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The Himalayan Rally
Andy Sommer's Interview

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With a Magirus Deutz truck and kayaks, the 2005 Expedition will be taking up a journey of more than six months, through six countries, unraveling and exploring on its way the entrancing rivers and not traveled territory of Central Asia.

The Map

The journey will start in Germany, from where Andreas Sommer, Expedition Leader, will drive the Magirus Deutz, four wheeler 130 horsepower truck, all the way to St.Petersburg in Russia to pick up his team member Nikolai Timonin. From there they will drive to western Siberia to Barnaul, Altai where the rest of the team will be arriving by the end of July. The name "Altai" comes from Mongolian "Altan", which means "golden".

The Truck

The Altai ecoregion covers vast 845,000 square kilometer area at the junction of four countries; Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and China. It’s one of those rare corners on the earth where Nature decided to show everything it was capable of with steppes, luxuriant varieties of taiga thickets, modest charm of deserts, severe splendor of snowy peaks, and laconic beauty of tundra. Furthermore the Altai offers a variety of splendors rivers. "We are planning to kayak on difficult multi-day expedition classics like the Chulyshman, Bashkaush and Argut. There will be some easier rivers to warm-up before that. Our main goal is to have a look at a possible first descent in this area too," says Andreas who will be not for the first time in Siberia on an unearthing expedition.

After four weeks of exploring the Altai the expedition will drive down to Tajikistan via Kazakhstan. They plan to be in Dushanbe (capital of Tajikisthan) by the 5th of September. At first they will drive to the Zerafzhan Mountains for two weeks to explore the Yagnob, Iskander, Fann and Zerafzhan rivers. After getting back to Dushanbe the expedition will then drive to the Pamir Mountains for another two weeks. The Pamirs form the highest mountain range of the former USSR, with three peaks over 7000 meter (Communism, Lenin and Korgenevsky), now belonging to the independent country of Tajikishtan.

Due to the Tajik civil war in the 90s, the Pamirs were lost to travelers for almost 15 years. Some of the major rivers that the expedition plans to paddle in that region are Obikhingou, Yazgulem, Shankhdara, Gunt and Muksu. All these rivers have been run in catarafts in the 80s, although there are sections, which never have been attempted. Some parts of Yazgulem and Shakhdara and possibly Muksu were kayaked, however no further information is available. Since 1991/92 there were no whitewater expeditions to the area. "We intend to reopen this wonderful country," says Nikolai Timonin, "thus we choose to run the most famous rivers of the area."

The journey on the rivers of the Pamir Mountains is estimated to last for two weeks, after which the expedition returns once again to Dushanbe. From there they will continue to drive along the Khorog-Murgab road toward the Chinese Border at Tashkorgan on to the Karakoroum Highway, driving south towards Pakistan. The Karakoroum Highway stretches from the Pamir, Kunln, Karakoroum, Hindukush and all the way down to the Himalayas. The expedition will enter Pakistan from the north making their base in Gilgit, Hunza Valley.

Gilgit is an ancient trading post, whose bustling bazaar has been a caravanserai for many of the traders of the Silk Road. With the opening of the Karakouram Highway leading to China, the population of Gilgit has increased manifold; however, its dusty, old-world ambience remains largely unaffected. Dominated by the 6134 m Domani Peak, the city is encircled by featureless, brown and black colored ‘hills’ ranging up to 4500 m high. While Gilgit is noted for its bazaar and its potpourri of people, Hunza is known for its breath taking mountain vistas. Snow-capped Rakaposhi (7788 m), and Ultar (7388 m) dominate the valley.

The mountains in Pakistan have the densest formation of high peeks worldwide. The Karakoroum, Hindukush and the Himalayas met at this place and created awe-inspiring scenery of peaks, deep gorges and steep valleys. Famous 8000m peaks like K2, Nanga Parbat and Gasherbrum will be the main destination for the expedition to descent the rivers draining these mountains. "Once successfully descended I will have kayaked all 8000m peaks, which I believe is a worlds first," says Sommer, "This will be one of the many achievements during this expedition and a special for me."

As Sommer elucidates the Pakistan tour, "The Braldu rivers drains K2 and a short two day hike should get us to quite straight forward water until the river joins the Indus. The upper reaches of the Indus are yet to be explored and if the permit situation will allow us to proceed up the river we will try to explore its gorges. The Hunza and Gilgit are still having some new stretches hidden and we will try to go up as high as feasible. The Astor river is another highlight on this tour and draining Nanga Parbat it will mark the end of our tour through Pakistan."

By October 25 the expedition will be moving to India via the turmoil land of Kashmir, that once was a popular tourist destination during the 70s. One part of it though, Ladakh, which lies on the Tibetan Plateau and is Buddhist, stayed out of the upheaval. However the area that the expedition is looking at are the rivers in the Muslim part of the state. "According to our research nothing apart from the Chenab River (which not really goes into the area) has been kayaked in this region," articulates Sommer, "We want to kayak as much as possible and try to see what the situation there is for paddlers overall."

Out of Kashmir the expedition will drive down to Delhi, reaching there on the November 20. After an eight-day rest the journey continues to Dibrugarh that is located in Arunanchal Pradesh in northeast India. There the team will kayak the final river of the Himalayan Rally Expedition-2005, the Brahmaputra. This river rises in the Himalayan glaciers as the Tsang-Po and runs east through Tibet, to the mountain mass of Namcha Barwa, passing through gorges over 5000 m deep.

The 2900 km long river enters India and flows into the Assam Valley where it is now know as the Brahmaputra, and continues to flow, entering Bangladesh where it is called the Jamuna. The Brahmaputra is the only male named river in India and possible the biggest volume the team will encounter on their trip. "We are looking at this as a more relaxed chill out trip with raft support to get some chill out after the excitement of previous rivers," says Sommer. By mid December the expedition team will have traveled through six countries in Asia, kayaked multiple rivers and waterfalls, explored new areas, and encountered diverse cultures and traditions and will have collected a mass on experience.

Article by Katrin Shrestha, freelance journalist from the Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal

For more than eight years, Andreas Sommer has been leading international kayak expeditions around the world. Besides leading, the German kayaker has been doing first descends from the highest mountain ranges on this planet. Andreas currently lives in Nepal that boasts with deep gorges, massive rivers and the highest mountains.

What is it about kayaking that attracts you?
It is the possibility and the challenge to reach places that are usually not traveled to. In big waters every paddle stroke constantly can mean the difference between survival and death. It is a matter of split seconds. Also the solitude and the amount of pristine Nature is what makes kayaking fascinating.

What does it take to be an expedition kayaker?
For me it is about the challenge to achieve a goal. I want to go to a difficult river, where I cannot just drive up to but have to organize everything starting from the people to the itineries. It is about finding more difficult rivers and ways to get there, getting out there and coming out alive down those rivers. The going about the internal conflicts and government official in every country adds the charm to it. It is never boring.

What are the proudest moments in your kayaking career?
Every single first descend I count as an achievement in my career. The Tsarap Chu in India and the Uttar Ganga in Nepal, both stick out as special attainments as I attempted them solo. Solo kayaking is a challenge of the mind on top of the physical challenge. You cannot make a single mistake; it may cost you your life.

What is kayaking for you?
Kayaking for me is not just sports, but an exercise of the soul and a mental education too.

If you are interested in participating
or supporting the expedition
please contact

Email: Nikolai Timonin
Mobile: +7 911 703-61-06
Satellite: +88 216 212-76-482

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