By Jesse Coombs
  Paddlers: Ben Stookesberry, Darin McQuoid, James Harper, Jesse Coombs, Rocky Contos
  Location: Mexico
  Class: V ( VI , P )
  Gradient: Up to 2,000 fpm
  Character: Pool-drop, Remote Desert Canyon, Gorges, Waterfalls

Copyright © 2010, Jesse Coombs, Darin McQuoid, Oregon Kayaking. No part of this page may be reproduced, linked, or copied without the express written permission of the Oregon Kayaking webmaster. All photos Copyright © Darin McQuoid

8/27 Thursday

After getting back to the river below the mega-portage we were tired but ready to go. We all slept in a bit and were feeling a little tired and sore. We ate some breakfast, pulled the leaves, rocks and debris from our stuff and got ourselves ready for getting back on the river. Considering the stakes and risk of yesterdayís portage we were amazingly healthy, but there were casualties. Darinís headlamp was intermittent and then stopped working all together, and his camera had taken a hard hit during one of the boat lowerings.

In addition, the tropical environment was starting to take a toll. James and I were still battling dysentery and I had some sort of fungal rash that nothing seemed to fix. Everyone else was covered with some sort of plant-based rash. Rocky, James and Darin were covered with this rash and they were scratching day and night. James was so itchy he was barely sleeping, and Darin was suffering similarly.

The insects were also terrorizing us. This part of Mexico has a horrible little biting gnat that seems to be completely unaffected by DEET. All of us were covered in bug bites. Darin's hands were swollen with bites and my ankles were much the same.

We got back on the river and were all very relieved to be making down stream progress at river level. Having the portage behind us was a major relief!

We continued down river for the day being rewarded with great rapids, AMAZING views of the canyon and reasonable portages that took an hour instead of a day. One of the things that was so great about this day was that we started seeing our first 'snake' trees. I call them snake trees because the roots of these trees are like nothing I have ever seen and look like a light green anaconda. Darin took some great photos that demonstrate their uniqueness. The roots were amazing because they would take the shape of and follow along the rocks until they found soil. If you just glanced a look at the roots of these trees you might easily think it was the largest, most exotic snake in the world.

Ben climbs around a Snake Tree

That night we stopped around 6 p.m. as usual and had a good evening. James and I set up our tents on the beach by the water. This is not always a good idea because the water can come up from rain, but we had no other decent option. Darin hung his hammock from a tent as usual. Ben found a crack between two wall for sleeping. Rocky found a cave, brought in sand for a soft floor and then used his tent as a door.

Iíve absolutely loved GoGo EX tent by Nemo. It is exactly what I need. It packs extremely small and is very lightweight! I can use it without the fly if it is a warm evening and the bugs are out. I can use the fly when it looks like rain. I can set it up just about anywhere. I need the most versatile, sturdy and light weight tent I can get for these trips, and I have found that in the GoGo EX.

8/28 Friday

The next morning we got a good start and were back to puzzling out the river. We encountered several huge house sized boulder sections that often required portaging and sometimes allowed us to actually paddle under and between them. We also were entering areas that were more sheer walls at river level than we had previously.

A common thing for us as we run class three, four and five like this is that while the back part of the group is getting through a section, the front person will scout the next rapid. That way if it is an easy run the rest doesnít have to get out of their boats. And if is an obvious portage, then this front person can figure out ahead of time the best portage route. And if it is something that is runnable but needs a bit of direction, the front person can provide that to the others. By running the river this way we can really speed up our progress and leap frog each other down the river.

The author runs a fun drop

Ben gives er' a go..

There was one rapid where James got their first and said it was runnable with some directions. He explained the directions, and Darin and I were not sure what he meant exactly. Ben seemed comfortable with the instructions and went first. From Jamesí reaction it seemed to work out fine, so Darin went next going a bit left of Benís line. James said I should go right of that. I guess I misunderstood how far right and ended up getting slowed to a stop at the top of the drop. This meant that instead of avoiding the hole like planned, I fell right into it. That was not what I was hoping! I immediately felt myself in the hole and went for a role on my left. They hydraulic made so that I was almost up, but not quite all the way. I could still feel pressure on my left blade so I held in a brace hoping it would bring me up.

