In the military town of Bayi, Hamid emerges hairless from the Noble Lady Beauty Shop.
Left to Right: Troy, Bunny, Pasang and Gil with his newly acquired mojo Mohawk. (Bunny would rarely look at the camera.) The fading double rainbow in the background burned brilliant a few moments before indicating the passing of a high Buddhist lama.
Injecting an anticoagulant, leech bites can bleed for hours.
“Landslide Alley” The geologic instability of the Great Bend area rendered vehicular travel extremely dangerous.
The monks were spellbound by the photos of our 1995 Dorje Phagmo pilgrimage. Ani Rigsang, the tantric Tibetan nun, looks at the camera on the right.
Ian negotiating porter selections and daily wages with the head Bhakha Lama.
At the Bhakha Monastery, Ian becomes frustrated with the porters’ increasing wage demands.
Lining up at the Bhakha Monastery for a departing photo, many would not look at the camera. Standing in the back row on the right, Gil and Troy in white shirts, then Ian and the head Bhakha Lama (with yellow sleeves). Ani Rigsang, the tantric Tibetan nun, is on the far right of the back row.
Entering the jungles of Pemako brought back many painful memories.
Troy hiking the ice fields up to Su La Pass.
Left to Right: Pasang, Gil, Troy & Ani Rigsang on top of the Su La Pass. According to Ian, we were the first Westerners to hike this Pass.
There was water everywhere. Here Troy negotiates a slick two log bridge over a tumbling cascade. A slip would have been disastrous.
Arriving at the end of the day we found two porters and Ani Rigsang enjoying a cup of tea at Cabin Camp. It had been a long day with over 4,000 feet of climbing. Soon the others staggered in and the cabin was stuffed with bodies. Nobody minded – at least it was dry.
Hiking in the rain we descended from alpine glacier country to the tropics. We had Gore-Tex while our porters had simple sheets of plastic.
A severed chicken foot is a simple Lopa tribal toy. The young boy showed us with great amusement how pulling a tendon would cause the claw to contract.
It was a very steep descent with water everywhere. Here Troy and the porters cross a makeshift bridge.
Here Troy negotiates the tricky jungle slopes. Even though the village of Charasa was 2,000 feet below us, this portion of the trail headed steadily upwards.
The tribal women of Pemako were remarkable. In addition to their natural beauty, their strength and sure-footedness as porters was phenomenal. And their calm and even demeanor helped balance out the aggressive energy of the male porters.
The tribal women of Pemako could also be extremely seductive and beguiling.
This was Pemako in all its immensity and magic. Note the tiny porter crossing the stream at the bottom of the waterfall.
Our first glimpse of the Yarlung Tsangpo River. Even from 2,000 feet above it looked daunting.
Gil and a Lopa takin hunter pose with flintlocks. These smooth-bore rifles looked like they were right out of the American Revolutionary War.
Troy scopes out our evenings camp – Charasa – 1,000 feet below.
At an elevation of only 4,100’ the barrack grounds of Charasa were sweltering hot and crawling with bugs and leeches.
A surprise visit from our 1995 porters. We are convinced Chimed Gompo saved our lives on that fateful expedition. Left to Right: Chimed Gompo (avoiding the camera), Troy, Lobsang, Gil & porter friend (avoiding the camera).
Dawa translates as Gil records the conversation..
Like moths drawn to light, the heat seeking leeches would slither into the flame and die.
The day’s climbing was hot – real hot.
Ken Storm decides to also split from the expedition and join us on our unpermitted dash to Pelung. His study and knowledge of the Pemako area would be key to our extraction and exploration efforts.
Troy and Ken Storm cross a cliff face over a primitive scaffolding on their way to Longlep.
Gil and Ken Storm get their first view of Longlep.
Arriving in Longlep late in the day, the few villagers welcomed us as family.
We were graciously offered a place to stay in Longlep. While waiting for dinner Troy & Ken Storm discuss possible escape routes out of Pemako. Our wet clothes can be seen drying in the background.
In addition to Stalin & Lenin, our host cabin sported a poster of the Kalachakra. In Vajrayana Buddhism this symbol represents the “wheel(s) of time” and is one of many of the tantric teachings and esoteric practices.
The view from our cabin’s glassless window was spectacular. The mighty Yarlung Tsangpo churns through the serpentine valley below.
Initially, cloudless skies escorted us on the trail back down to the river and the village of Gande.
A telephoto view of Konla Karpo.
Two Gande boys with Konla Karpo in the background.
Our “coincidental” 2nd encounter with Matuk was the key that unlocked the guarded entrance to Pemako’s forbidden inner gorge for our clandestine expedition.
