On June 22, a team of kayakers made a first descent of the Beriman River on the island of New Britain in Papua New Guinea. The 30-mile stretch is considered one of the most challenging river canyons in the South Pacific for its narrow channels, technical whitewater, and ultra-remote location. Ben Stookesberry, Ben Marr, Chris Korbulic, and Pedro Oliva spent 13 days navigating through the 4,000-foot deep gorge, which they dubbed the Grand Canyon Pacific. “It’s unreal,” says Stookesberry. “There’s actually 13 gorges inside this massive canyon, with no roads, no trails, and no villages anywhere near the headwaters. We got dropped off by helicopter.”
The expedition, sponsored by Eddie Bauer, brought back the same team who last year nabbed the first descent of the Nachvak, North America’s most remote river, located in the Torngat Mountains in the Canadian Arctic. “We figured out then that we could pull off something pretty intense and pretty cutting edge with this group,” says Stookesberry, who’s made more than 120 first descents in 32 countries.
Before getting into the water, the team took a full week to scout the virgin river, which Stookesberry first spotted from the air in 2013. They used a helicopter to gather as much initial data as they could, pointing a high-resolution video camera at the aqua-blue water as it churned its way through the sheer canyon walls. The team planned portages to avoid any gorge that contained at least one “un-survivable” rapid or waterfall — which ended up being three. One of those portages took 2.5 days due to the complexity. “We were utilizing bolts and climbing ropes and a lot of persistence to get ourselves, and our 110-pound kayaks, up the vertical canyon walls,” says Stookesberry. “And that’s all before you had to machete-hack your way through the jungle, and then figure out how to get back down and into the river.”
Stookesberry says the expedition was unlike anything he’s done before, an incredibly technical descent that blended climbing, canyoneering, and kayaking. Reel Water Productions plans to release a documentary of the adventure in fall 2015. And Stookesberry hopes to get out with the same crew of kayakers again, ideally into the remaining virgin rivers of the Himalayas or Papua New Guinea. “We’re two for two now. I think another expedition is in order.”