Cachoeirihma River

By Jesse Coombs

Location: Brazil
Class: V - V+
Gradient: Very high


Copyright © 2006, Oregon Kayaking and Jesse Coombs. No part of this page may be reproduced, linked, or copied without the express written permission of the Oregon Kayaking webmaster and Jesse Coombs.
Many of the photos on this page were shot by Ben Zupo. Check out more of Ben's paddling photos at:

This and all of our other South American kayaking adventures are featured in the film: Hotel Charley: No Big Names 4
( You can view the trailer for Hotel Charley here ).

Sunday, January 29, 2006 - Rio Cachoeirihma

We had heard about the Rio Cachoeirihma from a couple of guides who were friends of Ryan and Ben Zupo. From their description, the Cachoeirihma had everything we were looking for: Big, hard rapids, plenty of water ( important after our flow problems of the last few days ) combined with the fact that the river had never been run by kayakers.

I was still suffering terribly from my stomach illness contracted by drinking bad water. My energy levels were low and under ordinary circumstances I would have been at home in bed, but I couldn't stand the thought of missing a single day of boating in Brazil!

The Upper Cachoeirihma had been run for the first time by Brazilian Aqua Riders a few months prior to our arrival. I had never heard of Aqua Riding until we ran the Cachoeirihma and we were joined by some of the best Aqua Riders in the country, and I was impressed by their skill and courage, but more on that later..

We stopped for lunch in this little village on the way to the Upper Cachoeirihma.
photo by Ben Zupo

One of the things we were amazed to find in Brazil was how frequently we would turn the corner in the truck and be absolutely blown away by a series of stacked waterfalls and slides that took up the entire length of the mountain or hill. They would range from 200 to 500 feet tall or more and you just do not generally find this in the States. It was like heading into the candy shop as a kid, because if only half of everything we saw like this was runnable it was still a complete gold mine ( and in most cases way more than half of it was runnable! ).

We hiked up the Upper Cachoeirihma to check out what the river held, and it was impressive. Non-stop big drops, and the river appeared to get steeper the farther down you went.

Ben Stookesberry heads into the unknown on the Upper Cachoeirihma
photo by Ben Zupo

Ryan MacPherson runs a falls on the Upper Cachoeirihma
photo by Ben Zupo

On the uppermost section the first unrun drop we came to was a pinched-off falls that Ben Stookesberry affectionately referred to as 'Vagina to China'.

It was very difficult to get a good look at this falls because it dropped into an overhanging crack which concealed the landing area from above.

Finally after trying several different angles I held Bens feet and he crawled out to the edge and peered over. It was difficult to read the water at the base of the falls because the river was so muddy, so you couldn't really see if anything was in there.

Once Ben crawled back onto the shelf we both agreed that there was not much to like about this one. It had a difficult lead-in to the main claustrophobic crack falls where the entire river folded in on itself.

It looked like the only line where you could hope to stay on top of the water was to get up far right and on top of the fold on the right and ride it through the stomping chaos into the boiling pool below.

The problem with this line though was that it was blocked by a rock in the entrance that required you to enter from left to right, at the lip as you entered the falls. This move was further complicated by the fact that there was a rock hidden about six inches deep in the brown water right in the way of where you would want to paddle.

I held a paddle with two hands and deflected the water above the rock just below the surface. If it was not bad enough that the rock was there to push you off your line, the rock was also sloped to the left which made it especially difficult to get right.

Ben and I scouted, studied, and talked about this one for a long time. Eventually I decided I would run it despite the very tough entrance and undercut on the bottom left. I decided the consequences were not that bad, and the falls probably looked worse than it really was.

Scouting the falls..
photo by Ben Zupo

In spite of the short time we had been on the river, my energy levels were already running low because of the horrible stomach flu I had contracted. Because I wasn't operating with 100% of my physical strength, I focused more than usual on my mental rehearsals and exercises. I knew that I would need every possible advantage if I was going to run this one cleanly..

Ben offered to lend me the compression suit he wears which has padding on the torso, shoulders, torso and forearm. Ben helped me put it on and I was ready to go.

Jesse Coombs borrows Ben Stookesberry's armored compression suit for his first descent of 'The Mineshaft' on the upper Cachoeirihma.
photo by Ben Zupo

I took a couple last looks at the drop and the line I would take from the top and got in my boat to run it. I drove hard to the right and ended up exactly in the middle. Watching the video later you can clearly see the rock just below the surface as I had just scraped the water off of it. My line did not exactly work out as planned and I got pulled and sucked down directly into the fold. I had planned for this scenario so I just focused on staying balanced and upright.

