Epicocity Project's exploration of Papua New Guinea in conjunction with National Geographic

In October of 2007, the Epicocity Project returned from a two-month expedition into the rainforests of New Britain, Papua New Guinea. The Epicocity Project’s “Conservation through Exploration” joined a team of scientists in the exploration of this designated biological hotspot. The project was a huge success. Strides were made towards gaining conservation status for an area of New Britain. New species of fish, frogs, butterflies and an active volcano were discovered and the crew first descented two rivers and explored 6 km of caves. The Epicocity Project’s blend of science, adventure and media helped advocate conservation on this rapidly developing island. In recognition of his work on this project, expedition leader Trip Jennings was nominated by National Geographic Adventure for the Adventurer of the Year series.

The Epicocity Project Exploration Team

Trip Jennings (25): Trip Jennings is the owner and founder of the Epicocity Project. He has led whitewater first descents and expeditions in 7 countries on three continents. The National Geographic Society recently awarded Trip the Adventure of the Year for his work on an expedition into the wilds of Papua New Guinea. He’s a professional kayaker who paddles for Wave Sport, NRS and Smith Optics.

Kyle Dickman (24): Kyle Dickman is a producer with the Epicocity Project and a freelance writer. His work has been published by National Geographic Adventure; he regularly contributes to Canoe and Kayak magazine and covers environmental issues in the American west for Forest Magazine. The Sierra Club has endorsed Kyle’s work in documentary film. He paddles for Kokatat.

Brian Eustis (32) recently returned from paddling the length of the Mekong River. Eustis’s film about this adventure, “The Mother of Waters”, was awarded Telluride’s Indomitable Spirit award and finished second in Banff Mountain Film Festivals People’s Choice award. He has logged first descents in China, led kayaking expeditions in Costa Rica and spends his weekends paddling his favorite backyard run, Washington’s Little White Salmon. Brian’s experience with foreign cultures and his skills on the water and with a camera make him an invaluable part of EP.

Andy Maser (22): Andy Maser is the Online and Advertising Coordinator for the Epicocity Project. Andy recently finished second in the collegiate nationals for kayaking and just completed a two-month tour promoting safe whitewater kayaking. He is a professional kayaker who paddles for NRS and Dagger Kayaks.

Scott Feindel (32): Scott Feindel is a professional kayaker who paddles for Dagger and Kokatat. He has been paddling since he was 8 years old and since has kayaked rivers all across North America, South America, Norway, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.

Matt Fields Johnson (24) joined the PNG expedition as a photographer, a kayaker and an expert in ropes and rescue. Matt is studying photography at Bowling Green State University. He has been on photography assignments in Antarctica, Ecuador and Argentina. When Matt’s not shooting photos he is climbing hard traditional routes all over the world, or paddling his backyard run on the Great Falls of the Potomac.

Thanks to National Geographic and the sponsors of the Epicocity Project expedition to Papua New Guinea

As we prepared for our Papua New Guinea expedition, we imagined all the equipment we might need to execute exactly what we had planned. The areas we planned to explore are extremely remote and access to supplies very limited. We also needed to be prepared to live in and navigate through the dense, steep landscape of the PNG rainforest, an area that receives 18 feet of rainfall annually. Essentially, we had to pack our bags in Portland prepared to live off of only what we brought with, could buy in poorly stocked markets or could find in the jungle.

Trip and I sat down and came up with a list of necessary equipment that we needed, and we thank the following sponsors for providing the equipment that made the expedition possible.

We would like to extend a very special thanks to NRS for providing us the multitude of kayaking gear and smaller items that made the expedition possible. I carried my Pro Kayak throw rope with me absolutely everywhere I went, from jungle hikes to caving missions to paddling first descents. My Hydrosilk longsleeve shirt quickly became my single favorite piece of clothing and our 2008 Guide Shirts were comfortable, functional and looked great. The contribution NRS made the expedition was extensive and we very much appreciate their continual support.

