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Lost in Mongolia: Rafting the World's Last Unchallenged River

Lost in Mongolia: Rafting the World's Last Unchallenged River

by Colin Angus

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From the Yenisey’s headwaters in the wild heart of central Asia to its mouth on the Arctic Ocean, Colin Angus and his fellow adventurers travel 5,500 kilometres of one of the world’s most dangerous rivers through remotest Mongolia and Siberia, and live to tell about it.

Exploration is Colin Angus’ calling. It is not only the tug of excitement


From the Yenisey’s headwaters in the wild heart of central Asia to its mouth on the Arctic Ocean, Colin Angus and his fellow adventurers travel 5,500 kilometres of one of the world’s most dangerous rivers through remotest Mongolia and Siberia, and live to tell about it.

Exploration is Colin Angus’ calling. It is not only the tug of excitement and challenge that keeps sending him on death-defying journeys down some of the world’s most powerful waterways, it is a desire to know a place more intimately than you could from the window of a train, to feel the soul of a place. Angus emphasizes that rivers have always been key to the development of complex societies and the rise of civilizations, offering as they do irrigation, transportation, hydroelectric power, and food. But, as Lost in Mongolia captures with breathtaking detail, while they giveth plenty, the great rivers also taketh away in an instant. In Lost in Mongolia, Colin Angus takes readers through never-before-seen territory and his wonderful sense of adventure and humour come through on every page.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
For serious travelers, his detailed account of moving a shoe-string expedition through three near-communist bureaucracies is absorbing. Epic excess-baggage battles and the witchcraft of visa requirements—now these are quests a road warrior can relate to. Add moments of true physical peril and hardship—as when Angus was separated from his team and faced several days of exposure and starvation—and Lost in Mongolia delivers a worthwhile tale of adventuring in the modern times.—Steve Hendrix
Publishers Weekly
Angus didn't know the Yenisey River existed until he came across its name in a book while researching another trip. The Yenisey, he learned, is the world's fifth-longest river, flowing 5,500 kilometers (3,300 miles) from western Mongolia to the Arctic Circle, and had never been run from source to sea. That kind of challenge proved irresistible to the Canadian adventurer. In short order, Angus (Amazon Extreme) cobbled together three companions and (barely) enough sponsorship dollars to keep them afloat, and in spring 2001 set off for Mongolia. The quartet paddled through territory covered by few travelers and even fewer writers. They dealt with financial difficulties, freezing temperatures, a kayak-swallowing maelstrom and more. The book is nearly a blow-by-blow account of the harrowing five-month journey, with trivial events reproduced as faithfully as extraordinary ones. Some sections read as though they were plucked unedited from Angus's journal (e.g., after mentioning fresh milk in one entry, he concludes, "The remaining liter of milk turned into yogurt overnight. I guess with unpasteurized milk, you don't need to stimulate the process. Still, it tasted great"). The characters Angus meets along the way-a kindly Mongolian army officer; a Russian mafia boss; and the indigenous people of the Arctic-are tantalizing, but Angus doesn't linger on them or on the three young men he's traveling with. Some readers may wish Angus had something more to say, in the end, than "we did it." Still, his book should please readers looking for a straightforward, uncomplicated adventure tale. Photos. (On sale Sept. 9) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
While some types of travel may be in decline, adventure travel remains strong, judging from the number of books that continue to come forth. Angus, a Canadian who makes a living from writing and filming his undertakings (Amazon Extreme), put together an expedition to kayak, raft, and row a river system collectively known as Yenisey that begins in Mongolia and flows north through Lake Baikal in Siberia and up into the Arctic Ocean. He was accompanied by another Canadian and two Australians. As this chronicle of their trip reveals, adventure travel today isn't what it used to be. The men used satellite phones for daily communication and had 600 pounds of high-tech gear, but their challenges were nonetheless considerable and involved not only natural obstacles but also bureaucratic and financial ones. This is a well-told and quite entertaining story about a land little known to the outside world. Larger public libraries with an interest in adventure travel may wish to consider adding to their collections. (Maps not seen.)-Harold M. Otness, formerly with Southern Oregon Univ. Lib., Ashland Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
You’d think he would have learned from his Amazon misadventure, but humorously intrepid river runner Angus (Amazon Extreme, 2002) is back on the wildwater, this time following the mighty Yenisey. Thirty-five hundred miles long, running from Central Asia to the Arctic Ocean, the Yenisey (with its unruly tributaries the Selenge, the Ider, and the Moron) is no shrinking violet. Why would a person take it on after nearly dying, many times, while rafting the Amazon? Says Angus: "In spite of the pain, the rot, the smell, the arguments, the gunshots, and the altitude sickness, I had never felt so alive and engaged." It’s this bracing clarity before the squalid and the sublime that makes Angus so pleasurable a companion. He and his two friends know what they’re doing, but this is still a seat-of-the-pants operation: risk is part of the deal--on the upper river in particular, with its great sucking whirlpools and punishing whitewater--but willful stupidity is not (except for the time Angus gets separated from his companions for nearly two weeks, with only a kayak, a lighter, and his khakis). Hardship is everywhere, from biting insects to tempests to the "terrible time wading through chest-deep snow." On the other hand, Mongols and Russians are everywhere, and the most common words heard are "come and eat and drink with us!" The three young men eagerly comply, getting to see a cross-section of the riverside population: a few days with a mob man in Bratsk, an afternoon in a bear-fat-illuminated banya with a hunter-gatherer, a period of sharing a teepee with a Nenet family above the Arctic Circle. Even the lower river, typically a languid phase, is full of vim as they row around the clock to get tothe ocean before the river freezes solid and the quest to be first down the fifth-longest river in the world thwarted. Godspeed, Colin Angus, and may there soon be another river to fire your hapless exuberance and your readers’ good fortune.
From the Publisher
Praise For Amazon Extreme:
“Not for the faint of heart . . . a riveting book that combines adventure, excitement, and human drama with just enough history and geography to help us share in the total experience.” -- The Tampa Tribune