We were such a curiosity in the sequestered world of Gande that the children followed us everywhere.
Our 2 young Tibetan Sherpas, Dawa & Bhim, hired local porters to assist in our escape from Pemako. We were a motley looking crew. Pictured: Back row left, Bhim, Troy and Dawa (hands in the air) with Gil on the far right. Many were wearing the scarves Gil passed out.
Matuk pointed out a tiny rock spire situated high on a cross-valley mountain shoulder (as seen in the top right of the photograph). This stone outcropping would play a pivotal role in our upcoming journey and in our lives.
With an average annual rainfall of around 25 feet, these uncharacteristically clear Pemako skies were a true blessing. Gil hikes down a grassy shoulder in the bottom right of the photograph.
While Dawa was negotiating with the porters we hiked down and explored the river. Here we were 8,000’ lower in elevation than we were when we rafted this same river three years prior - in 1994. Even at these lower elevations the “Everest of Whitewater” was earning its name.
With our porter dispute settled everyone jumped into action to set the lines and get us across the Yarlung Tsangpo River in the fading day’s light.
The immensity of the Yarlung Tsangpo River gorge made this late afternoon cable crossing a daunting task.
We had 12 people and a lot of gear to cross in the fading daylight.
The heights and churning waters below were daunting. See the lone porter at the top of the photo.
Matuk looks on as Troy gets lashed to the pully for his cable crossing of the Yarlung Tsangpo river.
Photo taken in the middle of the crossing.
Troy is half way across.
This night hike brought us together as a group. The extreme circumstances allowed us to better recognized our shared human condition. This bond would grow tighter as our journey continued.
In Lugu we peeked inside a small home. It was filthy. A Lopa man and his son lived there and Gil gave the boy a glow-in-the-dark pen. He hung it proudly from his neck.
In Gogden we were offered a shrine room as a place to sleep. Here a thangka of the goddess White Tara was displayed prominently.
Two boys from Gogden. The locals were always so happy to see us.
Our porters Matuk, Brad Watts & Trashi Padi load up on yak butter tea in preparation of the day’s grueling hike ahead.
In Gogden the village chieftain proudly shows us his flintlock rifle. There were three such rifles in the village.
Uncharacteristically clear skies shine on Troy and the chieftain’s flourishing marijuana crop.
Constant landslides kept us on edge and often erased our trail.
The ongoing collision of two continents created seismic geologic instability and constant landslides.
Negotiating the many landslide areas was hard on your body as well as your nerves.
The steep climb out of the Yarlung Tsangpo gorge to the Tsebung La Pass was two vertical miles in elevation.
Cresting the Tsebung La Pass we had our first view of the 23,891 foot high Gyala Peri Mountain. Standing on the Asian continent, it was only 13 miles away from the 25,531 foot high Namcha Barwa Mountain situated on the Indian continent.
Matuk ceremoniously offers three full prostrations and then beckons us to follow.
Takin skulls adorned mossy grottos along the shrine site.
An unnoticed crack in the stone led us to the inner sanctum of Tsebung “Million Lives”.
Gil and Matuk. The Tsebung “Long Life” ceremony included carving a notch in a stick for each year you have been alive.
Troy emerges from the birth canal of Mother Earth.
As we emerged from the womb of Mother Earth the storm abated and the skies miraculously cleared affording us unique views all the way into India.
Our telephoto lens captures a distant peak manifesting from the clouds (see top of photo).
The Dorje Phagmo Mountain – our guidepost into the Inner Gorge.
Leaving the trail, we climbed up into the unknown.
Our porters were anxious. Entrapment by monsoon clouds was a constant threat.
Hacking our way through the entangled rhododendron thickets slowed our progress and zapped our energy.
The geologic exposure was frightening. See Troy in the foreground on the bottom right and the porters dotting the top of the hill in the upper left.
Hiking on the edge of the rhododendron thickets was easier going. But the risk of a landslide and an endless fall was also heightened.
Our porters gain the ridgeline.
Fresh evidence of landslides and earth fissuring were everywhere.
On the steeper sections we were reduced to crawling on our hands and knees.
The higher we climbed the more spectacular the Himalayan views. Gil in photo.
As the mists got thicker and thicker our group spread out.
Every now and then the clouds would part and we would, with relief, see our porters traversing the same ridgeline.
Who was this apparition manifesting from the clouds? With no pack he wasn’t one of ours.
When the clouds lifted we saw our porters scattered all over. Note Troy and Ken in foreground and some of our porters in the top left on the distant ridge.
Suddenly the apparition, with his flintlock, charged us.
“Mystical Warrior from the Mists” Our guide for the next leg of our journey.
