Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Creeking Ecua-Style = big water, big boofs and big fun

Michael and Liam just below the put in rapid on the Upper Jondachi.  Such nice, clear, water with lots of boudlers, ah...

Our crew of advanced creekers got to learn some Ecua-style creeking last week!   Translation—lots of our runs were really high!   Both the Oyacachi and the Cosanga had about double (or triple) the “normal” flow making for more of a big water feel than a creeking feel; but both were amazing runs!

We actually did get some creeking in on the Piatua and Upper Jondachi, although we also had a bit of an adventure on the Upper J.

Michael and Liam hamming it up for the camera on Upper Jondachi a couple of hours later.  Not so nice now, no boulders, no clear water...boo

We started at Kilometer 28 with a perfect medium flow.  We were making good time through the rapids with everyone styling Aphrodesia (well almost everyone...) and the other tricky rapids in the upper part.  The sideways boof was back to being the sideways boof and NOT the narrow slot of terror, and all was great! 

View of the Jondachi at our hike out bridge
Then the water started to get a wee bit murky.  The first wave of water-increase was subtle and only Don and I noticed.  We were hoping that would be it—just a small increase—and we knew our group could handle the extra bit of water.  But then the 2nd wave was a BIG one.  Within 30 minutes the water turned turbid, brown and HUGE.  With one portage, a bit of sneaking, and one “paddle your ass off to that eddy,” we made our way down to the bridge just below the broken down waterfall.  We waited for a bit and watched the water continue to rise.  What were 6 foot tall boulders were now scary holes.   

 View of the Jondachi day 2 at our hike in bridge

The Upper Jondachi has always been sneaky that way.  It did rain on us during the day, but it was a very light rain an lasted less than 20 minutes.  But what we couldn’t see was the torrential downpour that was happening upstream of us causing the Urcusiqui creek to flash flood and send all it’s water down upon us.

Thomas just couldn't deal so he decided to take a nap before the big hike out

As it was the week of jinxes, I blame Shannon and Michael who claim to have never been on a jungle kayaking trip where they didn’t have to hike out of at least 1 river.  So, there we were, about to continue their streak!

We decided that for everyone’s safety and well-being that getting the hell outta there was the best choice.

Shannan enjoying the sketchy bridge round 2
We hid the boats, painstakingly covering the pile of 10 shiny plastic things with jungle foliage.  Thomas gets the gold star for bringing the best plants for kayak-hiding; although many of them had thorns which ripped my flesh—damn you Thomas!

Michael styling the line at Tres Huevos on day 2 of Jondachi
Then, the hiking commenced.   We were prepared for the worst, but the trail was pretty nice and only took about 30 minutes.  It was a nice jungle excursion during which Liam saw some cool stick bugs and the rest of the crew saw a lot of mud. 
Al going creeking Ecuador-style.  The Oyacachi was good practice for hole avoidance

We arrived at the Y, found Memo, had a good laugh at Thomas and Michael trying (and getting denied) to break a 5 dollar bill to buy some beers, loaded up and went back to the lodge for a great dinner and a good night’s sleep.  Luckily, Greg had remembered to pack the take out cooler so even though Michael and Thomas weren’t so successful, there was beer drinking to celebrate our jungle adventure.

Thomas running a sweet high water line at "eye of the Whale" on the Lower Cosanga

We woke up the next day, hiked back in and finished the job!  That is the cool thing about the rivers in Ecuador is that, as long as it quits raining, the rivers drop as quickly as they rise and we found a perfect medium level for our round 2 on the Upper Jondachi.

Really cool shot of Michael and one of the waterfalls on the Lower Cosanga.  Laura, thanks for this and the other photos I swiped from your Facebook account!

It was a great adventure that I’m sure will stick in the memories of all the paddlers.  If the high water and hike out doesn’t stick, I’m sure the sketchy bridge crossing will!
 Finally, some actual creeking!

