Hell or High Water



The Tsangpo Gorge in southeastern Tibet has lured explorers and adventurers for more than a century and has resisted every attempt to traverse its length. The Gorge–as steeped in legend and mystery as any landscape on earth–is sacred to Buddhists and captivating to Westerners. Geographical studies since the Victorian era have mounted expedition after expedition trying to penetrate this real-life Shangri-La: They have resulted variously in controversy, slavery, and death.

The team of seven kayakers attempting this audacious feat launched a meticulously planned assault on the Gorge. The paddlers where river cowboys, superstars in the universe of extreme kayaking who hop from continent to continent with only one desire: to climb into tiny plastic boats and throw themselves into maelstroms that rival a North Atlantic storm.

Led by 30-year-old radical kayaker Scott Lindgren and supported by Nepali Sherpas, more than 60 porters, and an international team of climbers, their trip was a throwback. It was a grand 19th century style expedition equipped and provisioned with more than 2,500 pounds of food and gear, enough to last 50 days without resupply.

Eighty seven men made their way through country as remote and sublime as anything on earth.

With them was Peter Heller, the official expedition journalist as well as a longtime contributor to Outside Magazine. Himself a paddler of some distinction and a veteran of several international first descents, Heller chronicled the expedition.  What unfolded was a story of rampaging waters and  equally turbulent egos,  of stunning effort and breathtaking skill set against a background unspoiled in beauty yet wrecked politically.

It is a story of a fluid place where East and West have collided for more than 100 years. Filled with the almost unbelievable history of the Gorges exploration, with the physics and beauty of world class kayaking, with the hydrogeology of cataclysmic flash floods, and with the often cruel politics of Tibet, Hell or High Water paints the portrait of a grand adventure in a place that time never touched.


“Riveting … Hell or High Water ranks up there with any adventure writing ever written.”

The Denver Post

“As for you armchair adventurers, Hell or High Water might be as close as you get to the harrowing experience without getting your feet wet.”

Rocky Mountain News

“An offhand remark made to the paddlers early in the journey — that their story could be the kayaking equivalent of Into Thin Air — has come true in the best possible way.”

— Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)

“With all the backbiting and glory lust, the only task harder than kayaking Tibet’s Tsangpo River is writing about it. The deadly gorge thing is tricky, too.”
— Entertainment Weekly
“Machismo and derring-do make for good reading, but it’s the behind-the-scenes dynamics, these moments of human conflict, that turn a travelogue into a page turner. It’s here that Heller establishes a high water mark.”

The Raleigh News & Observer

“In the sprit of Jon Krakauer’s bestselling Into Thin Air … A stunning tale.”
— Toronto Sun
“Enthralling … A wonderful book … superbly chronicles the saga of a bunch of daring and meticulous kayakers who successfully run the deadly Tsangpo River Gorge, the paddler’s equivalent of Mount Everest.”

— Library Journal