Laos Whitewater: Catching up with Chris Baer

Video: A creek-to-big water first descent in the jungles of Southeast Asia

“Nam Ngiap. It was supposed to be a Class III first descent, but turned out to be a 3-day, 36-mile Class V adventure dropping 2,500 feet!” When world-touring paddler Chris Baer posted this headline on website last week, he had us asking the obvious question, “Where is Baer?” The answer: way out there, deep in the jungles of Laos. His latest video documents what was supposed to be a warm-up run with fellow boater Lincoln Taylor before moving on to bigger waters in Myanmar. Instead, the duo found spent three days blazing their way down the Nam Ngiap, watching it grow from a technical creek (minute 1:20) to a river with sizable slides (2:55) to the crux, an off-angle 20 foot waterfall (5:30). By the time they made it back to civilization, they were touring through flat farmland on something like a Southeast Asian version of the Ohio River.

CanoeKayak.com: Where is Baer? What’s the scope of this paddling tour?

Currently, I’m paddling the 4,000 Islands section of the Mekong River here in Laos. The tour started about a month ago now. Lincoln Taylor and I meet up in Vientiane the capital of Laos, and have been on a Star of David-shaped tour, zigzagging the country. The plan is to leave in the upcoming days and travel through Thailand, then on to Myanmar where the adventure will escalate quickly. The hope is to get special permission from Myanmar’s government to travel into the mountainous region to the north which borders China, and to find a solid paddling crew to complete some first descents there.

How did you find this run?

Google Earth…duhhhhh! Isn’t that how every unexpected kayaking adventure starts? I know there is a quote out there some where that goes something like, “You know you’re screwed when you’re scouting from space.” Anyways, Lincoln has some connections in Laos and we stopped by and started picking their brains. We were looking for rivers that had what we thought was relatively mellow gradient and flow this time of year. The Nam (which means ‘water’ or ‘river’) Ngiap is a major tributary to the Mekong, running down the eastern edge of the country. We thought we were going in for a 120 miles of paddling that would average out to 30 feet per mile (fpm)…. WRONG.

Biggest surprises?

The 30 fpm that we were expecting the river to drop over a slow 120 miles mostly came in the first 50. As we got into the thick jungle far away from the road, the river pitched up to 150+ fpm and provided some amazing Class V paddling.

The run itself was awesome, winding through dense, pristine jungle. The flow ranged from 100 cfs at the put in, and grew to between 500 and 1000 cfs for the difficult section including an off-angle 20 footer. By the time we took out, we were riding a swollen 10,000 cfs!

–See another video from Baer’s trip to Costa Rica.

For updates from Baer and more Laos whitewater, visit whereisbaer.com