When we arrived in country at the end of 2008, we heard that the rain and water levels up to that point had been low. The beginning of 2009 marked the start of the rains as well as the return of three long-time guests and good friends, Henry L., Pete P. and Paul H.. Paul headed up a strong Southeastern contingent including his son, Ken, who put his class V ambitions on hold to paddle with his dad. Other Southerners were Chuck C., Frank L. and Chris R. Chuck had paddled with us for the first time this past summer on the Middle Fork and will be with us again later this year on the Grand Canyon. New to us were Frank and Chris who had arrived in Quito a few days early (always recommended if you can take the extra time) and set about trying to make a name for themselves in the capital city.
Taking into account people’s energy and water levels, and that fact that there were so many familiar faces to us, we paddled the Quijos River from Puente Focundo to the confluence with the Oyacachi on day one. Frank and Chris were new to the big volume of the Quijos and were a blend between wide-eyed concentration and big water smiles.
It didn’t take long for them to figure out that the precision of low volume, S.E. river-running wasn’t always possible, or necessary, when negotiating the more open terrain of the bigger volume rivers. They also learned to scout at the crest of the waves- some of the best views of what awaits you downstream comes by looking several waves downstream of your current position -should you need to do an “exit stage right”.
With folks feeling more rested the following day, we took advantage of the opportunity to do the long, remote run of the Lower Quijos. This run never ceases to awe us with it’s beauty. We finished the day with a visit to Cascada San Rafael, the largest in the country at over 400 ft. The entire Quijos river spills over this impressive double-drop and at higher flows you feel it before you see it. It was putting on an impressive display the day we were there.
Day three of paddling saw us on the Tena side of the mountains for some tropical paddling. Shifting gears, we jumped on the Upper Misahualli with it’s delightfully technical rapids. Arriving at the put-in village of Retén, one indicator that the flows are friendly is seeing the kids performing a “what not to do when swimming whitewater” clinic.
They use a head-first, face-down orientation to dive, then swim through the rapid just under the bridge. The more experienced ones will stand up on a mid-stream rock with swift current flowing about them. All of this is done while wearing nothing more than a pair of tighty-whities (tighty-pinkies for the girls). In contrast, they look at you as if you are crazy when you suggest they go for a “kayak taxi” ride in the eddy.
Some of the more creative kids have taken to using empty two liter soda bottles and tying them together to form a sort of flotation device. These devices can either be a cluster of bottles tied together to form a floating mass on which they ride, or two bottles can be strung bottle neck to bottle neck, and base to base to create a sort of twin scuba tank appearance that is worn on the chest.
We got in three more great days of paddling around Tena, sampling a mix of big-water, roller coaster wave-trains and technical creek runs, then returned to the Quijos valley.
Our last day of paddling was Saturday and the water on the Quijos was up from the rains. The gang was looking forward to winding down on a lower volume run so we headed to the Upper Cosanga for a chance to experience one last stretch of semi-technical water in a beautiful setting.
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