Because of the general strike due to the elections in Nepal we had a couple of extra days to catch a breath after the trekking to ABC. Just what we needed before we set off on our next adventure: the 3-day kayak school on the Seti river. Just a bit of paddling down some easy rapids and on the way we would learn some of the basics on white-water kayaking. Plus, the Seti river is on our way to Chitwan National Park so it would be a nice and relaxed way to get there. Sounds like fun. Right? And since it’s a beginners course, how hard could it be?
Well… that was kind of an underestimation.
In the early morning we meet our guides Mike and Saga. We head for the bus park to load the kayaks, a raft and the camping gear on the roof of the bus. It’s pretty impressive to see all the things needed when two people take a kayak course. When our stuff is finally stacked on top of the bus (it occupies the whole roof) we leave for the starting point near Damauli, a two hours drive from Pokhara.
In a quiet part of the river we first practice how to escape the kayak if we tip over. Don’t panic, pull off the spray skirt that’s attached to the kayak’s cockpit and exit the boat. Pretty easy. After that Mike, our American guide, teaches us the paddling techniques and about eddies, a river feature formed when the current flows around an obstacle and water flows back upstream to fill in the space left by the deflected current. The current inside eddies flows upstream so eddies are great for resting, getting out of the current/river and scouting what’s coming up. It’s important to know how to catch an eddy and peel out again. So before we can set off we practice how to “eddy-in” and “eddy-out”.
It’s time to start our adventure. Our starting point is on the Modi Khola, a small river that will flow into the Seti after one kilometer or so. The first rapids are quiet and easy, perfect to learn how to keep our balance. The setting is beautiful with white sandy beaches and some rock formations. Nepalese kids wave at us from the river banks. Carina tips over in a difficult bend while I get stuck on a shallow part. But in general we’re in control and everything’s nice and sweet. But things start to change after we confluence with the Seti. There’s much more water now so the rapids are becoming more serious. It doesn’t take long before we enter a tough class 3 rapid. First Carina capsizes and bumps into some rocks in the middle of the river. She’s not amused. I manage to hold on a few meters more but must surrender eventually. But we free ourselves from the kayak easily and apart from some little bruises on Carina’s legs we’re ok.
At lunch we realize that this kayak trip isn’t going to be as “relaxed” as we thought it would be. The more we go down the more the volume in the river increases. Which means the rapids will grow and the river will become more and more demanding. And this is only the first day…
Just before we reach camp there’s another class 3 rapid. We scout the rapid first. It’s a serious one with a nasty rock at the end that we have to avoid. Carina decides to skip it, all this white-water violence is getting a bit too much for her. I give it a go. Mike leads the way and I’m a couple of meters behind. This time I manage to stay in my boat and in some sort of miraculous way I can get round the big rock at the left too. Feels good! Nice way to end the day. The guys in the raft (we also have a cook and an assistant) have already set up camp on a nice white-sand beach on a beautiful stretch of the river.
The next day Carina decides this kayak adventure is not her cup of tea. The assistant-cook takes over her kayak and Carina continues the trip on the raft. Knowing that the rapids will only grow, I’m a little nervous. This is only emphasized when I tip over in the very first rapid of the day. From the beach where we have lunch I can see the next rapid. It’s a nasty one. All the water flows through a narrowing part in between big rocks and goes down a meter or two at the same time. I feel nervous and can’t keep my thoughts off this upcoming rapid during lunch. My profound fear seems justified because I get trashed by the rapid and I need some time to recover.
Mike teaches me to approach the rapids more aggressively. To sit up straight, tight the knees to the sides of the kayak and paddle hard. It works. The next big rapid seems impossible but I survive the first big waves. Then I somehow make a 45 degree turn and enter the next big wave crossways. “Now I’m screwed” I think, but apparently I leaned into the wave and got through while my kayak turned further round until I was in the right direction again. Still don’t know how I did it but even the guides were astonished. This rapid is called the “Mango 360” now 😉
Some more big rapids follow but with my new supreme self-confidence I conquer them all. Sit up straight. Lean forward. Be aggressive. Paddle hard. Mike’s lessons bear fruits. I’m exhausted when we reach our camping spot. The beer is well deserved but I’m already afraid of tomorrow’s rapids…
Today we have to put all our new skills to the test. There are some serious class 2+/3 rapids we have to conquer. But the day starts easy. Nice calm stretches and only a couple of not too difficult rapids. Some bigger rapids follow but with my new learned techniques I proceed smoothly. However, this is just child’s play. The really big ones still have to come. I can hear the rushing water from a distance. Mike tries to put me at ease: “We go through the middle and then paddle hard to the right. Nice and easy”. Yeah, right. I get through the first series of waves but then a two meter deep waterhole appears next to a huge rock. Followed by an enormous white wave. I paddle as hard as I can to try to escape but the wave launches me, I loose my paddle and get turned front side backwards within a split second. In an optimistic moment I still try to get my paddle back but then there’s another huge wave and I go under in the swirling white water. I guess that if I ever wanted to know how it would feel to be inside a washing machine, this must be it. After I exit the kayak I grab the back of Mike’s kayak and hold on. This rapid seems to be never-ending.
I’m glad when Mike tells me this one is called “The Gatekeeper” and that it’s the last rapid on the Seti river. It’s a class 3+ so almost a class 4. I looked up the definition of a class 4: “A rapid the contains a number of features that require skill and experience to maneuver around with consequences that include the possibility of injury.” Oops. Glad I got away without damage. This one was definitely way beyond my ability. The Seti now confluences with the bigger (and much colder!) Trisuli river. There’s one more class 2 rapid called “Tea (or Coffee) Pot” but it’s a piece of cake after the whitewater chaos I just went through.
I’m relieved when we reach the end point. It has been an unforgettable experience in many ways. The river scenery was beautiful and it was amazing to camp on the white sandy beaches. And the food was excellent! But most of all, I learned how to kayak on a demanding white-water river. At times, it was fun and exciting. But also nerve-racking at other moments. However, RapidRunner did a good job. The food was excellent! More important: Mike and Saga are experienced and skilled instructors and I never felt unsafe. Overall I had a good experience but I doubt this is really for beginners. Sure, if you want to become a whitewater crack this is a good starting point. But if you just want to learn some basics on river kayaking on easy rapids, the kayak school on Nepal’s Seti river may be a just little too much excitement.
More pictures in the photo album on our Facebook page.