Waking in the morning our group was on the fence
again. Rocky voiced concern that the portage would be impossible and
wanted to look into it more. With all our gear packed we were ready to
go, but team solidarity is the name of the game. None of our group had
kayaked with Rocky before, and didn't know if this kind of deliberation
was typical or not, so we agreed to stick together and wait while he
made some phone calls.
During his years exploring river canyons in the
Occidental, Rocky made a lot of contacts with locals including a few in
this area that had done extensive canyoneering. It took us a fair while
to find an operable phone, but once we found a working line options
were discussed while Rocky was inside. We all agreed that to a large
extent we were Rocky's guest on this trip, and that it wasn't fair to
put on a river if a team member was uncomfortable with the situation,
so we'd hike in below the confluence.
Rocky was able to make contact with a friend who,
ago, canyoneered the steepest section of the canyon with an experienced
group and several hundred meters of rope. Two thirty meter ropes. Not
exactly as much as the canyoneering group, but they had assured Rocky
we would have no trouble traversing on the right and getting back to
river level below a six hundred foot waterfall. Great, we were back on!
Anticipation at put-in was still high. Flows were
lower, but we had forty miles and six thousand feet of gradient to go.
The Rio Piaxtla flows through a remote wilderness of dense jungle at
river level and high desert on the plateau. Hiking out was a bleak
option, it would take several days of hiking to exit the canyon and
travel across the plateau to find a road, so we packed our boats with
eight days of food knowing that a downstream exit was the only viable
I know a lot (or few) of photographers follow
was in my camera bag: Nikon D200, Nikkor 20mm f/2.8 AFD, Nikkor 50mm
AFD, Nikon Series "E" 75-150 f/3.5, two extra batteries and 16gb of CF
Our unspoken goal for the day was to get beyond
spire we had seen deep in the canyon on our reconnaissance. As we
paddled our heavy kayaks down the silty waters of the Piaxtla we were
already prepared for this to be an adventure of immense magnitude,
while the first few miles would be easy it could only last so long. The
gorged out section we saw was probably just the tip of the iceberg.
team cruising some beautiful class II at 8,000'.
open class II let us relax and get a few strokes in before ending after
a mile, and some larger rapids started to pop up. Ben runs the first
The slides started intermixing with boulder
after a short distance and a quick portage the river had more boulder
gardens than slides. The water level seemed just about perfect for
getting downstream without hitting too many rocks, and I was in awe of
the constant scenery.
Coombs soaking it in.
As expected the river started to get steeper, but
maintaining a surprisingly pleasant character of larger but still
navigational drops, and of course a fair number of portages.
back upstream at a nice early falls.
Ben and Rocky above a large horizon line in the canyon.
horizon line proved to be nothing but a nice fun slide and falls, Rocky
Jesse Coombs at the horizon line.
We were glad to be making decent time. Although we
nearly a dozen portages under our belts, all were river level and not
too time consuming. Jesse emerges from a beautiful section of river
with a peculiar spire in the background.
the spire section the river steeped considerably and forced us out of
our boats more often than not.
From above we'd seen a large cataract just above
spire, so the large drop was no surprise. We spent some time scouting
it, but there were no viable lines in the unusual falls. Most of the
water fell into a shallow pothole in the center, and our best option
would be to ferry across and get our rope out for the first time on the
portaging but still at river level, Jesse passes down a boat.
Technical portaging always eats up time, and this
no exception. Below we ferried across for an extended scout around the
spire. Water cascaded through narrow, unfriendly cracks as the waterway
wrapped around the spire, until it eventually spilled into a pool
downstream of the monolith. Below the pool was a ledge, leading into a
vertical walled gorge with no portage options, and no end in site.
Dusk was already setting in, the mornings
cost the group several hours. We manged to put-in just after lunch. Not
bad for a half day; we had just barely reached our goal. We set up camp
in the best spot we could find.
in jungle camp numero uno.
It was monsoon season, our camp was only a few
river level, and we were already walled in. Needless to say we all
voiced our appreciation for a nice clear night as we went to bed with
our fingers crossed that both the weather and downstream section would
be gracious to our expedition.