Thursday, December 30, 2010

Colorado Group Storms Ecuador--Creates New Boating Group--DumBrownz

(Cathy about to un-cork a boof on the Piatua River)

Dec. 18th—the creation of the “DUMBROWNZ”

None of us knew it would happen or anticipated its creation. It just sort of came into being of natural forces, materializing of its own volition.

Much of the group creation’s credit is actually owed to Dan S. for throwing “the brown” while upside down in his kayak in the middle of a HUGE wave train. It was insane, nuts, unprecedented—way beyond cutting edge—we’d never seen anything like it, there were no words to describe it except that it was pure dumbrown.

(Dan--Dumbrownz--Simon in his element on the Upper Jondachi)

So then we got to talking about how we are all too old (most of us over 30 years of age) to really know or understand what the DemShitz movement was all about. So, we figured it we can’t join em, we’ll just make our own damn club! And thus, the Dumbrownz was created. The Dum is because we are too dumb to know what “DemShitz” means, and the Brownz is all about throwing “the brown” in sick situations like while you are upside down in a rapid (Disclaimer: the dumbrownz are all about safety so we only condone throwing the brown while upside down in BIG WATER rapids, not on shallow rivers).

(Cindy, crew leader, boofing her way down Lavadora on the Lower Cosanga)

And thus, DumBrownz was born. Meet the team: Dan, Cindy, Stacey, Susan, Steve, Brent, Cathy, Bill, Norwood, Don, Larry and Darcy.

(Susan running the Lower Cosanga, and anticipating a nice cold Piliner on the porch of SWA's lodge at the take out)

Now, this is an exclusive club and not just anyone can join, so don’t go around all thinking you can be part of the DumBrownz without paying your dues. First, you must be 25 years of age or more. 2nd, you gotta be able to throw the brown while upside down. It’s cool to throw it while upright too, but the ability to do it while inverted is a must!

(Stacey concentrating on the approach to Tres Huevos Upper Jondachi)

It’s cool to watch just a regular group of paddlers come down to Ecuador, be transformed into The DumBrownz, and then watch them rock the rivers of Ecuador. Ecuador has never seen so much dumb and brown in one week together! The hit list included: Quijos, Cosanga, Piatua, Upper Jondachi, and the Oyacachi.

(Steve, 9-time Small World veteren, came back for more and showed his stuff on the rivers of Ecuador)

Cindy was on her comeback tour from her recovery from ACL reconstructive surgery. The mud-laden trails of Ecuador were no match for her new knee having been strengthened by hard core PT over the past 6 months. All was well, and I think Cindy can confidently say that she is BACK!

(Brent shredding a wave on the Rio Quijos)

Supporting her on this comeback tour was her posse from the Front Range. While all their friends were back in Denver languishing in cold temps, this crew was sporting shorty tops and paddling through amazing jungle scenery.

(Cindy posing in front a pretty little birdy getting ready for a playboating session on the Lower Quijos. Thanks Cindy for rallying your crew to come down and paddle with us!)

DumBrownz, I love you shitz! Can’t wait to throw some brown back in Colorado this summer. Keep it real—SWA.

(Bill, demonstrating the signature DumBrownz move)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cofanes River, Ecuador

After years of anticipation, the river was even more amazing than I had expected. After 2 hours or so of wide open boulder garden rapids (think Piatua on steroids) we dropped into a seemingly endless section of short, but super tight, box canyons. The middle stretch of the Cofanes River serves up one bedrock canyon after another. Luckily, most of the rapids in these canyons were Class III and IV and we quickly passed through without any epics . Only 1 canyon gave us major delay—the 2nd real canyon of the trip. The entry drop—a 10 or so foot folded falls—was somewhat hard to scout, but we quickly saw enough to know that it went. But, what we couldn’t see was what was next. It was clear it was a smooth-walled bedrock canyon and we couldn’t see past the 1st drop.