Our porters were truly people of the earth. Here they are breakfasting after a long rainy night. Their plastic rain cover lies nearby.
Namcha Barwa - 25,531 feet
Konlakarpo - 23,733 feet
Gyala Peri - 23,891 feet
The Konlakarpo peak (Sanglung) on the Indian continent, looms large on the left of the photograph. The Namcha Barwa peak, also on the Indian continent, is the pyramidical peak just to the right of Konlakarpo. The Gyala Peri peak, on the Asian continent, is situated on the far right of the photograph. Between Namcha Barwa and Gyala Peri lies the deepest gorge in the world. With these landmarks revealed we knew how to find our destination. The uncharacteristically clear weather allowed these to be the first photographs ever taken from this vantage point. The spirit of Pemako was with us.
We were miraculously granted clear weather and unprecedented views.
With the 23,891 foot Gyala Peri in the center, Troy scopes out the guardian protector’s Dorje Traktsen Mountain on the left. This would be our gateway into the Inner Gorge.
Mesmerized by the mountain, our porters revolted and refused to continue. They understood that this was the guardian protector’s gateway into the Inner Gorge. To take Westerners into this most sacred place would incur the wrath of the local spirits. In this photograph Gil attempts to convince the porters to continue. His pleas, offers of more money and cajoling fell on deaf ears.
Our Buddhist shaman guide’s mystical dream the night before assured the porters that we could continue up and over the sacred mountain without incurring the guardian protector’s wrath. This would be our gateway into the Inner Gorge. In this photograph Matuk and the others debate the surest route of ascent.
In this photograph the porters can be seen as tiny specs on the ridge approaching the formidable Dorje Traktsen Mountain.
Troy readies to ascend the almost vertical slope up Dorje Traktsen. Porters can be seen inching their ways skyward.
Without ropes the exposure of this climb was daunting. Here we stop and take a break. Dawa is in the green shirt.
Gil approaches the summit of Dorje Traktsen.
Our Buddhist shaman guide, likewise, reaches the summit of Dorje Traktsen.
On top of Dorje Traktsen our porters got a “bird’s-eye-view” of the region they lived in but had never seen from this vantage. Dawa is in the green shirt with our Buddhist shaman guide to his left in the photo and Bhim to his right. Matuk points from the tip of the hill.
We were in awe at the views revealed to us.
The sheer grandeur of Pemako was an acute lesson in the transiency of continual process. Troy is in the left hand bottom comer of the photograph.
The porters were ecstatic to be on top of the mountain. In this photograph Matuk points our way down and into the long-sought Inner Gorge.
We were provided an unprecedented view into the Inner Gorge. In this photograph a porter marvels over the use of Troy’s binoculars. Bhim is looking at the camera.
Readying to descend into the Inner Gorge, Troy confers with our Buddhist shaman guide as to which route to take. Unfortunately, our hunter guide from the mists had never been this far out of his territory and could offer no advice. We would have to proceed on intuition alone.
With the clouds moving in, we began our long descent down Dorje Traktsen.
Our porters were rock solid as they descended into unknown territory.
Sooner than expected our Buddhist shaman guide called a halt to the day’s march. He said the weather was too unstable to continue that late in the day.
We pitched our tent on the platform constructed by one of our Gogden porters. The porters camp is below.
Roy surveys the scene from the tent porch of our platform perch.
Our setting afforded us miraculous views into the upper portion of the Great Bend of the Yarlung Tsangpo. The gorge was so steep we couldn’t yet see the river.
Our porters’ camp. There was magic afoot as we all knew we were on the adventure of a lifetime.
With clouds moving in and out we proceeded to climb. In this photograph our porters can been seen in a tiny line on the left.
Gil and Ken look on as the porters gather crystals. They called the stones, “Vajrayogini’s tears”.
We were startled to find that Buddhist pilgrims had traveled this way many years before.
Another hunter manifests from the mists.
The hunter’s name was JamYang. We nick-named him the Gentleman Hunter.
JamYang knew the way to a large waterfall. We negotiated a price and he agreed to guide us.
The clouds briefly lift and we see our porters scattered in the background. With JamYang’s help we had located the elusive Sechen La Pass. Here, Ken, JamYang and Troy (on the right side of the photograph) celebrate reaching this long-sought landmark.
With JamYang’s guidance we were finally able to reach the Sechen La ridge which led to the pass. With the constant severe and unstable weather conditions, the porters wanted to descend into the gorge as quickly as possible.
With the swirling could movement the massive Himalayan landscape was displaying itself like an I-Max movie.
From this vantage, Troy could had a bird’s eye view of the deepest canyon in the world. The perpetually cloaked Inner Gorge was beginning to reveal itself as the veils of clouds were lifted.
