Prior to our arrival, early reports had warned us of an extended rainy season in Ecuador. This certainly seemed to be the case during our scouting week as well. We were happy to have the rain subside in time for the December 1-9 class III+ group, our first trip of the season!
If you’ve read the previous post, you’ve already been introduced to Pete. Others on the trip included another long-time friend and paddler, Henry L. We know Henry from our days at Otter Bar, as well as having shared his company on the Rogue, Middle Fork, and Grand Canyon. In addition to being a true gentleman, Henry is whip smart and my go-to guy when I’m stumped (I keep an open line to him in case you were wondering how often that is). Also along was 72 year old Paul H. We first met Paul on the Grand Canyon a few years back where he earned the name “Pocket Rocket”. Paul can’t be much more than 5’3″, but he smoked us all in his Dagger Crossfire for straight-out speed on that trip. John P. joined us for the first time and his first trip to Ecuador. Rounding out the trip were Julia G., who was my main training partner for the California Death Ride this year (a masochistic bike ride that left me with such bad hamstring cramps that I needed cable cutters to straighten my legs) and finally, Jack M. a super boater and delightful fellow from Mt Shasta whose company I have always enjoyed, but never really got to spend much time with. Edmundo, who has driven for us for the last twelve years, picked us up at our lodging in Quito and drove us over the 13,400 foot pass to the Quijos valley. As always, we hoped some of the snow-capped peaks of the Andes would show themselves during the drive, but it wasn’t to be. After settling into our rooms in Borja and outfitting boats, we headed to the river to warm-up. The day finished off with our group’s first taste of short, but heavy tropical rain. For the next three days we used various stretches of the Quijos river as our playground.
Day two dawned clear. We knew that Antisana, a 19,000 foot snow and ice covered volcano and the source of the Quijos River, would only be visible early in the morning. We took the opportunity to pile the gang into the van and drive the short distance to where we could get views, we were not disappointed.
At the end of our third day we headed over the Guacamayo Pass to the Tena side of the range. The weather had improved there as well. With an early morning start we made the 40 minute, porter-assisted hike into the Lower Jondachi/Hollín. As I mentioned in an earlier post, this is an incredible run for it’s quality of rapids and scenery.
At the end of the day, we were greatly rewarded when Paul, who has paddled for thirty- some years, announced that it was his “best day of paddling. Ever!” With 5 consecutive days of kayaking completed, folks sometimes want to take a break to experience what else Ecuador has to offer. That was just what Pete, Paul, Henry and John did. They spent the day with Pepe, who is not only the most knowledgeable, jungle guide, but also runs a mariposario where he raises butterflies through the complete cycle; eggs, chrysalis, caterpillar and flight (only to release them in the wild). After the fascinating visit to the mariposario, they joined Pepe for a motorized, canoe trip down the Napo river. Here they explored a trail system in the virgin jungle where Pepe pointed out a variety of medicinal plants, insects both friendly and foe, and anything number of interesting items that popped up during their walk. Meanwhile, Jack and Julia took Phil up on an offer of a paddling day on a Class 4 section of the Upper Misahualli. We all regrouped at a Jungle Lodge at the end of the day. After dinner we were joined by a local shaman who calls himself Atahualpa, after the great Inca ruler. He explained some of the practices and beliefs of shamanism, how he came to be a shaman, and performed a “cleansing” on those members of our group that were interested.
One more day of kayaking on the Tena side of the range gave us a chance to paddle the wide open and fun wave trains of the Jatunyacu. Once the boats were loaded we headed back over the hills to Borja. Our last day we paddled, followed by a soak in the luxurious hot-springs of Papallacta and a spectacular farewell dinner with a top-of-the-world view of Quito.
After the trip, Henry, Pete and Paul (who was now joined by his wife and daughter) flew to the Galapagos for a week aboard a boat, island-hopping. Jack, Julia, and Phil headed off to the mountains for some trekking in the El Altar area with our good friend and mountain guide Freddy Ramirez. Mary used her time off to travel to Panama, her birthplace, to visit her brother and his family. What a great way to start the season! Next trip is our “Friends Classic” over Dec 25- Jan 2.
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