Never Winter – Family Whitewater Adventures (Ecuador)

This post was initially published on the Jackson Kayak blog at: http://jacksonkayak.com/blog/2018/01/03/never-winter-family-whitewater-adventures-part-two/

It’s winter and for most people the kayaking season has been over for a few months. For those in the northern hemispheres that are still paddling, you are likely wearing a lot of layers to ward off the chill. Time to think about heading SOUTH for warm water and warm weather…

Most people think that they can’t go off on a winter kayaking trip unless they are solid class 4/5 paddlers, and that you certainly can’t take kids! This is absolutely not the case! Over a series of four posts, we are going to lay out our experiences and recommendations for heading south as a kayaking family.

Destination #2 is Ecuador, which is located in the northwest corner of South America and is an amazing country. There are four distinct zones in Ecuador – the Amazon jungle in the east, the Andes mountains in the middle, the Pacific ocean in the west and then the Galapagos Islands off the western coast.

As a country, Ecuador is going through a number of positive transitions. It is a relatively clean country (daily garbage pick up) with solid roads, education and health care systems. The water and sewer systems are not as strong so you do need to pay attention to where your water is coming from (both drinking water, ice and food cooking water) and remember that you can’t flush toilet paper other than at the airport. It is also a very safe country and we wandered around in the evenings in a number of the towns that we visited without a single concern.

The main airport is in Quito, which is also the capital city. The main kayaking areas are all to the east and south east. In the Andes to the east the main paddling bases are in San Francisco de Borja and Baeza, two small towns near the Quijos river basin. Further to the east is Tena, which sits right on the edge of the Amazon jungle and is one of the key bases for jungle tours. To the south east is Banos, the adventure capital of Ecuador, which offers kayaking, hiking, ziplining and more. The primary currency is US $$ but be sure to bring a lot of small bills as most stores can’t change anything bigger than a $20.

Similar to our Costa Rica trip, we went to Ecuador as part of a guided trip. We chose to go with Ecuador Kayak because they offer to provide as many guides as needed to meet the levels of the group. This meant that Hunter and I could have one itinerary and Tim could have another. It worked out superbly well – Hunter and I had a great week that focused on his progression in creeking while also embedding an extra amount of local culture and information to support his homeschooling activities. Tim was able to spend his week on various class IV rivers and we got to hear all about them when we met up at the end of each day.

Other organizations that we have heard positive things about that run trips to Ecuador are Endless River Adventures (with a summer base on the Nantahalla River) and Small World Adventures (been in Ecuador for over 25 years). All three organizations are based out of San Francisco de Borja on the Quijos river but include rivers in Tena in all their trips.

We have been to Ecuador twice and have loved both trips. It is a great mixture of creeking and big water kayaking, with amazing culture and people mixed in.

We have paddled the following rivers while there:

Quijos River – there are at least five sections of this river and they run through the Quijos valley. They start out as steep creeking and then move into big water. The difficulty correlates directly to the water level.

Borja – a fun creek that runs into the Quijos and is only available when the Quijos is at medium to high levels. It is narrow and shallow but nice and close to the home base in Borja and it runs directly into the Quijos so the take out is a short walk.

Cosanga – a rocky creek style river in the Borja valley with an upper class IV section and a middle class III section

Misahualli – there is an upper, a middle section and a lower section to this beautiful river near Tena. The Upper is good solid class IV creeking with big round boulders and boofs everywhere. The Middle section is great class II/III and perfect for teaching the basics of creeking.

Upper Anzu – a fun class III river in the Tena basin with some holes and surf waves

Jatunyacu – big water, big wave trains class III run in the Tena basin that can be a half day run or a full day adventure. The Upper run starts at a fabulous eco resort with rope swings and is a class IV section. The middle starts a few bridges down and is perfect class III. This river is also known as the Upper Napo river and it is part of the headwaters of the Amazon.

Pastaza – a big water class III/IV run near Banos. Super fun with big wave trains. Beware of the water quality and try not to swallow any water and shower after the run.

