented other problems, as we had to scale, rather than swim over even
the smallest stones. Spending long periods of time in the jungle can be
a bit depressing because you can see neither the sun nor the sky, because
of the canopy of dense foliage over head.
rivers has the benefit of being able to see the sky. Tracing a narrow river,
like the one at Doi Saket, and running through a typically overgrown Thai
jungle, you quickly realize that the river is the only way to go. Attempts
to walk beside, or even to get out of, the river will be thwarted by a
thick tangle of jungle vines.
to our normal river tracing gear: Life vest, helmet, boots, and rappelling
harnesses, we also needed to carry machetes. We felt like real Tarzan's
as we hacked our way up the river. Every river has it's own personality,
and progress is very slow. In most rivers the lack of speed is attributed
to the constant force of water impeding your forward movement.
But at Doi
Saket, the problem was the vegetation, which hung down, from above. We
were constantly getting tangled in thorns, vines, and spider webs. And,
of course, in Thailand, before grabbing or cutting a vine you want
to make sure that it isn't a man eating snake. The vines themselves can
be fairly formidable, as almost every living thing in Thailand is covered
with thorns. Gloves would probably have been a good addition to our gear.
part of river tracing is climbing up the waterfalls.
the slippery rocks, making your precarious way, up a vertical slope, with
countless gallons of water rushing by you, threatening to tear you off
is one of the most exciting activities you could ever engage in. At Doi
Saket, however, we came to a huge waterfall, probably over a hundred feet.Since
we had no back up team, we decided to play it safe, and hike up the back
side of the fall, then climb down, and back up with direct assist (climbing
the rope, instead of the rock).
rock climbing, you are only supposed to put your weight on the rock
face. The rope is there for safety, not to help you climb. But in river
tracing, it is perfectly legal to use the rope to pull yourself up. Reinier
and I used a basic climbing technique, called stirrups, where by we first
anchored one end of the rope to a tree. Next, we tied loops in the rope,
at eight foot intervals, until we ran out of rope. When we finished, we
threw the rope over the side.
In this type of
climbing, you use carabineers tied to your rappelling harness, to clip
into the loops, working your way down the rope, and back up. Once I saw
that Reinier made it back to the top safely, I felt it would be repetitive
for me to complete the climb. So, I went down far enough to make the photos
"I'll go first."
I volunteered, as we peered down the cliff. There was a bit of an outcropping
which prevented us from seeing the end.
"What if the rope
didn't reach the bottom?" Asked Reinier.
"We could slip
right off the end."
I agreed. "You'd better go first."
"You're not scared
are you?" asked Reinier.
"At my age I could
break a hip." I answered.
By the time
we finished with the water fall, shadows began to grow long. Although we
hadn't reached the source of the river, we decided that it might be prudent
to turn back. Both being experienced woodsmen, we didn't bother with a
compass or a map. Of course this meant that we walked in circles for several
hours. But this was OK with me, because I really need to loose weight,
and I hate the stair-master at the gym. It's too repetitive.
When it comes
to adventure, I'll take any first I can get.
"Well, we did
it!" I said, triumphantly, when we finally reached the car, seconds before
the last light would have left the evening sky, sentencing is to spend
a very uncomfortable night in the jungle, with no equipment.
"Did what?" Asked
"We were the first
people to have the opportunity to trace the river at Doi Saket to it's
"But we didn't
find the source." Said Reinier, dejectedly.
"Yes, but we were
the first people to HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY."
are the previous articles that Antonio wrote for the magazine:
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