We got a late start that morning. I can’t remember why, but it was noon before we got to the put in which was only 30 minutes from Tena. I didn’t even know the name of the river we were going on, never mind the where it started or where it went to. The only thing I knew was that we told the taxi driver 5pm for the take out time some 12 miles through the canyon. I can tell you now that the name of the river run was the lower Missaulli (sp). The river was supposed to have some really good big water play spots and challenging rapids, especially at high water. We had an incredible night of rain the night before ending mid-morning. We watched some natives ferrying family members across the river at the put-in in their dug out canoes. They dealt with the eddy lines and current with ease, even with their canoe so loaded that the gunnels were only a few inches above the water. I am going to use a piece of video Chris got of them to demonstrate how Speed, Angle, and Spin Momentum effect your boat during a ferry. They have mastered these concepts.
The river run started like any other. We warmed up and prepared to expend all of our energy running the rapids, while surfing every wave and hole we could find. For me the best days of paddling are getting off the river exhausted from playing hard all day. This is my training, and the harder I train the better I do, so I avoid being out worked (played) on the river! Danny and I decided to run a challenging line on the biggest rapid we have hit yet. It was a cool line that had us paddling about 10 feet up on this big pillow of water against a house sized rock into a big hole that sucked us under for a few seconds spitting us out down stream 20 feet or so. It made for good video and was quite exciting. We were quite fortunate that the rain had just ended. Not only was the river super high and brown, but also, all of the little creeks were swollen and pumping water over the canyon walls creating incredible waterfalls. Around every corner was a 200+ foot waterfall shooting off the top of the canyon wall and dropping into the river. One was so big that the wind coming off of it made it almost impossible to paddle near it without being blown over. The sight made me shake my head affirming why I do what I do. Life is good. Chris had run this river the prior year at much lower water and warned us that there was a class V portage coming up with a dicey put in requiring a rope. We rounded the corner and stopped at a major horizon line, signifying that there was a falls below. We all got out, realizing that this was our portage. Chris seemed confused by the rock wall on the side, saying that a rockslide must have occurred since the last time he was there. We scurried along the shore on slippery rocks, stepping on one rock that was protruding out from the cliff of dirt that was the only rock that allowed you to cross the cliff. It was about 20 feet above the falls and was not a rock to be trusted; it could have fallen at any time. I cringed every time I scaled across that point. Chris scouted out our portage and looked quite discouraged. It was not looking good. The difficult put-in was now both underwater and there was nowhere to get in the boat except on a steep sloping rock above a major part of falls about ½ way down it. It was possible if someone could hold your boat while you got in, and then seal launch into a steep Class V+ rapid that would take your head off if you flipped. Danny had never portaged a rapid before. We were all excited to give Danny his first portage experience and we were sure it would be a good one. It took us about five minutes to get back up to our boats to prepare for another strategy of portaging. We decided that we would hike our boats up into the jungle to get above the cliffs, traverse along the side of the mountainside until the cliffs ended and hike back down to the river. Chris remembered from last years run that the cliffs went as least as far as the next bend we could see which was about ¼ mile down stream. I was hot and thirsty from the hard playing on the river and the hiking around. I drank the rest of my Gatorade before we started to stay hydrated, and I didn’t want to carry the extra weight around anyway. We were about ½ down the river run and in virgin jungle. Another 15 miles and the river meets with the Napo to form the Amazon.
Upon beginning the portage Chris got out his camera and we each gave a short interview. The consensus was that we were going to embark on a jungle adventure, known as Danny’s first portage. Our spirits were high and everybody looked at the task at hand as an adventure that would be fun. The hike was quite difficult at the onset. I was wearing a pair of board shorts and a short-sleeved polypro shirt, and a set of 5-10 booties. Chris was wearing long lycra pants and booties. Jessie and Danny both had shorts and wet suit socks on, so they opted to hike bare foot. We were all carrying our kayaks, paddle jackets, paddles, and helmets. Chris also had a video camera. Right from the beginning the way was near vertical. I would make toe holds in the soft jungle ground and use roots for handholds. Once I got above a vertical section I would stow my boat against a tree and have the others hand up their boats to me and then we would attack the next section. The Jungle was super thick, with a full canopy of trees above us. The plants that we were climbing through, and over were surprisingly friendly. No thorns, not much for wild life, certainly we kept our eyes open for snakes in the beginning, but the verticality was our primary concern. We did discover on plant that looked good for grabbing while climbing that was covered in tiny thorns. It was more abrasive than painful, but began to wear on the legs quite quickly. The best feature of the mountainside was the dirt. It was super slick mud under a fine layer of moss, leaves, and plants, but was also very soft. We discovered that we could kick our feet halfway into it creating a foothold, much like in snow. Crampons would have been very helpful. Jessie only weighs 130 pounds and was carrying the same weight as Danny, Chris, and I. She had been working out at Radu’s gym in New York City, voted best workout in NY. Her boyfriend, Eric Stiller, was terrorizing her with incredible Yoga and calisthenics workouts for a few weeks before the trip on top of her already incredible physical conditioning, so she was probably as prepared for the physical challenge as any 130 pound man or woman could be. She also likes to abuse her self with tough workouts, so this was a dream come true. Danny trains daily for slalom kayaking and his endurance base is incredible. Chris simply paddles, bikes, and snowboards a lot. He is in great shape by most people’s standards, and luckily he is about 190 pounds and 6’ 1” so the kayak was less of a burden for his size, but he also had another bag with a video camera and accessories. I wasn’t in the best shape of my life by any means, especially after two weeks of holiday food and drink, and no paddling. But my body is always ready for a challenge.