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Ben Stookesberry’s name doesn’t light up my phone often. When it does, I assume there is an adventure on its way.

I met Ben properly for the first time in Kangiqsualujjuack QC. I knew him, knew of him, but had never paddled with him. I was able to join Ben, Chris Korbulic, and Pedro Oliva in Canada’s sub arctic on the #DestinationTorngat adventure. We hiked many days to access and return from the Nachvak River where we found a river full of cascading waterfalls. We had an amazing experience and because of this, Ben called me to, again, be the fourth on a first decent expedition to Papua New Guinea a couple years later.

During their previous recent trip to PNG they had flown over the Berriman river’s electric blue waters and tight vertical walled canyons.  They were all keen to return to make an attempt at a first descent of the river. Committed to the idea, they left their kayaks ( 2 large, and one medium Karma) on the Island of New Britain for the descent.

I was deciding between my trusty Tuna 1, which was in rough shape, and a new Ace of Spades which I had not paddled yet. While weighing the pros and cons of each for an extended multi-day involving rope work and extra weight, Ben called and offered me one of the left behind boats. I could use one of those and he would bring a boat for Pedro. Ben would be arriving with a Hero for Pedro to paddle. I think it was a surprise for Pedro, I was pretty surprised as well. I would not have wanted to stare down the whitewater we were up against from the seat of that little red potato.  We spread the weight out as best we could to keep Pedro as light as possible.

I cant believe how much shit I crammed in to the M Karma. The bulkhead system is genius, simple, and was integral to me bringing what I needed and having the boat still function. We planned for 10 days and spent 12 (11 nights). On top of camping gear/clothes we brought climbing gear ( I had a hammer, drill bit,  some rope, climbing harness, deadman, and dewalt battery) I carried a camera with 2 lens’ many many memory cards in a case for fresh GoPro and audio cards each day, many batteries, and a 1TB hard drive, for some on river back ups… And food.  Ben had a Drill, 3 person tent and a something or other that he could connect to the internet with, Korbulic had a climbing rope for the rappelling we would have to do.  Everything was heavyAF

The ability to quickly pop out the foot braces to load my bow helped me evenly distribute weight throughout the boat. I felt like that kept the boat moving through the river as it was designed to do. The Karma is a very easy boat to paddle and while our weight made things difficult, I was able to move the boat around pretty well in the water.  This did a lot for my confidence entering the canyons and dropping the waterfalls we were up against.

Im more comfortable in the M Karma than the L ( i’m 185cm and 82kg ) and would consider it a good option for any long expedition after my experience in Papua New Guinea.  This is dated now but I would feel the same, likely much better about the Medium Nirvana which is a more dynamic boat to paddle.

Most of the expedition paddling I do is one to two nights.  When you get into the 4 night range, or bringing extra gear ( climbing ) I find the ability to load the bow easily a huge asset.  Just having to unscrew the bulkhead to cram gear up there is unappealing enough to me to avoid it.

Here is the video from our expedition –

The river was very difficult the portaging was next level, and the foot rot had a huge impact on us. Ben’s feet got really bad but started healing on the trip, Chris had it worse, and on one of the last days Pedro and I tried to work a little harder to lessen the load on their feet. This lead to my feet disintegrating as well, Pedro said his feet came out better than they went in. He had learned lessons from his last trip in PNG and brought along extra socks, rubbing alcohol, and peroxide…  Smart, noted, lesson maybe learned. 

– Ben Marr