When Ben Marr, Pedro Oliva, Ben Stookesberry and Chris Korbulic dropped this waterfall on eastern Papua New Guinea’s Beriman River in 2015, it was one of the last points that they could call off their incredibly risky first descent.
Since the team’s ambitious trip, they’ve been nominated for the 2016 National Geographic Adventurers of the Year award and released the Red Bull-sponsored film Locked In: First Descent of the Beriman Gorge, but as they ran this 60-foot falls on their first day of kayaking, they had little idea what awaited downstream. They had been flown in just above the waterfall the day before, camped and paddled down that morning to drop it, aware that it was one of the last places the helicopter could land in what is known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.
Marr ran the river left of the middle section before setting up to capture his teammates take different lines, including this image of Stookesberry throwing a thumbs-up to Oliva and Korbulic. Shooting photos in the jungle meant “a constant battle” for Marr to keep his camera dry and deal with condensation building up inside his lens.
After descending the waterfall, the group headed downstream and the helicopter departed, making starkly real their plan to kayak 30 miles through 13 gorges with vertical walls and no paddling precedent or chance of rescue. “Once we paddled away from the drop and the helicopter took off, that was a good feeling but it was also heavy because we had just committed to the canyons downstream, not knowing how long it would take us,” Marr says.
Facing unrelenting humidity, thick jungle portages and class VI river conditions—not to mention some truly gnarly foot rot—the foursome took just shy of two weeks to travel the 30 miles. It wasn’t until the team smelled the salt in the air from the Soloman Sea that they reveled in the reality of their groundbreaking first descent. “We knew then there were no obstacles between us and the ocean,” says Marr.
This article originally appeared in the Rapid Summer/Fall 2016 issue.
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