2020 Expedition of the Year

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The official logo of category sponsor Kokatat
Expedition paddling is going to the unexplored corners of planet earth, or pushing the sport to new limits in where kayaking or even being in areas with kayaks takes incredible fortitude.
These are the people taking the crazy ideas and making them reality.


[ TOP 3 FEATURED BELOW ]

• WINNER •

First Descent Noeick River, BC

Chris Korbulic, Jules Domine, Sandy MacEwan, Ben Stookesberry

Each of these individuals are known to not shy away from the savagery of missions that most won’t endure and consider impossible. These boys on a team together tackled a glaciated and impassable canyon in the Coastal Range of BC. Each one of them claims the mission would not have happened without each of the others unique and specific energy along for the trip. This team of humble athletes shared some of what makes them tick and why they travel to these remote locations!
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Chris, Jules, Sandy, & Ben

CHRIS KORBULIC

Whitewater Awards: Who’s idea was this expedition and how did it come to be?!
Chris Korbulic: Ben Marr brought the river to my and Ben Stookesberry’s attention the previous year on another masochistic trip in the BC Coast Range. Talk started small and we laughed that it would probably just be another multi day portage. Then we looked a little closer and were lured in by the inevitable great looking potential of the river. 

WA: When were you the most scared / unsure on this expedition?
CK:
I was pretty scared on the fixed wing float plane flight in through a storm. Our little 3 seater with a kayak on a float did not invite confidence in heavy wind, rain, and swirling clouds. I was thinking “small planes go down in these conditions”. 

WA: Best character trait in your travel companions?
CK:
Patience, with continued drive to move forward.

WA: What is ideal group size for the rowdiest of First D’s?
CK:
I like groups of 3 or 4 people, but prefer 4 people so you can have 2 pairs working together. 

WA: The thing you miss the most when you’re deep amongst it?!
CK:
Persons? I miss my girlfriend, but when I’m with my girlfriend I miss being deep amongst it. Amenities? Not much really, maybe a big kitchen with a glass of wine.

WA: Which of the 7 continents have you done expeditions on?
CK:
I have not yet paddled on Antarctica. 

WA: Most impressive / stoutest landscape of all your adventures?
CK:
The Himalayas and coastal Greenland come to mind first, and I haven’t even scratched the surface of those landscapes. But also the deep Amazon Rainforest and the New Guinea jungle, especially considering humans as part of the landscape. 

WA: Best / most valuable piece of equipment / gear?
CK:
A good shelter? A lighter? 

WA: What is the equipment you use in case you need to be evacuated / keep in touch with those outside the expedition?
CK:
I don’t go anywhere without my Garmin inReach. It was critical on this trip when Jules developed a quickly worsening infection in his hand, decided to get medical attention, and was able to coordinate a self rescue. 

WA: One place you haven’t been yet, that you want to go?
CK:
China, is now a bad time?

WA: Expedition or trip you wouldn’t do again?
CK:
This one, among many others. Even though the Noeick would be worth repeating, I like to spend my energy looking for something new and different I haven’t done.  

WA: Expedition plan for 2020 or near future?
CK:
Most everything on hold at this point, but hoping at least back to continue the search in BC this summer. There’s too much potential. 

WA: Advice you’d give to up and coming adventurers?
CK:
If at first you don’t succeed, get used to it. Success isn’t always what you expect it to be, and can be hard to come by. Learn that failures can turn in to a success, and that you learn what success means to you through failure.  

WA: One thing you have learned while in quarantine?
CK:
My new favorite word is “prosody”. 

WA: Sponsor shoutouts?
Chris: Absolute thanks goes to Eddie Bauer for being the primary financial support for this trip, making it all possible and safe. 

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“A 10 day first descent dropping a vertical mile source to sea with a three day portage through some of the most challenging terrain on earth is the thumbnail sketch of the audacious descent planned and led by Chris Korbulic. But without guys like Sandy Macewan and Jules Domine there to push the issue into a dicey, small weather window at the cusp of winter, this mission doesn’t happen.”  – Ben Stookesberry
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BEN STOOKESBERRY

Whitewater Awards: Who’s idea was this expedition and how did it come to be?!
Ben Stookesberry: For the Noeick, Benny Marr Google scouted and inspired Chris Korbulic to put all of his focus on the mission. That said Chris spent months prepping and planning for the Noeick including an exploratory scout where he and his special lady friend Chelsea were charged by a grumpy berry eating bear. So Chris was the man. 

