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Exploration of the Middle Alseseca

   Episode Four
Group morale was up from the highly rewarding Trout Farm section the day before, and we were equally fired up to have everyone back on the water for another day of exploration. Israel once again secured us more details from the locals, who said that there were five waterfalls in this section. The planned run was hike in at the footbridge, our previous days take-out, and kayak down to the first vehicle bridge since the Classic Run’s take-out. This bridge was our original planned take-out for a two day trip, and here we were after four days on the river, one scouting, and we were packing our boats with overnight gear unsure of our ability to make it to the take-out bridge before dark. Not that we were starting late in the day, several of our days including this one started just before day break in Tlapacoyan.

Hiking in went by quickly since it was all downhill and only a mile or two, and we were on the water by 9:30, and quickly made time through small class II rapids and flat water for about a half kilometer before the first major horizon line.

What happened? Everyone isn’t looking so fired up about this one!

Eric Seymour.

   Things weren’t looking so good, the first major drop of the day was a 25-30 footer which had at least 80% of the water flowing into a undercut of unknown depth on the right that continued downstream over fifty feet past the drop. 

Phil Boyer wondering where the nice clean ones went.

Besides having a major undercut on the right, the drop had an undercut on the left as well. As if this wasn’t bad enough, the waterfall had a slope that would naturally push you into the fold and undercut.

If there was a portage route, I believe all of us would have portaged downstream without hesitation. The bad news was that there seemingly were no portage options, unless you wanted to jump in ten to fifteen feet downstream from the base of the falls and deal with the undercuts out of you boat, or of course hike back upstream to the foot bridge, but no one was willing to give up at this point. We searched and searched for portage or seal launch options but weren’t able to find any good looking options and went back to scouting the waterfall. 

Almost an hour was spent looking at options, and Ben decided to run it and get us moving. He nailed the line, but still came precariously close to the undercut on the right.

   Still not liking it, Eric did a thorough search of the left bank for a decent spot to jump from, and found a small ledge that put us a little further downstream and about twenty feet off the water. Meanwhile, Phil decided to give the falls a go, he nailed the line as well but still struggled to avoid getting pushed into the undercut wall.

Phil Boyer, the first of five waterfalls.

Eric positioned himself on a slippery ledge while Rafa, Nick and I made a chain to pass boats to throw into the river. We all knew the first throw was supremely important, because what happened to the boat would be dictating the rest of our day. We also wanted to leave our cameras in our kayaks, so we wouldn’t have to deal with them while swimming the questionable undercut on the left. This posed a bit of a problem as we wanted to throw our boats flat enough to not fill up, but not completely boof em and make the expensive equipment take a big hit. Eric got a good throw on his boat, but we all watched in concern as it was quickly pushed into the undercut on the left. The boat bumped up against the wall and to everyone’s relief, eventually made it’s way downstream. We all inwardly rejoiced at this, knowing that the swim with the undercut wouldn’t be death defying, although probably a little scary. The train of boats continued, all going up against the wall but working their way downstream. Phil Boyer did a great job here rounding up the boats and ingeniously tying our paddles onto a vine that reached to river level. Eric led the way and jumped in about fifteen feet off the wall, resurfacing maybe ten feet off the wall and moving towards it quickly. He got is feet up and worked downstream, only going under once and giving us the good to go sign. We all followed, and in all reality were more worried about the current person on the wall than we were about ourselves.

We regrouped and made our way just a little bit downstream before encountering another waterfall, which had a rather nasty cave formation at the bottom.
Rafa liked it and checked out his line, and once we were all ready he styled the line on this thirty footer that had a large cave on the right, and another downstream on the left.

Rafa Ortiz on the second waterfall of the day.

   Rafa got a little funk at the bottom, but rolled up and dexterously avoided both caves. Nick liked the line as well, and ran it once Rafa was safe at the bottom. 

Nick Troutman, Middle Alseseca

Nick had a great line down the top, but ended up having his paddle a little too high at the bottom and it was snatched out of his hands by the big foam pile. He flushed out down the left side and gave several hand roll attempts before swimming while entering the cave on the left. We couldn’t see much from our angle on the left, but Nick said it was pulling him under but thankfully there were hand holds in the pitted basalt rock, and he was able to keep his head up and work his way downstream. This was a pretty sobering moment for all of us on the trip, as his boat was still stuck in the cave and slowly disappearing underwater.

Recovering Nick’s kayak wasn’t a question, it was a necessity with how far out we were. Phil stepped up and was willing to be lowered in, with Nick and I running belay, and Eric controlling his depth into the cave with a throw rope from the right side of the river. The boat extraction went well, and we recovered the kayak with minimal risk. 

Moving downstream it didn’t take long at all for us to reach the third waterfall. A few of us didn’t like the look of this one, so we portaged down the left and seal launched in at the base. On the other hand, Ben, Rafa and Phil seemed to like this waterfall, a narrow thirty-five to forty foot drop that ended with a big foam pile and rock wall that stuck out to back it up.

Phil Boyer on “Speedtrap”

Phil’s run ended up setting the standard for this drop, coming in fast, resurfacing in the base, and getting worked on the left wall for a bit before flushing.

One short pool led into another great drop, a nice ten-foot boof followed by a nice big pillow drop.

Nick Troutman goes into the big pillow.

A right turn in the river led to an enormous horizon line that a few team members got out on the right, returning ten minutes later with news that we would have to portage on the left. The initial part of the left portaged looked a little dangerous, it would involve swimming down to a steep wall that didn’t have an eddy, and clambering up the slippery rock face without getting pulled down into the portage. We quickly setup a line on Eric and he made the move up the face with no problems, and was quickly followed by other team members. A nice portage route was quickly made and we got our boats to the lip of the big waterfall. This was a big combo, it had a twenty foot drop, really a mini-pooper for any NBN II fans, and the mini-pooper led into a eighty to one hundred footer that was possibly clean, but not a gimme by any means. Rafa and I jumped quickly while the group started lowering boats down using two throw lines attached together.

Phil Boyer on another big jump.

I couldn’t resist getting the classic slow shutter speed shot of this beautiful waterfall.

 Somewhere in here Rafa’s skirt started to separate at the deck and tunnel, and he had a massive foot long separation. Ben came to the rescue with some dental floss and a multi tool, but a fair amount of time was lost and it was getting late. 

Back in our boats we paddled a short ways until a scout where it looked like the river might deal with a major cave feature again. Thankfully it didn’t and we ran a nice 15 footer with a lead in rapid and fun exit rapid.

Phil Boyer, a nice clean one.

Some jumbled class III-IV rapids came up after this, then canyon walls started to loom ahead with a long, splashy rapid and light fading fast. We were all stressed about camping out at this point, as most of us had somewhere between full overnight gear and standard one day gear in our kayaks. I had a ground pad but no sleeping bag, and most importantly extra food. A quick scout revealed a clean rapid, and we all ran through it and were rejoicing at the end when we saw Israel, waving from the truck on a small bridge over the river. Taking five days to complete what we had hoped to do in two, we are all relieved to be off the river before dark, quickly load gear and head into town, anticipating good food and lots of sleep.

Alseseca Exploration Five

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