Everything went muddy, and I couldn't see anything as I totally disappeared from sight. I landed on the shelf half way down and it pitched me to the left and I flipped over as I dropped into the hole at the bottom. I went deep at the bottom of the falls and surfaced a few seconds later. I rolled up right away and immediately noticed my paddle had broken on the left where the blade attaches to the shaft. Well, crap!

Jesse Coombs makes the first descent of 'The Mineshaft' on the Upper Cachoirihma
photo by Ben Zupo

The next drop was not runnable, so we portaged around this to a big falls and slide that we considered runnable. Ben liked this one and he went first. There were some pretty big and sticky holes in this one leading to a fifty foot, multi-tiered slide. This drop went smoothly for the rest of us, then we stopped above another huge horizon line just downstream..

Ben Stookesberry runs the next big drop below The Mineshaft
photo by Ben Zupo

Downstream the river just seemed to get steeper and wider and each slide got larger. There was another large, complex slide that went well, we ran down the left next to a large exploding wave. Ben had an absolutely great line and made it look easy..

Ben Stookesberry enters another big slide downstream, shot from above and below..
photos by Ben Zupo

Ben Stookesberry at the bottom of the next big slide
photo by Ben Zupo

After some more smaller drops we arrived at a truly massive horizon line. We got out to scout and saw a seventy-five foot slide at the bottom that completed this part of the river. At this point Ryan had hiked out to look for our driver Filipe, and Ben Zupo had hiked his boat up to the road. Ben Stookesberry and I looked at this monster slide and agreed there were a couple lines in it, but we wanted to not be far left and not right in the middle where there was a chance of a bad piton at the bottom.

We looked at this drop for a while ( because it was so large and complicated ) and then I decided to run it. I started just right of middle and worked my way back to the left, and the line worked out great. Ben then ran it next without problems, then we were celebrating in the pool about such a great day of paddling.

Ben Stookesberry runs last monster slide on the Upper Cachoeirihma
photo by Ben Zupo

The next day the group planned on heading back to the Cachoeirihma. My stomach illness was truly unbearable, so I opted to stay at the Pousada and rest for the day.

The team met up with a Brazilian nicknamed Chiago and three of his friends. These guys are the local gurus in Aqua Ride, and Chiago is the seven-time Brazilian national champion. These were the guys who had done the first descent of the Cachoeirihma a couple of months before we arrived, so everyone was psyched to see what they could do..

Aqua Ride (pronounced Aqua Hige in Portuguese) is a sport developed by Brazilians. It started originally when some daring guys took truck tire tubes that were partially deflated and tied them together in the middle. They would then ride these down the river.

As with any sport, there are those who want to push the limits of what is possible, and Aqua-riding was no exception. The equipment evolved over time, and the Aqua riding tubes are now built specifically for this purpose in a local company. They have added handles and improved the shape, and the serious Aqua Ride guys even have several different ones based on if they will be river running or playing.

The Aqua Riders are totally exposed to the river and they ride head-first, so they wear helmets and lots of pads on their legs and arms to protect them from the rocks. They also wear webbed gloves to help them navigate in the water. Chiago is the seven-time Brazilian champion of Aqua Ride and it showed on this day..

Here are some photos of the next day, when Chiago and company fired up the huge drops on the Cachoeirihma. On the biggest drops the other Aqua riders would portage, while Chiago would do lap after lap after lap, throwing in boofs, twists, and whatever variation he could think of.. Ben said this guy was in a class of his own!

Chiago ( The seven-time Aqua Riding national champion ) enters one of the big drops on the Cachoeirihma..
photo by Ben Zupo

Chiago uses his webbed gloves to stay on line as he lines up on a big one.
photo by Ben Zupo

Chiago gets airborne at the bottom of one of the big slides.
photo by Ben Zupo

Follow the leader! Chiago leads the way down the same slide.
photo by Ben Zupo

Chiago goes huge on one of the really big drops..
photo by Ben Zupo

Ben said later that Chiago was totally going off; he ran every single drop except Mine Shaft. The guy was pretty incredible!

Ben Stookesberry and Chiago.. In this photo you can see the webbed gloves Chiago uses to maneuver in the water.
photo by Ben Zupo