An essential nutritional source we relied on during our expedition was Clif Bars. We were, at times, hiking eight hours a day through the rugged rainforest with very limited food supplies. I personally found myself eating three or four Clif Bars a day simply to generate the necessary energy to make it from village to village. When I packed my bags in Portland I filled up my largest checked bag halfway with Clif Bars and by the end of our two months in PNG had eaten almost all of them. We’d like to give Clif Bar a huge thanks for keeping us fueled! My favorites are the peanut butter Builders Bar and the Mountain Mix Mojo Bar. A hint for other expeditioners out there: smother your Clif Bar in peanut butter for additional protein and calorie support.

Kokatat provided the paddling gear to keep Scott Feindel, Kyle Dickman, Brian Eustis and Matt Fields-Johnson comfortable during the expedition. Favorite on-water apparel was the Paclite Knappster and Inner Core long sleeve. While the temperatures never got particularly cold, malaria carrying mosquitoes, flies and rain necessitated long pants and raingear. The Destination Paddling pants and Paclite Anoraks kept these guys warm, dry and insect free while at camp.

A constant struggle that the expedition faced was a battle against infection. Everyone on the trip was on antibiotics from the time we landed to the time we took off, and we still had trouble managing wounds. The Adventure Medical Kits we took with us were utilized every single day from things as simple as wound cleaning to trenchfoot treatment to sprains and strains. In an area with no medical facilities, we were totally on our own, but confident in our abilities to deal with minor injury or sickness.

The staple foods of the PNG jungle are taro, caucau and singapoe, root-vegetables that are extremely bland and offer very limited nutritional value. The main protein source, wild and semi-domesticated pig, unfortunately was unsafe for us to eat because of a risk of trichinosis infection. Alpine Aire foods provided us a supply of lightweight, compact and nutritious freeze dried meals. These meals were essential for the times we had inadequate local food or were living out of out kayaks. Taro wasn’t bad, but it definitely wasn’t what you wanted to pack in your kayak for multi-day adventures! My personal favorite meals were Western Tamale Pie, Chicken Salad Lunch with Crackers and Chocolate Mudslide Pie.

Imagine this scenario: You’re on a National Geographic sponsored expedition to an area with no electricity and you need to constantly have power-hungry HD video cameras running and still cameras firing. Luckily, Jackson Hole based Brunton came to the rescue and provided us two lightweight, fold up solar panels so that we could keep our batteries charged and our expedition on track. During our subterranean adventures we were stoked to have extremely bright and water resistant L3 headlamps to light the way and keep us from falling off of underground cliffs.

The island of New Britain off of mainland Papua New Guinea is very minimally developed. Infrastructure development is driven by the demand for natural resource removal and is carried out primarily by the corporations profiting off of the land. The Australian government has inaccurate topographic maps of the area, but our primary tools for navigation were local guides, Google Earth and our Magellan eXplorist GPS units. Before entering the jungle, we would scout our planned route on Google Earth and plug GPS coordinates into our eXplorist units. In the field, we would then mark additional waypoints based on landmarks we scouted ahead of time online and information from local tribe members. Without these GPS units, we would have been wandering through uncharted jungle with only local people (who we had an extremely difficult time communicating with) guiding our way.

Our adventure in PNG was a difficult one to outfit. We were backpacking, caving and kayaking in very wet, rugged terrain and thus needed lightweight, durable equipment that was also compact. We needed to be able to be able to live out of a kayak for a week at a time, if necessary and be comfortable sleeping in wet, humid environments. Luckily, at the Outdoor Retailer Show in SLC, Trip and I were referred to a company called Nemo tents by our contact at Jet Boil. Nemo makes a line of tents that instead of being supported by poles, is supported by an internal frame of air bladders. They are so compact and light that I easily stored the tent that Scott and I shared in the bow of my Dagger Nomad 8.5.