(Don entering tight box canyon #1 of the trip)

So we committed ourselves to a little jungle excursion to complete the scout. It took us 2 hours and a little rope work to rappel 40 or so feet down the sheer canyon wall to get a river level view, but we finally saw the entire canyon and were pleased with what we saw. We went back to our boats and reaped the benefits of our hard work as we dropped in and enjoyed 4 sweet rapids in the bottom of a little crack in the earth that we knew few other people in this world had seen. We paddled another hour that day and then settled into a nice riverside camp just above another bedrock canyon.

(Don in one of the many bedrock canyons on day 2)

The next day brought an amazingly long section of bedrock canyons—first grey walls, then red, then black—truly an incredible place. Although the river bed up by the put in is wide-open and at least 100 feet wide at any given moment, the river in these canyons often squeezes down to only 15 feet wide. We were blessed on this trip with low water and NO unmanagable logs in any of the box canyons. A high water event on this river would spell disaster for kayakers; so if you go, make sure you start with low water and you'd better pray that it doesn't rain all night while you are camping out!

Around 10am we arrived at the only mandatory portage of the trip—fortunately, it does not lay in one of these box canyons! It’s a large rock fall that has created a series of sieves and tunnels that are, in their current state, unnrunable. Luckily, there is a nice shore to portage along!

(Some of the amazing scenery on the Cofanes River--there was a flock of Macaws living on this wall and our floating presence caused quite the melee).

From the beginning of our scout/portage we had a great view downstream and saw what we thought was a significant tributary coming in 200 meters or so below the portage. At the put in, the locals had told us of a waterfall that lay between smooth-walled cliffs. They were arguing back and forth about the height of this falls with some maintaining that it was 10 meters tall, while others were certain it was 30 meters tall. We suspected the waterfall (be it 30 feet or 100 feet depending on which locals we chose to believe) would be somewhere near this confluence. Between our portage and the tributary, everything looked easy and good to go save for 1 ledge just below the portage.

(Don "probing" the waterfall/ledge just below the portage)

From way up high at the beginning of the portage I guessed the ledge would be more or less 5 feet tall. We saw it would be hard to scout the landing, but with such a short drop, I knew we could easily boat scout enough to see the place with the best outflow to fling off of it. There was a massive pool above it and, even though this ledge was stuck between two sheer cliff walls, the overall situation seemed very manageable.

45 minutes later when we finished the portage and were much closer to the “ledge” I realized it wasn’t really just a ledge, it was “The Waterfall.” Upon realizing this, my initial reaction was actually relief since it was clear the thing was NOT 100 feet tall. But I soon became a bit worried because it was also clear that it was a lot taller than 5 feet!

(Darcy navigating the rapids in one of the Cofanes' many canyons)

We were at least able to get a pretty good scout from river right—enough that we were 98% confident the landing was good. We were able to climb up the cliff wall enough to see that the right side of the drop was no good. We couldn’t see the landing itself on river left, but since we could see what the water was doing just below the landing, we were able to reasonably assure ourselves that it was good to go. Don elected to go first and probe. Moments after he dropped out of sight I heard his excited hoot from the bottom. I could tell from the tone of his hooting how stoked he was at the bottom of the drop. I knew it must be a sweet, clean falls! I followed him and had a nice line off the 20ish foot drop. The sun was shining up the canyon and in the falls you could see just how amazingly clear the water was—it was a beautiful moment--Just me and Don in an incredible river canyon, figuring things out, and each of us equally stoked that we’ve found a partner to enjoy these sorts of journeys with. Most people aren’t lucky enough to have their best friend and boating partner also be their boyfriend.

(Darcy stoked to be hucking the falls and extra stoked that it wasn't 30 meters tall!)

After Don and I both successfully ran the waterfall that I was confident was the same falls that the locals were talking about, I felt a huge sense of relief. All along, I believed that if we could make it past the falls, the rest would be easy. And indeed, the boating eases up quite a bit after the waterfall and the 17 miles between the falls and confluence with the Chingual flew by. We’d done the Chingual before and knew if we could make it to the confluence before dark, we could make it out that night since we knew that section of river well. So, 2 days later we emerged from the Cofanes, reveling in the experience and the amazingness of the place.