As the mists lifted we could clearly see the Yarlung Tsangpo River left but what was going on down on the right?
Ken Storm films the Yarlung Tsangpo River as it flows between Namcha Barwa Mountain situated on the Indian continent and Gyala Peri Mountain on the Asian continent. Ken had dreamed of this moment for years.
It looked like an “S” turn on the bottom right. Was the river flowing back on itself?
Were we looking at the “Lost Falls of the Brahmaputra”?
The sun was blazing hot as we relocated our porters in the seemingly impenetrable rhododendron thickets. Earth fissures posed a constant threat, well concealed under the thick underbrush. In the photograph Troy is in the foreground and the porters are on the ridge in the middle.
In the waning light we had a magnificent view of what Ken Storm convinced us was the “The Lost Falls of the Brahmaputra”.
With our camera’s telephoto lenses we could clearly see the pleated geography of two colliding continents. It was this unique twisted formation that kept the Falls hidden for so many years.
The porters camp nestled under the overhang of a giant boulder.
Our tents were set on the most level area available – the top of a house-sized boulder. Our porters camped below.
Awaking early, we knew we had an exciting day ahead. The views from our perch were mystical. Magic was afoot.
As we worked our way further and further down into the gorge we could mark our progress by eyeing the slopes on the opposite side of the river. Here Gil looks upriver.
With a clear view of the Falls, Ken Storm insisted we proceed north for another view angle.
As we worked our way horizontally down the gorge we got an unobstructed view of Rainbow Falls (center) with the Hidden Falls just around the corner.
Ken Storm could recognize Rainbow Falls by the large boulder at the Fall’s pour-over on river right (bottom left of the photograph). It was the same boulder as featured in Kingdon Ward’s 1924 photo of Rainbow Falls. Ward and Lord Cawdor got to within – what they estimated at – 2,600 feet upstream from the Falls and photographed their discovery.
Convinced we had located the “Lost Falls of the Brahmaputra”, we estimated the Falls height at 110 feet.
Our porters were exhausted. But we still had a dangerous 3,000 foot climb back up to camp.
Having completed the “The Rainbow Traverse of the Great Bend of the Yarlung Tsangpo River” we were on an explorer’s high. We had penetrated Pemako’s fabled Inner Gorge and photographed our discovery of the “Lost Falls of the Brahmaputra". A visceral sense of interconnectedness pervaded our group. We were family. Here Trashipati (far right) clicks the auto shutter release for this photo. Next to him is Gil (kneeling) then Troy with the Buddhist hunter shaman kneeling to his left. Behind Troy is Matuk with Jamyang looking over Matuk’s shoulder.
Troy gives our porters a geography lesson. (Left to Right) the Buddhist hunter shaman, Troy, Matuk and Trashipati.
It was an afternoon of camaraderie and joy as Hominid Man and Matuk laugh out loud at the other porters’ antics.
The porters were transfixed by Troy’s small book of photographs from home. Here our Buddhist hunter shaman is looking at the Kentucky State Capitol building. Our guide JamYang is on the far right.
While our Buddhist hunter shaman held the photo book, Matuk used Troy’s binoculars to see who was inside the building. Their innocence was priceless. It was an afternoon we will never forget.
We watched the fading light in the world’s deepest canyon.
We hiked the ridgeline for hours. The trail improved and we began seeing prayer flags as we neared Payu.
Our hike along the ridge seemed to go on forever. By this time everyone was ready to go home.
The misty forests seemed surreal.
Finally our long-sought hamlet of Payu.
After a long day of hiking Gil takes a rest while the others prepare for pay-day.
Photo 97-D #19 (Photo ? need to find photo)
Paying our porters turned into a complicated and often times frantic process.
We were squarely back in leech country.
When the clouds lifted we could see waterfalls like sky-born ribbons cascading into the Yarlung Tsangpo.
Seeing Zachu on the other side of the canyon gave us our bearings. We had been there in 1994.
Dropping into the gorge we could see our bridge far below (bottom left of the photo) and our trail traversing up the other side. Zachu is in the saddle on the top third right of the photo with the earth slide next to it. We had a lot of climbing ahead.
Our bridge crossing of the Yarlung Tsangpo River.
The hanging bridge on the Po Tsangpo River.
Back at the Leaping Rat Lodge we had a great feeling of accomplishment. Little did we know there was plenty of adventure still to come.
We were greatly relieved to be released from house arrest with our 2,900 photographs miraculously intact. Some of our companions weren’t so lucky. Most importantly, we had over 300 photos of Hidden Falls documenting its long-sought existence. Here we reunited with Dawa and the porters from Ian’s and Hamid’s group. We knew several from past expeditions.