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Read an Excerpt


The water roiled and bucked in large waves as the river was squeezed between the sheer walls. The air was a haze of cool mist, and a persistent roar filled my ears. I saw the raft teeter on a huge standing wave just inside the canyon as Ben struggled, pulling madly on the oars.

My kayak was incredibly maneuverable, but I had to be careful about some of the bigger rocks. I slid off a two-yard wave and down into a great recirculating hole. The gaping mouth of the vortex boiled and sucked at my tiny vessel, and I dug frantically to escape its grasp. My heart pounded from exertion. Where were Ben and the raft? I had lost him somewhere in the white fog of spray.

My lungs burned as the merciless river pushed me hard toward the canyon wall, threatening to pin the kayak to the jagged rocks. I struggled to get turned back downriver. A large hole appeared that was impossible to avoid -- its swirling, circular current swallowed nearly the entire river. I dug hard with my paddle, hoping to generate enough speed to propel the kayak across the boil.

Dig! Dig! Dig! I screamed at myself. Pull! PULL!

I had barely made it to the middle of the hole when the rotating maelstrom pulled me backward and then under.

Everything went black.

I held my breath as the current battered and pulled at me, as if some malevolent force wanted to rip me from the kayak's cockpit and consume me. It pummeled my chest like a boxer. My lungs ached for oxygen as I spun around upside down. I was helpless, a plaything of the river god. The kayak did numerous cartwheels and then, as quickly as I had been pulled under, I was spat out downstream. I was wet, cold, out of breath, and chastened.

But I was alive.

August 22, 1999

"The Nile, the Amazon, the Yangtze, and then the Mississippi."

"So what's number five then?" I asked.

Ben looked up from the National Geographic Atlas. "The Yenisey River."

I'd never heard of the Yenisey, yet it was listed as the fifth-longest river in the world. According to the map, the Yenisey's headwaters were in the heart of central Asia and its mouth was 3,450 miles to the north, on the Arctic Ocean. Had anyone ever traveled its full length? Through what kind of landscape did it flow? My imagination conjured up scenes of a thunderous whitewater torrent on its way to the sea, dashing down the flanks of the Hangayn Mountains, roaring through steep-sided canyons, and cutting across expanses of frozen tundra peopled with nomads who lived in tepees.

"It looks like Camana, on the coast of Peru, would be the best place to start," Ben said.

