Thursday, January 31, 2013

Rio Caqueta, two days in a committing canyon

Rio Caqueta, two days in a committing canyon

Yea! its walled in, Chris Baer, Colombia, Rio Caqueta
Yea! its walled in, look close that little spec is Jared
The Colombian adventure continues, next on the check list was the third descent of the Rio Caqueta. With some amazingly vague beta, "It should take one or… three days? there is some pushy white water! with a portage… or a few!?" Giorgio Codleuppi, Jared Page, Joel Fedak and myself packed our boats with a little better then an overnights worth of food, light weight sleeping arrangements, and few guaranties. What we could see from maps was that the canyon was covered in a dense jungle, and was very containing.

middle of no where

We piled into a pickup truck and made our way to the river. Upon arrival the river's flow looked pretty low, but the general size of the river was huge! An estimated 4,000 cubic feet of water per second was pumping through the canyon. We put on directly below the highway and quickly arrived at a vertically walled section. It's Beautiful! There are a few small water falls plunging hundreds of feet into the canyon. These falls make the walls glisten with their spray.

House size rocks, and hydraulics to match, Chris Baer, Colombia, Rio Caqueta
House size rocks, and hydraulics to match

Into the big rapids!

Early on day one, receiving a single thumbs up I charged into what looked like the big side of a fun rapid. Coming into the blind bottom section it was one huge feature after the next. A couple strong forward strokes blasting through hydraulics, a quick brace, and a WTF! In front of me was a twelve foot wide six foot deep hydraulic. The bravado in me said to boof over the hole. My attempt was almost laughable. A quick window shade and I popped up just in time to throw a horrible looking loop towards the corner of the hole. One more window shade, and I resurfaced with a single thought, "That can't happen again." The group pulled over and took a time-out to reassess our hand signals.


Big and Pushy

There was immense pour overs everywhere! Our group did a fair amount of scouting, wadded through side channels, and peering over house size boulders into the turbulent river. With an empty boat and a solid warm up, I know most of the marginal lines could come together… With a heavy boat and the looming walls of the canyon, skirting and running away from big features was the game plan.

Wild Pink flower, Colombia, Chris Baer, Rio Caqueta

Late in day one the pace was slowing, it was one huge barely scoutable rapid after the next. We spent an hour of scouting a particularly nasty rapid, just to agree upon a cheat line. Climbing out of our boats at the next horizon line we were confronted with an enormous siphon, the entire rivers flow smashes into a couple apartment building size rocks and disappears. After our quick portage the light started to dwindle.

4,000 cfs siphon, Colombia, Chris Baer, Rio Caqueta,
4,000 cfs siphon
(Colombian rivers have been known to rise incredible amounts, last year Mark Hentze was washed away in the middle of the night do to a huge unexpected surge of water.)

We chose an elevated beach and unloaded our boats. The scenery was beautiful; but camping in the jungle has a few draw backs. Sand flies, and constant precipitation, made the small damp fire a little less enjoyable. We ate food and shared stories of near misses with huge hydraulics. As the evening developed the temperature dropped, and I found myself with an inadequate sleeping system. I slept in every layer I had that wasn't soaking wet.

Beautful flower, colombia, Rio Caqueta, Chris Baer

Day Two we awoke to clear skies and gorgeous views

Once on water we were confronted with more scouting, and more running from huge pour overs. Arriving at yet another large rapid Giorgio charged in and disappeared over a large horizon line… It took him a few seconds to come back into view. When Giorgio looked upstream he once again gave us an awkward hand gesture. Joel was next to paddle into the melee. Upon arriving at the bottom of the rapid, Joel's hand single was distinctly different. His hand signal portrayed a very well defined get left!
Jared took off into the rapid looking for the left line, unfortunately he found himself disappearing off a large horizon line. From above I could see his boat catch major air twice before relieving itself of the hydraulic. Jared then rolled up just in time to fall into yet another, much larger hydraulic. His beating resumed immediately. Jared was dealing with a heavy decision, and oxygen depravation was working against him. Abandoning craft, sleeping arraignment, clean water, and food, Jared hit the eject button. Thankfully Giorgio and Joel were in great position, and cleaned up the situation quickly.

Giorgio making friends with a local fishing family, Chris Baer, Colombia, Rio Caqueta
Giorgio Codleuppi making friends with a local fishing family

Mid day on day two we exited the canyon. The gradient and pace quickly petered off, and we found ourselves slowly dodging fishing boats. We paddled the last two hours to our take out in the small community of Puerto Limon.

Puerto Limon, looking back at the beautiful Caqueta valley, Chris Baer, Colombia
Puerto Limon, looking back at the beautiful Caqueta valley

adventure brought to you by Chris Baer


  1. Tell Joel That he's been Paddling with Bigwater Chris too much if he thinks that looks low.

  2. Bigwater chris has def affected perceptions, most people's juice is too low for him. Low is relative to high for sure, too high looks low in the right light, ESP from a thousand feet up... Nice work Mr Baer.