Lately I’ve been feeling the need to huck some drops.
I don’t kayak very often any more. Maybe once every 2-3 years. I was trying to think of the last time I had a real fix and it was probably when I soloed the Grand Canyon, see photos here.
Owning Outdoorplay.com has its advantages. A quick search into Outdoorplay’s customer database turned up one kayaker located in San Gil, Colombia. His name was Cesar. Another email to an Outdoorplay customer on the other side of the country confirmed that this was my guy.
As it turned out, Cesar owns Colombia Rafting Company. When we met he informed me that none of the super-nar rivers were running, but he invited me to tag along as a safety kayaker on one of his commercial raft trips. Class 3, sure, sounds fun.
He took me to his warehouse to pick out some gear. I was stoked to see that Cesar was flying the old-school Outdoorplay flag. Apparently the empire knows no bounds.
Cesar was running a trip with 3 rafts, about 20 customers. I was expecting a nice class 3 run and an easy day on the river. After dropping in I quickly realized that Colombian class 3 is more like technical class 4.
Humm. I had flashbacks to our canyoneering experience in Venezuela and my mind went to work. 1) Nobody was asked to sign a release 2) Nobody was asked if they knew how to swim 3) The safety talk covered every nightmare possibility.
I’m starting to get the feel for how things work here in South America.
It didn’t take long for the shit show to unfold. It was a bony class 4 drop that you wouldn’t ever want to swim in. I saw it coming and quickly got out of my kayak to assess the situation. By that time one raft was badly pinned with all 6 passengers stranded on a tiny rock in the middle of the river. Did I mention you don’t want to swim here?
My first thought was “Thank god I didn’t bring Stevie. I am all out of brownie points.” My second thought was, “Damn, these people are in trouble. How does that z-drag rescue system work again?”
As I waited to see what the guides would do I snapped a couple quick shots and took this video.
It didn’t take long for the situation to escalate. For some reason the second raft decided to come down and got pinned on the other side of the river. Although the photo makes it look like they were near shore, they were not even close. They were just as stuck as the other rafters.
The guides went to work setting up a z-drag to free the pinned boats. I realized that nobody was set up as safety at the bottom of the rapid. Not good. I hauled ass down there just in time to pick up my first victim. One of the guides had fallen in and swam the entire lower section. I pulled him to shore and headed back up just in time to see one of the rafts flipped up-side-down coming through the rapid solo. I really had to bust ass to push that raft to shore with my kayak before it went around the corner and into the next rapid. It would have been long gone. By this time I was exhausted.
After about 2 hours everyone was rescued and we continued down river. The fun continued in the next rapid. I set myself up as safety at the bottom and watched as one of the rafts lost a guide and a customer off the back of the boat.
I got in position and fixed my sights on the customer. He had already gone deep a couple times. You can see his blue helmet in this photo as he pops up 15 feet below a huge hole. Big down time. I pulled him to shore and he coughed up a fair amount of river water. At this point some of the English speaking customers started asking me if this was “normal for a rafting trip.” I said “SMILE, this is supposed to be fun god dammit!” They laughed.
At the end of the day everyone was pretty tired and hungry, but in good spirits. If you’re in Colombia and want a really extreme rafting experience, please contact my friend Cesar at Colombia Rafting. He’ll deliver. I promise.
As for me, I feel Old, and worked. My shoulders hurt, reminding me why I don’t huck drops anymore. Am I finally getting too old to off-the-couch my adventures? I’m gonna take a 2-3 year break now and think about it. TREE