First Descent of the Grand Canyon Pacific

   Whitewater
Papua New Guinea - 2015
A team of 4 whitewater explorers traveled nearly 10,000 miles to the Nakanai Mountains of New Britain, Papua New Guinea in pursuit of the intangible and the ethereal goal of a first descent of the Beriman River, aka The Grand Canyon Pacific.

   Whitewater

Papua New Guinea - 2015

A team of 4 whitewater explorers traveled nearly 10,000 miles to the Nakanai Mountains of New Britain, Papua New Guinea in pursuit of the intangible and the ethereal goal of a first descent of the Beriman River, aka The Grand Canyon Pacific.

The team

Pedro Oliva

Pedro Oliva

Ben Marr

Ben Marr

The Beriman Gorge of Papua New Guinea had it all with a blend of kayaking, canyoneering and climbing that made it incredibly technical. - Chris Korbulic"


During their first expedition to Papua New Guinea in 2013, Ben Stookesberry along with Chris Korbulic and Pedro Oliva, scouted one of the deepest, most pristine, and most challenging river canyons in the entire South Pacific. Spectacular when viewed from the air with an immense 4000 foot deep, cliff strewn gorge bisected by an aqua blue river cascading down 3000 feet of gradient to sea level in just under 30 miles. At the time, an attempt to kayak this “Grand Canyon” was a riddle they were unprepared to solve. But in turning their backs on the daunting Canyon and the river locals call the Beriman, they turned their attention to finding a solution and a logistic that would one day make the dream of kayaking the Grand Canyon Pacific a reality.

After 2 years of the Beriman burning like a pilot light in their minds, the original team joined by legendary whitewater kayaker Benn Marr, travelled nearly 10,000 miles to the Nakanai Mountains of New Britain, Papua New Guinea in pursuit of the intangible and the ethereal goal of a first descent of the Beriman River, aka The Grand Canyon Pacific.

“We arrived at our base camp on the south side of New Britain in torrential downpour, knowing that if the rain continued it would be impossible to run the Beriman. We would have to navigate our way through or around 13 distinct gorges, all at the bottom of a sometimes 3,500 foot deep jungle canyon. Weather is a critical factor as even a tiny rise in water level would mean a huge difference in the difficulty of the constricted whitewater and danger in the vertical walled gorges. From our helicopter scouts, we knew pretty well what was ahead, and were feeling confident we would make it to the ocean in just over a week, with decent weather and little rain. We took a scout flight up stream and saw a brown torrent snaking between the white limestone walls. Our maps call it the Bariman, locals call it the Bah River. We called it a lot of things today while trying like hell to see into its depths. Often guarded by arcing over-vert walls and thick vegetation, what we could see of the river had us optimistic, but still hesitant. Once on the water, commitment levels would be at all-time highs. After two days of anxiously waiting for a weather window, our optimistic helicopter pilot suggested we fly to the top if weather allowed and we all hesitantly agreed. At the uppermost possible put in, we landed next to clear turquoise water that had cleared quickly after the rain and knew our chances were good. We ran the first 40’ falls with a little drama then continued to the first of 13 gorges downstream.

Gorge 1 we knew was good to go, but had a crux rapid at the end with a difficult move between two major sieves. Everything leading up to it was bigger than it had looked from the helicopter; drops that appeared as 3-4 foot drops were 10 feet tall with major hydraulics. It was full on, but we had studied the aerial footage so much it was almost like we had run it before as we bombed downstream and flushed around the blind corners hemmed by slick vertical limestone walls. Pedro got stuck in a boxed-in hole in the most continuous section of the gorge, and while Stookesberry and I yelled for him to stay in his boat, Marr dropped in to the hole and pushed Pedro out. I’ve never been so thankful to see someone stuck in a hole, as I knew there was nobody better than Ben Marr to safely work his way out of a dangerous hydraulic. That was Gorge 1. Twelve to go. Gorge 2, 40’ falls with a terrible cave on the right. Three successful runs and one portage. Gorge 3 - portage. We knew the next series of gorges (4,5,6,7) was the crux, and that we would probably portage three of them. This is where the trip really takes its toll and becomes unique. Four days of rope work and hauling boats through vertical jungle around 5, 6, and 7. Two days of work and less than 100 meters of downstream progress. Always wet, foot rot growing, continuously moving up and down and across the walls. At the end of the portage it was getting dark, raining heavily with obviously rising water, and we had just pulled up a cut rope after lowering Pedro 50+ vertical feet into the end of gorge 7. Marr stepped up big time and told us to lower him immediately. He got on the rope and was lowered into the gorge where he saw Pedro and gave the okay. I went next, while Ben lowered me I knew it was getting too dark to go much farther with the rain and rising water. Ben stayed on the wall that night, he came down in the morning and we continued to portage gorge 8. Ben & myself were barely able to walk suffering from terrible foot rot. We were pretty home free through 9, 10, 11, and 12 with no more major portages and some really incredible whitewater through the deepest gorges on the river. In truth it took us 11 days to descend just 12km of the Beriman. On day 12 the labyrinth of gorges gave way and the river flushed us 30 miles to the Solomon Sea. Bright turquoise water, limestone gorges, deep jungle, intense portages and amazing whitewater to top it off, we’d never done anything like it. The Beriman Gorge of Papua New Guinea had it all with a blend of kayaking, canyoneering and climbing that made it incredibly technical. And now it just makes me wonder, what’s next?” – Chris Korbulic

The Beriman Gorge of Papua New Guinea had it all with a blend of kayaking, canyoneering and climbing that made it incredibly technical. - Chris Korbulic"


The Gear that Made This Possible