Archive for July, 2011

A week ago I found myself high up in the drainage of the Río Madre Vieja. The lower Madre Vieja has been known for a few years now as the “fastest drop around”, dropping continuously at 140 ft/mi but hardly needing a scout. I’ve dropped the 1600 feet in 2.5 hours without breaking a sweat. Anyway, I hadn’t gotten up higher before due to 1. lack of car access, 2. lack of water, and 3. the intimidating gradient (200+ ft/mi) and narrow canyons up there.

Just 2 months ago a friend of mine, Axel Alburez, went hiking up there, looking for a canyoning-camp route. They estimated 4 hours to hike 4 km of the river. When they hadn’t shown up by noon the 2nd day several of us starting making plans to go in and the look for him the 3rd day. As it turned out they found their way out just before dark the 2nd day. They reported a deep narrow canyon with many cliffed-in waterfalls that forced them to climb up and down constantly. However, at their exit point, 3 km above the known kayak put-in and only 1 hour from a road, the canyon appeared to be mellowing a bit and he guessed it to be more runnable. Thus was formed the challenge in my mind.

On July 4th independence was gained. We arrived at the trailhead under a cloudy sky. A couple local kids volunteered to be our trail guides, and in 45 minutes we were at the river with a nice low first-descent flow, about 250 cfs. The first 10 minutes was fun boogie-water, then at the first steeper bit I got out of my boat. While scouting, I turned around to see my boat running the rapid without me! I hate it when I’m stupid. I was almost able to grab it as it went by me, then I was off and boulder-hopping to keep up with it. As the rapid curved I looked up to see the river dropping between two cliffs. I was thinking that if I didn’t stop the boat now I may never see it again. Luckily right then it eddied-out just long enough for me to grab it. After catching my breath it was time to scout the drop into the chasm. Oh, did I mention I was alone?
As it turned out I was looking at the entrance of the first of four mini-canyons on this run. This first one was the most spooky, with a good-sized cliffin-in drop at both the entrance (a 12 ft-slide) and exit (16 ft-slide). Luckily both drops were good to go, though it took a bit of strenous climbing to verify. In fact the run is fun as heck, and an incredible experience visually. Definitely one of the best runs on the Pacific side of Guatemala. With all the scouting it took me 2 hours to go only 3 km, but who’s in a hurry?
There’s still plenty left to discover in this part of the world, folks!

For a video summary (warning: low production values), see: upper Madre Vieja on YouTube

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