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Old 08-23-2004   #21
jonny water's Avatar
Geologist, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1991
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 583
Check out this short article forwarded to me from a friend. Apparently it appeared in a Lunchbox Video Magazine article:

The 2003 Chenab River “First Descent" Expedition
As the fall of 2003 approached, famed Northern India river explorers, Mike Abbott and Allan Ellard, began sending out press releases concerning their “first Descent” attempt at the elusive Chenab River Gorge. Mike and Allan ARE the pioneers of the area, and I guess they just figured if they hadn’t been there before, no one had. The river runs through the embattled border area of Kasmir and Northern India, presenting certain political impasses and red tape run-ins around every corner. The boys gathered up a strong crew and “snuck in” through the back door to the put-in high in the Himalayas.
Arriving at a small village near their planned put-in, they discovered to their amazement that the villagers had seen a kayaker before. Not “Kayakers”, but “a lone kayaker”, who the affectionately referred to as “Mr. Russell, the lonely American”. Russell Kelly, infamous big-water, multi-day, solo-style expedition paddler from Telluride, Colorado, was traveling alone in the area for much of the fall of 2001. Ironically, he was following Mike and Alan’s exploratory footsteps and running the classic rivers they pioneered years before. Russell figured that they had certainly run the Chenab due tot its high gradient and somewhat easy access. According to Russell, he paddled for 6 days and eventually bailed out of the river above what he considered to be an unrunnable gorge. Also of note, was the substantially higher flow during Russell’s solo descent. September 9th-14th, 2001.

LVM recently asked one of the 2003 expedition members, Benji Hjort of Norway, about their river experience and rumors of the lonely American. Here is what he had to say.

“Russell, yeah. The man that we imaged had a sick time down the Chenab. We heard about him before we took off. A travel agent in Manali (North India) told us about him, but they didn’t know where he paddled. On the way down the river local people told us about him. The river was FULL ON. We could not believe that he ran it by himself, and suddenly every sigh of him disappeared.

I don’t really know where he stopped, but the river got harder and steeper for every day. We normally used 8 hours daily and paddled about 15 km. Hips of scouting, mainly hard protages and scary paddling. Unbelievable many undercuts and sieves. In the end we got to an unrunnable gorge 20 meters wide, with polished vertical walls and a white stream coming up in the end of the corridor. We finished 5 km from Kisthwar, and everybody agreed that it was the hardest river they had run…I’m not sure if I want to paddle it again. It took all my energy.”

For more info on the 2003 Chenab Expedition visit….

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Old 08-24-2004   #22
Join Date: Aug 2004
Posts: 4
A young friend of Russell's recently said to me, "Growing up with Russell was a real character builder." As youngsters they would play "tea party", but they also enjoyed being tossed around by roller coasters. Had she been in Colorado in the last 18 years, Russ would have had her on the river.

Russ had a passion for adventure, and he wanted everyone to share in it. He encouraged others to push their limits and improve their skills in order to enjoy a greater experience and pride in accomplishment. Russ's own accomplishments were motivation and inspiration to others.

Russ's brother, Alex, says some would believe living in the mountains is a cop out. But, in reality, it is the opposite. Comfort is sacrificed to obtain the rewards of living with nature. It is a strong person who can survive the ever changing elements, and Russell thrived on the challenge and excitement of it all. He had a never ending list of journeys, and he never let anything hold him back, resulting in many solo experiences. to Russ, the obstacles were "all part of the fun".

Beneath Russell's fun loving demeanor was a sensitive, thoughtful man. He was true to his friends and accepted everyone as they were. He never took anything or anyone for granted. He also managed to take negative stuff and turn it into positives. Russ was a friend to me as well as a loving son. He was sunshine when it was cloudy with his big smile and intense desire to make you happy. His photos and stories leave a legacy we all will cherish. For Russ, LIFE WAS TRULY GOOD.