Jondachi River – the quintessential class IV creeking river – amazingly scenic jungle section with super big boulders and clean blue water. Fun hike in that involves local porters carrying your boat – with it being the best $5 you have ever spent

Hollin River – a class III/IV river in the Tena basin that has something for everyone – boulders, canyons, side streams, and drops

Things to think about when considering Ecuador:

  • The Andes region is like spring paddling in most of North America – while it is sunny a lot of the days, drytops are needed most of the time and it’s great to have long pants and a fleece or light puffy jacket for evenings
  • The Amazon region is sticky and hot – perfect for rash guards and splash tops
  • Bring both bug spray and sun screen for on and off the river
  • You can use US $$ in all places but be sure to have lots of small bills.
  • Assume that the water is NOT drinkable and always ensure that the water you are drinking has come out of a bottle
  • We have invested in break apart paddles so we can bring our own paddles easily with us on the plane. For those that don’t have them, you can rent paddles in most places, which is often easier than checking full paddles as luggage (no matter how well you pack them)
  • We took full face helmets on our second trip and were really glad we had them based on the number of scratches you could see. The local paddlers just wear regular helmets so it comes down your skill and confidence levels
  • Experiencing the culture of a new country is half the fun – be sure to check out the fun foods that can be found at the corner stores and the small community restaurants
  • Try to spend a day in Quito at the beginning or end of your trip. Even better if you are there for the weekend market, which is full of local vendors. Be sure to check out the buildings and history of old town
  • If you have the time, be sure the extend your visit by even a few days and check out the town of Banos or some of the small villages in the Andes region. An amazing add on is a few days in the Gallapagos, but it can be quite expensive.

The Vincent Family (www.instagram.com/chasingthesunyt // www.facebook.com/chasingthesunyt // www.twitter.com/chasingthesunyt // www.chasingthesun.ca )

More info can be found at:

Kayak Ecuador (www.kayakecuador.com)

Endless River Adventures (https://endlessriveradventures.com/international-trips/ecuador/)

Small World (www.smallworld.com)

Never Winter – Family Whitewater Adventures (Costa Rica)

Here is part one of our four part series for Jackson Kayak on Warm Whitewater destinations for families – check it out!

Never Winter – Family Whitewater Adventures: Part one

Costa Rica – a super family friendly kayaking destination

It’s winter and for most people the kayaking season has been over for a few months. For those in the northern hemispheres that are still paddling, you are likely wearing a lot of layers to ward off the chill. Time to think about heading SOUTH for warm water and warm weather…

Most people think that they can’t go off on a winter kayaking trip unless they are solid class 4/5 paddlers, and you definitely can’t go with kids. This is absolutely not the case! Over a series of four posts, we are going to lay out our experiences and recommendations for heading south as a kayaking family.

Costa Rica is located in Central America and is one of the simplest southern destinations to visit. It is safe and clean, with good roads, education and health care systems. In most places, the water is safe to drink which can make life with kids soooo much easier! People are very friendly and you can get away with English in most places. People are also good sports about trying out your “spanglish” and teaching you new words. The colonne is the local currency, however American dollars are taken in most places.

The main airport is San Jose, which is pretty central within the country. Costa Rica is bordered by both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. The majority of the paddling takes place in the mountains east of San Jose, and just west of the Caribbean Sea. A great place to base yourself out of is the town of Turrialba.

Within a few hours are an amazing assortment of class 2 -5 rivers or river sections. The water and the air temps are generally warm. With this being the jungle/rain forest you also want to plan for the fact that it is possible to see rain at some point every day.

We have been going on winter family kayaking trips for the last four years since Hunter was 10. We have found that picking a good guide company makes all the difference in the world. For our trip to Costa Rica we went with CostaRica Rios, who have been recognized by National Geographic for their experiences. The other two companies that we have heard really positive reviews on are Esprit Rafting (with a summer base on the Ottawa River) and Endless River Adventures (with a summer base on the Nantahalla River).

We started our trip out on the Pejibaye River. The morning was spent on the class I//III lower section to get back in the groove. After a yummy jungle lunch you could step things up by running the upper, a class III/IV steeper creeking section or head back to do the lower section again and hook up with the gang from the upper when they came through.