Aside from our mega-adventura, the gang had more awesome paddling.  It was pretty much the dream-team nailing the dream itinerary.    Day 1:  Upper and Middle Cosanga at a medium level.  Day 2: Medium-High Oyacachi = creeking in Ecuador means dodging big ass holes!  Day 3: High water Lower Cosanga = creeking in Ecuador still means dodging big ass holes!  Day 4: Low water Piatua = finally, some actual creeking!  Boofs abound as do boulders, holes are scarce and the water is CLEAR.  Day 5:  Upper Jondachi day 1 = glorious low volume start, by end of day, back to dodging bus-eating holes.  Day 6:  Upper Jondachi Day 2 = back to glorious, boofing more boofs than we can count.  Day 7:  High water returns, we hit Quijos and punch big holes, ride big waves.

 Greg chilling with the drivers enjoying a snack in Aerosemana Tola

The end result: 7 days of some seriously kick-ass kayaking!

Shannan nailing her boof on the Oyacachi

Thanks gang.

Laura boofing the first move on Chibolo

Brian looking scenic on the Upper Cosanga

Creeking in Ecuador from Small World Adventures on Vimeo.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Ecuador, more than just a whitewater paradise!

The power of water!  The transition between the 2 falls at San Rafael
It’s easy to get caught up in all the great whitewater in Ecuador and to forget about how kick ass the scenery is as well!
A "small" waterfall plunging into the Rio Quijos

So, this week’s blog is dedicated mostly to the stuff we get to see while we are kayaking around this amazing country.   Yes, yes, it’s really because I did a bad job of getting whitewater shots this week, but the scenery deserves its dues as well!

 Crossing the "sketchy" bridge on our way to the Rio Anzu

This week we had a Class III trip plus 2 Scandinavian guys (Donald from Norway and Jens from Sweden) who were down doing a private 10-day kayaking course.

 Michal playing with some local kids after a nice introduction to creek boating on the Rio Tena

Our free trip winner from last summer's contest—Greg from Fort Collins—was on the Class III trip reaping the benefits of his winnings.  And damn that guy was just so high strung.  He couldn’t relax for one minute!  (joking, see the photo of Greg napping in the waters of the Upper Napo).  

Just one of the many beautiful flowers we have around our lodge

We also had Eric and Sarah, 2 philosophy professors who wouldn’t stop asking each other “if” and “why,” and then Michal, the Polish kayaker who wouldn’t stop asking me if we could stop and take a siesta!

 Greg enjoying Michal's suggestion for a siesta.  He found laying half in the water and half out gave him that perfect temperature balance he was looking for in the tropics!

Everyone got to paddle 4 days in Tena (6 days for the Scandinavians) and 3 days in the Quijos Valley and we saw some awesome scenery along the way!

The Class III gang enjoying a big water day on the Jatunyacu

Donald and Jens liked the boating and the jungle scenery so much that they’ve already signed on to Tarquino-Loco Adventures, to do the big trek from Canada down to Ecuador. 

Greg and Michal enjoying some jungle scenery on the water to San Rafael Falls
Last year Tarquino bought a giant truck up in Alberta, Canada and then drove it solo all the way down to Colombia where he then put it onto a ferry to get it the rest of the way into Ecuador.  He loved the journey so much that he is thinking about doing it again and Donald and Jens seem game to be his co-pilots! 

Eric and Sarah standing in awe of this incredible feature
They are stoked to get the full tour of Mexico and Central America stopping to sample every empanada they can along the way.   Then hopefully they will layover in Ecuador for a week or 2 of kayaking to get over their road weariness at the end of the trip!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Boof Baby Boof!

Ken dwarfed by the Piatua's giant boulders

For our first trip of 2012 we had a group of boof-junkies come down to Ecuador to sample some of the country's finest technical runs.

Josephine nailing her boof stroke timing--she is getting some sweet disconnection with the water!

They came from Colorado, California, Alberta, Washington and Germany.  Even though we had a big diversity in geographies, they all shared the common goal of wanting to BOOF.  This was our Intro to Creeking IV- trip and so we spent as much time possible working on a refining all the components that make up a good boof--edging, timing, type of stroke, stroke placement, body movement and body positioning.
The gang, stoked to have some sunshine and Pilsiners in Baeza on the way home from the Rio Cosanga

Everyone agreed that getting really good at boofing is a really hard thing to do.  There are so many factors to get right, and to get right at the right time.  But the only way to get better is to get out there and do it as often as possible!
Scott showing us that edging is cool!  See how it's allowing him to get a better stroke with that right paddle blade?
So we practiced boofing over holes (both big and small), off the shoulders of rocks, off steep ledges (mini-waterfalls) and off the peaks of waves.  Each feature offered its own unique challenges and gave each paddler a new tool for their creeking repertoire. 

