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A group of kayakers with all of their gear laid out getting ready to get on an airplane in Nepal

The Karnali | India & Nepal with Cameron O'Connor & Logan Smith

Words by Cameron O'Connor and Logan Smith

  • Over the course of 6 days, we paddled the Karnali River from Simikot to Banakot. 
  • Paddlers: Cameron O, Logan S, Lucas Q, Harry H, Jack G, Sebastian J, James E
  • Photos: Logan and Harry
  • Logistics: Anup Gurung

November 21

Day 0 - We flew on a tiny plane into Simikot from Nepalgunj. We sorted out a tractor and trailer to take us and our kayaks down to the river where we started our trip at Camp 0.

Tractor pulling trailer full of whitewater kayaks with mountains in the backgroundPhoto by Logan Smith - This aint your grandads shuttle rig, but it will work.
People standing near a small plane waiting to load whitewater kayaks into cargo area
Photo by Logan Smith - Another classic everyday shuttle ride.

November 22

Day 1 - We woke up to some high elevation frost as we were at nearly 7000 feet above sea level. We expected (and found) four portages on the first day. They varied in length, however they were just as burly as some of the California hike-ins. This amounted to basically a full day's worth of portaging. We ended up naming the rapids as we went, such as Excavator Falls, Mega Portage, Biggest Sieve Ever Seen, and the Bat portage (where we took the hard route rather than the easy route! Thanks Bat). This was a harsh introduction to the beautiful canyon walls and served as a good learning experience learning how to maneuver down a river with huge features and very committing gorges. However, both sides of the river have walking paths used by the locals, making it a bit easier to navigate. 

Large, un-runnable rapid in a high volume river
Photo by Harry Hasselman - #portagemayberequired
Kayaker carrying kayak while portaging a rapid high above the river
Photo by Harry Hasselman - Walking path and portage trail
Un-runnable whitewater rapid
Photo by Harry Hasselman - Might be a sieve there..

November 23

Day 2 - We had found a large sandy camp on river right late in the evening on Day 1. This was a stroke of luck for us because Day 2 immediately started off with a new log jam portage that had been caused by the road construction project meant to improve access to Simikot. After one additional portage, we realized that we were about to get exactly what we came here for; the high volume, high quality and continuous class 4/5 whitewater that we would paddle until we reached our camp at the confluence of Lochi and Karnali Rivers.

Kayakers hanging out at their camp next to a river
Photo by Logan Smith - Recouping at camp
Kayaker lifting kayak onto rocks next to river to portage around a large rapid
Photo by Logan Smith - Another easy portage. 
Two kayakers squatting over camp fire to warm up and dry out
Photo by Logan Smith - Put this on your Holiday Card.

November 24

Day 3 - The day started off with a bang and the action continued throughout the day with more big water and technical moves. We portaged around a section of stout boulder gardens with a large vertical wall on river left that we called the Untouchables move. The walls continued to hold their steepness for most of the day, but opened up near the end where we camped on a sunny beach just a few kilometers above the Mugu confluence. 

Kayaker paddling in the middle of a whitewater river with large cliff walls on both sides
Photo by Logan Smith

By this point, it felt like a little weight had been lifted off of our shoulders and we had started to understand the river better. We found that although we were the only people paddling the river at the time, we were never alone. The Humla Karnali consists of many villages from top to bottom. This makes it easy to re-supply, ask for help down and out of the canyon if necessary, and there was always someone keeping an eye on us, whether it be a wave or yelling and whistling at all times of the day.

Kayaker paddling high volume whitewater river with cliff walls on both sides
Photo by Lucas Quintero

November 25

Day 4 - We began the day by making our way down to the Mugu confluence with some amazing flat water gorges and epic scenery.  Below the Mugu, water levels doubled and the river picked up in gradient, which made for some large, interesting drops that started coming at us at a faster pace. The elusive Mill house rapid snuck up on us and the whole town, including the entire local school, came out to watch us run the rapid. It was quite stressful while trying to scout a serious rapid with time running out in the day, however it was still an amazing experience to have on the river. We also came across a new landslide that backed up a kilometer of the river with a giant eddy. At the mouth of the lake, there was a 15ft ledge hole that led into a serious rapid. There was a broken bridge underwater just upstream of the landslide and because it was so recent, it made for a very wet and muddy portage. We found a nice secluded beach in the gorge river left, just what we needed after a long day. 

Kayaker looking at cliff wall while paddling in a river
Photo by Logan Smith

November 26

Day 5 - We woke up to local kids on the beach who were very curious about what we were doing and our morning routines. This made for a good and very funny experience. It was a long day with many large gorges that continued to stack up with more and more water. There were definitely a couple portages, but the day consisted mostly of good-to-go big water rapids. Possibly one of the stoutest sections of the river with big, technical, and aggressive moves. At the end of the day we made a quick re-supply and had some dal bhat in a small village before making our way to an amazing night on a large beach with a bonfire, celebrating the trip and putting the majority of stouts behind us. 

Whitewater kayaker paddling through a river wave

Photo by Logan Smith

November 27

Day 6 - A dewy morning kicked off our short day of fun class 3 down to Banakot, where half of the crew took out and wished the other boys luck on the lower stretch. We began the long gnarly bus ride back to Nepalgunj and eventually back to Kathmandu. Jack, Sebastian, and Jimmy continued for another 3 days down the rafting section of the Karnali. 

Group of kayakers standing next to a river


  • When the guide book says class 3-4, don't let your guard down. 
  • Bring more food than you think, even though the river has access to tea huts along the way, you will want more snacks for at camp (always).  
  • Chocolate and candy were essential for lunch-time pick me up.   
  • Perhaps pogies and hoods would have been a good idea but we were able to make do without them. The water is glacial and consistently cold throughout the run until way downstream of Simikot.
  • Large canyons create lots of shade and wind funnels. Bring warm clothes for camp and proper dry equipment!
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