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Old 08-24-2004   #23
Join Date: Aug 2004
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RE: Chenab......It is Iqubal Sharma at Himalayan Journeys in Manali, India who would verify Russell's solo journey on the Chenab. They arranged for a support jeep and driver so Russ wouldn't have to "paddle a loaded boat." Anyone who may have the Telluride Daily Planet issue Monday, October 29, 2001 can read Russell's email that they titled, "Kayaking With Muslims",sent to them describing the trip and what it was like to be an American kayaker near Kashmir during 9/11. Allan Ellard has emailed Russ and known of his trip since November, 2003, though he has yet to update the riverkore website identifying Russ as promised. Russell began his solo trip from Batal on the Chandra to Tandi, where the Chenab begins. He paddled six days to the bridge dowstream of Killar. His email tells of being stopped by the army near the war zone and the local police escorting him to safety. The Chenab flows into Kashmir at that point and eventually into Pakistan - an unsafe area for an American at the time. If anyone is interested in his account, I could post it.
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Old 08-24-2004   #24
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I would love to read it.
"Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body. But rather...To skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming... WOW !!!! What a ride!!!!!!"
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Old 08-26-2004   #25
Join Date: Aug 2004
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I was hoping you would ask. I'm busy getting ready to go to Russ' memorial this weekend, but here goes - an excerpt.

"I just completed the first descent of the Chenab River that flows into Kashmir and then into Pakistan - solo. I started in the Himichal Predesh, running the first descents of both its major tributaries, the Chandra and the a mule, from their source. I crossed a 5,600 meter pass with my boat on the back of a mule to put in at 4,600 meters and float over 300kms of class 5 and 6 whitewater on the Chenab all the way to Kashmir. The river was three times the size of the Colorado and one of the best in the world. It was really remote in deep inescapable gorges - solo. There were several places I would have walked if possible, but I was forced to paddle on. It was some of the wildest whitewater I've ever seen. I was down in a chasm with the road carved into the cliff 1,500 feet above me and no way out. I could barely see my support jeep and it didn't matter if I could because I was in there. I paddles on passing several local villages that have never see a kayak before. They would all run to come see the westerner who just arrived on the river that has flooded their village many times, drowning many people over history. They thought I was crazy and at many points I questioned it. I would soon remind myself how much fun I was having despite being trapped in a deep gorge with sheer walls on both sides. The places I have seen are so beautiful I couldn't help but smile. This is what I dream about at night and what I love to do. Life is so amazing and it is fun to paddle in a place that no one has ever been. the people are so different and truly special and real. I paddles as far as I could and would have gone farther if I could have. Hundreds of people wondered what I was doing there - being the only westerner in a hundred miles of wilderness."

"They urged me not to go deep into Kashmir. The police told me not to go any farther and I was finally stopped by the army. They congratulated me on my expedition and then a policeman rode in our jeep to escort me out of there until we were well into the Himichal Predesh. In a very hush-hush way he told me I was in a disturbed area and I could be subject to a terrorist attack at any moment. They weren't taking any risks with me. There is a special security warning out for Americans and at the moment we are not even allowed in Kashmir."

"But, I was sure close to the war zone. About the distance from Denver to Vail. The feelings are a lot more tense than usual and many Indian soldiers are headed to the Northwest of India. The people are very into the news and are on our side - except for the Muslims who have a bounty out for our heads. It's pretty scary, but the tourist crowds are low and it is easy to find a hotel room. I feel safe at the moment, but I hope things don't get too out of hand."

Russ then talks about doing the Mayar Valla (Mayar River), also first descent and solo, twenty-two km of class V and VI in a beautiful gorge, and writes, "Villagers and local police lined the banks to watch and see if it could be done. With a huge smile in a very risky place I waved up to them. I was another of the wilder descents I've ever attempted, and I pulled it off. So incredible and incredibly dangerous. People are blown away by what I've been doing and so am I. About the war, I'll just keep kayaking .............. Life is Good and so are the people here. I am being protected and taken care of by Iqubal Sharma and Himalayan Journeys in Manali, India. they have made it all possible for me."

