Last week, a call for help swept across social media and onto the websites of national magazines and hometown newspapers. On Sept. 30, five American kayakers had activated a satellite-beacon distress signal in a remote part of eastern Tajikistan. Other than the team’s geographic coordinates, the message contained no information. Expedition kayaker Fred Norquist summed up the general feeling in his Facebook feed on Oct. 1: “This does not sound good,” he wrote. “Please share.”
The paddlers, Nate and Matthew Klema, Ben Luck, Charles King and Cooper Lambla, had been hiking over the 16,800-foot Takhtakorum Pass to reach the Musku River, a sliver of whitewater that cuts through the heart of the Pamirs, the third-highest mountain range in the world. The region’s extreme remoteness would have felt familiar to the kayakers, all experienced expedition paddlers who had spent the previous two months paddling in Siberia and Kyrgyzstan.