Posted by: Chris Eastabrook | September 26, 2010

The Zerafshan Sprint


So once again the team is back in  Dushanbe after another five days out in the wilds. We set out last Sunday and headed up into the Fann mountains again, aiming for the Zerafshan river, which lies close to the border with Kyrgyzstan. Our original plan had been to drive first to Romit, a town about an hour north-east of Dushanbe, and to paddle the Salvo Darya. The evening before setting out however, we learnt from our driver that the group of prisoners who had escaped from Dushanbe prison at the end of August, had been tracked down to the town of Romit and were now fighting gun battles with the army in its streets. We therefore decided that the prudent approach would be to avoid Romit, bring our plans forward a few days and head straight up to the northern Fann mountains.

Our aim was to paddle 120km of the Zerafshan river and we gave ourselves three self-supported days to do it in. We drove up the sketchy dirt roads which wind along the top of the Zerafshan gorges and were able to get regular glimpses of what was in store. This was particularly useful as we were able to spot the large landslide rapid which we had been warned about and to note down the gps co-ordinates so that we would have a way of checking when we were getting close. Everything looked fine so we carried on up the river until just downstream of the village of Madrushkat. There we unloaded all our gear, said goodbye to Umed and the Commander and set up our camp for the night surrounded by fantastic scenery.

We woke at first light the next morning, had a leisurely breakfast, packed our boats and were on the water by about eight forty five. For the first hour or so we were paddling through flood plains and the river was fairly shallow and braided, but with constant gradient providing continuous, fast flowing grade 2 and 3 rapids. Before long we reached the start of the gorges and the river became a lot narrower, but the gradient remained roughly the same, producing fun grade 3 rapids and flat but fast flowing, sheer sided, boily canyons. Every once in a while narrow dirt tracks would make their way down to the bottom of the wider sections of the gorge, crossing the river on some very dubious bridges and providing occasional contact with the locals.

The water was freezing cold and so we made regular stops to get life back into our hands. Nevertheless, due to the speed of the water we could tell we covering quite a bit of distance. As the morning wore on we came to a few sheer sided canyons with a couple of un-scoutable, un-portageable grade 4 drops. Luckily they were both fine, but these, coupled with the innumerable blind ninety degree bends, meant that we were constantly on our toes. We reached the landslide rapid by about one o’clock. This was a pretty ugly piece of grade five, half of which we portaged down the right bank. After this the river continued in much the same vain, with one harder rapid requiring a quick scout, but mostly easy read-and-run grade 3.

We reached what looked like an ideal camping spot about three thirty in the afternoon. It was a local farmers’ field sited on a narrow strip of land down in the bottom of the gorge. Through the medium of mime we ascertained that he was quite happy for us to sleep there and he spent the next half an hour plying us with fruit. Within forty five minutes we had nearly every child from the village busily trying on all our kit and playing with our boats and they hung around until dusk, fascinated by everything we had with us. We shared our evening meal with the farmer, before we were inundated again by the elders of the village. From them we learnt that we had reached Veshob and had already covered well over 60km! A few spoke good english and after chatting with us for a while they had quite a sad request to make. A local girl had fallen in the river whilst picking fruit and they wanted us to keep an eye out for her body. This seems unfortunately to be quite a regular occurrence in Tajikistan and we have been asked on at least two other occasions to look for cars that had crashed into the rivers we were paddling.

We woke again at first light the next morning and were again away by about eight forty five. The river continued on at the same pace but gradually began to open out, occasionally gorging up again for short distances. This produced some great wave train rapids interspersed with quite a bit of uneventful grade 2 and one small avalanche which attempted to pelt Tom with rocks –  sadly they missed.

We continued on at a relaxed pace, but considering our progress on the previous day, we fully expected to finish the river that day. Sure enough, around two o’clock in the afternoon we reached the town of Aini, our finishing point. After a horribly steep climb with our loaded boats up to the town, we again located, through the medium of mime, a garden to spend the night in and wait for the Commander who hadn’t expected us until the following day. We spent the rest of the afternoon drinking tea, pretty chuffed that we had done over 110km in a day and a half. The Zerfashan was a spectacular river with some very sexy geology and just the right amount of terror!

Once we had hooked back up with the Commander the next morning we spent the day paddling the Fon Darya again. The water level had dropped since our previous run, but it was still great fun and nowhere near as scary now that we knew where to get out for the portage and avoid the horrendously sketchy scree!

The following day we paddled the Iskander Darya again which had also dropped and so involved a lot more rock dodging but was still great fun – all read and run with no portages! With water levels dropping and our wallets empty we headed back to Dushanbe and have spent the last few days relaxing and sight seeing, including a trip to see the largest statue of Budha in Central Asia.

