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Field Notebook

Fall, 2007
Tibet


Eric Ladd on the Gyel Chu
Eric Ladd on the Gyel Chu
In the morning, sun angles through the canyon, opening holes in the fog and the last of the night's rain. A contingent from the village gathers on a balcony rock across the river. Among them is a glint of spinning light, a prayer wheel turning in an old woman's hand.

What must they think of us as we fold up our contraptions of gear, as we drink from steaming cups, write in journals, while sitting on slate-gray rocks alongside the river, or recline in damp grass and read poetry like lavish monks? What do they think when we dress like astronauts in our bright drysuits and helmets, our gestures serious and swift as we return to the river they fear? We must seem absurd, our lives cartoonish and brief as we launch downstream into the teeth of the next rapid.

The water of the Gyel Chu runs gray-green. Upstream, far upstream, glaciers are milling mountains into flour. The canyon yawns, then closes on itself setting up tent-peak waves that collapse into galling froth, our mouths full of glacier water as we break through. High on the side, vultures big as goats mill about in the woods.

Coming down the iron split of the canyon, the river is busy and quick. Eric is on the oars, used to be a river guide on the swift and boney rivers of the southern Rockies. He handles the oars with cordial deftness, not expletive like Jason (who is prone to yell things like SWIM FOR YOUR FUCKING LIFE!). He places the boat well, accurate with every wave.

Kayaks play in waves ahead of us. They flash up and down quick as swallows. They are on point, scouting ahead for the rafts, sending signals back with their paddles: Hard Right, Hard Left, Run the Gut, Eddy Out.

The greenish flow of the Gyel Chu comes down to the big brown Salween, the Gyalmo Ngulchu. We approach this other river like the small, male black widow scaling down a single strand toward her. What will she say?

(Photo: Kyle GeorgeĀ  www.kylegeorgephotography.com)


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