Iran Part 2: Packrafting The River Karun [PHOTOS]

We unshouldered our packs by the riverside after a week of gruelling winter trekking along roads that appeared on no maps or GPS. A couple of hours later we floated away from the riverbank and began to travel downstream by packraft. No trace of our presence was left on dry land, save for a couple of discarded apple cores. There was something childishly thrilling about the sense of subterfuge afforded by these little inflatable boats.

The Karun swells to paddleable size
Preparing to packraft the Karun
Following Leon on the packraft
The riverside town of Kaj on the Karun
Karun bridge and towering rock

We hadn’t known whether or not the river would have been navigable. A veteran paddler we’d met up with in Wales had said that we were going there about two months two early, and that the land would be frozen and the river a trickle. A week ago, he’d been right. But now the rising waters carried us easily down among the vast mountain ridges of the Zagros.

Sunshine and paddles
Bakhtiari herders on the riverside
Handy river crossing contraption
Superb gorge landscape on the Karun
Leon sits in an eddy meditating

It wasn’t long before we found the river’s rocky walls rising vertically as the water cut through the ancient landscape. The sense of foreboding was amplified by the sound of white water approaching. I had just a week or two of paddling experience to go on. Leon had none. Suddenly we were out of our depth, scouting and tentatively running boulder-strewn rapids far bigger than anything either of us had encountered before. With this many rocks and boulders obstructing the river’s flow, the consequences of a capsize could be deadly.

White water on the Karun
Rapids and mountains on the Karun
Epic gorge landscapes for packrafting
Tricky paddling in Zagros gorges

Leon promptly capsized. His paddle vanished in an instant. (More on that in the film!)


As always in Iran, help was at hand — this time in the form of Iran’s most exuberant, comical and forcefully-hospitable small-town taxi driver, who also happened to double as a second-hand white water paddle dealer.

Staying the night in Ardal

Heading back to the river, the water volume continued to grow, and our paddling routine alternated between gentle, sweeping meanders below unearthly peaks…

Inflating packrafts in Chaharmahal & Bakhtiari
Thanks to The Visa Machine!
Leon looking suitably heroic

…and treacherous boulder gardens that took forever to safely descend.

Karun boulder field
Karun boulder garden

And our continuing attempts to find a place to camp continued to be thwarted on a daily basis.

Diary writing

Time, however, was not on our side, and with our visas ticking we elected to clamber out of the increasingly dangerous gorge and continue for a day or two on foot.

Clambering out of the gorge
Me & Leon walking the Zagros roads
Trekking in the Zagros mountains
Why collapsible paddles are great
Spring blossom on its way in the Zagros

It seemed that winter was well and truly behind us. In the meantime, our minds were hard at work. The river was growing unwieldy, and a series of politically-sensitive dams was fast approaching. How could we safely expedite our progress along this fascinating, challenging river?

Camping equipment for this trip was kindly sponsored by Big Agnes. Our Iranian visas were procured with great efficiency courtesy of The Visa Machine. We’re also grateful to the folk at Lyon Outdoor for supplying Exped drybags and Aquapac waterproof camera cases wholesale for this journey.

6 Responses to “Iran Part 2: Packrafting The River Karun [PHOTOS]”

  1. Chris Cox

    What an exciting blog, thanks for sharing the fabulous photos!

  2. Oliver

    Another post that captures pretty well what adventure is or can be, covering the whole range of weak and strong moments and this intense and memorable “roller-coaster ride”…
    Impressive shots Tom and I already look forward to the footage of you guys! Oh, and not sure if it’s your photos, but the mountain scenery looks strangely peregrine and barren.

  3. Patrick

    This looks like an adventure. Great pictures.

  4. Dan

    Hi Tom,

    What make were the packrafts you used? What were your thoughts on them? Are you planning a separate review?


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