Success for first ever SUP expedition to Bhutan – well done ladies!

Mission accomplished. A successful result by the 11 ladies from Singapore and Dubai representing ‘Women On A Mission’. They are officially the first SUP team to travel to this hidden Himalayan Kingdom and also claim the first descent of some of its rivers.

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Getting ready for the first ever SUP descent of the Mo Chhu

Nearly 12 months ago I was contacted and chosen by the group to put the trip together based on the years of knowledge and experience I have had exploring and guiding in the Kingdom. The team spent a week in the country with a crew of local staff I had gathered and river guides I have trained who were all equally excited by the trip ahead and the arrival of the first SUP’s in the country that had been shipped in specifically for the expedition.

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A great spot for a photo shoot – and to scout the class 2+ rapid just below us!

The first day the group travelled from the capital after a blessing at Thimphu Dzong and swapped the expedition bus for bikes to descend from the high Dochula Pass at 3200m  down to the Punakha valley where they were based for the challenge. We spent the  afternoon preparing the ladies for the river environment as all of their previous experience had been done on the sea! Warming up and practice on the confluence of the Mo chhu and Pho Chhu rivers with the backdrop of the stunning Punakha Dzong was pretty awesome and the ladies were impressive on the boards – super confident and up for the challenge!

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Our training ground on the confluence in the Punakha valley

The next day was a full on day of adventure – more like a triathlon! Bike to the river get on, then hike up to the nearby temple, before trekking back down to start our first descent of the Mo Chhu river. After a bank based Hydrology lesson, team briefing and it was time to kit up and get on the water. Running with 2 safety kayakers I headed the group using signals to direct the team as we got onto the water and straight into our first rapid. The weather was warm, the water clear, and to the ladies surprise it wasn’t as cold as they had anticipated! We had a great run that supplied us with big wave trains, sharp rapid bends, and an afternoon head wind – all to challenge the group, and then finally – ‘Coffee Pot!’  – this last rapid was the most technical. As with other sections of the river we had stopped to inspect and look at the perfect line down the fastest sections of the river and a few of the team decided they were up for the challenge. With kayakers and safety set in place, one by one they tested themselves against this technical class 2+ rapid. The rapid won on this occasion as it threw its challengers from their boards to swim through to the kayakers below – Challenged but not tamed – this rapid was going to be attempted again the next day!

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The first run completed and the backdrop is awesome!

The following day the team visited the temple of the divine madman (look him up!) and the stunning Punkaha Dzong, before heading back up to the river and another run of the Mo Chhu river. Looking super confident on the boards we had a great run down the river running every section of the river and then down to coffee pot again – and they nailed it.

The first descent of the river on SUP’s had been done – a great team effort and accomplishment.

 

That evening we drove up the Pho Chuu river to our camp on the river bank and an evening spent by the fire under the stars. The following morning was an early start as we wanted another river to run. the Pho Chhu is a technical rocky class 3 river and not an option on the SUP’s – so instead we pulled out the two rafts and ran the river down to the confluence with the Mo Chhu, where the two rivers then become the Puna Tsang Chhu. Jumping out of the rafts it ws ack onto the SUP’s to run another river as a team and another to add to the record. All of the ladies looked really comfortable on the boards by this point as we headed down the river like a line of worker ants to the take out and another successful descent.

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The group super confident on the Puna Tsang Chhu

Each year the not for profit organisation called ‘Women On A  Mission’ take on an adventure challenge and in doing so raise funds for a charity in the country that the expedition is set in.  That afternoon we headed back to the capital for the women to go to meet the Charity they had raised funds for in Bhutan, called ‘RENEW’. Set up by Her Royal Highness the queen mother, renew funds and supports women of domestic violence with shelter and training and a number of children that need care and support. In doing this trip the women had raised a large some of money and presented it to the group at one of the home near Thimphu.

You can’t come to Bhutan without visited the most stunning ‘Tigers Nest’ or Takstang Monastery. The 3 hour hill up to 3000m meter is worth it, to visit the monastery sat high up on the on the edge of the cliffs overlooking the Paro valley. We were blessed with perfect sunshine and distant snow capped peaks for our last trek together and a fitting end to an amazing adventure.

The trip had all the ingredients of an expedition first – Lost kit, epic swims, the odd rescue and even a hospital visit (but thats another story!), but ultimately each and everyone of them can proudly depart Bhutan knowing they were the first. The first to Stand Up paddle board in Bhutan with first deserts to boast of as well as  the first all female group to run the rivers.

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Mission accomplished – we did it!

It was an exciting challenge to put the trip together and to guide a group you have never met, safely down the rivers, and for me what makes this all the more attainable and enjoyable is the team that support you. A big thanks to the team, the guys I have spent years working with in Bhutan for such great support.  ‘Karma’ the best cultural guide and ‘can do’ man, ‘Chencho and Thinley’ the best river guides in Bhutan and Sonam (& Sonam!) the team drivers across the country.

Just like the first river exploration in Bhutan over 10 years ago, we left the kit and will train the local staff, so not only did we achieve what we set out to do – the evolution of sport in Bhutan will continue – Thats another blog!

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