We were in the Banff Public Library researching our upcoming expedition down the Amazon River. We were due to leave in two weeks, and it was no time to be daydreaming about other rivers.

Ben's face was tanned from the weeks we'd spent honing our whitewater rafting skills in the Rocky Mountains. Underneath the healthy glow, though, a world-weary tiredness had set in. His curly hair was slightly greasy and hung listlessly across his forehead and over his ears. Large, dark bags hung below his bloodshot eyes -- the result of too much worry. I knew my own face looked about the same.

We were about to run one of the world's greatest rivers, and we were counting pennies and budgeting beyond belief.

I filed the Yenisey River in the back of my mind and devoted my attention to the maps of South America in front of me. Still, a seed had been planted.

February 28, 2001
More than a year later, after we'd run the Amazon, Terry Spence, the radio host at CFAX in Victoria, B.C., leaned closer to his microphone and said, "Tell me now, Colin, why is it that you want to travel a river -- which nobody has ever heard of -- that flows through remotest Mongolia and Siberia? Wasn't the Amazon enough for you? I mean, you guys were almost killed in South America. Haven't you heard of gardening or cricket?"

I laughed. What could I say?

It was true. We had successfully completed our voyage down the Amazon, facing death on numerous occasions. Many people believed that it was blind luck that had carried us across South America from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean. Maybe, but we accomplished what we had set out to do: We had traveled the length of one of the most famous rivers in the world. We had voyaged every inch of it, from its source in the remote mountains of Peru to the northeastern shoulder of Brazil, where it finally empties into the Atlantic Ocean.

In spite of the pain, the rot, the smell, the arguments, the gunshots, and the altitude sickness, I had never felt so alive or engaged. You cannot capture that feeling in a photograph or on videotape, or adequately convey it in words -- much less experience it on one of those tourist bus excursion trips. It wasn't just the dramatic scenery and the fascinating people that had left their mark on me. It was the unique way in which, the more I shared time with the river -- five months in total -- the more I came to feel and respect its spirit and energy. That is what was tattooed on my soul.

For me the Amazon offered a view of the world that could never be re-created by a textbook or a documentary. The river ran past both the squalid and the sublime with indifference, offering to each a constant but ever-changing face. Old man river truly rolled along -- a mile wide sometimes, swollen with the runoff of a continent. It was both creator and destroyer, depending on its mood. Its banks were testament to its generosity and its rage. It carried us through folded, rugged countryside, its currents sweeping us along like riders on the back of some giant, serpentine beast.

A river is the lifeblood of the land it flows through. Few parts of the earth are untouched by the sculpting force of water. Every organism is part of an intricately woven network of life that is nurtured by a watershed. The sap that rises in the trunk of a eucalyptus tree and the blood that pumps in the heart of an iguana are essentially the same fluid that permeates and flows across the landscape, that saturates the atmosphere and falls from the sky.

Rivers have always been key to the development of complex societies and the rise of civilizations. Irrigation, transportation, hydroelectric power, and food are a few of the gifts a river offers. That is why they fascinate me. Whether they are mythical rivers such as the Styx, historic rivers such as the Rubicon, or the mighty rivers of my homeland, such as the Fraser, I am compelled to learn all I can about them and experience them as fully as possible. From the moment it occurred to me that nothing was holding me back, I had to live and breathe the Amazon River, not just learn about it from books.

When I read Steinbeck's Cannery Row as a boy, I envied the idle lives of the indigent characters. Sitting on a dock, feet dangling in the water, tippling on a jug of wine -- to my young mind it seemed the perfect lifestyle. That was before I felt the pull to explore and achieve. Whether this drive is conditioned or genetic, I have come to believe that in life you must strive to achieve -- or your spirit will fade.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Meet the Author

Colin Angus began his adventuring career at nineteen with a five-year, mostly solo, offshore sailing odyssey. He
has co-produced two documentaries including Yenisey: River of Extremes (runner up for the “People’s Choice” award at the Banff Film Festival) for National Geographic. When not in the field, Colin shares his adventures with the public through presentations and articles. Publications he has written for include Cruising World, The Globe and Mail and Explore. Based out of Vancouver, B.C., he is currently preparing for his next adventure.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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