Brad executing the oh-so-crucial take off stroke.  See how nice and vertical his paddle is?

By the end of the week, everyone was nailing boofs with a much higher rate of success than they had been day 1 of the trip.  Which meant everyone was smiling a much higher percentage of the time as well!

 Anson navigating "dispensable Ensign"  He's cleared the 1st boof of the rapid and is setting up for the 2nd one

There is a lot, intellectually, that goes into boofing, but the number one way to improve is to just go practice on the rivers.  Especially if you can paddle with someone who is good at boofing and can help you with pointers along the way.  And don't fall into the common mis-conception that you need a perfect "boof spot" to practice on.  That's not true!  You can practice on a wide variety of features, like I mentioned above.

The basic concept involves keeping your nose on the surface to go up and over something, to free your boat from the surface of the water, and to hear that "boof" noise as you re-connect with the water.

 Alex showing good body positioning as he pulls up on his knees to keep his Habitat's nose above on surface on this hole

You can even practice the edging and the stroke timing as you are peeling into eddies.  If you are eddying out on river right for example, instead of getting on your right edge to "peel into" the eddy, try coming in on your left edge, taking a huge left stroke and transitioning to your right edge for the final draw stroke (on the right side) and carve into the eddy.  This practice won't give you the "boof" noise you are looking for but it will help you and your body understand the muscle movements involved in the crucial edge transition that must take place in a proper boof.

 Greg waits in the pool below Disco-Tech as Don and the gang plan and plot their lines

A few more things to keep in mind while boofing:  Being on edge while you initiate your boof is key.  Many people forget this, but it's a hell of a lot harder to disconnect a flat boat from the surface of the water than it is to disconnect a boat that is nicely on edge.  A well-edged boat will have 1/4-1/2 the surface area tension that a flat boat has.

2nd, take a big, usually vertical, paddle stroke at the lip of the drop while pulling up on your knees (engage those abs!) and lifting your nose to clear whatever obstacle you intend to boof over.  And make sure you mean it when you take this stroke.  It's a powerful, explosive stroke so put some energy behind it!

 Maren--the German kayaking maniac--finishing "the rapid above the put in" on the Piatua

 Next, timing is key!  We've all seen the classic paddle as fast as possible to the lip of a drop and then do nothing but plop over with the paddle raised over head--no bueno!  It doesn't take too many strokes to get a modern creek boat up to speed--1-2 good strokes will usually do the job.  So concentrate more on your stroke timing, aiming to take that crucial boof stroke right at the lip of the drop, and don't worry so much about taking 15 "speed strokes" leading up to each ledge. 

Then, don't forget to flatten out or even transition to your other edge as you land, AND TAKE ANOTHER PADDLE STROKE UPON LANDING--get the heck outta there and continue on your merry way, downstream to your next boof.

The Storm's-a-coming on the Rio Piatua but for the time being, it is still boof-landia

Of course, it's all a lot more complicated than what I've laid out here.  These are just the basics and what good does it really do you sitting at the computer reading it all?   To learn more about boofing, come to Ecuador with Small World Adventures and get 7 days of practice under your belt!

Sunday, January 08, 2012

The Kayaking Chicas Invade!

Sarah navigating the boulder gardens of the Upper Tena

Ecuador has many interesting traditions that are much different from our traditions in North America; but some of my favorites occur during New Years. 

 The Girls cruising down the Upper Misahualli.  This was their New Year's Eve paddle.  What better way to end 2011 than with an incredible creek run with beautiful jungle scenery?

This New Year's Eve, we had 12 camp counselors from Camp Merrie-Woode in North Carolina come down to help us celebrate.  There were 11 women and 1 dude--a pretty awesome, but rare ratio for the rivers of Ecuador.  The girls were all kayak instructors at their camp, and had awesome skills - BOMBPROOF rolls! - and were looking to step up their whitewater experience.  It was great to have a group with great fundamentals ready to push the envelope.  They were also super stoked to get to see some of Ecuador's cultural oddities as we approached New Year's Eve.

