Ecuador’s Rio Oyacachi

(Chris Tretwold exiting one of hundreds of steep boulder garden rapids found on the Upper Oyacachi during the 2-day run)
Ecuador’s Rio Oyacachi is truly a gem of a river and we are lucky enough to have it as one of our many awesome back yard runs.  What makes the Oyacachi so special to me is that it is runnable at an amazing variety of levels.  Low water, medium water, high water it’s all super fun (flood stage isn’t so good).  And, from Class III+ boaters on up to V+ expedition boaters, there is a little something for everyone on this versatile river.
(Don Beveridge looking small amongst the big boulders found along the day stretch)
For the Class V expedition boater looking for a good challenge, the Upper Oyacachi is hands down one of Ecuador’s most challenging stretches of whitewater.  But, it’s not just the whitewater that makes doing this 2 or 3 day run difficult, you also have to take into account the logistical challenges of the run and the ever-present threat of rising water. 
(Don Beveridge dropping the tallest waterfall you’ll find on the Upper Oyacachi)
The best way to drive to the put in is past the Papallacta Hot Springs and through an area that has restricted access because it one of Quito’s water sources.  If you can secure permission to drive through here though, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of Antisana, Cayembe and the surrounding Paramo (you’ll also save yourself a 6 hour drive around through Quito).   
However you get there, from the town of Oyacachi, you’ll want to drive downstream on the newly constructed road until the river looks boatable.  It will be pretty silly for the first few miles, but then you’ll quickly come into the crux of the run that I call the “Middle 13.”  The middle 13 miles of this run drop between 300-400 feet per mile.  Lacking any significant waterfalls, that means insanely steep, relentless boulder gardens.  It’s like the Bottom 9 on the Middle Kings on crack.
(Darcy Gaechter boofing her way down a nice clean series towards the beginning of the “Middle 13”)

After the Middle 13, the rivers eases somewhat for the last few miles before the normal put in for the day stretch–a tiny town called San Juan (it’s not really a town, but there are 3 house there).  The real trick to doing this run is getting lucky and having clear weather for the 2 or 3 days you take to do the run.  Too low of water is no good because it’s a damn rocky run and you want things to be padded out, but too high of water can be ruinous to your paddling trip!  For a full write up on this run (including what happens when you get rained on and have high water on the Upper Oyacachi) check out Darcy’s article in American Whitewater

(Don Beveridge enjoying rapid #1 of the Day Stretch)

While the Upper Oyacachi is awesome, the suffering to fun ratio make it a trip you want to do once a year at most.  But the regular run on the Oyacachi is a whole different ball game.  I’d do that run everyday if I could!  From the day stretch put in up at San Juan the river, during normal flows, is incredibly fun Class IV+/V-.  Boulder gardens, boof, and big water-feeling moves all abound in this 6-mile stretch.   When the water is high, you can still run this part of the river, but be ready for big water Class V.  It’s a hoot, but don’t expect to see any eddies!

 (Darcy and Hilary Neevel boat scout their way down the Oyacachi)

When you put in at San Juan it’s off to the races immediately with about 1.5 miles of non-stop IV+/V-.   At regular flows, there are eddies in this stretch, but don’t waste your time looking around for any pools! You’ll want to make sure you are well-conditioned for the non-stop character of this section.   For people who aren’t quite up to the full-on start of the Oyacachi from San Juan, you can put in at a hanging bridge about 2 miles downstream from San Juan.  Some of the biggest rapids on the day stretch still lay below this bridge, but the rapids are slightly more spread out with a few more breaks giving the river a more IV/IV+ feel.

 (Chris making his boof count on the Upper Oyacachi)

For the III+ or IV- boater who is just getting into creeking, the Oyacachi also offers you a section, albeit, a very short one.  You can put in about 1 mile upstream of the Oyacachi/Quijos confluence.  Using this put in, you’ll have the option of running 1 Class IV rapid right at the put in, then you’ll have 3/4 of a mile of fun Class III+/IV- “boogie water” and then 1 last solid Class IV rapid right before the take out.  Even though it’s super short, it’s a great introduction to the Rio Oyacachi.  While paddling this run, don’t forget to look for the famous Andean Cock of the Rock.  This brightly colored bird is a rare prize for avid bird watchers; but us lucky kayakers get to see them on a regular basis on the Rio Oyacachi.

So, whether you are a seasoned expedition kayaker or just cutting your teeth in the creek boating world; don’t miss the Oyacachi on your trip to Ecuador!

(Don lining up on the lead in to “Ejector Seat.”  Lookers on wonder if he’ll be ejected…or style it?)

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