Napeequa River Solo Descent


The idea of going down a river is pretty simple, right? That’s why we all love it so much. You sit in your craft, move swiftly downstream on the power of the river and enjoy the ride, whether it’s flat or class V. Sometimes though, you want a little more to satisfy that very human need for exploration and adventure. I’m not saying that descending rivers is driving society forward or a great human endeavor, but at least it’s satisfying that curiosity and restlessness.


I learned about the Napeequa from a friend, Jordy Searle, with whom I planned to join on the river. On the 7.5 mile hike in, we reached snow 1500 vertical feet below the summit of Little Giant Pass, about 1000 feet earlier than expected. This presented a problem. We weren’t sure if we could make it over the pass with boats, and it would surely take longer than planned if we could. Jordy had a tight schedule with a flight to catch to an expedition in Indonesia, so with the 24 hours delayed as I climbed up to scout the pass he decided to head back down the trail and out to guarantee his on-time arrival. I knew crossing the pass was possible, that the river would be possible, and I decided to carry on solo into the snow.


Getting to the top of the pass was very physically demanding and highly exposed, but required no technical moves. At the top and down the other side there was little snow and I could take the trail most of the way down to the river. The view was surreal and the scale of the landscape I was entering became clear from the top. The Napeequa is unique for a number of reasons, one of them that the glacially carved canyon is a mostly straight shot from the pass until the final curve where it meets the White River. From the top of the pass, you can see almost all the way out to the last corner, about 11 miles downstream.


The portaging scene was outstanding. My plan was to be as conservative as possible on the river and off. This meant lots of portaging. Most of the steep sections would be portages for any group, but it was still sobering to walk the majority of the gradient on the river. I had scouted the river from satellite images, so had a good idea of the obstacles I would encounter, but things definitely look different from space. Bigger, steeper, and high water made portaging the gorges easy decisions. When you set out to do something hard, and it’s really, really unexpectedly challenging, is that the perfect outcome?


Second camp after about 8 miles of progress, with three more steep sections remaining. I made it out the third day around 1 in the afternoon. In the end, it was easy to imagine doing a similar trip again. Making your way through deep wilderness alone is an amazing experience where you ultimately have to assimilate and calmly be a part of the landscape as you move through, not fight your way down stream, and fulfill that need to explore.

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