I woke up feeling more nervous than yesterday and for some reason felt jittery as we paddled off from a little jetty. I say ‘for some reason’ as yesterdays fall wasn’t particularly bad and during the resulting swim I felt composed and relaxed getting out of trouble long before any rapids. I concluded that the feeling was more to do with the general uneasiness I have regarding this stretch. I have always felt that once we reach Chongqing we will be safe and so it seems the closer we get the more I think of all the possibilities for disaster that could arise before this landmark. It seems akin to the feeling one can get in Rugby or Football when trying to hold onto a narrow lead. You become so obsessed with not making mistakes that you lose your rhythm , an extremely dangerous mindset to adopt on this river.
As we paddled off I wobbled on a series of tiny whirlpools. Then I began readjusting my bags and seat trying to correct a balance issue that only existed in my head. Maghnus humored my dilemma by pointing out that jitters were only natural and that my raft looked perfectly balanced. I then exclaimed for the first and last time that ‘I needed something big to get me back in the groove’ - I certainly got my wish. Throughout that day we negotiated rapids every few kilometers, rapids which made all our efforts on this section seem like some sort of extended warm up. One in particular stands out :
The river seemed to be forking into two channels divided by a shingle bank 30 meters from the left bank and flanked by the sheer cliffs which are beginning to characterise this section. The sun was in my eyes as I strained to make a call. Peering down both channels looking for an obvious horizon line or white water jumping up in the distance. At 1km away river left seemed like the preferable option and I could make out a period of calm afterwards which would be perfect for recovering should either of of get into trouble.
I slowly began to get in position not yet committed to running this river left but certain that we could read and run whatever was ahead. As I moved out towards the centre of the river I could see fully down the bend the water took going river left and knew something was up. The noise didn’t fit with the calm scene in front of me and the water had grown extremely calm. I strained my eyes trying to see where this noise originated and saw some puffs of white water just visible behind a calm horizon which spanned this side of the river. I couldn’t see the full extent of it yet but knew it must be big. I turned to indicate my mistake to Maghnus and started paddling hard across the flow heading for the right hand passage. Maghnus was 50 meters back and in a perfect position to get across. I still felt I could make it but as I paddled and the noise increased the struggle I was in for became apparent.
Getting closer to the right hand channel the speed of the river increased. Although the right hand side was wider 75% of the water seemed to curving round and going down river left. I got to within 5 meters of the calm righthand channel before I realised for certain I wouldn’t make it. I swung the raft round and prepared to get pounded. Maghnus has enough time to get right I thought, I dearly hoped he wouldn’t follow me into this. After this I started manicly shouting at the upcoming water, all nervousness was gone and I was ready for a tussle. My aim was simple get as far as possible before falling out I had no grand illusions off making this in one piece.
Water was coming diagonally off the shingle bed on the right and seemed to be hitting boulders as it rushed across to join the main flow which followed along the cliff on the far left. There was a slight lip of calm water leading into the huge waves on the left and I used this as a target. Before I knew it I was on the lip and sinking deeper and deeper into the trough of a wave with another rising high above me. My only strategy was to hit as many as I could head on, and for the first two I managed it. The raft rising vertically on each occasion but crashing down each time. I was roaring at the water, crashing through wave after wave with adrenaline pumping. I had no chance of picking a line or trying to get out , it was purely one wave at a time. On several occasions I was sucked into a whirlpool or blindsided my some monster wave but miraculously kept upright. I began to take in my surroundings and noticed the waves were decreasing. I managed a quick look back and saw that Maghnus had followed me in and was perched on the crest of a wave someway back. I felt I would make it now but still had to work hard and keep an eye on Maghnus. He appeared every few seconds on the crest of a wave before plunging out of sight. The next corner was 1km away and getting in position was essential. As soon as Maghnus was through the worst of it we were working hard to get back across river right. Reminiscing would have to wait until we camped.
We are heading back to the river today with about two weeks of paddling remaining until we leave the mountains for good. We will attempt to put up a few more diary entries before then.