Unfortunately what happened is that my paddle blade hit a rock and tweaked my shoulder. I could tell I was in pain and the shoulder felt funny, so instead of going for another role I swam out of my boat. Ben helped me to shore and Darin got my stuff for me. I moved my shoulder around after a bit and it felt surprisingly okay. I found out later from the doctor that I subplexed it, and he said I should give it a period of rest and they physical therapy. I was stoked that my shoulder felt so usable and after having some lunch and rest we continued down the river.

The rest of the day was mostly class 3 and 4 with some class 5, and Ben and Rocky helped me through some of these sections to take good care of my shoulder.

A narrow crack drop downstream..

More class five downstream..

The author, all smiles on the Piaxtla.

That night we found a great camp site with a huge sand beach and plenty of room to spread out. Not long after getting set up a huge rain with very strong winds blew in. We all had to rush to grab our stuff before it literally blew away before getting soaked. We all ended up fully wet. Luckily Ben had borrowed a tarp from Rocky, and it came in extremely useful for us to eat dinner and stay out of the rain. The tarp helped a ton, but it still didnít keep us from getting soaked in the first place and for sand being in every piece of food, clothing, gear and aspect of my tent. Everything was annoyingly wet and sandy, including my body, but I guess that is the price of adventure.

Our campsite that night.

I got myself fed and put my stuff away. I crawled into my tent and left one of the zippers open to encourage airflow and some coolness. Things were quite hot and sticky and wet. Iím not sure that was a great idea though, because just as I was falling asleep I felt a large thing crawling on my stomach. I swatted it with a little downward pressure and off my body. I figured it was a spider and I wanted to first get it off my body and second slow it down a bit so I could get it out of the tent. I fumbled for my light and when I finally found it I could not find the spider. DAMN!

I looked and looked and looked to no avail. I finally gave up on my search, hoped it was dead or outside, zipped up the door and went back to the process of falling asleep. Right about the time that I started falling asleep in earnest I felt the big crawling thing on my chest. DAMN!!! This time I swatted it with much more downward pressure and again to the side of my body. I knew better where my light was this time and got it more quickly. Yet again though I could not find the critter for anything. Are you kidding?!?!?!

I looked and looked and looked knowing I DID NOT want to get bit by a spider. But again I could not find the damn thing. Crazy! I turned off the light to go back to sleep. But after a couple minutes I just could not reconcile falling asleep with this creature next to me crawling on me, so I looked again with the light. Still nothing. I gave up, turned off the light and hoped for the best.

In the morning I had forgotten about the creature until I started putting away my sleeping stuff. I found a cricket with a broken leg in my pillow stuff. I felt very relieved it wasnít a spider, sorry that I had broken his leg, and got him back outside where he belonged. I am not sure why the cricket was in my tent. I have almost never had critters crawl in my tent, and I can only assume he was trying to get out of the rain or something.

8/29 Saturday

Luckily the sun was out in the morning, and we were all able to dry our gear before we got back on the river. We had a good morning with sun and breakfast and then packed up our stuff to go.

This day started innocently enough with a lot of class four until we got to a very cool section that was the box canyon of the Barranca de Piaxtla. This section dropped over two hundred feet in a quarter mile and was FULL of house and apartment sized boulders. Ben scouted ahead and said he saw a very cool family of long snouted monkeys. I wish I would have seen those. He found us a good portage path, and after a break of around an hour we headed off to do the portage.

Ben scouting out the Unknown Box Canyon of the Barranca de Piaxtla

Looking back upstream.

