Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Hell or High Water: Surviving Tibet's Tsangpo River” as Want to Read:
Hell or High Water: Surviving Tibet's Tsangpo River
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Hell or High Water: Surviving Tibet's Tsangpo River

3.50  ·  Rating details ·  421 ratings  ·  62 reviews
A grand adventure-an elite kayaking team's heroic conquest of the worlds last great adventure prize: Tibet's Tsangpo River.

The Tsangpo Gorge in southeastern Tibet has lured explorers and adventurers since its discovery. Sacred to the Buddhists, the inspiration for Shangri La, the Gorge is as steeped in legend and mystery as any spot on earth. As a river-running challenge,
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published October 6th 2004 by Rodale Books
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Hell or High Water, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Hell or High Water

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
3.50  · 
Rating details
 ·  421 ratings  ·  62 reviews

Sort order
Nov 12, 2009 rated it did not like it
Recommended to Monica by:
If there was a "Couldn't Finish" category, that's where I would place this book. I gave it 50 pages but just couldn't get into it and neither could the friend I lent it to after my failed attempt. I can't even pinpiont why I didn't like it but the story was just not very compelling. Give me Jon Krakauer ....
Aug 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
I'm fantasizing that I could still learn how to ride whitewater with a kayak. Making it my life seems even more romantic as I sit in my heavily, air-conditioned office staring at a computer screen. This book allowed me to look into the lives of kayak adventurers, and learn a little about the Tsangpo River in Tibet. My brain got a work-out as I read the descriptions of riverbends, holes, etc and tried to envision what it actually looked like. Some pictures would have been a great addition to the ...more
I'd say more 2.5 stars. While I enjoyed this more than his fiction works I read segments of, I found the nitty gritty drama between many of the people involved in the expedition to be a hindrance of my enjoyment of the book. I think it was partially due to that there were too many type a male dominance personalities that went into the trip, and some of the ways they complained about how things were done, in a foreign country with stipulations, where the permits to go to Tibet are even harder to ...more
May 19, 2017 rated it it was ok
I had heard this was a book that was hard to put down, but I found it just so-so. This book was supposed to be Heller's Into Thin Air (by Jon Krakauer), which I really couldn't put down, but I wasn't enthralled with this book. I was most interested in the parts about the history of Tibet and the different societies living there. The parts that were supposed to be the most exciting, about the actual kayaking, were the least interesting to me, because I am not familiar with the technicalities of w ...more
Jul 13, 2017 rated it liked it
The book was highly marred by the lack access Heller had to the subjects, forcing him to use too much of the content to talk about himself or kayaking general. Heller's prose still read more like a they're more off the pages of a news stand than a novel, yet like many of his other books feel personal and therefore more compelling than they should be. Ultimately, the magnitude of the undertaking for which the story is based make it worthy read, especially for anyone into river running and outdoor ...more
Mary Lello
Jul 10, 2018 rated it it was ok
I love Peter Heller as a writer. This trip/adventure just got very tedious. It was quite the expedition and all involved were amazing ... but I just got bogged down with it all. I realize there's only so many ways to explain these horrid falls and eddies and all involved with kayaking this most difficult river, as well as trekking at the elevation in the snow. But, I became weary with it all.

Thus, it was OK. Not the best read and not his best writing.
Jul 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Some people are crazy adrenaline freaks. I like adventure, but even following along and watching these kayakers from the banks is a harrowing experience when you're in the deepest river gorge in Tibet. Exciting stuff in a beautiful land. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Sep 11, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sounded like a miserable trip

It seemed like the author and the group leaders, and the group leaders and the porters, had continuing drama the entire trip. I wonder if any of them even enjoyed themselves.
Oct 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The author is a verb master. Exellent book.
Jun 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nature, travel
Brilliant! I've never kayaked in still water let alone run rivers in Tibet!! I wonder if this book is spot on with those involved in the sport? I loved it and have to recommend it to kayak-curious individuals.
Nov 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Peter Heller can make anything interesting. I couldn’t give two shits about kayaking, but I read this eagerly.
Carrie Turner
Feb 06, 2019 rated it it was ok
A lot of words, but not too interesting of a story (plot, twists, turns, etc). Very technical and reporting/journalistic in style.
Kate M
Jan 27, 2013 rated it liked it
Heller has once again convinced me that I love his writing, though it's taking me longer to get through this than I expected because I really don't care about competitive kayaking, and despite his treatment of the subject, I still don't care. I do however love his descriptions of the river and the nature with which he's coming into contact.

