(The crew at the put in of the Lower Jondachi--one of Ecuador's most beautiful creek runs)
This was our second week of trips and we had a fun international crew for our “Intro to creeking IV-” course. There was one Swiss, two Irish, and a couple of American kayakers who came down to Ecuador to expand their technical boating skills.
(Pat refining his boofing technique to style in order to jump over this ledge on the Rio Piatua)
So far, early November is showing us some great water levels with enough rain to make most of the runs more fun but not so much we are being flooded off. We paddled the Cosanga, Quijos, Jondachi and Piatua rivers; all the rivers we wanted to get in this week! We did, however, have to tweak the order of the rivers a bit in order to optimize water levels on each run.
(The Creekers scouting a rapid on the Upper Misahualli)
Late summer floods in the Tena area moved around some boulders and improved some lines on both the Upper Misahualli and Lower Jondachi. It was a great opportunity to talk about scouting with the crew. It's important to be able to recognize the hazards of a rapid; but also to recognize the good line and focus on this if you decide to run the drop. It's a fine line because obsessing about the dangers won't do you any good, but neither will not noticing them!
(Friedrich from Switzerland showing an excellent forward stroke as he makes his move in "Dispensable Ensign" on the Rio Piatua)
Being able to pick a good line, read the currents and pick out the crux move(s) are key to a successful scout. We find there are often 2 extremes in scouting: 1.) people will see a sieve on river right and get so freaked out about it that they never even realize the good line is down river left FAR away from the sieve, or 2.) people pick their line and don't look beyond that. They get back to their boats and realize they have no idea how to approach the rapid, or their friend asks, "what are you going to do about the big hole" and they respond "what big hole."
(Tarquino, your jungle-kayak guide extrodinare! The socks give him kayaking super powers)
So, being able to see the whole picture while you are scouting is a really important skill. You need to look at the crux of the rapid, but also at the lead in to the rapid, and the run out of the rapid. This way you'll know what you have to deal with in order to GET to the crux move, and also what you will have to deal with as you finish the crux. You need to identify all the hazards that your line poses and then figure out how you will deal with those hazards. Once you've done all this, you can ask yourself if your skills are up to the challenge and, if they are, is the reward to risk factor worth it? Then you are ready to either portage or go successfully run your line!
(Utah-Burning-Man-Marc bobsledding his way down "Bob Sled" on the Upper Misahualli River)
Portaging is a skill that kayakers should not overlook. On some river or another, we've all met the kind who just won't portage anything. Well, this isn't necesarily the smartest way to go about your kayaking career. Some days you just might not feel it, other days you just need to be smart enough to recognize that your skills aren't up to the rapid you are looking at.
(A couple of Irish blokes enjoying a paddling vacation in Ecuador. Here they are finally back in their own paddling kit after KLM delayed their baggage just a wee bit)
People often forget that "to run or not to run" a rapid is not just an individual decision. If you run a rapid you aren't well-equipped to do, chances are you will have problems. If you have problems, chances are your boating team is going to have to rescue you, putting each resucer at risk as well. So keep the team in mind when you are making your decisions on the river as well!
(Jeff giving it a nice, vertical boof stroke on "Discotech")
But once you've committed to running, then mentally it's got to be all or nothing (I should say it's got to be all or portage)! From your eddy, you need to be focused, confident, and ready to put your physical creeking skills into practice to do what you need to do to give yourself a good, clean line. You shouldn't be walking back to your boat saying to yourself, "umm, I guess I'll give it a go, although I'm not too sure it'll work out." You should feel good about your decision and be visualizing yourself styling the line.
(Pat, stoked to be almost to the water after a warm jungle hike)
Having the right tools in your tool box, so to speak, will make your scouting decisions easier and more clear. So whenever you get the chance to practice strong forward strokes, sweep strokes, boof strokes, body positions and any other kayaking skill, do it! That way you'll know what sort of things you are good at and which skills you need more work on in the future. For example, if you know you aren't very good at boofing yet, and the rapid you are scouting requires making a boof or surfing a big hole, well then, you'd better give it a miss until you can refine those boofing skills.
(Niall navigating one of Ecuador's many boulder gardens as the group looks on from an eddy)
Conversely, if you know you are really good at throwing quick draw strokes to maneuver your kayak around rocks and that's what the line requires, then go give it hell! And, if you are having trouble self-motivating for this sort of practice, come down to Ecuador and we'll make you practice!
(Tim took this awesome shot of a beautifully sculpted Ecuadorian boulder)
The team this week made great advances on their paddling skills and we hope to see them out and about next summer showing their buddies what this creeking business is all about!