Aspen Whitewater Rafting, a small whitewater company based in Aspen, CO, recently had a ┬Ęcompany retreat┬Ęto Ecuador with Small World Adventures. (You can check them out at Since they were a group of our friends, Don and I did not feel too badly about making them suffer a little bit. We had a few obscure trips we wanted to try out on some people, and the AWR crew proved to be the perfect guinea pigs…I think they will all tell you that their extra suffering was worth it in the end.

We started imposing on the AWR team before they even left Colorado…we had most of them laden down with things to bring to us here in Ecuador, including this new, shiney Jackson Allstar kayak that Shannan was kind enough to bring down to us–thanks Shannan! It sure looks good on our van with the Ecuadorian flag flying in the background.

Ross and Luke decided they wanted to try out our shredder for a fairly high water run down El Chaco Canyon, so Jess and Kate we left alone to their own devices in the 14 foot raft. Needless to say, they didn’t have much mo in the big water, but they ended up swimning less than anyone else on the trip:) Way to go girls.

We also got to test out the sweet new ride that Small World will be using for the rest of the season. The Sprinter is awesome! I think I could get used to cruising around the county in luxury. We had a rare CLOUDLESS day, and got this excellent view of Cayambe (which means “water of life” in Quichua), Ecuador’s thrid highest peak at 5,790 meters. According to some guidebooks, Cayambe is the highest point in the world on the equator.

Kate and Luke enjoying a little flatwater in the shredder. Here is the whole crew (minus Darcy who is taking this lovely photo), enjoying Ecuador’s finest beer–Pilsner.

We learned on this trip that there are a few extra challenges to life when traveling with a raft. But, please note, you can still see Cayambe in the background.

Yep, that is the raft traveling through the jungle, but now it is human propelled rather than mule propelled. After a little over an hour, the trail got so steep, muddy and overgrown that the mule couldn’t make it.

So if you are wondering yet what all this hiking is for…it’s for the Coca River–one of the prettier runs in all of Ecuador. Unfortunately, as you can see, the Coca has some serious access problems. Don and Kate are contemplating how far they still have to go…you can actually see the river from up on the road where you start hiking. It’s hard to imagine it will really take you 2 hours to get there–in fact, we didn’t believe some local guys when they told us that, but they were right!

After the Quijos River plunges over 485 foot tall San Rafael Falls, it’s name changes to the Coca. About 14 miles or so downstream of the falls, there is a run that we refer to in our guidebook simply as the “Coca.”

It’s a big water Class IV-IV+ run depending on water levels, and might be a classic if it weren’t for a couple of things: #1 a 2 hour hike into the put in and #2 30 miles of pretty darn flat water after the rapids.

But, if you don’t mind hiking through knee deep mud in the jungle for 2 hours, and paddling a little bit of flatwater (ok, 30 miles of it), you will be heavily rewarded for your efforts. After 2 hours of being covered in mud, splashing around in the river feels great.

Darcy and the raft crew practicing for the big water rapids that lay ahead. Ross and Shannan were in the shredder for this run and flipped just as often as the raft did (1 time for each craft).

Once floating in the river, the scenery continues to be pretty damn cool.

There are lots of waterfalls on this run!

Yeah, more waterfalls…

Jim, Luke, Darcy and Jess are scouting a previously unnamed rapid. It is now affectionately called “Aspen Extreme.” Our raft successfully made it through 99% of the rapid, then we flipped on the wall at the bottom. The “flatwater” swim afterwards proved to be much more challenging than any of us imagined.

This is the view just downstream of Aspen Extreme. It looked fairly flat from the scouting rock, but pretty damn big from water level (literally).

Here is Team Aspen Extreme resting up after the big swim. And, I feel I have full rights to make fun of us since it was I who was captianing the raft. I swear, that wall came out of nowhere. The Coca run has tons of great whitewater that starts immediately after you put in. The character is BIG water, with rapids such as “The Hole that Ate the Conquistadors,” “Aspen Extreme,” and “Flip the Shredder.” The main goal of the day was to avoid holes big enough to swallow a couple Ecuadorian buses in one gulp. Happily, everyone avoided such holes. A wall got the raft, and a monsterous seam got the shredder.

After most the whitewater is over, the Coca flows through what the locals call the Canyon of the Monkeys. On this trip it proved to be true to its name.

I always think it’s a bit dorky when people claim stuff like this, but what the hell, I’m gonna say it: We think that Ross and Shannan got a shredder first descent of the Coca. They only flipped once in a rapid we now call “Flip the Shredder” and they laughed with glee as they sailed through the rapid that got the raft. They were a wee bit tired of the shredder though by the end of the flatwater.

All that flatwater is good for something: Luke comtempletating…well, somthing…after his swim in Aspen Extreme.Ah, shredders are good for much more than just whitewater.

After a wonderful, but somewhat tiring trip down the Coca, we did another run and a little sighseeing before heading back to home sweet home at Small World’s cabins–Cabanas Tres Rios

The raft got a little close to the “thing” here. Luckily there was a big pillow.

Rio Malo waterfall

Luke looking apocolyptic in front of the Rio Malo’s spray.

The next day we were off to the Lower Quijos to face Gringos Revueltos.I wouldn’t exactly say that things went smoothly, but everyone made it through the holes without getting scrambled. We have some video of the runs which I will try to post once I figure out how:)Don seal launching back in from his video/saviour post. No saving was necessary, so he was just the video guy.

For our last day we switched gears from the big water we had been running all week, and hit the Lower Cosanga. It was a great and super technical day, without incident except for when Don wrapped, flipped and swam all in the exact same spot in the river. Don’t ask how he did it, he’s just that good. At any rate, everyone was good and tuckered out by the end of the week. As Jess said, “you know it’s been a good vacation when you get home and need a vacation from your vacation.”

Once again, we had amazing views on the drive back to the lodge.

Although you are a few thousand feet above river level, you can actually see Gringos Revueltos from the road. Mostly though, after a week of epic whitewater, we just felt we deserved to drink a Pilsner and walk on the pipeline at the same time.


For anyone thinking of coming on a trip with us in Ecuador, please keep in mind that we don’t make all our guests walk hours through knee deep mud, go swimming, then drink a bunch of beer–but we certainly can if you ask us! Seriously though, we really enjoy driving to both the put in and the take out, and we assume most of you kayakers out there do too, so that is what we do on our trips unless you specifically request extra suffering. Check out for more info about road-accessable runs, supurb food and lodging, and world-class kayaking.


It’s better not to ask, but yes, that is Don and he is holding a blow gun.

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