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Rio Piaxtla, Durango, Mexico

Episode Seven

   Waking from a fitful night we were more than a little relieved about the absence of rain. Our minuscule camp was just inches above river level.

Ben Stookesberry, Rocky Contos and Jesse Coombs ready for another day deep in the gorge. Not the boxed in tributary across the river.

   Putting on we were back in the standard Piaxtla puzzle. Tough portages and often dubious rapids. Over the next hour we expended a lot of effort to get out of the canyon, and were glad to relax in a large pool below the gorge. Hoping to have the last gorge behind us, the Piaxtla opens up and teases us with an ideal campsite.

James Dusenberry with a hundred yard gaze.

Every time the river opened up just a little we assumed we'd made it past the gorges, but the following bend in the river would contain another surprising gorge.

Another mini gorge.

Moves on the river were unlike any we'd experienced before. Jesse Coombs explaining the line, an upstream ferry under the boulders and into the right channel.

Ben Stookesberry heading down the right channel after the sieve ferry. Locked in again.

   The largess of the river bed and low water gave us space to move under the rocks. An easy ferry through a sieve, no big deal. On the other hand a class V rapid leading into a navigational sieve was more than unique, it was slightly terrifying. Thankfully we were numbed by the past weeks experience in the canyons of the Piaxtla and it didn't seem too bad.

Ben Stookesberry leads the charge.

   Past the sieve rapids the river started to meander through the deep canyon. Looks like the excitement is over and we can start on the long paddle out through what should be class II-III.

Jesse Coombs soaks in the scenery.

Rounding the proverbial river bend, our laughter ceased and stomachs tightened.

   Once again the river plunged over several boulder strewn cataracts into a vertical walled gorge. We were too short on food to attempt an all day portage, as if that was even an option. The high canyon walls were cliffed out and a river level attack was the only choice.

Ben Stookesberry contemplating how the river can drop through such a foreboding place.

   The canyon looked menacing to say the least, and we took a long break while the inexhaustible Mr Stookesberry scouted high on the canyon walls. Even with extensive scrambling and climbing he was able to ascertain nothing about the gorge, and had nothing positive to say about portage options. Rapids led into the gorge, and we decided to space out our team as we dropped in. In this manner we would be able to, with some creative rope work, pull out every team member if the gorge was impossible. 

Ben Stookesberry above the rapid that would start committing us to the gorge.

   From his vantage Ben signaled that the rapid was a portage and could be walked on the right. I paddled down to him and talked over a plan. He was now at the last point of self recovery, and I would portage and ferry across to hopefully ascertain what happened in the gorge as it turned a corner. From his position he would be able to extract me if necessary.

The portage into the gorge. 

Looking back upstream from my vantage point. Extraction would be tough. 

   I could only see a little further into the gorge, where the river turned right beyond my view. I would be able to extract one person from downstream, and Rocky Contos volunteered to probe around the corner.

   Personal apprehension peaked. Knowing we had no portage option, and the whole gorge entrance was filled with rock chocked sieve piles, I was worried we be forced to running something we'd never ordinarily contemplate. As Rocky paddled around the corner we all held our breath. Minutes passed like an eternity, until he returned to view and gave the classic okay signal, a pat on the head.

The rest of the team joins Rocky in the "Gates of the Piaxtla".

Jesse Coombs and Rocky Contos.

Glad to have made it through such a deep dark crack in the earth, Jesse Coombs.

   Past the "Gates of the Piaxtla" we made a few more portages around sieves and then finally started making good time. Exhausted physically and emotionally by the turmoil of such a journey, we setup a nice camp in the afternoon before a sudden wind picked up and blew in the first storm of our trip. As rain pummeled down we were thankful that the river and weather had graced us with fortuitous circumstances and let us pass through unscathed. 

First rain in a week during monsoon season. We got lucky.

Glad it's over, a rare image of the author.

   In the morning we packed up camp and made the final, twenty odd kilometer push to town, where we'd begin our prolonged journey home.

Finding lodgings in town and looking forward to a hot shower.

Leaving the next morning, views of the river canyon made us all appreciate the fact that we had not been forced to attempt hiking out.

Seven days and a lifetime of adventure. Thanks to Eddie Bauer/First Ascent for sponsoring this expedition.