SUPing the Sun Kosi
Words: Louise Royle
Pics: Pure Land Expeditions
The River: The Sun Kosi river is in Nepal about three hours drive east of Kathmandu. It flows east in the valley between the Mahbharat Lekh mountains and the Himalayas. Several major tributaries drain into the Sun Kosi over this 170-mile journey; increasing the water volume and producing increasingly harder rapids.
It starts at about 100 cumecs, increasing to 400 in the Jungle corridor and finishing at 800, where it enters the plains above Chatra and becomes the Septa Kosi. This big volume water has lots of big bouncy mainly grade 2 to 3+ rapids with flattish sections between. There are a few harder rapids, notably Hakapur which is 5- but this can be portaged. There are lots of lovely sandy beaches for camping along the way as it winds through jungle and passes a few small villages.
The 10-day expedition was organised and led by Darren Clarkson-King of http://www.Purelandexpeditions.com. I took my own SUP and gear, comprised of an 11-foot Fanatic Rapid Air board with a 20 cm touring fin (nice to have no rocks to worry about) and a carbon VE paddle.
Standing on a SUP on a big volume class 3+ rapid heading toward the horizon line. Ahead stretched a big green glassy tongue of water leading down into a train of white crashing waves. The joy of gliding down this smooth, green, undulating slide, with the anticipation of what you are about to hit. The waves, big enough to block your view, collide, resulting in the chaos of cross waves, whirlpools and boils. You stay standing until you feel like the next wave will knock you off, then you drop to your knees to negotiate safe passage though the chaos until you arrive at the bottom of the rapid. Then you stand up and smile. Heaven!
Where it started
Two years ago, I would never have entertained the idea of taking a SUP on a flat river, never mind white water. However, after my first try at SUP during a coaching update, I was hooked. Having been white water kayaking for 35 years it was not long until I just had to take the SUP on moving water and wow what fun. It certainly makes paddling more difficult and is a challenge on water that is relatively easy in a kayak, plus you learn lots of new ways to fall in! Perfect for someone who likes to push herself and learn new skills but does not want to paddle above class 4.
I had kayaked in Nepal a couple of times and had promised myself I would go back and paddle the Sun Kosi before it became too difficult for me. So as my husband (who gets dragged along rafting) had recently retired and I was about to, I contacted Daz at Pureland Expeditions to arrange a kayaking trip for October 2018. The last time I had met Daz was at the Dee on my SUP and he had a very wobbly go! His response was ‘why don’t you bring your SUP to the Sun Kosi’ and that was all the encouragement I needed! Daz is brilliant at sorting stuff, so not only was the trip raft supported, but I was to share a kayak with Aakriti (who was part of the Nepali support crew) – she would kayak when I SUPed, then I could kayak when the continuous more difficult (grade 3+/4) sections whilst she paddled in the raft.
Introduction to the river
After meeting Daz in Kathmandu we headed straight to the Sun Kosi riverside camp at Star Rafting to meet up with everyone. In addition to myself, my husband Ian was rafting, whilst Wendy (from New Zealand) and Elvin and Bav (from India) were kayaking. We jumped on the river for an afternoon warm up on class 1-2.. I felt quite wobbly and fell off a couple of times, before relaxing back into it. The next day I got the chance to check out a boat and kayaked the Indrawati River (a lovely class 2 run with fantastic bird life – including kingfishers and flocks of egrets) along with my husband Ian who only occasionally kayaks flat water. He paddled really well, but after a couple of swims was in no doubt that he was happy to be on the raft for the expedition.
Day one: Sun Kosi
Whilst the crew packed up the raft, we headed upstream to kayak the upper Sun Kosi. This was a brilliant fun packed 90-minute run on class 3+ with big waves and holes to avoid. This brought us back to the camp by Sukhute beach where we met the raft before setting off for the expedition proper. I was starting to get my ‘legs’ back as we bounced down and the difficulty of the rapids slowly increased to class 3.
I was having to concentrate quite hard to keep my balance and kneeled down for the bigger waves, but there were plenty of opportunities to look around and enjoy the fantastic scenery. After a couple more hours on the water we set up camp on a lovely beach. It is rather nice when all the food magically appears, the organisation of camp and the quality of the food on the whole trip was excellent.
Today started with lots of fun class 2+ rapids for 90 minutes before I swapped from the SUP into a kayak for ‘No Exit’ which had a big hole then another big rapid before easing off. After lunch I got back to my SUP, I was now feeling much more stable and had worked out not to follow the raft as it slows down during rapids, whereas the SUP needs speed to get through the waves.
Being stood up I got a very good view of the whole length of most rapids, much better than when sitting in a kayak, so I was able to see and plan my route fairly easily. Thus I generally paddled at the front along with Hem or Bimal our Nepali safety kayakers, who also had sussed me out by now, but kept an eye out. At first no one had been quite sure what to expect from me and my SUP, as this was the first time they had seen anyone SUP the Sun Kosi, and no one had taken a SUP down the whole river before. We reached another tricky class 3+ rapid which bends to the right with all the water piling up onto the wall. I paddled this all successfully on my knees and afterwards was told that this was the most technically challenging water I was likely to SUP on the whole trip.
Daz was really pleased that I had paddled it successfully and was therefore happy that I was well up for the challenge of the rest of the river. This was then followed by another 3+ rapid where I had to move across from left to right to avoid a massive hole in the middle of the rapid – I kept my head dry here as well. Feeling knackered after a brilliant day on the river we stopped at a big beach where locals were herding cows and goats. There was enough drift wood to build a fire and as there was a village nearby we had beer to go with our curry that night.
