A Little Info on Ecuador’s Volcanoes and a Lot of Ecuadorian Whitewater to get us Started on 2011!

(Kayakers playing with sparklers always makes for fun times)

Ecuador has a ton of coolshitfor lack of a better word. I’m constantly blown away by the biodiversity, scope of topographical relief, and just the overallcoolnessof Ecuador.

On this last trip, we were talking about the 7 Natural Wonders of the World (which are, according to, Aurora Borealis, Grand Canyon, Paricutin, Victoria Falls, Great Barrier Reef, Mount Everest, and the Harbor of Rio De Janeiro) and held a small panel of experts discussion on what would the 7 natural wonders of Ecuador be…Undoubtably the snowcovered volcanoes would count, as would Ecuador’s various amazing rivers (both for their whitewater🙂 and for their importance to the Amazon and habitat to many endemic species.

(Joni putting the Booy-ya in Boof on the Rio Cosanga. —Photo by Curtis Ahlers)

There were lots of other things that made our list, but through all of this I couldn‘t help but to think about Alexander Von Humboldt and his explorations in Ecuador. I can’t imagine how amazing all this was when it was virtually unknown in the European World. It‘s incredible thefirsts” he came across in Ecuador. Read on to learn more about Humboldt, and about Ecuador’s most interesting volcanoes (the two are somewhat tied together, I promise)!

(Devon Barker, sporting a beautiful new Jackson Hero, styles the line at Chibolo.  Nice color scheme Jackson Folks!  We are stoked to have this boat in our fleet now)

Among his South American Firsts (in the areas between Venezuela, Ecuador and Peru), Humboldt discovered theoil bird,” Electric Eels, the Casiquiare Canal (a link between the Amazon and Orinoco Rivers), and much more. Just as an interesting side note, the Casiquiare Canal is the largest river on the planet that links 2 major river systemsaka a “bifurcation.” Humboldt also discovered the fertilization qualities of guano, and began promoting its use in Europe.

(Becky psyched to be on the Piatua River enjoying sunshine and warm weather. Tena, Ecuador is a far cry from Lansing Michigan in terms of climate! —Photo by Curtis A.)

Of his numerous discoveries and scientific advances, Humboldt is most well known for his studies and advances in meteorology (The Humboldt Current) and in physical geography. As part of this latter passion, Humboldt liked climbing mountains–ah ha, see the tie in with volcanoes? Ecuador has a lot of great mountains (feeding a lot of great rivers), so let‘s talk a little about that!

(Volcan Chimborazo. 6,310 meters, 20, 702 feet)

In 1802, Humboldt, along with Aime Bonpland, attempted to climb Chimborazothen thought to be the tallest mountain in the world. No one really knows how high they made it, although there is a general consensus today that they reached an elevation of 5,875 meters (19, 274 feet). This was supposedly higher than any other Europeans had climbed to date.

(Adam nails the boof in Triple Drop on the Rio Cosanga while Devon films with the helmetcam and Joni watches her sweetie in action!  –Photo Curtis A.)

It would be 78 years after Humboldt‘s attempt before any humans reached the summit of Chimborazo. In 1880, Edward Whyemper and Louis and JeanAntoine Carrel finally made it all the way to the top of Chimborazothe mountain whose summit boasts the point farthest from the center of the earth.

(Fruits and veggies anyone? Local produce market near Tena, Ecuador. —Photo Curtis A.)

But Chimborazo is not the only interesting volcano in Ecuador…Antisana is the 4th tallest mountain in Ecuador weighing in at 5,753 (18,874 feet). It is particularly special to us at Small World Adventures because it is also the headwaters of the Quijos River which, besides flowing right past our lodge, hosts over 100 miles of awesome whitewater!

(Curtis, our resident photographer, handed his camera off for this shot of him runningDame su Gasolina” on the Piatua River).

Volcan Reventador is also special to us at SWA because we can see it from our lodge, and often enjoy morning walks (when the vista is most likely to be clear) checking out its 1/2 cone shape. 30,000 years ago (give or take a couple thousand), Reventador erupted big time, blowing off the entire top half of the mountain (a la Mount Saint Helens). If it weren‘t for this eruption, geologists believe it would be the tallest mountain in Ecuador. Today, a small cone is rebuilding inside the caldera, and the mountain occasionally sends up plumes of ash and smoke.

(The Ano Viejos of Cabanas Tres Rios. These poor guys were just trying to enjoy a few beers in the sunshinelittle did they know what awaited them).

Speaking of ash and smoke, those two elements play a key role in Ecuador’s New Year‘s celebrations. Each year families will build munecas (or mannequins) to represent the Old Year (Ano Viejos). They will often represent something or someone they don’t like that they wish to do away with in with the coming of the new year. But people also just make fun things too with whatever they have laying around the house to dress up theirdollswith. So we got Tio Larry and Nano Paul as our Ano Viejos.

(Tio Larry going down in flames!)

But, we couldn‘t quite wait until midnight so at 9pm the burning commenced! A few brave souls jumped the fire, and the rest of us just watched and thought about everything that happened in 2010, and dreamed about what might happen in 2011.

(Rebekah making the most of 2010 by BOATING on the last day of the year! —Photo Curtis A.)

Moving onto to Volcan Cotopaxi, which is the highest ACTIVE volcano in the world. It stands at 5,897 meters (19,347 feet), and is the most popular mountain to climb in Ecuador. Cotopaxi is also the headwaters to the tributaries that come together to form the Jatunyacu (Upper Napo) that eventually flow into the flatlands where it becomes the Napo proper.

(Whoa, I didn‘t know monkeys could get beer guts too! —Photo Curtis A.)

Cayambe is also an interesting volcano because it is the only point on Earth where the equator actually passes through snow! The equator bisects Cayambe at 4,690 meters (15,387 feet). This is also the highest altitude on Earth that the equator passes through. Cayambe‘s summit is 5,790 meters (18,996 feet).

(Traffic jam on the bridge to the Piatua. —Photo Curtis A.)

Volcan Sumaco is near Tena, and while it only stands at a puny 3,990 meters tall (13,090 feet), it is one of the more treacherous to climb. Summiting Sumaco typically takes 5 days of slogging through mud, rain, and thick jungle. (Compare to a 1.5 day ascent of Cotopaxi).

(Devon on the big water Lower Quijos. —Photo Curtis A.)

So, I know I kind of got off the topic of Humboldt, but his passion for exploration and his incredible achievments led others to suffer in the spirit of adventure which has led to many great athletic endeavors as well as many great scientific discoveries.

(Curtis looking pretty in front of a nice jungle waterfall)

Ecuador is a much different place now than it was in the early 1800’s when Humboldt was discovering new species, new ocean currents, new meteor showers (Leonids), but there is still incredible opportunities for personal discovery. I don’t necessarily mean soulsearching (although this can happen too), but rather, seeing and experiencing things for YOUR first time. Say, if you come paddling with us, you won‘t be the first person to ever run the Quijos River, but it will be your first time, and the thrill of discovery is still alive and well on these such journeys.

(Ah, the marks of a true guide–Machete, Gum boots, and a “Man Purse.” Larry V. leading the crew on a jungle hike to discover birds, cool plants, and waterfalls)

So, in closing, I encourage all of you to come discover Ecuador for yourselves!  It’s an amazing place.

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