Day Two and Three were spent on the Sarapiqui, which is about 3.5 hours from Turrialba and is considered the “Jewel of Costa Rica” – it is further into the jungle and has a more tropical feel, with lots of greenery and lushness. There are three distinct sections of the river, ranging from class II to class IV so again there is something to match up with every paddler.

Day Four was spent on the Upper Upper Pacuare – a traditional creeky, boulder section of river. This is a class II/III river that has a road paralleling it for the entire class II section, so those not confident to run the class III can do laps on the class II section. The class III section can be stepped up a bit by finding tricky lines and lots of boofs for the more advanced paddler. After the main takeout, the bottom four rapids of this run are class IV and are a fabulous way to end the day for the more advanced paddler. You meet up with the rest of the group at a picnic lunch with beverages to celebrate a fabulous end to a beautiful section.

Day Five and Six were spent on the Lower Pacuare, which is a 24 km (17m) section of river that is split up with an overnight stay in a jungle lodge. The day five section is a mixture of class II and III with lots of surfing waves and fun little rapids. There is an amazing lunch stop beside a creek with a small waterfall curtain/cave that is a perfect place for exploring.

The lodge is rustic but perfect for families – individual huts have lots of room to spread out and the more adventurous teens can sleep in a hammock in the main building. It’s pretty cool to experience sleeping in a hammock in the jungle and hearing all those noises all night!

The lower section of the Lower Pacuare are a mixture of class III+/IV. Those that are not comfortable with this level get to raft the section, which again means that all of the family members get to experience the river and have a great time together.

During the low water of the “summer season” (mid Jan – mid March) the Upper Pacuare section is also available as an option. It is another fun boulder filled creek run that will keep the class III/IV paddlers on their toes.

Things to think about when considering Costa Rica:

  • It is a very humid country and therefore hard to get gear to dry. Bring multiple sets of swim tops and shorts if you can
  • For those that are really warm blooded, you can get away with just a swim top and a shorty for the cooler days. I would wear a shorty on the warm rivers and a dry top with a swim top underneath for the cooler days
  • Bring both bug spray and sun screen for on and off the river
  • You can use US $$ in most places but be sure to have lots of small bills. It is still handy to have some colonnes for use in the small town stores for snacks and drinks.
  • We have invested in break apart paddles so we can bring our own paddles easily with us on the plane. For those that don’t have them, you can rent paddles in most places, which is often easier than checking full paddles as luggage (no matter how well you pack them)
  • Experiencing the culture of a new country is half the fun – be sure to check out the fun foods that can be found at the corner stores and the small community restaurants
  • If you have the time, consider extending your visit by even a few days and check out the beaches on either the Pacific or the Caribbean side. The week on the river is busy and tiring so beach time is a great way to slow right down truly chill out

Every guide company we have ever travelled with has offered options for non-paddling companions so if someone in the family doesn’t paddle then there are still amazing adventures to be had. They are also always open to finding childcare to help parents still feel like they are on vacation!

Are you starting to see what’s possible? Dreaming of warm water paddling and adventures with your family? Stay tuned for next week to learn more about family kayaking adventures in Ecuador!

The Vincent Family (www.instagram.com/chasingthesunyt // www.facebook.com/chasingthesunyt // www.twitter.com/chasingthesunyt // www.chasingthesun.ca )

More info can be found at:

Costa Rica Rios (www.costaricarios.com)

Esprit Rafting (http://www.riversandrainforest.com/costa-rica)

Endless River Adventures (https://endlessriveradventures.com/international-trips/costa-rica/kayak-costa-rica/)

An arborist in the making…

This summer Hunter discovered the job of “arborist” – a career choice that he knew nothing about until spending time with Grandpa and learning to cut down trees.

Grandpa Bob lives along the Thames River outside of London, Ontario. He is a marathon canoeist (remember the crazy 200km race we crewed for…) and very passionate about his canoeing. He is the guy that goes out and gets rid of all of the dead fall in the river so that everyone else can have a fun day out canoeing.