There was no guarantee of this portage though, because of the box canyon. The granite walls were so steep, and the boulders in the river so big, that once you committed to portaging it was near impossible to go back up stream. And then there was one section that was a full thirty foot drop into the twenty foot wide section with walls several hundred feet high. This basically meant that we had to be a hundred percent sure we could enter AND exit the box canyon before we descended the thirty foot drop. Ben and Rocky did reconnaissance ahead of time, and then Rocky went into the canyon to paddle to the other side. We all waited with baited breath, hoping he would have good news. He did!!!

Rocky, committing to the canyon.. Not sure what was around the corner at this point..

It was a big puzzle requiring rope work, weird drops, strong ferries and team work. We were able to get through it with a couple hours work, and we were rewarded with one of the most scenic places I have ever been.

An amazing place, the Box Canyon of the Barranca de Piaxtla

Firing up a drop in the Box Canyon section.

After the Box Canyon section we encountered more amazing view and lots of class three and four for the rest of the day. This was a much appreciated change from the six days of uncertainty and difficulty we had faced previously.

Fun drops downstream of the Box Canyon section.

We completed the last thirty kilometers of this sixty kilometer first descent in this day and got to the take out town around six p.m.

The author on the paddle out.

WOW! We had done what looks to be the deepest gorge in North America!!!!

When we got to the take out town we immediately ran into two very nice employees of the local gold mine called GoldCorp. It was Canadian and American run company and seemed to be treating all the locals very well. This mine was deep in the middle of no where yet all the towns people had very nice trucks.

The two employees were so friendly they gave us a ride up to town and saved us over an hour of hiking with our heavy boats. We found a hotel and took much appreciated warm showers for the first time in a week. I went and bought some shorts and Darin bought some clothes as well. After we were showered and dressed we went out for food. We had a good dinner and then slept like babies in a real bed.

8/30 Sunday

Rocky said there was a bus that would take us back to the intermediary town at 8 in the morning. I woke everyone up at seven thirty and we went down to where the bus would pass. Unfortunately it became clear after talking with the bus driver that the kayaks would not fit on the bus, and it did not have an over head rack. He wanted to fit them, and tried one in the back, but they were just too big. Luckily Rocky and Ben spoke enough Spanish to get us a ride in a pick up truck. It would be 7 hours in the back of this pick up truck on four wheel drive roads. But that was our best option, and that was the one we chose.

The pick up truck drive came back about an hour later with the truck. He was going to take this opportunity of us paying him to drive us to the intermediary town to take his family to see other family. In the cab was his wife and their two boys. In the back where we would sit was his wifeís mom and sister. It was unexpected but worked out well as they were friendly.

The road was quite bumpy, but the views were absolutely spectacular. Along the way we stopped at a house for food and had a nice breakfast before getting back on the road. We bought some fruit on the way as well and enjoyed our ride sharing food with the mom and sister.

We arrived in the intermediary town around 5 five p.m. Rafa showed up with Rockyís truck not too long after that. We dropped Rafa off at the bus station at his request and then started the long drive back to Mazatlan. Not long into the drive the exhaust system broke near the exhaust manifold and became amazingly and annoyingly loud. Oh well. There wasnít anything we could do about it then. We stopped for some food on the drive back and got to Mazatlan around 11pm.

Photo - 45
Photo - 46

We found a hotel on the way to the airport, showered, found a way to sleep the four of us in one room and went to sleep comfortable and happy.

8/31 Monday

The next morning we looked for some breakfast without success and drove on to the airport. James dropped Ben, Darin and myself off as we unpacked our gear. We said our goodbyes to James and waited for our respective flights. I got home that evening after two flights and a drive of about two hours.

This was one of the most productive trips I have ever done. We were on the river seven of nine days in country and ran an amazing and monumental first descent. It was total success on every level! Looking back on this trip and the gear I used to get me through it as comfortably and safely as possible, I cannot be more thankful that I wear Eddie Bauer gear. The insulation layers are warm and comfortable. The shell layers are flexible and protecting from the elements. Everything packs down well for carrying, and I know I have the most capable and technical gear on the market. Such capable gear made the trip smoother in every aspect.