Whitewater Kayaking Colombia – Why I Don’t Huck Drops

Lately I’ve been feeling the need to huck some drops.

I don’t kayak very often any more. Maybe once every 2-3 years. I was trying to think of the last time I had a real fix and it was probably when I soloed the Grand Canyon, see photos here.

Owning Outdoorplay.com has its advantages. A quick search into Outdoorplay’s customer database turned up one kayaker located in San Gil, Colombia. His name was Cesar. Another email to an Outdoorplay customer on the other side of the country confirmed that this was my guy.

As it turned out, Cesar owns Colombia Rafting Company. When we met he informed me that none of the super-nar rivers were running, but he invited me to tag along as a safety kayaker on one of his commercial raft trips. Class 3, sure, sounds fun.

He took me to his warehouse to pick out some gear. I was stoked to see that Cesar was flying the old-school Outdoorplay flag. Apparently the empire knows no bounds.

Cesar was running a trip with 3 rafts, about 20 customers. I was expecting a nice class 3 run and an easy day on the river. After dropping in I quickly realized that Colombian class 3 is more like technical class 4.

Humm. I had flashbacks to our canyoneering experience in Venezuela and my mind went to work. 1) Nobody was asked to sign a release 2) Nobody was asked if they knew how to swim 3) The safety talk covered every nightmare possibility.

I’m starting to get the feel for how things work here in South America.

It didn’t take long for the shit show to unfold. It was a bony class 4 drop that you wouldn’t ever want to swim in. I saw it coming and quickly got out of my kayak to assess the situation. By that time one raft was badly pinned with all 6 passengers stranded on a tiny rock in the middle of the river. Did I mention you don’t want to swim here?

My first thought was “Thank god I didn’t bring Stevie. I am all out of brownie points.” My second thought was, “Damn, these people are in trouble. How does that z-drag rescue system work again?”

As I waited to see what the guides would do I snapped a couple quick shots and took this video.

It didn’t take long for the situation to escalate. For some reason the second raft decided to come down and got pinned on the other side of the river. Although the photo makes it look like they were near shore, they were not even close. They were just as stuck as the other rafters.

The guides went to work setting up a z-drag to free the pinned boats. I realized that nobody was set up as safety at the bottom of the rapid. Not good. I hauled ass down there just in time to pick up my first victim. One of the guides had fallen in and swam the entire lower section. I pulled him to shore and headed back up just in time to see one of the rafts flipped up-side-down coming through the rapid solo. I really had to bust ass to push that raft to shore with my kayak before it went around the corner and into the next rapid. It would have been long gone. By this time I was exhausted.

After about 2 hours everyone was rescued and we continued down river. The fun continued in the next rapid. I set myself up as safety at the bottom and watched as one of the rafts lost a guide and a customer off the back of the boat.

I got in position and fixed my sights on the customer. He had already gone deep a couple times. You can see his blue helmet in this photo as he pops up 15 feet below a huge hole. Big down time. I pulled him to shore and he coughed up a fair amount of river water. At this point some of the English speaking customers started asking me if this was “normal for a rafting trip.” I said SMILE, this is supposed to be fun god dammit!” They laughed.

At the end of the day everyone was pretty tired and hungry, but in good spirits. If you’re in Colombia and want a really extreme rafting experience, please contact my friend Cesar at Colombia Rafting. He’ll deliver. I promise.

As for me, I feel Old, and worked. My shoulders hurt, reminding me why I don’t huck drops anymore. Am I finally getting too old to off-the-couch my adventures? I’m gonna take a 2-3 year break now and think about it. TREE

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Comments

  1. Melissa says:

    What would have happened to those customers if you weren't there?

  2. Anonymous says:

    Hats off friend. I'm impressed you crushed so hard from so far off the couch.
    You're right though, we're getting to where easing back into things is wise.
    Great story. Wish I coulda joined you!
    Michael

  3. Pete Stevens says:

    Dude, you ain't old… just a worked life saver. Nice job!

  4. You'll ALWAYS be my hero! 😉

  5. Anonymous says:

    Melissa's is the first question that crossed my mind, too. Has your heart stopped racing yet? Thank goodness you were there to take command. No wonder Cesar was so willing to let you tag along. You might be out of brownie points with Stevie but you definitely earned some with a bunch of clients in this adventure. You rock! cheryll

  6. Good work son, Cesar was dam lucky you joined the trip… the blue helmet dude would have taken his last swim. I'm proud of you, and looking forward to our three days on the Dechutes in August.
    Dad

  7. Tim Widmer says:

    Good to see you getting out on the river. Looks like a good ol sandbag. Just stay away from the Bungee jumps..

  8. Chad Robinson says:

    Ha! Cesar is a genius! You're the best free help he's had in ages! I'm gonna start using "Huck Drops" as my catch-phrase! You are my hero for getting out of Guatemala

  9. Hey Everyone,
    Thanks for trying to make me feel like I'm not a 100 years old, even though my body is telling me different! It's true, I may only be 37, but with all the shit I've done in those years my body has well over 100,000 miles on it.

    Had I not been on the raft trip everyone would have still been ok. They may have lost a raft down river, but that's about it. Cesar and his guides were all really well trained. They are excellent river guides and that is why I would recommend the company. Just don't expect a flat water trip!

    Today is another driving day. We're making our way from San Gil to Bogota. Everyone keeps telling us 5 hours, 5 hours. I am planning on 10. Stevie loves it when I plan like this because that means she gets to wake up at 4:45am!

    TREE

  10. john Wilson says:

    Cool story tree.
    Better you than me, is all I can say.
    Great job in helping the rafters.
    Cheers,
    John D. Wislon

  11. Scott's On the Road says:

    That story, had my blood pumpin'!

  12. John Rich says:

    Holy shit! Sounds like you were the hero of the day compared with the rest of the "guides". Good job Tree!

  13. monica kelly says:

    I really hope you plan on writing an adventure book when this is all said and done, and a movie!
    craaaaaaaaaaazy!

  14. Joyce Carlson says:

    TAKE CARE!!! I’m always forwarding your travel accounts around. You guys are the MOST “interesting” people I know. What an adventure you are on. Love it! Joyce

  15. hilarious story, you were freakin out. We will be sure to hit him up when we pass through

  16. mamatuyas says:

    Well now – I was going to go rafting while in Peru, but your story makes me think twice, unless YOU are going with us!

  17. Dave Adair says:

    Great and scary story! Now that you've written about it I don't have to do it. Thanks for taking that bullet!

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