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.
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.
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.
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.
Heading back to the river, the water volume continued to grow, and our paddling routine alternated between gentle, sweeping meanders below unearthly peaks…
…and treacherous boulder gardens that took forever to safely descend.
And our continuing attempts to find a place to camp continued to be thwarted on a daily basis.
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.
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.