Due to the multitude of situations we needed to be prepared for and the amount of camera gear we needed, little space was available for clothing. We did however, need to be prepared for heat, cold, sun, rain and malaria carrying mosquitoes. We needed to hike through the sweltering (or very rainy) jungle all day and be able to dry and rewear the same clothes the next day for weeks at a time. The synthetic shorts, t-shirts, buttondowns and raingear supplied by The North Face fit this bill perfectly and held up well enough for us to still wear even after the expedition ended.

In August, Trip and I met in Salt Lake City to finalize our equipment list for the expedition. We stopped by a proven leader in the outdoor footwear industry, Five.Ten, and found exactly the shoes we needed for our PNG mission. The newly released Five.Ten Canyoneer 2 Boots allowed us to do everything we had lined up: multiday backpacking, caving and whitewater kayaking. The shoes performed wonderfully in all situations and were an absolutely indispensable item. I like them so much that they remain my primary paddling shoe. Tip: wear a pair of midweight Smartwools with them for best performance.

Setting out on this expedition without certain safety measures in place would have made for a very sketchy situation. The activities we were doing were dangerous and the location one of the most remote on earth, making access to medical care marginal at best. Two precautions we took were to purchase high quality travel insurance and carry two ACR Microfix units with us at all times. In case of an emergency, you raise the antenna and activate the unit, sending out a signal to NOAA with GPS coordinates. Before the trip we logged onto the NOAA website and provided a detailed description of where we would be and what we would be doing so that if we activated the beacons, rescuers would have as much information as possible to expedite the search and rescue process. Best of all, the search and rescue is FREE. I will definitely not be going on any major expeditions in the future without one of these units.

For the expedition, four out of six members of the team chose Wavesport Habitats. The team needed to be prepared for multi-day missions in conditions ranging from perfectly flat to class five gorges and waterfalls, and the Habitat fit the bill perfectly. They are fast, stable and capable of carrying the gear we needed to live in the jungle for days at a time.

In difficult, remote gorges, your paddle is critical – without it you can quickly find yourself at the mercy of the river. We trust AT paddles because we know, from experience, that they durable and provide the necessary power to run pushy class five whitewater. Our paddle of choice was the AT2 Standard for all applications – from ocean crossings to 50 foot waterfalls.

At EP, we take helmet choice very seriously. You only have one brain, and we believe that protecting it should be a top priority. For this expedition, we chose the Sweet Rocker Halfcut for it’s durable carbon fiber shell and over-the-ears cut that kept us cool in Papua New Guinea’s equatorial heat. When things get a bit hairy, we strap on the Rocker Fullface for extra protection.

Sprayskirts, along with paddles, are a piece of gear that you depend on not to fail. In PNG, we constantly found ourselves clawing through thick jungle and plugging into monster holes, two very trying situations for any sprayskirt. The White Water EXP Armortex Reinforced skirt laughed at sharp vines and sticks and resisted implosion with the help of a plastic reinforcing bar that bridges the gap between your thighbraces.

It’s strange how very expensive electronic equipment and water don’t mix. We however, decided to embark on a kayak mission to a country that receives 18 FEET of rainfall a year with a bunch of expensive cameras and an expensive laptop. Pelican made it work out though by providing us the waterproof boxes we used to keep our gear from getting wet or crushed. After two months in the jungle, we made it back to the States with all of our electronics in full working order (albeit a little dirty from shooting a volcano as it erupted next to us...)

About the Epicocity Project

The Epicocity Project is a kayaking and media team dedicated to promoting environmental stewardship through the blending of adventure, exploration and conservation. We’ve been around since 2003. Our first kayaking video, Bigger than Rodeo, was selected as “Video of the Year” by Paddler Magazine and our second, Mission Epicocity, was the “Editor’s Choice” by National Geographic Adventure. Our environmental documentaries have been endorsed by the Sierra Club and accepted into the Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival. Our work has been aired on National Geographic Television, FOX and has been featured in Banff Film Festival’s World Tour.