This was the best SUP day! I was now standing up down all the rapids up to grade 3 and paddled ‘Meatgrinder’ (4-) by taking the left line and missing the big crashing waves in the centre, although the eddy line did take a lot of paddling to get over. I think I surprised everyone by not getting my hair wet on this! The kayakers had fun going back into the big surf waves, whilst I was happy to paddle around the edges.
In the afternoon I paddled ‘Punch & Judy’ (4- and 3), the waves were so big that even though I was kneeling, the board took off and flew through the air on ‘Punch’. This was my first proper trash of the trip and at one point I was under my board trying to get up for air, it can be quite challenging getting back on when the waves keep flipping the board over! Later a few of the crew and Daz had a go at SUPing to see just how different it felt to kayaking. The Nepali guys who spend their life on the river do have excellent balance, but still wobbled on the flat. It was great to see them enjoying themselves on the trip even though it is work for them. That night when it got dark, we found them splashing about in shallow water with head torches and machetes; the small fishes came up to the light and they chopped them with the machete to kill/catch them! It was a very funny sight and they had fish to supplement their supper.
Today I was in a kayak as this was the ‘Hakapur’ day. It did take us 90 minutes longer to get there than we expected as Daz and Hem had forgotten about a section of river! There were some good rapids ‘pre-Anxiety’ and ‘Anxiety’ that were fun to kayak, but would have been too difficult for me on a SUP.
We did not arrive at Hakapur until after lunch, where we all portaged the grade 5 ‘Hakapur 2’. It took a bit of time to unload and carry everything from the raft, but then we still had ‘Hakapur 3’ to kayak. This was the only rapid on the trip where we had any swimmers, Elvin and myself. I had managed to stay upright through the biggest waves, but then my roll failed (too much time on SUP lately instead of practicing rolling, is my excuse). We paddled down to camp and had Dahl Baht just above the confluence with the Dudh Kosi.
We started the day with a breakfast of eggs and hash watching a troop of monkeys on the opposite bank. I was starting to feel some muscle tiredness by now, but my confidence was growing and I was SUPing the vast majority of the time standing up. There was one big rapid, which I did kneel for but the waves still knocked me off. Luckily I did manage to get back on in time to make the big eddy above ‘Jaws’. We all inspected this grade 4 rapid, I walked round. Then we loaded SUP on the raft for ‘Dead Mans Eddy’.
I was really pleased not to have paddled this as Wendy only just made it through with some powerful paddling after a big boil moment. We stopped for a late lunch and set up camp as we were all getting a bit tired.
After a lazy start we went in search of ‘Rhino Rock’ which heralds the start of the ‘Jungle Corridor’ section, which was estimated by Bimal to be just 45 minutes away. After 2.5 hours we had still not found it… Also the wind had got up and was making it really hard to paddle, I was glad I was in a kayak. We all stopped exhausted for lunch: noodles, peanut butter, baked beans, and tinned fruit can make the best meal in the world when you are tired! Thirty minutes later and we finally reached ‘Rhino Rock,’ which had a fun big rapid with an enormous crashing wave big enough to flip a raft. Fuelled by lunch we all made it through before stopping at the next village to pick up supplies before finding another nice beach to camp.
‘Jungle Corridor’, 90 minutes of full-on grade 3-4 challenging rapids with just enough time to catch breath in-between. Finishing off with ‘Egg Basket’ (the biggest rapid we paddled on the river, named because it flipped a raft and they lost all of the eggs). The whole of the river piles into a wall on the left forming a massive crashing/cushion wave, which is followed by a huge wave train with massive boils on the right. I aimed for the centre line, got over the wall wave, then capsized in the wave train but held onto a high brace, got some air and managed to roll up and make it to the bottom. What a brilliant rapid to end this section with! This was followed by a shower in the waterfall at ‘Paradise Falls’ and lunch.
As the hardest part of the journey was over I pumped up my SUP and stood up for the 90-minute afternoon run down to an idyllic beach with glittering mica sand, a back drop of a waterfall in the jungle, and river caves opposite. We were warned not to go into the jungle in the dark as we might meet leopards!
Rest day in paradise. Camping in the jungle near a small village (with beer shop) and rice fields. A walk up the hill to overlook the river, followed by an afternoon spent reading/dozing/practicing Z-drags, with curry and chapattis for dinner.
A superb section for WWSUP. Lots of really nice fun grade 2-3 rapids and waves. I was enjoying paddling over big boils and hitching a ride on the seam lines. I did take a couple of tumbles as I was standing up for much longer before dropping a knee, but with the nice big deep water I was happy to push my limits as my skill and confidence had visibly improved so much over the trip.
The Arun and Tamur rivers now joined bringing up the volume to 800 cumecs, so even though the river had flattened out, there were still lots of boils and currents to keep me on my toes, and to knock me off if I lost my concentration! We camped just before the Hindu temple Baraha Chetra which we walked up to before dinner.
Our last day on the river. We got up early to paddle the last 90 minutes to the get-out at Chatra, where we had a friendly welcome and Dhal Bhat waiting for us. We then found out that Elvin and Bav were the first people from India to have kayaked the Sun Kosi and I was the first person to have SUPed it. We loaded all the kit onto a coach, then we headed off to the airport to fly back to Katmandu for a couple of days touristing before heading home.
Thanks to everyone for a great trip, really great company on and off the river. Daz runs amazing trips with superb support on and off the river. The conditions for SUP could not have been better, the harder sections of river were great fun to kayak, and Ian had fun rafting. I grew up reading my Dad’s National Geographic magazines and dreamed of visiting Nepal. It is so special to be able to visit these amazing places, to see the wildlife from the river, and most of all to meet the wonderful friendly Nepali people.