After 2 great months of charging Chile and Argentina, we headed back to Santiago for a flight to Quito, Ecuador to begin the last leg of the South America trip. After arriving and spending a night in the airport, we headed for Baeza, one of the major hotspots for paddling in the country.
Cascada San Rafael, a massive 500 foot stout outside of Baeza
While Ecuador does not have the massive clean waterfalls like Chile and Argentina do, it does have some of the most fun whitewater of anywhere I have been. There is loads of steep continuous rapids and huge boofs, set in the middle of lush equatorial jungle, yet mostly with simple logistics.
After a few Casa de Queso laps on the Quijos and a quick run down the Cosunga on my first day in town, we were discussing plans for the next day over dinner and pilsners at Mama Ginas restaurant and decided to check out the Alto Quijos the next day. The bottom part of Alto Quijos has seen a few descents but the top had only been run once before, 15 years ago, so we were essentially dropping into the unknown given the rate of change of Ecuador’s rivers.
Loading up the kayaks for the full day journey to the Alto Quijos put in
Vicente was really the one who made the trip happen, he got us access to the road to get closer to the put in, gave us all a ride in his truck to the top, and helped arrange horses. I think he was really stoked just to get us into the shit and laugh if we had to spend more nights in the jungle than we intended. We planned on one day of hiking to the top, and one full day of paddling out if all went well.
Hiking to the Alto Quijos Put in
The first and only glimpse of the gorge from the hike in
We loaded up the horses and spent the day hiking to the top of this huge gorge on a muddy trail used by the few local who live up in the valley. We arrived at the put in at 2 smaller tributaries coming together to make a runnable river, and spent a fortunately dry night in hammocks. We put on early the next morning and began picking our way down this awesome creek! We found it to be mostly class IV and IV+ with a few stouter sections and just 1 real portage…that is until we hit where they are building a road, just a mile or two above the confluence with the Papallacta and our takeout.
Jay Mahan running one of the big ones on the Alto Quijos
There is a dam going in on the Papallacata and for building or maintenance or whatever reason, there is a road going in thousands of feet above the Quijos river. They were blasting for the road and knocking tons of debris into the river, causing massive landslides and debris piles to block the river and make horrible horrible blast rapids with even worse portages. After about 10 of these we came to where they were working. We tried to get past as quick as possible, and just as we were around 100 yards downstream they sent a barrage of trees and huge rocks into the river behind us! We got out of there as quick as possible rallied to the takeout! The top part of the run was sick, but the hassle and danger of the bottom part makes me unlikely to want to go back unless it cleans up, but it was a sweet adventure!
After a few more days of paddling around Baeza, we headed down the mountain to the steamy jungle town of Tena, home to many more classic Ecuador rivers. One of the most awesome things about Ecuador is how simple logistics are. All of the taxis are trucks, and all the drivers know the put ins and takouts of the classic rivers. They pick you up from your hotel, you tell them where you want to go and they will be at the takeout a few hours later! So simple and good.
Typical shuttle ride in Ecuador on the way to the Rio Jondachi
Since we were in Ecuador for a relatively short period of time, we just tried to do as many new rivers as possible, something different everyday. Highlights of Tena were the Jondachi, Hollin, Missualli, and Jatenyacu. Ill just let a few photos do the talking.
Nice put in 20 footer on the Hollin
Colin with some take out snacks in Missualli. Streetmeat, fried plantain and a Pilsner Beer.
At the Rio Jatenyacu, the kids at the takeout were stoked on paddling our boats.
One of the sickest swimming holes in the middle of the jungle!
After Tena, we headed up to the town on Banos, a major tourist destination but also where some of the best rivers in Ecuador are located. On the way into town we noticed a massive strange cloud hovering above the city. As we got closer we realized that the nearby volcano was having an enormous eruption sending plumes of ash miles into the sky and spurting lava down the side…however no one in the town seemed to be worrying to much, so we tried to get a good night sleep listening to the distant rumbling of this thing erupting. The next morning the eruption had subsided so we went to the Rio Topo, probably my favorite river of any we did in Ecuador. It was 8 miles of class IV/V large boulder gardens and more great boofings than almost anywhere. Super great! However, the top half is in the process of being dammed (same with loads of great whitewater rivers in Ecuador) so if you want to experience this gem, go now!
- There was a volcano going off when we arrived in Banos, no one really seemed concerned though.
The last river we paddled of the trip was the Rio Encanto, or the enchanted river. It is a really sick box canyon in the middle of the jungle, which is kind of a danger in itself because of the constant threat of flash flooding. But the skies and forecast were clear (haha) and we ended up having a great day routing this nice little waterfall run. Ecuador was an awesome destination and great cap to the south american summer! I am now back in the Pacific Northwest USA for the next few months, kayaking the little white everyday and loving life!