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After decades of exploring, where do the boldest sea kayakers, whitewater boaters and canoe trippers fantasize about paddling? That’s the question that inspired Paddling Magazine to query some of our long-time contributors and favorite nomadic aquaphiles to ask after their dream destinations, most challenging expeditions and what a life of exploration really means anyways.
In this series of profiles, these exceptional water-wanderers share their top trips, best advice and biggest blunders. And whether their ambitious journeys were taken in the name of discovery, education, environment or glory, these legends affirm what we already know: There’s far more to explore by paddle than anyone could fit in a lifetime—but don’t let that stop you from trying.
Ben Stookesberry has made a career of leading expeditions around the world, notching more than 130 first descents on class V and VI rivers in 36 countries and counting. His missions have ranged from Central Africa and Pakistan to Patagonia and Bhutan and everywhere in between, except Antarctica.
Location: Missoula, Montana
Occupation: Professional kayaker and adventure film producer
Next Project: A headwaters descent of the Jatunyacu River in Ecuador
Q & A with Ben Stookesberry
1 One river I dream of returning to is…
the Nachvak River in the Torngat Mountains of Canada. This location still captivates me because of the absolute remoteness and endeavor just to reach and return from it.
One destination I dream of paddling but haven’t yet is…
the Bob Marshall Wilderness. I want to paddle here because of the proximity to my home in Missoula and the number of beautiful rivers born there.
My biggest pet peeve is…
procrastination because I am so good at it.
One thing I can’t live without is…
a positive attitude.
The greatest advice I ever got was…
take on a task you think may be impossible and try that.
The kayak I’m paddling most right now is a…
Jackson Kayak Zen 3.
The best paddling companions…
form a small, cohesive, caring group.
The hardest part about making that dream trip happen is…
simply committing to trying to make it happen regardless of the outcome.
My best advice for young paddlers is…
to find your internal drive and passion and follow that, as opposed to the passion and pursuit of others. Whether flatwater or class VI, your passion will keep you paddling and positive for the rest of your life.
the satisfaction of a hard-earned night spent on the river where only a little sustenance and sleep are
required to wake up and continue downstream.
My most challenging expedition was…
the Rio Appaporis in Colombia and it taught me patience and persistence in small group relations.
About 500 miles into the expedition, the team was taken hostage by the FARC. The team dynamics had been so strained up until then that, for the first time on the expedition, the team was all working together. The soldiers held the paddlers in jungle camps over three days. Eventually, their gear was returned, and they were free to continue. Instead, they flew out from a small airstrip in a nearby village. Read more about the ordeal here.
What scares me most is…
“It’s why I portage,” Stookesberry adds. “Yet, drowning is a black hole I face and intend to face for the rest of my life. Most river enthusiasts have trauma from the loss of someone close in the river. And that trauma needs some serious, in-depth discussion.”
My favorite camp meal is…
lentil noodles with sauteed veggies.
The true gift of big trips is…
to disconnect from the superfluous and connect deeply with the absolute necessities.
This article was first published in Paddling Magazine Issue 64. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions here, or download the Paddling Magazine app and browse the digital archives here.
Stookesberry on the South Fork Clearwater in Northern Idaho. | Photo: John Webster