Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Chaotic Weather of the Amazon Basin Lends Itself to Great Kayaking in Ecuador

Enjoy this great blog from Larry on the various natural forces that play out to create the erratic weather we see in Ecuador's Amazon Basin:
 Greg (aka Colorado) boofing the last rapid (aka Fonzarelli) of the Oyacachi at a nice, medium level.

One of the most common questions about this area is “what will the weather be like.” Since there is no reliable forecast and not much of a trend week to week the answer is easy, “no one knows”.  If you want to try to understand some of the variables that occur in the crease between the Andes and the Amazon basin where we paddle here are some of them.
 Darcy and Shannon playing amongst the giant boulders of the Chingual River.  This is a low flow for this run.  It's definitely "game on" when the water is high and those big boulders are giant pour overs!

There are two opposing marine currents that influence the climate of Ecuador’s Andes and coast. From December to May, the warm current of El Niño coming from the north occurs in the Pacific Ocean and for the rest of the year, the cold Humboldt current comes from the south. When one of these currents becomes stronger and persists longer than normal, there are variations in precipitation in the western half of Ecuador. If the El Niño current is stronger and lasts longer than the Humboldt Current, the rains on the continent increase. If the Humboldt is stronger the rains decrease.  This fascinating effect can be felt as far away as the western USA influencing our winter snowpack.

 The entire Quijos Rivers squeezes through this canyon--amazing!

Oddly it doesn’t have a huge direct effect of the rain in the upper Amazon basin since the high peaks of the Andes combine with the prevailing eastern winds to keep that moisture away.  I just wanted to explain that although El Nino occurs off the coast of Ecuador it isn’t the driving rainfall factor where we kayak.

So where does the rain that rules our rivers and paddling lives in Ecuador come from?

 Werner boofs "Da Boof" on the Oyacachi at a healthy medium flow

About half of the precipitation is brought to the upper Amazon basin where we kayak by eastern trade winds, while the other half is the result of evapo - transpiration from the vast forest that covers the basin. Warm days often are followed by convectional rainfall but there is more to it than that.  Those eastern winds bring lots of moisture from long distances so although locally hot sunny days have an effect they don’t rule the weather entirely.
 Dogs and monkeys playing together in Puerto Misahualli.  This has nothing to do with water levels...but it's cute!

Orographic lift occurs when an air mass is forced from a low elevation like the lower super- humid Amazon basin to a higher elevation like the Andes (remember those eastern trade winds). As this humid air mass gains altitude it cools down, which can raise the relative humidity to 100% creating clouds and, under the right conditions, rain.  Wet orographic climate is definitely found on the eastern slopes of the Andes Mountains.

 Greggy enjoying some big water on the Rio Quijos.  It's amazing what 3 centimeters of rain overnight can do to the river!

So, the rain here is usually caused by both hot days creating convectional rain and orographic lifting from the trade winds.  It is kind of a one/two punch that ensures both water in the Ecuadorian rivers and an almost full time job for SWA guides figuring out which run will be the best for the day.  The locals have lots of sayings and superstitions about the weather and most of them mean change is on its way.  The rainfall and topography create unique mega-diverse forests found in the drainages where we kayak and of course lots and lots of great rivers.

 Guy enjoying a splashy big water day on the Rio Cosanga.

And, to bring it all full circle, the best answer to the question, “what will the weather be like,” is the only certainty with the weather in Ecuador is that nothing is certain!

 Liam gets in his big water groove as he starts to be one with the push of a high water Oyacachi

We’ve been keeping track of the weather trends and a great example of this is:

Last year--2012, our last week of the season, February 25th-March 4th, we had dry weather (less than 2 centimeters of rain for the week), low water levels and the average level on the gauge rock outside of our lodge was 10.
 Damian, showing the advantages of low water--the boofs are pretty sweet!

This year—2013, our last week of the season February 23rd-March 3rd, we had incredibly wet weather (19 centimeters for the week), high water levels and the average level on the gauge rock was 18.

 Migual (aka Pilsiner Kitty) boofing the Recon on a perfect Piatua day

But that’s all part of the adventure.  On both trips, we paddled great rivers every single day, but, hey, that’s what SWA guides do!
Will lost in an array of holes on the Chingual.  It doesn't necessarily take huge levels to make munchy holes...