We only have a couple of days left now and will be sad to leave. Tajikistan has been a fascinating country to visit and we feel very privileged to have been able to experience everything that we have and to have met so many friendly and hospitable people.

Take it easy


Posted by: Chris Eastabrook | September 18, 2010

Better the Terror you know!

Evening all.

So we are safely back in Dushanbe following our recent foray into the Gorno -Badakshan Autonomous Oblast which contains the Pamir mountain range. Reaching Khorog, our intended base in the Pamirs, required a 14 hour drive along some of the sketchiest and most terrifying roads I have come across. It is roughly a 600km journey, about 30km of which are on actual tarmac and the rest on, at best gravel, and at worst just scree.

We arrived in Khorog last Sunday night at a homestay conveniently placed on the bank of the river Gunt. After a leisurely breakfast the next day –  why rush these things? –  we headed 10km out of town to the start of the reportedly ‘best bit’ of the Gunt.

The reports weren’t wrong, it was 10km of great, big volume gd 4/4+ rapids, pretty continuous in nature and with some chunky holes and crashing waves. It was fairly intimidating as, once again, it was quite a bit bigger than it looked from the road. But after a bit of scouting it was clear that there was a line down nearly all of it; I say nearly all, because the American river notes had failed to report that at one point most of the river disappeared over a nasty weir and the rest was channeled into a hydro-electric project! Despite this it was a brilliant river and to top it all off, the run finished back at the house we were staying at!

The following day we headed up one of the tributaries of the Gunt, the Shakhdara. On this the river notes were fairly accurate – gd4/4+ in its upper sections, easing to gd3 in the middle section and then building back up to gd4 again about 5km before the confluence. The Shakhdara was an awesome river;  steep and continuous boulder gardens, just enough terror to keep you on your toes but not so much that you just wanted to portage everything! We paddled about 25km in just under 4hrs and by the end were exhausted but thrilled – probably one of the best rivers we have paddled here.

On Wednesday I persuaded the guys that we should drive a bit further up the Gunt, as the American river notes talked about some sections of gd3 higher up. As we drove up we could indeed see some gd3 from the road, then the river went away from the road for a bit and came back to it at a road bridge. We decided to put on at this bridge, run the fairly chunky rapid underneath the bridge and then carry on down this section straight into the lower 10km that we had done on Monday.

No sooner had we paddled the bridge rapid however, than one of the locals mentioned to Umed, our trusty interpreter, that the river disappeared over something big just round the corner! Umed managed to communicate this through signals to us and so we cautiously carried on around the next bend and found that the river did indeed fall over something utterly horrendous and that the portage looked just as bad! To cut a long story short, this led to a lot of bad language concerning the accuracy of river notes written by Americans and a 2 -3km walk. We put back on only a couple of kilometers above where we had two days before! From there we carried on down the lower 10km and had a fantastic paddle; now that we knew the lines and knew there was nothing horrendous lurking round the next bend, the fun:terror ratio improved no end! Hence, better the terror you know ; every river in Tajikistan seems to have a bit of terror lurking somewhere along it – better to paddle the terror you already know about, than to drop into some new horrible mess!

The next day we began our long journey back to Dushanbe, after a good hour spent haggling with our driver over the price of course. That day we drove as far as the Yazgulem, a low/medium volume river about two and a half hours from Khorog. It was a fun paddle, with some fantastic scenery and some very ‘sexy geology’ as Tom would put it. On the down side Autumn seems to be arriving and paddling a glacial river with the wind in our faces, we were definitely glad to get to the finish – the confluence with the Panj river, which is the border with Afghanistan.

That evening we drove on along the Panj and then up the river Vanch, staying in the town of Vanj over night. We got up at 6am on Friday morning intending on finishing the river nice and early and getting most of the drive back to Dushanbe done in daylight. We paddled the river in about an hour – we only did a relatively short section and it is the first river we haven’t had to get out of our boats to scout! It had some great medium volume gd4 rapids on it mixed in with some fast flowing gd3. Once again there was a stiff wind blowing making it bloody cold and due to our truck having had a puncture that morning on the way to the get in, we had a bit of time to wait around at the get out, get to know the locals and learn how to herd goats – it’s quite easy really, it seems to consist of running about, yelling and throwing stones.

Once the truck finally arrived, we packed up and headed back to Dushanbe, stopping along the way to drink tea, change tyres, fix punctures and bribe policemen.

After a rest day today we are heading up to the Salvo river for a grand day out and then up into the Fann mountains again for a multi-day on the Zerafshan.

Take it easy


Posted by: Chris Eastabrook | September 11, 2010

The Fann Mountains Mission


Since the last post we have paddled four rivers, eaten vast quantities of bread, soup and biscuits and the tea toll has been beyond count!

