The Last River: The Tragic Race for Shangri-La

Todd Balf, Author
Todd Balf, Author Crown Publishers $24 (304p) ISBN 978-0-609-60625-4
Reviewed on: 09/04/2000
Release date: 09/01/2000
Compact Disc - 978-0-375-41631-6
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-0-375-41626-2
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-0-609-80801-6
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-0-330-48588-3
Prebound-Other - 978-0-606-22348-5
Ebook - 164 pages - 978-0-307-87446-7
Hardcover - 304 pages - 978-1-4472-5119-4
Open Ebook - 1 pages - 978-1-299-21556-6
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In 1998 a team of world-class whitewater kayakers arrived in Tibet to confront a Himalayan river so remote and unexplored that they relied on satellite imagery to map out their planned descent. Somewhere along its uncharted stretch were magnificent waterfallsDthe source, according to Balf, of the legend of Shangri-la, a utopian land of incredible beauty. This was a river whose width matched the Mississippi in some spots and that ran through the deepest gorge on the planet. The inherent challenges of the Tsangpo's wild and bouldered rapids were compounded by a record monsoon season that had morphed the river into an unnavigable menace, forcing the team to do most of their exploring via intense overland portaging. Balf's account of this journey surges with superlatives, often defying the reader's imagination: river rocks the size of buildings, cliffs rising 25,000 feet, 30-foot standing waves, and a group of highly trained, intelligent men attempting to kayak the monster, weighed down with $6,000 worth of gear. Balf, who writes for Outside and Men's Journal, is to be congratulated on his sensitive fusion of adventure and sports writing. In his telling, the Tsangpo is alternately ""a huge hydraulic event,"" ""a brawling river that drops out of the sky,"" and, tragically, for one of the bolder paddlers, a place to meet ""God and... be with him for all eternity."" His account is a well-balanced tale in which the technicalities of exploring and paddling share space with ruminations on man's spiritual quest and mortality. It may be the only book to offer both a glossary of kayaking terms and a short history of the legend of Shangri-la. (Sept.)
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