Packrafting Afghanistan – 1st Descent of the Oxus River
Story & photos by Jonathan Rider
Rafting in Afghanistan. Sounds fun. Packrafting Afghanistan. Even better. In September 2015 Edmund Le Brun and I made the first descent of the Oxus River from its source in the Afghan Pamir to the border with Tajikistan. By most standards this was not a particularly extreme, arduous or epic expedition. But for two amateurs with no rafting experience, this was the trip of a lifetime. No one – as far as we knew – had done this before. Over 17 days, we covered more than 300km by foot and raft.
To put this in context, Edmund and I had been working in Afghanistan for a number of years. Over the course of several rather boozy suppers, we’d agreed to go hiking in the Wakhan Corridor, a pristine strip of land bound by mountains, stretching into Pakistan and China in the northeast of Afghanistan. It’s not an easy place to get to, but foreigners have been coming here for years to experience the rugged landscape and catch a glimpse of the elusive snow leopard. Its remoteness has ensured relative safety in the area, in spite of the terrible conflict ravaging other parts of the country.
But the trip really started when Edmund sent me an email one dull afternoon saying: “I’ve just bought one of these.” In that note was a picture of the Alpacka Explorer 42. I bought one immediately. What started as a walking trip suddenly became a packrafting Afghanistan expedition.
Fast forward two months, and we found ourselves smashing from boulder to boulder down the Oxus River grinning wildly with fear and exhilaration. The river was more or less unchartered, so it was almost impossible to tell what was coming around the next bend. Wherever we could, we got out of the rafts and scouted ahead to see what was coming up, but more often than not we found ourselves in narrow gorges, and there was nothing to do but hold on tight and hope for the best.
It didn’t seem possible that our impossibly small, lightweight packrafts would withstand the abuse. The river changed from being wide and shallow to narrow and fast flowing. One minute we scraped along the river bed; the next we were yo-yoing through peaks and troughs or squeezing through narrow boulders. In shallow water, even heavily loaded, we floated in only inches of water, often sliding over rocks and pebbles; in deeper waters, we easily negotiated tricky sections of rocks and drops; and in the flat calm… well, just check out the last few minutes of our film on YouTube… pure heaven!
Want to read more about the trip?? Check out the full report on Sidetracked.com.
Thanks to Jon for sharing! And for future adventurers, we highly recommend the use of drysuits 😉 Contact us if you have an adventure worth sharing.