WA: When were you the most scared / unsure on this expedition?
BS: On the Noeick it had to be flying into Ape Lake (the Put-in) through a wild Costal BC storm. My only solace was thinking that I am not nearly famous enough to die in a small plane crash.

WA: Most scared on any expedition?
BS:
The most scared I have been on any expedition outside of the loss of dear Hendri Coetzee in Congo,  was probably a previous mission with Lane Jacobs on the first descent of the box canyon Guiza River during a flash flood. We had no idea what was down stream, no way to hike out, and no way to shelter in place with this flash flood coming down on top of us. It was short lived (a few hours) and we made it out alive (obviously), but doing battle with boat scout 5+ in the dark soup of dusk and downpour was particularly fucked up. 

WA: Best character trait in your travel companions?
BS: Good Humor. 

WA: What is ideal group size for the rowdiest of First D’s?
Ben: 3, but 4 has also worked well. 5 is a nightmare.  

WA: The thing you miss the most when you’re deep amongst it?!
BS: When your down in there committed there is nothing that I miss. It’s why I go. Complete focus. Completely living the present moment. But when things get fucked up and they spiral out of control I miss everything in my life outside of that place. But that is precisely the moment where you where you either refocus and get a grip or continue to spiral. Maybe the question should be who and what inspires me to come back. Persons? My mom, Cheyenne, my sister, my friends,  the paddling community, the paddling industry, freeflowing rivers. Amenities? I like to think that I live as close to the ground as possible, but I know I love fresh produce from the farmers market in Missoula. I love Cheyenne’s house in Downtown Missoula walking distance from a freeflowing river, and man made play feature (Brennan Guth’s Wave). And between those two places it seems I have most of what I need to be happy. Still the idea of a mission with the tribe makes my soul catch fire in a way that nothing else does. 

WA: What is the tally of first descents / expeditions have you done to date? 
BS: 134 FDs. Of course it’s a whole host of things I put in that 134. For example Right Mesa huck is there but so is a week long expedition First Decent of Argentina’s Tunuyan with Silvio Guerierri and Pato Valsechi. So it’s kind of a number that only means something to me in terms of some of those things took 2.6 seconds (Anaconda Falls) and some that took 46 days (Crossing the Greenland Icecap to a first D through Twin Galaxies Fjord).  Number of expeditions is a tough one that I’d have to estimate at about 4 per year for 20 years which is roughly 60… 

WA: Which of the 7 continents have you done expeditions on?
BS: All except Antarctica. My Brazilian Brother Pedro Oliva has accomplished all 7.

WA: Most impressive / stoutest landscape of all your adventures?
BS: The Greenland mission with Sarah and Boomer has to take the cake here. The most exhausting, the coldest day on the river, and Twin Galaxies Fjord is the most incredible place on earth (imagine an ocean surrounded by a ring of Matterhorn style peaks).

WA: Best / most valuable piece of equipment / gear?
BS: Eddie BauerKarakorma Storm Down Sleeping Bag (Shameless Sponsor Promotion). But out side of Brand Dropping, 20 foot length of webbing with a locking biner in the front pocket of your PFD is the telltale sign of an expedition kayaker.  

WA: What is the equipment you use in case you need to be evacuated / keep in touch with those outside the expedition?
BS: Garmin inReach Explorar SAT Comm

WA: One place you haven’t been yet, that you want to go?
BS: Tibet’s Yarlung Tsang Po Gorge

WA: Expedition or trip you wouldn’t do again?
BS: Grand Canyon Colorado. I did it once. It’s one of the most beautiful places on earth. I don’t want to take a space from someone who hasn’t seen God and Martin Litton’s gift to humanity. 

WA: Expedition plan for 2020 or near future?
BS: Leave Cheyenne’s front door in Missoula on some kind of human powered mission to make a first D. I have one in mind. 

WA: Advice you’d give to up and coming adventurers?
BS: Learn to listen to the voice that speaks quietly, way down deep, underneath all the noise.  Whether you take it’s advice or don’t, learn to listen for and to that inner truth. And if you figure that out, please let me know, because I still haven’t.   

WA: One thing you have learned while in quarantine?
BS: Recipe’s should never be followed and / or repeated. 

WA: Sponsor shoutouts?
Ben: Eddie Bauer, Jackson Kayak, Kokatat, Werner Paddles, and Snap Dragon Designs.  

