The Upper Oyacachi has all the makings of a good adventure. It’s a hard river. It’s like a life-sized puzzle that for 2 days you’ll constantly be trying to figure out–where to kayak, where to portage? It’s got sections of truly amazing whitewater. It’ll leave you physically exhausted. With the ever unpredictable Amazonian weather, there’s no guarantee you’ll end with the same water level you began with. So you have high potential for fun, high potential for suffering, with a little uncertainty thrown in. Sound awesome? Well then, the Upper Oyacachi is for you.
So I figured I had to put a whitewater shot in first to get your attention, but now here is a little background.
It was Chris and Hilary’s last few days in Ecuador and they wanted to do “something different.” So, we set off for the Upper Oyacachi–the 2 day trip from the town of Oyacachi up at 10,367 feet in elevation down to the town of El Chaco at 4,724 feet.
We couldn’t have done it without Wilo, our long-time neighbor and friend, as he helped us arrange permission to drive through the National Park/Quito’s main water source to get to our river. The drive ins’t far in kilometers, but it’s slow going as you traverse dirt roads between the Papallacta Hot Springs and the little village of Oyacachi. There is abundant wildlife up here and the views of Antisana and Cayembe are stunning if you have a clear day (and you probably want a clear day if you are heading into the Upper Oyacachi). As of this writing, the road continued from the town of Oyacachi down river about 10 kilometers so you can drive downstream until the river looks more boatable.
Don Beveridge holds the world record number of descents down the Upper Oyacachi with 4 now, and I’m a close 2nd with 3 descents. When Chris and Hilary mentioned that they wanted to do this trip, I’ll admit, we hemmed a hawed a while. We just knew there would be a lot of what’s going on in the above photo (portaging).
But, we eventually remembered that there would also be a lot of what’s going on in the above photo, so ultimately we decided to go for it.
This run has always been a bit of a dilemma for me. On the one hand, it’s a hell of a lot of work paddling stuff like what you see in this photo for 2 days straight; but on the other hand, it’s a hell of a lot of fun paddling this stuff for 2 days straight. Here, Chris is sitting above a fairly typical scene on the Oyacachi (although this series is somewhat less steep than many). But, you get the idea, it’s never ending boat scouting, land scouting, and running steep drops with some portages thrown in the mix. The longest we ever went on this trip without having to get out and scout was 15 minutes (out of a total of 13 hours of paddling over 2 days to get to the “normal” Oyacachi put in where we know all the lines).
Still, the memory of my first trip down the river (Don’s 2nd trip) was weighing heavily on my mind as we made trip preparations. In 2004, we put in and had a great first day of paddling on maybe 400-800 CFS (an ideal flow for this river which, for much of the upper run drops between 300 and 400 feet per mile). But then, as we slept that night it rained, and rained, and rained really F-ing hard. We woke up to, no exaggeration, around 5,000 CFS of river rushing by our camp. And, 5,000 CFS just ain’t cool when you are talking 300-400 feet per mile. Needless to say, it was hellish getting out of there. Carrying a fully loaded boat of camping gear from sun up to sun down tends to dampen the spirits.
But, as Don reminded me, if flows are good, as they were on my 2nd trip (his 3rd), you are treated to literally hundreds of boofs over the 2 days of paddling.
The first part of the first day, there really isn’t quite enough water for proper paddling. But, that’s how you want it to be. If there was enough water, up high, you’d be pretty screwed down below. After groveling our way down through the first hour or so, more and more sizable tributaries started to join the river giving us a good flow.
Relaxing around the fire after paddling for 6.5 hours the first day. We are enjoying some hummus, lentils and rice, and of course, some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
6:30am the next day, trying to rally ourselves to put on the wet gear and keep going. I guessed we still had 5 hours of paddling to get to the “normal” Oyacachi put in. Deep down I was hoping it might be less than that, but I was wrong! It ended up taking us 6 hours to the regular put in. Then we blazed the last 10 kilometers of the “day run” in 1.5 hours–we were motivated to get to the take out!
This was an exhilarating way to wake up–especially since we didn’t bring any coffee with us! It doesn’t look so bad here, but considering it went on for about 200 meters it took some concentration.
More typical boulders and whitewater that make the Upper Oyacachi oh so wonderful and oh so challenging at the same time.
Day 2 had some big rapids, as well as some big portages. I can’t remember where exactly this photo was taken, so I’m not sure what Chris is thinking here, but it’s probably 1 of the 3: “Damn, why didn’t I bring coffee on this trip.” “damn! Not another portage!” Or, “hot damn, another killer boof!”
If you look closely at some of these photos you can really get a feel for how “never ending” the run is. The gradient really is amazing, and it’s even more incredible that so much of it is runnable. Oh ya, and check out the great rainforest in the background.
I have to take full responsibility for the crappy photography in the photo, but it’s hard doing group self portraits with a straight and steady hand after 7 hours of paddling and a shot of tequila! Anyhow, you get the idea.
Check out The Kayaker’s Guide to Ecuador for more beta on this run if you want to check it out!