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Review: How does the Recon 83 hold up to Ecuador's Rivers?

 Miguel dodging the massive hole at the bottom of Aspen Extreme and putting the Recon to the test in big water

While Michael has been paddling with us in Ecuador this past month he's been cultivating his alter-ego--Miguel--as well as cultivating what I see as a long-lasting relationship with his new Recon 83.  

Check out what Miguel has to say about the boat:

I had the pleasure this winter to spend a month in Ecuador with Small World Adventures and my good friend Liam Kirkham. I purchased a new Wavesport Recon 83 to fly down to Ecuador for this trip. It is the Green Hornet color which looks awesome on my living room for, but proved to be the same color as mossy rocks in the jungle. Perfect for stashing your boat in the jungle for unexpected hike outs, but quite vampirish when
people are trying to take photos of you.

 Typical scene these last few weeks.  Everyone kept trying to steal Miguel's boat from him to give it a test drive

The Recon comes with a great assortment of custom foam for outfitting. Along with the normal shims it has extra seat padding for those that want to raise their center of gravity and brilliant Velcro backed wedge shaped foam blocks that go into your bulk head in seconds. It has some of the most comfortable outfitting on the market including aggressive thigh braces that keep your knees away from the sides of your boat for those occasional pitons. It comes with a seat lifting ratchet that adjusts the front of your seat upwards pushing your thighs into your thigh braces. While I was leery of this feature at first, it soon became one of my favorite elements of the new outfitting. Ratcheting it up as high as I could, I found I didn't need to put as much pressure on my bulk head to keep my knees locked in. The seat and thigh braces are fully adjustable and it took me only 30 minutes to outfit the entire boat.

Nice trim!  Figuring the boat out on the Oyacachi--a pushy, yet creeky river
Moving the seat forward made the boat lightning fast on edge transitions, but hard to hold a line in big water ferries. Moving it all the way back made it hold a line like it was on rails in big water, but a bit sluggish on edge transitions. Since moving the seat was a snap, slight adjustments can be made until you find your happy place that matches your style.

On the water, I ran a full battery of river tests on it. From the super tight and technical low water Jondachi to the huge water of the Coca.

Designed with many of the new school characteristics of modern creek boats, it's forgiving, yet carves like a dream on edge. With its continuous rocker, it boofs effortlessly. It has a sleeker bow and puffed up stern, which makes it a nimble and fast creeker. It punches holes well and rarely stern squirts. 

Miguel about to see how the Recon punches through breaking wave holes!
I never was a big fan of the Wavesport Habitat, but they have come back screaming into
the market place with what I consider their best creek boat to date.

It comes with lots of well thought out bells and whistles. If I had one thing negative to say about the boat, it would be its weight. Coming in at 50+ pounds without any gear it it, it is one of the heaviest boats on the market. Wavesport claims to have more plastic in its mold then its competitors and with current models of creek boats lasting a month to barely over a year. It would be worth the extra 5 or so pounds to have creek boat that would last a few years.

Overall I would give the Recon 83 two thumbs up and would recommend anyone looking into a new creek boat give this one a try.

 Donde estas Miguel?  That's the one problem with the new "hornet" color scheme, you can't find that boat anywhere.   It's like the boat designers all got together with these silly "black ops" colors to make us lose more boats and therefore buy more boats!  It's a conspiracy I tell you...

Be safe and have fun out there,


Michael "Miguel" Williams

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Kayaking Learning Curve--Find Your "Zone"

 Darcy sliding a fun boof on the Cosanga

Blog Miester Liam is at it again and he's come up with a doozy on finding your perfect learning zone in kayaking.

 Josh enjoying a sunny day on the Oyacachi

   " Make the easy stuff hard and the hard stuff easy"

This is a great mantra to help you improve. Try practicing catching tiny eddies, small boofs, controlled lines,  etc...on a rapid/drop that your very comfortable on. Then when it comes to the harder stuff just focus on getting down the rapid.