 These girls were awesome!  They were super fun to teach because they were eager to learn and they tried all the new things we suggested.  Here Margaret is working it!  She's got her boat on edge, and is taking a big left paddle stroke just like we talked about.
The weirdness all started when Larry stopped off at a store to buy what was, for all practical purposes, a doll.  The girls thought, "what the hell?   Larry seemed so manly and normal before, but now he's out shopping for a doll."

 They also surfed when we told them to surf.  Audry ripping it up on the Middle Misahualli.
Then then started seeing dolls all over Tena.  They were tied to people's cars, sitting on people's front step, and seemingly normal people were carrying them around.  So then the girls thought, "what the hell?   I thought Ecuador was in Latin America were Machismo rules, and now almost EVERYONE is playing with dolls."

And best of all, they smiled for the camera when we told them to do that!  Here's Sallie hamming it up for Don on the Rio Tena.

Then it became clear--these weren't dolls, they were Ano Viejos.  An Ano Viejo is, bascially, a doll made out of regular clothes and stuffed with either saw dust or newspaper.  They range in size from 2 feet tall, to 10 feet tall, and sport a variety of personalities.

Comer comer-ing (Spanglish for eating) some agua on the Rio Tena

People sell masks on the streets for the Ano Viejos and you can have your doll represent the likeness of a wide range of characters.  For some reason, this year the smurfs and Bart Simpson seemed to be the most popular.  In past years, George Bush has been a big hit.   So, people start displaying their Ano Viejos usually around Jan. 30th.  Then, on New Year's Eve at midnight, the tradition is to burn your doll, with the idea that you are burning away the old year and starting fresh with the new year.

 Kieko (blurry), Katie and Sallie all smiles on their paddle down the Jatunyacu.
The next crazy tradition the girls (and JP) witnessed was the Viudas (or widows to those of us who speak English).  This is a really funny custom and makes for some great laughs around town on New Year's Eve.

 Caroline ripping it up on a surf wave on the Jatunyacu--AKA Upper Napo
The Viudas--Widows--are supposed to be the widows of the old year, so the widows of 2011.  The idea is that, their husband--2011--has died and has left them penniless.  With no pennies, a proper widow can't have a proper New Year's Eve celebration.  So these widows block traffic and dance in the streets for the passing cars asking each of them to give money to the cause (yes, to the cause of a nice party on New Year's Eve).

JP, trip organizer and sole male of the group, showing some serious style on the Tena.
The funniest part about the widows is that they ain't no ladies!  It's actually men dressing up as women to dance in the streets to beg money for their New Year's Eve party.  Don't ask me how this tradition started, I don't even want to know!
Dudes dressed up like chics dancing in the streets

So, besides the fact that Greg somehow absconded with the girls Ano Viejo (that we named Azula) and burned her without the girls it was a great New Year's Celebration.

 Greg showing off for the ladies with his "look no legs" surf.  Too bad he pissed them off later by kid napping their Ano Viejo!

The best part about the whole thing is that we all paddled the Upper Misahualli River on New Year's Eve.  It was a fun and challenging creek for the crew and a perfect way to end 2011.

 Ingrid fighting intuition as she learns how to stern squirt on the Jatunyacu
Hopefully it was a New Year's that everyone will remember for a long time.

Keiko enjoying a New Year's day paddle down the Quijos River

Enjoy the rest of the photos, and thanks to the Camp Merrie-Wood crew for giving SWA a fun end of the year!

 Katie staying focused in the super technical waters of Ecuador

 La Senorita Margarita, stoked to be paddling in Ecuador with SWA!

A little shopping after boating at the market in Tena.  It was all going so well until Tarquino started playing with the grubs...But, Comer did hold one in the end!

 Hayes surfing it up in the Hero and enjoying paddling in a shorty top

 Into the jungle we go girls!

Masks for sale on New Year's Eve. 

Larry, so proud with his doll that he named Azula.  Luckily he didn't have to stick around to see what Greg did later that night...
JP and Comer scouting and doing Jazz Hands

Mary Beth cooling off on the Upper Misahualli

The whole group in the town of Cosanga.  Great week of paddling ladies (oh, and JP too)!