Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Tragedy on the Tsangpo

On October 16, 1998 a tragedy occurred on the Tsangpo River in eastern Tibet. Doug Gordon was a 41-year old paddler with lots of experience, however that day was the day he died. The river was one that had only been traveled by two westerners, in 1924 and 1996. Some say that Gordon's death could have been avoided. After one of the biggest monsoon's in Asia's history the river level was two or three times higher than the group expected. Speculations about the motives of the expedition's sponsor National Geographic or a possible race with another expedition contribute to the argument that Gordon's death was avoidable. Gordon died after trying to drop an 8-ft. waterfall and missing his line. He flipped at the bottom of the waterfall and was unsuccessful with his attempts to roll the kayak over. One of his partner's on the trip Jamie McEwan said that Gordon's kayak was too big for him and with the gear it was also a little heavier than it normally would be, he believes that this also contributed to Gordon's inability to roll the kayak over. McEwan also said that the group was motivated to attempt the descent regardless of the danger because of the time and energy spent to get there. It took 10 days of traveling and they felt that that made it worth the attempt. There was also two other teams planning to make a descent that fall so the pressure to be the first could have also contributed to the decision. Whether it was poor judgment or pressure from outside Gordon's death should not have happened. The allure of having the first descent or just being able to say that you conquered the river should not be enough to risk lives. True there will always be danger but there are times that are better than others to attempt the descent and October 1998 was clearly not the best time. How many lives are going to be lost chasing this feeling of accomplishment? Gordon had children and a family and because of the dangerous expedition they are now fatherless. Though some might disagree with me I don't think that the risk is worth the price that many pay.

Porter Fox, "Tragedy on the Tsangpo", Paddler, March/April 1999, Print.

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