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The Last River: The Tragic Race for Shangri-laby Todd Balf
Synopses & Reviews
It was the ultimate whitewater adventure on the Mount Everest of rivers, and the biggest challenge of their lives....
October 1998 an American whitewater paddling team traveled deep into the Tsangpo Gorge in Tibet to run the Yarlung Tsangpo, known in paddling circles as the Everest of rivers. On Day 12 of that trip, the team's ace paddler, one of four kayakers on the river, launched off an eight-foot waterfall and flipped. He and his overturned kayak spilled into the heart of the thunderous freight training river and were swept downstream, never to be seen again.
The Last River: The Tragic Race for Shangri-la is a breathtaking account of this ill-fated expedition, a fascinating exploration of what propelled these kayakers to take on the seething big water and perilous Himalayan terrain of the deepest gorge on the planet. This was the magical Shangri-la of legend, a 140-mile-long canyon framed by 25,000-foot snowcapped peaks, a place of unimaginable beauty called Pemako in ancient Buddhist texts that was rumored to contain mammoth waterfalls.
At the close of the twentieth century, an end-to-end descent of the gorge filled the imaginations of some of the best boaters in the world, who saw in the foam and fury of the Tsangpo's rapids the ultimate whitewater challenge. For Wick Walker and Tom McEwan, extreme whitewater pioneers, best friends, and trip leaders, the Tsangpo adventure with Doug Gordon, Olympic medal-winning paddler Jamie McEwan (Tom's brother), and Roger Zbel was the culmination of a twenty-five-year quest. Fueled by narratives of early explorers, Walker and McEwan kept their dream alive and waited until the Chinese government opened the gorge to Westerners. With financial backing from the National Geographic Society, the group was finally good to go in 1998.
Swollen to three times the size they had expected because of record rains and heavy snowmelt, the Tsangpo lived up to its fearsome reputation. On numerous occasions the team questioned whether to continue, but chose to press forward. The Last River probes beyond the extreme sports cliches and looks at the complex personal and intellectual reasons for the seemingly irresistible draw of Tibet's Great River. For Walker, Gordon, Zbel, and the McEwans — husbands, fathers, friends, and brothers — the Tsangpo wasn't a run toward death but a celebration of life, adventure, and the thing that tied them to one another — awe-inspiring rivers. The Last River is also a riveting journey to one of the world's wildest and most alluring places, a thrilling book that invites us into the Himalayas of Jon Krakauer's classic, Into Thin Air, but from a totally new perspective — on a historic river so remote that only the most hardy and romantic souls attempt to unlock its mysteries.
From the Hardcover edition.
A spinetingling chronicle of a kayak team's quest to make the first descent through the dangerous Tsangpo Gorge in Tibet describes how the four expert members of the team, partially funded by the National Geographic Society, attempted the first end-to-end journey through the gorge, an adventure that ended in tragedy. Reprint. 75,000 first printing.
The Last River: The Tragic Race for Shangri-la is a breathtaking account of the ill-fated October 1998 expedition of an American whitewater kayaking team who traveled deep into the Tsangpo Gorge in Tibet to run the Yarlung Tsangpo, known in paddling circles as the "Everest of rivers." For Wick Walker and Tom McEwan, extreme whitewater pioneers, best friends, and trip leaders, the Tsangpo adventure was the culmination of a twenty-five-year quest for glory. Yet the team's magnificent dreams crumbled when their ace paddler was swept over a thunderous eight-foot waterfall, never to be seen again.
Here is a fascinating exploration of both the seething big water and perilous terrain of the legendary Shangri-la, and the men who dared challenge the furious rapids that raced through this 140-mile-long canyon. The Last River invites us to view the Himalayas from a totally new perspective — on a historic river so remote that only the most hardy and romantic souls attempt to unlock its mysteries.
About the Author
TODD BALF, a former senior editor for Outside magazine, writes for Men's Journal, Fast Company, and other publications. His cover story in Men's Journal on the Tsangpo and the Walker-McEwan expedition appeared in March 1999. He lives in Beverly, Massachusetts, with his wife and two children.
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