Explorers Connect

Rafting to Uncover the Impact of Large Scale Infrustructure Developments

Wild Night Out
jonathan rider karakoram.jpeg

by Jonathan Rider

Sometimes, all it takes is to say yes. You can talk about adventures in the pub and pine over maps of the world, but at some point you just need to commit. Sounds easy, but it rarely is. Life gets in the way, you can barely afford to pay for a round of drinks, let alone a flight to the ends of the earth. But where there is a will, there is invariably a way.

Planning our expeditions in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Edmund and I tried to speak to as many like-minded explorers as possible to test whether our ideas were feasible, and to learn about the places we were going to visit. Hearing their stories was truly inspirational, and we knew we there was no going back. These conversations tend to generate momentum of their own. You meet someone who knows someone who has met a guide who can take you to an unknown valley. You read something and contact the author who puts you in touch with a friend who happens to be looking for an expedition team…

Before we knew what we had committed to, we found ourselves sitting in two very small inflatable boats at over 3000m in Northern Afghanistan, with a 9-day walk to the nearest point of help. No one, to our knowledge, had rafted here before. It was exhilarating. No amount of planning can prepare for the reality of an expedition. As soon as you put your raft on the water, you’re on your own. We hadn’t done any rafting before this moment, so the next two weeks were a brutal learning curve. Two years later, we travelled to the Hunza River in Northern Pakistan, just below the border with China, to undertake a similar expedition. Once again, we found ourselves hopelessly out of our depth…


Our expeditions have been about exploring the social and environmental impact of large scale infrastructure developments in remote (and not-so-remote) parts of the world. And as part of this, we want to share the stories of the people and places we encounter on the way. Last year we gave a talk at Explorers Connect about our expedition down the River Oxus in Afghanistan, and later this year we will be speaking about our time in Pakistan on the Hunza River in Gilgit-Baltistan. We will also be screening a ‘premier’ of the film we made of this expedition – ‘Karakoram’ – on the 15th May at the Goldfinger Factory in London. There will be plenty of time for Q&A, so we hope there will be a lively discussion.

Sadly, Explorers Connect has yet to open chapters in either Pakistan or Afghanistan (to my knowledge), and more is the pity. Explorers Connect is a petri-dish of interesting people and ideas, and I wish we had such a network to tap into when we started planning our expeditions. We are excited to be involved with Explorers Connect here in the UK, and to meet other people doing inspiring and interesting things. It’s so easy to kick our plans into the long grass, but meeting people with energy and drive is often just the catalyst we need to get the ball rolling again. We’re really looking forward to meeting you at the talk or the screening. You never know who you will meet or the connections you will make.