Odd Jobs

Class V Career

Local kayakers tackle the world’s toughest rivers in the name of Mother Earth

By Ivan Miller December 10, 2009 Published in the January 2010 issue of Portland Monthly

Mud kayak mkknai

Image: Andy Maser

Don’t believe what you see in the movies. Indiana Jones doesn’t live in Connecticut; he lives in Portland. Or at least a couple of good stand-ins do: Trip Jennings and Andy Maser. Together, the two kayakers (plus Santa Fe resident Kyle Dickman) comprise the Epicocity Project, a Portland-based adventure-kayaking film company that travels to some of the world’s most far-flung rivers. But instead of seeking a lost ark, these three hope to promote the protection of wilderness areas through their Rivers in Demand project.

“The idea was to produce stories we hoped would convince others to take the big step from being outdoor enthusiasts to protecting the wild areas we play in,” says Jennings, a professional kayaker.

Collectively, the University of Oregon alums have completed more than 30 first descents (many through kayak-mangling Class V rapids) on four continents, including a sadistic 65-mile stretch in Papua New Guinea, a tangle with the lower section of Africa’s Congo River (the world’s deepest river), and—two months ago—a harrowing descent of the Rio Roosevelt (also called the River of Doubt) in Brazil.

The vision for Rivers in Demand surfaced in 2007, when Jennings teamed with Dickman, a journalism graduate, and the pair earned a $5,000 National Geographic Young Explorers grant to discover the source of Papua New Guinea’s Pandi River. They found it hidden in an underground cave system among six active volcanoes.

“There was no turning back when we went to Papua New Guinea,” Dickman says. “I realized we could make a living being adventure filmmakers and journalists.”

Since then, the group has paddled Africa’s deadly Congo River with American Museum of Natural History fish expert Dr. Melanie Stiassny. (The resulting footage became Epicocity’s first National Geographic TV special, “Monster Fish of the Congo.”) And in November, they headed to the Rio Roosevelt in the untamed Amazon Basin of central Brazil to compile a comprehensive biodiversity study on how a proposed dam will affect fish migration.

All that risk-taking has other rewards, too: one of Epicocity’s environmental films garnered positive reviews at the Mountainfilm and Wild & Scenic film festivals. And in 2007, Jennings was named a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year honoree. “The film festivals were a huge step,” says Jennings. “We went from young explorers to actually making a name for ourselves through National Geographic television.”

This February, they’ll be adding to that name when the Epicocity team visits Laos’s Mekong River to promote the protection of fish habitat and to film another episode for National Geographic (to air this summer) on their search for giant catfish. And, of course, they’ll hunt for their own kind of holy grail: some serious white water.

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