"I feel safe in the Himichal Predesh, but the closer I get to Kashmir the crazier things get. I did a couple major solo first descents for America, and I am having a blast. I will next paddle the Parvati River and the world famous Satluj River that drains holy Mount Kailash. Again, solo. Wish me luck."

Hope you enjoyed it. This is from the email Russ sent to the Telluride Daily Planet if October, 2001. The paper titles it "Kayaking with Muslims". Russ began describing what is was like to be in India during 9/11, the only American surrounded by turbaned men. He said he felt uncomfortable, but the Indian people responded with true support and sympathy for our losses. They live with terrorism and pray it will somehow stop.
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Old 08-26-2004   #26
carbondale, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1995
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 165
there's a memorial service this sat afternoon, 28th, in ophir, co in the ophir town hall. if you can, come see a slide show, photos of russels, of some of the worlds best whitewater.
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Old 08-27-2004   #27
placerville, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1993
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we will have lots of great food, booze, kegs, movies, slides, live reggae, flammables and explosives,....... come one come all
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Old 08-30-2004   #28
Join Date: Apr 2004
Posts: 4
Russell Kelly

It is amazing how some people can have such a profound influence in a short period of time. Russell was one of those people. I am just one of many others who shared a brief memorable moment with Russell. My interaction with Russell is exclusively this story.

Camping at OBJ was cold at night and never really warmed up until around noon. Needless to say, noone in the campground was in a hurry to put on in the mornings. Bryan and myself had spent about three weeks in CO paddling everyday and were beginning to lose enthusiasm b/c of unpredictable levels, until we met Russell.

Russell and Annie came into the campground around 8 and he immediately began looking for someone to paddle with. I watched him hit up EVERYONE in the campground trying to find someone as enthused as himself. He came by and talked to us for a few minutes and next thing we knew, he was loading our gear for us. He just called us “crazy Tennessee boys”. We were still trying to drink coffee and peel our eyes open while Russell told us to hurry and get in the truck, we were “missing good water”

He drove the shuttle and we put on before everyone else in the campground had even moved. We had two awesome runs that morning. That guy has one hell of a smile. I remember when he asked me if I was going to run ankle breaker with him, smiling the whole time. I had not run it yet b/c of low water but I couldn’t say no to that smile. After those two runs, Bryan and I went back to camp and bed to get a couple of runs in the afternoon. Russell came back that night for a few minutes that night to tell us he ran Daisy and then went to the Upper East with Annie.

The paddling community has lost a great ambassador of the sport. I know that he left an unforgettable impression on me just after a couple of hours.

Adam Griffin
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Old 09-05-2004   #29
Join Date: Aug 2004
Posts: 4
Thank you.

Thank you to all who participated and donated to the wonderful memorial for Russell at Ophir last weekend. It was just the way Russell would have wanted it; lots of good friends and memories, exciting slides and videos, teriffic live music, great food and yummy beer, even Russian vodka passed around the circle at the bonfire. Friends came from Florida, California, Idaho and Montana and everywhere in between. Some had just come back from the Russia expedition with Russ, and others were off to Chile the following week, but they took the time to come celebrate Russ' life. As Russell's parents, Joe and I wouldn't have missed it for the world. We met many new and old friends, and we heard more love and respect for Russ than we could heve ever imagined.

The thirty-four people, three children in backpacks and three dogs who hiked to the top of the back country ski mountain on Sunday made the weekend even more special. The event was arranged by Russ' friend Ron Shinn who set up a permanent memorial at the top of the drop in (and I mean DROP IN). It was the most exhausting and emotional event I have ever participated in. I believe the words read from a letter to Russ from his brother Alex is a wish from us all; "Wherever you are, may the rivers always run high, the powder always be deep, and the thermals always be strong for flying. I love you bro. We are all going to miss you..."

Anyone who has photos or video of Russell and willing to share with us, we would be very happy to receive them. Either email them to me at, or notify me by email and I will give you our address. Thanks so much. Melanie & Joe Kelly

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