SANDY MACEWAN

Whitewater Awards: Who’s idea was this expedition and how did it come to be?!
Sandy MacEwan: Benny showed me a while ago on google earth looked like it could be good and i was super pumped to try do something around bella coola. Unfortunately benny couldnt come in the end.  Chris really investigated the zone and kind took the lead. 

WA: When were you the most scared / unsure on this expedition?
SM: For me getting around the gorge that was filled with a glacier. While we were scouting a route we saw multiple rock ice falls coming off the mountain crashing into the gorge. We ended up taking a high line that put us well out of the way of overhead hazards but was still a stout portage. 

WA: Most scared on any expedition?
SM:
High water Bishop river had me pretty scared at times.

WA: Best character trait in your travel companions?
SM: Chris runs a tight operation all the time, super skilled and motivated. Ben brings so much experience to the crew. I have lots of respect for his hustle. Jules can roll a spliff in any condition, I have a lot of respect for that skill.

WA: What is ideal group size for the rowdiest of First D’s?
SM: 3-5 people is good.

WA: The thing you miss the most when you’re deep amongst it?!
SM: I love being out on the missions. I don’t miss too much, just stoked to be out there.

WA: What is the tally of first descents / expeditions have you done to date? 
SM: 4 or 5 1st D’s maybe and lots of expedition trips. 

WA: Which of the 7 continents have you done expeditions on?
SM: North & South America, and New Zealand.

WA: Most impressive / stoutest landscape of all your adventures?
SM: Hard to compare amazing places but the Noeick Rivers’ landscape was really amazing, I’ve got a lot of love for the Coast Range in BC summer and winter.

WA: Best / most valuable piece of equipment / gear?
SM: Good shoes & a fully stocked spliff kit that will stay dry and last the entire mission. 

WA: What is the equipment you use in case you need to be evacuated / keep in touch with those outside the expedition?
SM: inReach.

WA: One place you haven’t been yet, that you want to go?
SM: Madagascar.

WA: Expedition or trip you wouldn’t do again?
SM: I don’t want to rule out a rebate on anything that I’ve done yet.

WA: Expedition plan for 2020 or near future?
SM: BC Coast Range mission, the next one might be the one.

WA: Advice you’d give to up and coming adventurers?
SM: Get out there and give it.

WA: One thing you have learned while in quarantine?
SM: I’ve learned that some people should be banned from social media.

WA: Sponsor shoutouts?
SM: Shout out Chris and Eddie Bauer for the support.

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JULES DOMINE

Whitewater Awards: Who’s idea was this expedition and how did it come to be?!
Jules Domine: The legend says that Benny Marr scoped that river on google earth first, but it was Chris who actually made it happen – He put an incredible amount of time into preparing this one!

WA: When were you the most scared / unsure on this expedition?
JD: There was a lot of unknowns in that expedition, yet the most uncertain factor wasn’t the landscape for me. It was the weather. We where evolving in a very crazy watershed, with tons of glaciers and exposed to potential flood / frost, massive cliffs, gorges and even the river going under the ice for over 1 KM. Wrong weather in the wrong place and it would have been done. 

Most scared on any expedition?
JD:
Ahahah, that’s a hard one – I think it comes when what’s on the shore is scarier than the whitewater, and that the whitewater is so scary that you really want to portage… Paddling in Colombia sometimes brings up theses situations…

WA: Best character trait in your travel companions?
JD: To know they got your back! I had a really bad infection on my hand during the trip and those guys had to carry my boat out while I was at the hospital… Needless to say the walk out wasn’t easy, especially after a 14 day suffer fest. But what I like even more is that the 3 of them are always down to go deep into some ridiculous trips where portaging is obviously going to be the main activity. There aren’t many people in the world who practice extreme portaging at that level.

WA: What is ideal group size for the rowdiest of First D’s?
JD: I’m a fan of small groups for sure, and what’s important is for everyone to be on the same page. I’d say from 1 to 4 people is ideal!

WA: The thing you miss the most when you’re deep amongst it?!
JD: I usually carry what I need 😉 

WA: What is the tally of first descents / expeditions have you done to date? 
JD: In Canada and quite a bit in Colombia, it’s one of the best country in the world for expedition and it’s not surprising that the team that was on the Noeick often meets down there for a bit of action. The Caqueta drainage has been a gold mine lately and Chris, my brother and I are making a documentary about a remote rapid in the amazon right now!

WA: Which of the 7 continents have you done expeditions on?
JD: Mostly North and South America’s.

