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Rio Piaxtla, Durango, Mexico

Episode Four

Clouds covered the sky as evening rolled in, but we slept through the night without interruptions from rain. Count off one more lucky night, how many could we have?

Jesse Coombs strolls through a great campsite on the morning of day three on the water.

When talking about the canyon optimists declared that on day three we'd get past the big waterfall. Pessimists said day four or five. I said day three but packed enough food for the extra day. Either way we knew that at the minimum we'd be reaching the giant today, and got an early start. 

Paddling away from camp we encountered more of the expected boulder gardens and portages. Seal launching in after a sieve.

As we made slow progress down the river, Rocky insisted on checking the map every half hour or so. I wasn't too worried about where exactly the big waterfall was, because it was down there and we'd have to figure out a way to get around it. Knowing whether it was half a kilometer away, or a full kilometer didn't really matter to me. Then again, maybe we should be paying attention so we can start the portage early enough.

James Dusenberry taking a look downstream.

Suddenly the canyon opened up a considerable amount and we paddled up to the lip of a nice slide. Ben and I ran the fun slide first, but as we went I had an inexplicable feeling that this might be the end of the trail, so to speak.

 Jesse Coombs enjoying the slide.

James Dusenberry on the same, with classic Piaxtla scenery.

After a brief pool below the slide, the river split into bedrock channels and twisted around the corner jettisoning a prolific amount of vertical feet.

Is it a massive sieve, or sweet waterfall with a rock bridge over it? Technically both? Either way it did really go. Right into a long, slow moving pool above a horizon line to humble many others. No "good to go" signals on this one.

Rocky Contos peers over the brink.

Leaving our boats at the bottom of the slide, we all hiked downstream to get the view. Outstanding. Not even the big one? I didn't want to get too close to the edge, this one was big enough.

Totally walled out on both sides, this wasn't going to be an easy task. Two thirty meter climbing ropes, aka about two hundred feet of climbing rope. One two hundred foot waterfall below us that would require a sketchy over the knot rappel and rope abandonment. If the rope was actually long enough and we could find a good anchor. Plus the six hundred foot waterfall that appeared to be locked in the gorge somewhere downstream. We quickly wrote this option off.

Hiking back up to camp we damn well knew we were deep into it and had a big problem to solve. Ben and Rocky offered to climb around and scout a portage route. It wasn't a hard sell and the rest of us spent our time around camp washing in the water trying to assuage our rashes, napping and conserving energy for the potential epic we would have to face.

Dry gear is light gear.

It was fortuitous that just above the premonition slide was a nice grassy camp.

Five more days of food, ten to fifteen miles down and still about thirty miles to go. Let's hope the pace picks up or I'll be hungry by take-out.

Rocky and Ben came back from the extensive scouting mission with good news. Free range cattle had used the hillside to access the river, and left a network of mediocre trails behind them. We should be able to climb a considerable amount to a large bench, then bushwhack traverse for a kilometer, and according to the map, drop down a steep but well graded ravine back to the river downstream of the big waterfall. Ben estimated a three hour portage. I knew it would be at least four to six hours, but of course hoped for only three. We expected it would be a lot of work in the high elevation desert heat, but three days ago when we put on, we knew something of this nature was imminent.

Rocky Contos taking notes from the day.

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