There is some magnificent writing in this book. Here are a few examples.

"Sometimes life crystallizes hard and sharp. Zero ambiguity." (p. 14)

I love how he por
Feb 15, 2009 rated it liked it
As official journalist for Outside Magazine on the expedition, Peter Heller had the opportunity of a lifetime: accompany a group of world class kayakers on the holy grail, a first decent of Tibet's Tsangpo River. Hell or High Water: Surviving Tibet's Tsangpo River chronicles the adventure, from the banks of the river to the insane portages up neighboring mountain passes. The Tsangpo falls through one of the deepest gorges in the world and a fabled waterfall on its course gave rise the legend of ...more
Sep 15, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: adventure, paddling
I normally enjoy non-fiction adventure story-telling, but this book was difficult to complete.

The narrative seemed overly dominated by conflicts between the porters and expedition leaders and between the author and kayakers. While I appreciate the author faithfully reporting these conflicts, the negativity really dragged the story down. It seemed like the author was trying a bit too hard to defend his side of the conflict. If I had to offer advice to the author, it would be to reduce his details
Jan 13, 2016 rated it liked it
I like Heller's fiction albeit he has only written two novels. Once I realized he had written non-fiction prior to his literary endeavors, I have sought out these offerings.
This book covers the adventure of kayakers as they travel to the far reaches of Tibet to take on a river known for its inaccessibility and difficulty level for rapids.

All of the men that make up the team have tons of experience and talent kayaking, but the problem lies more with the politics of getting to the Tsangpo rather
Leslie Mesmer
Jul 31, 2014 rated it did not like it
Yet another book that sounds good in the write up but such a disappointment.
I should have paid attention when it said this written by a reporter for an outdoor magazine.the book read like a really, really long article.
Let's see, my complaint? For the most part the author wrote about how they would overlook the different portions of the river but rarely actually talked about the actual runs. Did you catch he wrote about how the kayakers did their runs? That's because he did not kayak the river,
May 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
As other reviewers mentioned, I found myself at times irritated by the author's apparent overemphasis on the expedition team's quibbles with the local porters. Admittedly this—and the writer's occasionally discordant relationship with the trip leader—were significant elements of the trip, but the focus of much of the story seemed to be on the minutia of interpersonal conflict, rather than the audacity of the expedition, the magnificence of the setting, or the rigors of the river and trail.

Aug 28, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Started this NF book about extreme kayaking in Tibet some time ago and just picked it up again. Good NF writing makes whatever the author is writing about the Most Interesting Thing in the World. Knowing nothing about kayaking, I found this account Pretty Interesting. My favorite part dealt with the history of trying to map the area, especially the intriguing story about the Pundits, men from India dressed like Buddhist pilgrims sent into the wilds to map colonial holdings. The writing about the ...more
Helen Dunn
May 26, 2015 rated it it was ok
I have enjoyed Peter Heller's writing (both fiction and nonfiction) but this one wasn't as compelling as those other books were.

Part of the issue for me was my lack of technical understanding of kayaking. There were just too many sections of technical description that I couldn't properly envision. Usually I'm able to compensate for this because there are compelling character stories or descriptions of nature but in this particular book there wasn't enough of that to compensate for the technical
Apr 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
Excellent descriptive narrative about a place most people will never see. The kayaking expedition tackled extreme terrain and extreme water in the winter. The group dynamics of the ground support group, kayakers, leader, porters, and sherpas was difficult for all members. I recommend watching the documentary, Into the Tsangpo Gorge: The Epic First Descent of the Everest of Rivers, along with reading the book. Seeing the scale of the mountains and rivers makes the book come to life. Heller does a ...more
Feb 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Peter Heller is amazing! He committed to an adventure that would be hellacious, near impossible, and quite uncomfortable, and then went on to NOT make the book about him!

The true story is about the kayakers, the river, Tibet, and China. I think it would be difficult to pay attention to all those other issues while in extreme pain, but he hardly mentioned his hip.