For optimal learning, you need to discover your own comfort zones, learning zones and panic zones on the river

In your comfort zone you are able to think a lot more clearly then when your in a state of a anxiety/fear.   You've probably experienced that things "really slow down" when you finally get comfortable/familiar with a rapid or a stretch of river.  Conversely, everything is moving almost uncontrollably fast when you are out your comfort zone.   

 The Jackson Family Mini Cooper has nothing on Beth and the Sprinter!

 How does this work in practice?

 Alex with a nice self-portrait on the last rapid of the Oyacachi

 Fine tuning your boof on a two foot clean ledge with a large calm pool you may well be in your comfort zone and allowed the luxury to think this:

* I'd like to aim at that dip in the water.
* I'd would like to crank the boats over onto a hard edge as I approach the lip
* Reach with my right arm towards the "fall line"
* Extend my left arm
* Bring both legs up towards my stomach.
* Transfer my edge so I land flattish
* Drop my left blade into the water as to stabilize myself on landing.

Devan enjoying week 2 of paddling in Ecuador!

Now compare this to a must make 8 foot boof over a sticky hole with no collection pool below.

Werner on the entrance of Aprodesia.  He's lining up the approach so he can nail the boof over the nasty hole at the bottom.  You want to be spot on here as there is only a 15 foot long pool and then another stout rapid below.

Fear and Anxiety might take over and you are left with a less useful response that most likely sounds like this,

"shit on a stick I need to make this boof or I'm going to swim!"

 Natascha practicing on a tricky lead in to boof on the Oyacachi

Your brain now responds to this challenge by looking back into its catalog to find the information it needs to make this boof. Your best hope the information is there!

 Jessica looking calm and collected as usual

By practicing on the the smaller, less consequential drops we can build up a resource of information for our brains and bodies to store and for us too call upon when we need it. Our responses to the environment (in this example the boof lip) will become more natural. The mechanical motions your body needs to go through will no longer be in a cognitive stage but autonomous.

 Manfred, maintaining his focus on the Cheesehouse section at a pushy level

Enough rambling!

January 12th-20th brought us an Intro to Creeking IV- trip and an Advanced Creeking IV+ trip so there was plenty of opportunity for learning in Ecuador this week!

After a week of Class II/III instruction Klaus made a last minute decision that he didn't want to leave quite yet and so on Sunday he joined the new group to step it up a notch. We kick started the week with a stretch that's sits on the door step of our lodge.

Throw bag games.  Little did Liam know that his own creation would later cause him some sore balls...

With so many people keen to learn this week we planned clinics/discussions for before or after the water. So on day two we kick started the day with a throw bag clinic. To add some fun we had a throw line obstacle course competition, The top prize was free beer so as you can imagine it got quite heated. Alex, Devan and Joshua won their round but I was quite unwilling to give Devan his beer as he managed to tag me in the nuts with quite a spectacular under arm throw line shot.

 The construction workers wondering what the hell the crazy gringos are doing now

 After a couple days more paddling in the Quijos valley both groups headed over to Tena.

We sat on the porch with a cold beer as larry led his land based discussion. I snuck into the group for this one.  Larry's been boating hard stuff longer then I've been alive so I'm trying to sponge as much info, knowledge and experience out of him as I can. I wouldn't be surprised if I got a invoice for coaching on my last day.

 Emma enjoying the calm before the storm on the Rio Quijos
I owe a big thanks to the group who were very very cool about twice getting to the Piatua to find it too high to paddle. They were solid paddlers who went with the flow and appreciated that there are no certainties when it comes to jungle paddling.  So after a longer than normal bus ride—that we took advantage of by having a snack and nap like little kayaking toddlers—we headed to the bypass section of the Quijos.

Damian trying to thread the needle on the Cosanga

In a crass attempt to work her way into TWO of our blogs Jessica joined us for the day. We named a rapid on  this trip "mad dogs and Englishmen."  Not one to duck out of a challenge, I told fellow Brit Alex that the most exciting line was on the left.  30 seconds later he was grinning wisely but swimming to the side after 'his deck popped'. All credit to him though as he front crawled to the side fast and immediately suggested his own punishment of a bootie beer.