(Narrow spot in the river--luckily, most the places like this held flat water, not big rapids)

We had planned on 4 days for the run, but it only had taken us 2; leaving us still with 2 more days off of work. So we started thinking...We knew all the rapids and canyons were clear of wood, we had paddled the 50 kilometer run in 14 hours NOT knowing it…we knew we could easily cut off the 2 hours we had spent scouting the 2nd canyon, and could probably cut off another hour or 2 skipping all the other scouting and boat scouting we had done on the first trip (luckily we both remember rivers/rapids for a living so felt confident we could remember most of what we needed to).

(Darcy 6 hours into it on trip 2, starting to feel tired, but keeping in good spirits knowing that the take out wasn't too far now)

So, we decided, what better way to get the chance to see that awe inspiring river again without stressing out about all the “what ifs” Do it in 1 day! We repacked our boats for just a day trip; carrying a little bit of emergency camping gear "just in case" but overall keeping the boats light for our 1-day mission.

(Cayembe on our drive to the put in for lap 2 on the Cofanes)

We got an amazingly clear day and had remarkable views of Cayembe on our drive to the put in. We put in at 8:11am, and set ourselves to the task. 8 hours and 20 minutes later we were tired but satisfied and happy at the take out. We saw even more macaws on this 2nd trip down (at least 50 if not more), we saw 4 Andean Cock of the Rocks, tons of Torrent Ducks, and more breath-taking scenery in 1 day than most people get in a month.

Mostly, this river reminded us why we are kayakers. We love exploring new places and getting the chance to visit areas that people couldn’t otherwise see—if not from a boat.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Bimbo Bread? Say what? Class IV Kayaking in Ecuador

Lyle of Virginia nails his boof on the Lower Cosanga

November 27th brought as a fun crew from Colorado, Virginia, Austria, and the UK to paddle some of Ecuador's finest Class IV Rivers.

Ursula from Austria joined us for 2 weeks this winter. She is one tough bad ass kayaker! Here she is on the Upper Jondachi.

Then, one day while we were in Tena I was out shopping for lunch supplies and, as always, noticed the shelves upon shelves of BIMBO bread. I've always wondered about this brand and in a middle school kind of way snickered to myself about the name. So with the new and improved educational SWA blog in mind I decided to do some research on the brand.

That doesn't look like a Bimbo to me, that looks like a bear...

Bimbo bread is a product of a company called Grupo Bimbo which was established in Mexico in 1945. Today, it is one of the biggest baking companies in terms of production volume and distribution around the world.

Tim surfing "The Thing" just below the Quijos and Oyacachi confluence.

Grupo Bimbo is the #4 largest food corporation in the world behind Unilever, Kraft Foods, and Nestle. For obvious reasons, they've had some issues selling their products in North America (under the Bimbo name). But, throughout even the most remote areas in Latin America, Bimbo bread is king.

Dave boofing in Lavadora on the Cosanga River

Dave has been spending 2 weeks each season with us for the past four years in preparations for his trip to paddle the Amazon River from source to sea. While Dave is definitely a crazy Brit for wanting to do this, he also has a super cool plan for carrying out his dream. And we are stoked that he's picked us to help him with the whitewater portion of his training!

Lyle lending a helping hand to some local kids delivering wood to their father's furniture-making shop. Incidentally, Don bought a lovely shelf at this place, so it was win win for the kids and dad!

Back to Bimbo: Unlike in English, the name Bimbo doesn't really mean anything in Spanish. Supposedly the name comes from a mixing of the words "bingo" and "bambi" as the company was trying to appeal to young children. Don't ask me why a Mexican corporation wanted to mix English words for their product, but they kind of blew it if they wanted to market to the English-speaking world!

Tim and Lyle hiking into the Upper Jondachi--with each Small World Adventures trip kayakers get a little jungle tour. What a bargin!

Ursula and Tim admire El Chaco's beautifual geology

Bimbo did officially enter the US market in 1996 but not under the Bimbo name. The corporation bought Pacific Pride Bakeries out of San Diego and began to set roots in the US.

