In 2015, our kayak athletes Ben Stookesberry and Chris Korbulic headed deep into the jungle in Papua New Guinea with their teammates to attempt the first decent of the beautiful Beriman River Gorge, one of the most remote places on earth.
Papua New Guinea
Lying just south of the equator, the island nation of Papua New Guinea is part of an arc of mountains stretching from Asia and into the South Pacific. It is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world, with over 800 indigenous languages.
The Grand Canyon of the Pacific
The Beriman river runs for 50 miles through 13 gorges and descends 4,000 feet to the sea through narrow limestone canyons deep in the jungle. Wanting to learn as much about their route as possible, the team took a week to scout the river by helicopter. They used a high-resolution video camera to get an initial look at the aqua-blue water running through canyons that were so deep and narrow, they couldn’t be seen with satellite imagery.
They knew from the beginning that it would be an incredibly challenging and dangerous mission. Once Ben, Chris, and their teammates put their boats in the river, there would be no chance for rescue—or resupply.
Class 6 Rapids & Plenty of White Water
Over the first few days, they ran 3 gorges, encountering blind sections of white water and class 6 rapids. From the information they’d gathered earlier, they knew that eight of the 13 gorges were un-runable. They pulled their kayaks out of the water after gorge 4 and hauled them up the canyon wall. The team spent the better part of a week carrying their heavily loaded kayaks for miles through the dense jungle foliage. Portaging around the next 4 gorges took longer than expected. They began to run low on food and suffer from painful cases of foot rot.
When Ben, Chris, and team finally put in, they were able run the rest of the gorges and were welcomed by the bright turquoise water of the Solomon Sea on day 13. It was the most extreme expedition they had ever undertaken, and it earned them both the honor of 2016 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year.
Stookesberry has been the expedition instigator for more than 132 first descents on sections of Class V or Class VI rivers in 36 countries. A talented filmmaker and visual storyteller, he won a Best Adventure Film award at the Banff Film Festival for his 2011 film Kadoma and received critical acclaim for Walled In.
Korbulic began his career spending years living out of a small hatchback traveling between class V rivers in the Western US and airports for overseas adventures. An expedition white-water kayaker and pro photographer, he has ticked a life list of big-water first descents in some of the most remote corners of the globe—from Patagonia to Indonesia to Central Africa and the Arctic. On trips to the world’s most shrouded rivers, Korbulic has tallied more than 90 first descents on sections of rivers in 28 countries while documenting the journey with camera in hand.