WA: Most impressive / stoutest landscape of all your adventures?
JD: The earth is diverse place and I’m not sure I could pick a winner here, but standing on top of the highest mountain of the Chiribiquete in the Amazon, and watching the perfectly flat, untouched rain forest until the horizon bent, was a special moment. It felt like we where on an island, lost in a ocean of organic creation. It’s an outlandish feeling and the memory of this sight, as it despaired with the dying sun, brings me peace in times of war.

WA: Best / most valuable piece of equipment / gear?
JD: Let’s be honest, without a drysuit, you can’t do an expedition like the Noeick. And I wouldn’t go with one that isn’t Kokatat built. I really wish I could say that a neoprene head-cap is a great piece of equipment too, but Chris only had one spare. Sandy and I had to rock, paper, scissors over it – I lost.  Consequences were heavy.

WA: What is the equipment you use in case you need to be evacuated / keep in touch with those outside the expedition?
JD: So inReach is the way to go. Super light, connects to your phone and done. I think they come and get you if you press the help button too, but never tried it personally… What’s really important is who you are going to text. Because if you are like Chris and Ben, constantly texting your girlfriend while on an Expedition, you need to buy the unlimited plan, and it’s quite expensive… Theses guys must be sponsored…

WA: One place you haven’t been yet, that you want to go?
JD: Ethiopia.

WA: Expedition or trip you wouldn’t do again?
JD: Hum, probably the Noeick! I would defiantly go back in there to hike & climb though! 

WA: Expedition plan for 2020 or near future?
JD: I did have some but things aren’t looking good at the moment. Might have to change plan and paddle from Colombia to France or Canada to visit family! 

WA: Advice you’d give to up and coming adventurers?
JD: Don’t be afraid of carrying your boat for days, it’s actually quite fun. Even if you don’t get to paddle.

WA: One thing you have learned while in quarantine?
JD:  Be stealthy!

WA: Sponsor shoutouts?
JD: Kokatat for sure. It’s a brand that makes the best gear and I have been representing them for 10 years. Just check out the latest lifejacket team edition and you’ll see how they care for their paddler’s. To Waka Kayaks too for hooking it up and making a boat that can push the limits.

* ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF SANDY MACEWAN *


• RUNNER UP •

Return to El Rio Guayas

Lane Jacobs, Ben Stookesberry, Rafael Ortiz

“The Rio Guayas is in danger of Hydroelectric damnation. Now is the time for us to sort out an international version of American Whitewater. And speaking of American Whitewater, we are so lucky to have them as our champion here in the US, but as we all know, the free flowing rivers beyond our borders even in a place like Canada and especially in places like Colombia are far more threatened than are own remaining free flowing US rivers. That said support of AW is essential for keeping the rivers open to public access especially now in the time of Covid-19.”  – Ben Stookesberry

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Lane paddling toward one of the many giant rapids on the Rio Guayas.

In 2017 Lane Jacobs, Jules Domine and Ben Stookesberry attempted the first descent of Colombia’s Rio Guayas. Three days into the attempt they decided to hike out due to concerns of high water and legitimate reports of a risky security situation in the remote jungle canyons ahead. After two years dreaming about returning to the Guayas, Lane returns with Ben Stookesberry and Rafa Ortiz to once again explore this remote river in Colombia’s Southern Cordillera mountain range. Read Full Article here.

CLICK HERE TO BECOME A MEMBER OF AMERICAN WHITEWATER AND SUPPORT RIVER PRESERVATION AND RESTORATION.



• THIRD PLACE •

Mission East to West: Stories from the Vanishing Wild Rivers of Nepal

 Anup Gurung, Tarjan Gurung, Roshan Lama and Hari Ali
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Roshan, Anup, Tarjan & Hari
Pictured before and after the expedition.

Nepali paddlers Anup Gurung, Hari Ali, Tarjan Gurung & Roshan Lama headed out to cross their country from east to west, paddling all the great rivers along the way. After 157 days, they were home.

“It is not just about paddling or extreme kayaking, neither is it only about the river, or being patriotic. This is about the people we met along the way, about their stories and their experiences of the fast and scary development of rural Nepal. This is about the streams I used to swim in, the rivers I used to paddle, the juicy fruit garden, the fresh air I used to breath. This is about seeing what’s left of my childhood. This is Mission East to West”. – Anup Gurung

Experience the beauty of Nepal & journey with them, beautifully chronicled chapter by chapter.

James Byrd

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