I shouldn't go on about this, because it's not what the book was about, but I was very impressed with his account, and if he had writ
Jan 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a gripping narrative about a group of crazy paddlers descending ridiculously steep and treacherous reaches of Tibet's Tsangpo River. This book followed Hiller's "The Dog Stars" that I read last year. "Hell or High Water" is much more like solid reporting from the front lines of adventure than anything else. It reminded me of "Places In Between" by Rory Stewart. I couldn't appreciate the quirky qualities of the characters as much as I would have liked. The narrative focuses on the path, t ...more
Simon Cleveland, PhD
Jul 15, 2008 rated it it was ok
After finishing 'High Crimes' I wanted to be transported back to the Himalayas. 'Hell or High Water' called my curiosity and so I embarked on it. I should say that white water kayaking isn't as appealing as high mountain climbing. There is something to be said about going up as opposed to floating down that makes one feel excited.
'Hell or High Water' never seems to find equilibrium, something to build upon and expand. The descriptions of the landscape are plain, almost unimaginative. The story
May 24, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2012
This book was a lesson in never judging a book by its cover (or title or the first 2 paragraphs of the inside jacket). I thought I was going to get a 1st hand account of kayaking down the Tsangpo river instead I got a boring, eye glazing over story of a guy who tagged along and created drama so he could write a book like "Into Thin Air". He could of at least used his words to discribe the environment better . . . painted a picture that put you in the middle of it.

Don't waste your time with this
May 12, 2013 rated it liked it
compelling story, kept me wanting to read it every day, as a paddler that has done similar things but on a much smaller scale, I could really relate...writing is a little sketchy in quality...reading it on a kindle is not the way to go...the maps are at the end and too small to see, a real book would have been better. when i was done with the book i went to youtube and watched video of the expedition....the book did a very good job describing it all
A memoir of a kayaking expedition on the untamed Tsangpo River. The book is as much about expedition politics and management as it is about kayaking.

I listened to the audio version, which was indeed nicely narrated by Patrick Lawlor. Searching for pictures of the gorge, though, reinforced my idea that I maybe should have read this one, assuming that it had pictures. I have reserved the print copy from my library. Some things just need seeing.
Doug Riddle
Jul 20, 2014 rated it liked it
I really enjoy Heller's writing style, but this book ended up taking longer to finish than I expected. The style was there, but it lacked a story to hang on. As an active kayaker, I still found it difficult to care about the kayakers or their trip. Read Heller's other works, especially his novels, before picking up this book.
Nov 15, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book was interesting, although it wasn't the best writing. It seems written more for kayakers than the average person. I couldn't follow along all of the descriptions of events, and all of the kayakers and porters were quite two dimensional. If you want a similar style book with much better wring, I would suggest The River of Doubt.
Mar 12, 2010 rated it really liked it
For all I know, this was a disjointed, poorly written, embellished novel about the tsangpo gorge kayak wouldn't have mattered. I was so utterly entranced with the story, and occupied with trying to wrap my mind around the size and scope of the water and terrain, that I missed any shortcomings. Outstanding, enjoyable read.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Lost in the Amazon: The True Story of Five Men and Their Desperate Battle for Survival
  • A Long Trek Home: 4,000 Miles by Boot, Raft and Ski
  • Pass the Butterworms: Remote Journeys Oddly Rendered
  • The Only Kayak: A Journey into the Heart of Alaska
  • The Best Women's Travel Writing, Volume 9: True Stories from Around the World
  • High: Stories of Survival from Everest and K2
  • North To The Night: A Spiritual Odyssey In The Arctic
  • Deep Water Passage
  • The Olive Harvest: A Memory of Love, Old Trees and Olive Oil
  • Coasting: A Private Voyage
  • Walking Home (The Barefoot Sisters, #2)
  • Rowing to Latitude: Journeys Along the Arctic's Edge
  • Trail of Feathers: In Search of the Birdmen of Peru
  • Paddle to the Amazon: The Ultimate 12,000-Mile Canoe Adventure
  • Narrow Dog To Carcassonne
  • Dances with Marmots: A Pacific Crest Trail Adventure
  • Fearless: One Woman, One Kayak, One Continent
  • The Ship and the Storm: Hurricane Mitch and the Loss of the Fantome
There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

Peter Heller holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in both fiction and poetry. An award-winning adventure writer and longtime contributor to NPR, Heller is a contributing editor at Outside magazine, Men’s Journal, and National Geographic Adventure, and a regular contributor to Bloomberg Businessweek. He is also the autho
“Maybe freedom really is nothing left to lose. You had it once in childhood, when it was okay to climb a tree, to paint a crazy picture and wipe out on your bike, to get hurt. The spirit of risk gradually takes its leave. It follows the wild cries of joy and pain down the wind, through the hedgerow, growing ever fainter. What was that sound? A dog barking far off? That was our life calling to us, the one that was vigorous and undefended and curious.” 63 likes
More quotes…