 Alex paying his dues

More cracking days of unfamiliar hot weather in the Quijos valley helped us wrap up the week.

 A nice view of the city life in Quito's Old Town

 As always a big thank you to the team.

 Nice jungle AWAY from the city life!

Meanwhile, the Advanced Creeking crew was busying themselves with ticking off many of the classic IV+ runs of Ecuador--Upper Jondachi, Cheesehouse section of the Quijos, Oyacachi and Bridge to Bridge.  They busied themselves with running rapids multiple times, fine tuning "advanced boof strokes" and enjoying porch side talks each evening.

The Advanced Creeking crew scouting on the Upper Jondachi

Small World Adventures

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Too Busy Kayaking, No Time for Blogging!

Tarquino enjoying typical scenery on his home river, the Upper Misahualli.  This photo was taken December 31st.  Not a bad way to end 2012

We've been so busy kayaking in Ecuador that we haven't had anytime to blog about kayaking in Ecuador.  I'm averaging 29-30 days paddling per month since November, I think Don has everyday under his belt since Christmas Day and Guy, Larry, Tarquino, Liam and Greg are well on their way to personal records as well.  And all this paddling has meant not so much time to sit in front of the computer.  Oh well, there are worse things in life I suppose! 

Alex showing the crew how it's done on "Da Boof" Christmas Day
This blog is more of a photo dump than anything else and I'll tell the story through the captions.  These photos are all from Christmas week and New Year's week.  I love paddling the last day of the year and the 1st day of the year--good way to end things and begin things!   

At any rate, I hope you enjoy the photos.

Madison boofing her way down "Breakfast in Bed" on the Piatua River. While all her friends were spending New Year's day hung over and skiing in Salt Lake City, Maddi was getting "freshies" of her own on the Piatua

Ian, who is an excellent photographer (unlike us) takes a moment to be the subject on the Oyacachi

Fresh Granadilla fruits after paddling.  Even though they look like "snot fruit" they are very delicious!

Pat of SLC enjoying some warm water paddling on the Upper Mis.  I'm not sure if Pat loved the paddling in Ecuador more or the night out on New Year's Eve wearing some awesome masks he picked up in town and dancing in the town square with the locals.

Craziest bug I've ever seen!  I thought it was some weird fungus until it starting walking down this plant stock.  You never know what you will find in the Amazon!

 The Brother's Beveridge (well at least one of them) boofing da crap outta "da boof."  The Oyacachi was a whole different animal 1 week later when both Beveridges, Griff, and I went back and this boof rock was making a massive wave.  That's why I love Ecuador, things change so much day to day, week to week, hour to hour, that it's always interesting!
 Tim finishing a stout rapid on the Oyacachi as the rest of the crew looks on.  At least there is a pool below this one!

 Tarquino, SWA's star guide, and Rodrigo, SWA's star shuttle driver, having a chat on the bridge as the boaters get ready to go

 Kerrie nails a great boof on the Piatua.  She rocked the Jackson Zen all week and damn did she make that boat look good!   She was cool, calm and collected all week until it came time to cross the Piatua bridge.  Being a structural engineer, she was not thrilled with the state of the bridge we were crossing...but we made it!

 Scott, brother of Kerrie, bobsledding it on the Upper Mis.  This bro/sis combo was a great kayaking pair.  Both solid boaters hailing from Florida of all places!

 Our wonderful lodge staff--Lauro, Liliana, Jhimena.  Love these guys, couldn't do it without them!

 Madison, Brad and Pat playing with some kids.   The kids gave us some great jungle fruit in exchange for the rides on the kayaks

 Brad boof baby boof.  Brad was hard to photograph since his boat blended in with the water so well, but HA!  We got you here Brad.

 "Widows" aka men dressing up like women and dancing in the streets to raise money for their New Year's party.  Memo was giving this girl (I mean guy) a hard time for just asking for money without dancing, so he ended up doing a nice butt grind on the side of the van.  Oh baby!  New Year's in Ecuador!

 Josaphine going for the gold!  Sometimes a slightly botched move ends up looking pretty damn spectacular.  Nice move J!

 Kids messing around at the put in

Jared, showing us how it's done