These adventures out into the river are a combination of canoeing (you have to paddle both upstream and downstream to get to the trees) and tree climbing/cutting. A great cross training activity, especially because it involves saws, knives and things with engines!

It also involves balance and core strength for when you are out on thin branches hanging over the river attempting to cut other logs…

Grandpa is definitely the resident expert at this but… don’t ask him how many saws he has dropped or lost in the river over the years 🙂 Let’s just say that he’s quite committed to the river, in more ways than one.

It was a pretty awesome way to learn new skills, get out on the water and have fun with family this summer.

Hunter would also like people to know that he’s available for any and all arborist work – he’s working on collecting his own set of tools and is only a phone call away!

Columbus for the win yet again!

Our first experience in Columbus, Georgia was two years ago. We spent a week in late November and were so impressed with everything that the city had to offer – both on the water and off. It was definitely a “must do” for our travels this fall in the south east. Lucky for us, it is an incredible paddler friendly town with a secret parking lot that is steps from the river. Urban camping at its best…

The main features are located on the Chattahoochee River, which runs right down the Alabama / Georgia border and through the main business area of Columbus (aka Uptown Columbus). There is a 2.5 mile stretch of whitewater that ranges from class II to III+ depending on the water level. There is also park and play off the island with a number of different waves that come and go at different water levels.

Water levels range from 1-4 generators and can be checked here. Predictions can be found at the Georgia Power website (select Bib Mill Pond) but they are often wrong… (to translate 1000 cfs = 1 generator, 5000 cfs = 2 generators, 10,000 cfs = 3 generators). As you can see from the chart, the water levels move around a lot. The positive note is there is something fun at every level.

 

One of the best parts of our year this year has been meeting so many other great kayakers. It was fun to get to connect with people in Columbus that we originally met back in May at Buena Vista at CKS Paddlefest.

At the top part of the island is a small wave hole and a set of rocks that is super fun to practice pogo flips off of.

Next up comes Waveshaper wave (what you can see through the boys).

Then you get to Oli wave, which shows up at 2 generators and above – super smooth surf wave with a nice pocket.

Good Wave is next in the line up (photo of Matt Hargrove styling it!) – it shows up at 2 generators and really picks up at 3 generators. Considered comparable to Garborator Wave at the Ottawa.

This is Good Wave at 1 generator – definitely a different feature… great for beginners to build up their surfing skills.

Just after Good Wave is Micro Wave, which comes in between 1 and 2 generators, and is a great beginner surf wave and a fun place to play King of the Wave, which Tim was pleased to be crowned winner…

At 2 generators and above, Great Wave is also in, which is the last wave in the line up and can be a first experience at a wave that you drop into and it stops you before zipping you down the face of the wave, ala baby face on the Ottawa.

It was pretty fabulous to spend 4 days with the Hargrove Family during our recent visit. Nothing better than having like minded friends to hang out with, on and off the river, especially for travelling families…

Once again we have to say a HUGE thanks to Outside World Columbus for their amazing hospitality. Be sure to check out their store when you are in town!

We also strongly recommend both Barberitos and Your Pie pizza shop for yummy affordable lunches and dinner. They are both located in Uptown Columbus, which is only a few blocks from the river.

Wilson Creek – a little bit of California in North Carolina

Wilson Creek, designated as a National Wild and Scenic River, is a beautiful place tucked away in central North Carolina within the Pisgah National Forest. We had a great time running this with friends in mid-October after rains brought the levels up.

The run is about 2 miles long and people often do at least 2 laps in a day. Assume your first lap will take 1.5+ hours and your second will be close to an hour since you now have a better sense of the lines. The road parallels the entire river so you can scout everything and shuttle is quite easy – could be done by biking or running if need be.

The entire run is in a granite canyon, which makes it feel more like California than eastern USA. It was a full face helmet and elbow pads kind of day due to all of the drops, slides and rock boofs. Although the guidebook says that this is good up to “2” on the gauge, local intel suggests not doing it at anything greater than “1”. We did it at 0.5 and it was a great first time level. There are a few sticky holes placed throughout the river so be sure to read the guidebook or find a local for a guided tour down on your first run.