Last monday the three of us, along with our interpreter Umed and our driver, who we have named Commander, set off for the Fann Mountains which lie to the north of Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe. We arrived at our first river, the Fon Darya at around one in the afternoon and paddled an excellent 20km (ish) stretch of medium volume rapids with big wave trains, some munchy holes and one sketchy scree slope portage. Altogether a great first river for our Fann Mountains mission.

The following day we drove up one of the tributaries of the Fon Darya, the Iskander, checked out the stunning lake at the top of the valley and the terrifying waterfall flowing out of it, and then drove back down and put on the Iskander for a great paddle in beautiful blue water, with no portages!!

The day after we headed up the Yagnob, the other major tributary of the Fon Darya, to Bedef where the ‘road’ pretty much ends, and put on for a 30 km (ish),  six hour mission packed full of great white water and more terrifying portages. We paddled from Bedef down to Anzob with Umed and the Commander shadowing our progress in the 4×4 in case we ran out of daylight, which we really hoped wouldn’t happen as the drive up the road beside the river had been almost more sketchy than the portages!

After finishing the Yagnob we jumped in the car and headed over the pass back towards Dushanbe and found a place to stay down by the Varzob which we planned to paddle the next morning. As it turned out, we only had time for a short stretch of the Varzob. The river has some great stretches of white water, which are far steeper than they look from the road,  interspersed with some very steep boulder choss, containing some very munchy holes. This lead to us doing a number of portages and as the plan was to drive back to Dushanbe in the afternoon and then immediately set off for the city of Kulob in the south of Tajikistan, it didn’t give us enough time to do as long a stretch as we had wanted . Kulob is where our interpreter Umed is from and he had invited us to his home city for the end of Ramadan celebration the following day.

We spent the entire day touring the houses of Umeds’ friends and relatives, getting plied with tea, cakes, biscuits, soup, bread, fruit – you name it they wanted you to have it, and of course it would have been rude to say no!

Today has been spent travelling back to Dushanbe and sorting out logistics for our next mission, this time to the Pamir Mountains, a full days drive away in the west of Tajikistan. Keep an eye on the blog for updates on this next stage of our adventure.

Take it easy


Posted by: Chris Eastabrook | September 5, 2010

First river in Tajikistan!

Hi all,

So we arrived in Dushanbe very early on Friday morning and luckily were met by Dave Burne and the translator he has been using, a Tajik called Umed. I say luckily because in our sleep deprived state, and being utterly illiterate in Tajik, it would have taken a considerable amount of time to sort out a car that would take our three boats  and us to somewhere cheap to stay!

As it was they picked us up and whisked us off to to the home stay they were sleeping at along with Ben Beddingham. There we got a few hours kip and then spent the day traipsing round Dushanbe sorting out permits, changing money and more importantly finding the ‘Irish Pub’.

Friday night we all headed up into the hills to the north-west of Dushanbe, aiming for the Karatog river – Dave and Ben’s last run of their trip and the first of ours. We stayed at a fairly delapidated holiday village where we made friends with some very drunk russian characters who were pretty keen to wrestle. In the end Rich obliged with an arm wrestle but wisely decided that discretion was the better part of valour and let the wookie win.

Saturday we drove up the Karatog river as far as Hakimi, scouting as we went. Having seen some of the very chossy, boulder choked rapids on the drive up, Ben decided not to paddle – probably a sensible decision as it turned out. The rest of us put on at Hakimi straight into some great gd3/4 read and run boulder gardens which lasted  for about 4km. At that point we came to the first big drop which we all ran, with varying degrees of success, and soon after we hit the first of many portages.

The best way to describe the Karatog is lots of great drops and rapids interspersed with horrible boulder choked choss and not many eddies to get out at. We spent much of the rest of the day paddling and portaging and paddling and portaging.

Saturday evening we headed back to Dushanbe and had a night on the town Tajik style, an interesting experience bartering for drinks in a language you don’t speak and being charged extra in the night club for the privilege to sit down on the plastic seats, more for the leather seats and even more to dance!

Tomorrow the plan is to head up into the Fann mountains to paddle some highly reccomended runs in preparation for the multi-days to follow.

Take it easy.


Posted by: Chris Eastabrook | May 12, 2010


It didn’t take long for my visa to come back in the post from the Tajikistan embassy!


Posted by: Chris Eastabrook | April 26, 2010

Flights and Such

Getting plane tickets to anywhere in the world is pretty easy.  Getting boats to go with you is trickier as I’m sure many other kayaker’s have found.

It’s always worth ringing around and asking someone important at the airline and speaking to some air freight handlers.  The quote that came back from the shipping company had War Risk costing £22!  Not sure kayakers have been responsible for starting a war before!

We’ve got our flights confirmed and am now starting river research!

Chris x