The Sutlej Situation
Transition 5 at Expedition India was set up as a tented camp for the many teams expected to arrive and be caught by the dark zone on the following rafting stage. The timings were right and 9 teams spent at least some of last night there.
The only team to get through and onto the Sutlej River yesterday were Naturex (France), who arrived mid-afternoon, and set off aiming to get to CP18 before nightfall at 18.30, as that is where both the rapids and the dark zone end. It is flat water after there so if they got to that point ahead of time they could carry on and finish the stage.
The bag with their tent wasn’t at the TA, but rather than wait they set off to try and beat the dark zone. With the water level on the river low they didn’t make it so had to spend the night on the riverside but still knew they’d secured their lead.
Second placed AGDE Raid Aventure got into camp around 18.30, just as darkness fell (so they had 9 hours overnight sleep), and then through the night more teams rolled into camp to find a tent and settle down for the night. (Rootstock Racing arriving in 12th at 06.30, but they’d slept at a hotel for 3 hours on the long ride, which was a smart move as they had beds to sleep in and could buy food.)
Things got uncomfortable, in a different way, in the morning as teams got up in the darkness to be ready for a 6.00am start. They were busy packing their kit and getting into wet suits and pretty much ready to go before being told there would be a delay, initially until 7am. Then they were told the reason was that the rafts hadn’t arrived, and they’d be called when they were ready!
Most went back to sleep and everyone was frustrated, none more so than the organisers and staff who’d done all they could to ensure the race ran smoothly, but had been let down. I had a chat to Erik Sanders of the Bend Racing Team and he told me, “It’s not a great situation, but I came for the experience as much as the race ... and I guess this is all part of the India experience.”
While things were being sorted out, Thunderbolt AR got into camp, having regained a lot of places after their navigational problems on the first trek. I asked them what had happened and they said, “We knew we had to walk to a dam ... we just went the wrong way to the wrong dam!”
As there was one raft in camp it was decided to let second placed Agde Raid Aventure set off. They were ready to go and happy to do so. I caught up with them later in day and Paul Galode told me, “It was a good paddle, but tough work on the flat water at the end. The rapids were good, maybe grade 3 and 4, and the canyon was nice so enjoyed it. Not so much the portage as these rafts are very heavy and it was a steep climb up over rocks, but only really 10 minutes. We had a good guide too.”
All of the teams were guided for the first part of the paddle (to CP18), and had to complete a short portage around a dangerous rapid before this. At CP18 they put the guide ashore and moved onto the flat water to take them down to Tatopani where the next transition was set up in a smart hotel by the waterside.
The teams stranded back at TA5 had to wait until nearly 09.30 to leave. It took that long for the boats and guides to arrive and to inflate the rafts, so it was a increasingly frustrating wait. Eventually as the boats were lined up teams began to cluster round and pick a raft and guide. Having had one experience of a guided raft already, they were more savvy to the importance of this now. Lars Bukkehave, a former international rafter, told me “We have a good guide and this raft has more mass and is well inflated so we are happy with it.”
The teams were then set off at one minute intervals in the order they’d arrived and told they’d be given time credits for the wait. The more competitive teams were unhappy that Agde had left on time and would have more daylight for the following trek, but during the wait the river had risen with a release of water from the dams above and was flowing much faster. This meant the chasing pack of teams were much quicker on the descent! Ironically, Naturex out at the front had the least water.
All of the chasing teams arrived at the finish of the paddle fairly close together and were spread out on the hotel terrace at the riverside for the transition. The Nepali Army team were quickest (but didn’t drop off their guide), and were closely followed by the Abvimas Manali Mountaineering team. A couple of teams arrived with racers sick and Bend Racing were severely affected with both Isla Smith and Lars Bukkehave in a bad way. Fortunately they could be put to bed in the hotel for a while.
First to leave on the next trek stage were Endurance Aromon of Spain (now only 73 minutes behind Agde Raid Aventure). All of teams are a bit nervous of this 58km trek which is expected to take over 14 hours for the leaders. Teams have already experienced overnight trekking using the sketchy Indian maps and know the potential for big navigational errors.