On October 16,1998 Douglas Gordon lost his life on the Tsang Po River in Tibet. Doug was participating in a National Geographic Society sponsored expedition in the Tsang Po Gorge in the eastern Himalaya Mountains. The Tsang Po River traverses the Tibetan plateau for more than 700 miles and passes between the Himalayan Mountains at an altitude of more than 23,000 feet. The gorge is more than 16,000 feet deep in some places and contains formidable rapids. The team was attempting to be the first to follow the river's entire course.
Doug, Jamie McEwan, Roger Zbel and Tom McEwan put on the Tsang Po October 5th. The river was estimated to be at a medium-high level, but considerably higher than when it was scouted the previous year, and the water continued to drop 2"-4" daily. The four boaters made their way from Pei to Gyala, about 18 miles, in four days. They paddled on the sides of the river and often carried, avoiding the main flow of river and scouting ahead. They left Gyala carrying 15 days of food, expecting to spend significant time foot scouting the river. Their plan was to meet up with Wick Walker and Dave Phillips, the support team, near Rainbow Falls about 26 miles from Gayala. The latter were hiking up the gorge with porters and supplies for the Expedition's next segment.
On October 16, the boaters continued down the left side of the river. They stopped to scout the rocky edge of a large rapid. Doug, Jamie, and Roger considered several possible routes, while Tom set up downstream on a boulder to do video and to hold a safety rope. Doug went first, choosing a line over an 8ft. waterfall, hugging the side of the river. He intended to boof over a rock and land in the left-hand eddy. Doug was caught in the hole at the foot of the falls. Ultimately, Doug drifted out into the middle of the current and out of safety rope range. He was swept into main current and a lethal series of recirculating hydraulics.
The search for Doug began immediately. The next four days were devoted to moving downstream, scanning the shores for Doug or his equipment. The support-team, alerted by satellite phone, reached the river and began a search downstream. On October 20, 8.5 miles below the accident site, the two groups met, and the search was called off. Doug was presumed dead. At this point expedition members discontinued the expedition. They were still seven days of hiking and three days driving from Lhasa. They arrived back in Lhasa November 3rd.
Doug was a graduate of Harvard University and a doctoral candidate at the University of Utah. He was also the recipient of a National Science Foundation Fellowship in chemistry. Doug was on the U.S. Canoe Team from 1981 to 1987 and held several medals from the U.S. National Championships. He raced in the Whitewater Slalom World Championships four times. As research chemist he was the author of 15 scientific articles and inventor or co-inventor on four U.S. patents. Doug was also a hero and a mentor for many of us. Doug leaves behind his wife Connie, and two children.
A memorial fund has been set up for Connie and the children. Contributions can be sent to the Douglas Gordon Memorial Fund, Salisbury Bank and Trust, Attn: Craig Toensing, Trust Dept, PO Box 1868, Lakeville, CT 06039.
By Bonnie MacDonald, HACKS Newsletter Editor