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on January 17, 2006
I bought and read this book (from Amazon) after seeing it on display at my local Borders. A growing interest in Tibet combined with a passion for non-fiction adventure stories made this a perfect choice. After finishing the book, I received the DVD (Into the Tsangpo Gorge), which brings the whole story to life. However, I am certain I would not have enjoyed watching the DVD as much were in not for having read the book first. If you already have the DVD, I highly recommend the book to round out the story. And if you've already read the book... the DVD is a MUST.

While I agree with some reviewers that Heller is not on equal footing with Jon Krakauer, I am a bit surprised at the degree to which they dismiss Heller's writing. First off, the story itself is so compelling that -- even if what these critical reviewers say about the writing style were true -- you would be doing yourself a disservice to dismiss this book entirely. That said, I found that Heller did an excellent job of creating a vivid picture of the Tsangpo Gorge and the harrowing trek that the expedition team faced both on and off the river. When you consider the semi-reluctant cooperation he faced from the expedition leader, Scott Lindgren, and the fact that Heller himself was not actually kayaking on the river, I am rather impressed with how well he is able to capture the spirit of the paddlers and all their daring whitewater exploits!
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on August 18, 2005
This is an extrodinary book. How these paddlers trekked up this Gorge (with kayaks)and paddled the Tsangpo is absolutely amazing. I did like when the author talked about the history of the Gorge..the steepness..etc. I'm sad that I finished it. No, there is no pictures (for a certain 4th grader)...BUT if you want to SEE this magnificent scenery AND WATCH these exceptional paddlers then buy Scott Lindgren's DVD "Into The Tsangpo Gorge"..its the movie version to this book. ITS ABSOLUTELY JAW DROPPING! Once you watch this will want to read the book again. Anyone who has an interest in this part of the world will ABSOLUTELY LOVE THIS BOOK AND DVD!!
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on October 12, 2004
For years, Tibet's Upper Tsangpo gorge had loomed as the ultimate challenge in whitewater. Carving the deepest gorge in the world (over 15,000 feet deep) and dropping in places 250 feet/mile this monsterous river had repelled every attempt to navigate it's turbulent and treacherous waters. In 1998, a group led by Wickliffe Walker attempted a first descent at 60,000 cfs+, only to have U.S. Kayak Slalom Team member Doug Gordon drown almost midway through the gorge. Their perilous journey is chronicled in the excellent book The Last River.

After extensive planning using satalite imagery, a team of the world's top kayakers led by extreme filmmaker Scott Lindgren (and sponsored by GM/Outside magazine) attempted a fresh first descent in February 2002 at a more reasonable 15,000 cfs. While Lindgren and his 5 buddies were battling the rapids, Peter Heller (on assignment from Outside magazine) hiked the side canyon on a bad hip with an army of 64 porters providing logistical support. Heller chronicles the boaters' near death experiences from the relatively safe vantage point of the trail overlooking the river. Although unable to provide a personal account of the kayaking experience, his writing is brilliant, describing a Shangri-La like beauty that gives the reader a feeling of being surrounded by one of the most remote and enchanting places on Earth.

Heller also vividly portrays the six personalities of this elite kayaking group; in particular focusing on the intense displeasure that Lindgren has for Heller's book proposal. He also describes an intense standoff between the porters and the expedition members, where the porters demand, on threat of death, almost twice their originally contracted pay. (This hardball bargaining style seems to be a recurring theme on many Himalayan expeditions.)

He also gives a brief history of the Tibetan people following the invasion and near-destruction of this Buddhist nation by the Chinese in the 1950s. After enduring a gigantic flood along the Tsangpo in 2000, many of these indigenous people are being relocated so that China can turn this rugged region into a national park.

Overall this makes for excellent adventure reading. It's good to know there are still modern day heroes conquering unconquered rivers and coming home to tell about it.
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on August 26, 2014
This kayak expedition follows the trail of famed plant explorer Frank Kingdon Ward. I read all of Ward's books and now I am wrapping up all of Heller's.

Heller is readable and engaging regardless of topic. He understands our thoughts and contradictions, noble and otherwise. He tells a great story .

The Painter is my favorite Heller work if you want to sample the first time. However, if kayaking or Himalayan trekking is just your fare you will find this most satisfying. As with all his works Heller gets the reader immersed, this time literally in the icy, thundering river of the Himalayas.

I tend to read every work when I discover an author of this talent. I read all of Kingdon Ward's books nearly 20 years ago, and now Heller has brought me back to the Himalayas the only way I ever want to travel that treacherous terrain -- by reading. I got to know the intricacies of the expedition and its porters and the human side of inhumanly skilled kayakers who make the story notable. So grab your paddle and read this one or your brush and read The Painter a five star novel. Or visit the surf or simply go apocalyptic. Heller offers it all in his library.
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on February 2, 2005
Peter Heller will have you gripping your seat as he transports the reader into the Tsangpo Gorge. The story is told with beautifully crafted sentences which compensate for the lack of photos by filling your mind with exquisite word pictures. Of course the adventure itself is the main excitement, but the personalities of the kayakers present another layer of drama as the adventure roars down the river. These men are on a sort of exploration, true, but it is a mistake to imagine that they are heroes, since this kind of adrenaline- and testosterone-filled journey is by nature a very self-involved endeavor. For readers who love to mentally throw themselves over the edge without actually risking death, HELL OR HIGH WATER is a classic wild ride.
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VINE VOICEon February 20, 2007
This is a detailed, unsentimental report on an amazing trek and high-risk journey. You don't need to know one thing about kayaking to enjoy this rough and tumble adventure. The cultural barriers are as fascinating as the plunges down skyscrapers of water. The description of the topography and the characters on this journey are wonderful, compelling. This "Into Thin Air" on a ribbon of churning foam and turbulence.
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on January 24, 2005
Peter Heller is an adventure writer in the old style: thoroughly conversant when it comes to the main event, but careful also to place that central project in full context. For me, this was the great joy of reading "Hell or High Water." The kayaking trip down the Tsangpo is so vividly, ingeniously described that at several points my toes curled at the risk, and it's a great, solid tale that sits properly at the center of this book. But the story of seven brave kayakers is offset by Heller's unique curiosity and humanity: along the route we get bits of Tibetan mythology and history, narratives of earlier conquest, a tutorial on river movement, a little Buddhism and natural-history arcana, plus a whole boatload of engaging stories. Heller is a generous writer who takes excellent command of his book's ambitious scope, and the result for readers is a chance to join a knowledgeable, companionable guide on a truly remarkable expedition.
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on May 31, 2014
I'm a whitewater kayaker so I may have more interest in this story than people who don't kayak. Though I don't know the men who where on the expedition I do know of many of them and have read of them and/or seen them in kayaking videos.
That being said, If you enjoy adventure you might enjoy this book even if you aren't a kayaker. There is a lot of real life drama and adventure both on and off the water. Hell or High Water may be the most engaging non-fiction book that I've ever read.
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on March 12, 2015
This is an adventure book, and Peter Heller tells his story so directly that I felt like I had joined the party. It's a really fascinating, heart-racing story that reminds us that we can take on incredible challenges, face the hurdles, and achieve our goals. It's really wonderful.
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on August 26, 2014
I love Heller's books but I found this early effort way too filled with jargon and unnecessary detail. I eagerly anticipated an engrossing story about running those untamed rapids but felt the book wandered -- especially parts about the conflict between the author and some of the group leaders.
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