The gang celebrating at the take out of the Upper Jondachi. Included with your Small World Adventure: great hiking, a jungle tour, beers at the take out, and Bimbo bread!

Today Bimbo owns a lot of bread in North America as well as Latin America. In the US, "Bimbo USA" now controls Pacific Pride Bakeries, Mrs. Baird's Bakery, Oroweat, Thomas's Bagels, Entenmann's, and Boboli Pizza crusts. Now, aquisition of Sara Lee is in the works. My goodness, Bimbo is taking over the bread world!

A stunning view up the Borja Valley, it's good to come home to sights like this

Saturday, December 04, 2010

November 20th Intro to Creeking Course

(Guy demonstrating beautiful paddling technique on the Upper Cosanga)

November 20th was our 1st Intro to Creeking course of the season and we had some awesome, gung-ho paddlers who were stoked to work on their creeking game!

(Craig nailing an awesome boof on the Rio Piatua while Ursula performs 2 crucial jobs--photography and safety)

We boofed, we boat scouted, we eddy-hopped, we worked as a team, and spent the week fine tuning our creeking skills, and putting them to practice on some of Ecuador's best Class IV- and IV creeks.

The topic of sloths also came up (after we saw this one) and there were lots of questions I didn't know the answers too--such as "how long do sloths live?" I've done some research, so kick back and learn all you'll ever need to know about sloths!

#1, Sloths in zoos have lived to be 40 years old, but scientists believe that 20 years is a more typical life span for sloths in the wild.

(Midge--8 week SWA vetern--puts his forward stroke to use on the Upper Cosanga)

Sloth fact #2. Their fur, which often gets covered in a coat of blue-green algae during the rainy season, grows in the opposite direction of most mammals. Because sloths spend so much of their time hanging upside down, their hair grows away from the extremities to protect them better while they are upside down. Sloth fur, besides growing in a funny direction, is also special because it is a sort of small ecosystem. Because there is so much cyanobacteria (blue-green algae), sloth fur is host to a wide range of tiny, non-parasitic insects. Sloths have also been know to lick the algae off themselves to supplement their diet (which is mainly leaves, but some sloths do eat the occasional insect).

(Guy going over the mental checklist as he leaves the lodge: Helmet--check, PFD--check, spray skirt--check, drytop--check.)

#3. As everyone knows, sloths are notoriosly slow. But just how slow...? On the ground, the maximum speed of a sloth is 6.5 feet per minute. They do much better in trees (when they can hang), moving at a max speed of 13 feet per minute. Perhaps the disparity is because they are adapting to the face pace of city-life, but I've seen the sloths in Tena move faster...I've seen them go at least 8 feet in 20 or 30 seconds, but then they do stop to rest afterwards, so maybe it all averages out!

(Damon rocking Chibolo Rapid on the Cosanga)

#4. The Jaguar, harpy eagle, and humans are the sloths' top 3 predators. Sloths are nearly impossible to spot while they are in trees, and their most vunreable time is once a week when they climb out of their tree to go poop. Mainly they are more visable on the ground so would-be predators can spot them.

(From left to right: Damon, Craig, Ursula, Don, Guy after a great day on the Piatua. Not pictured: Midge because he was too busy "faffing about.")

#5. Sloths' great, great ancestors, the Giant Sloth, could grow to be the size of a modern-day elephant. Today's sloth typically grow to be 2.5 feet in length.

(Cinematographer extrodianaire, Larry V. does traffic control at Chibolo)

#6. When Sloths have to pee, they usually wait until a rainstorm and pee from the tree while it is raining (don't ask me how these scientists know this stuff)! Biologists believe they do this as a predation defense mechanism so they won't give away their position in the tree by causing disturbances with their pee.

(Midge, Craig and Ursula taking a "scenery break" on the Upper Misahualli)

(Ursula putting her boof stoke to work at Gringos Revueltos)

#7. Sloths don't actually "drink" water, but get all their hydration from dew drops on the leaves they are eating.

How many sloths can you see in the forest here...?