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First Ascent Kayakers Forced to Portage Extreme Terrain of Barranca de Piaxtla
Posted on July 27, 2010

First Ascent kayakers Jesse Coombs, Ben Stookesberry, Darin McQuoid and friends navigate the extreme terrain of the Barranca de Piaxtla, Mexico.

Words by Jesse Coombs; photographs by Darin McQuoid

We woke up and were ready to hit the trail by 8 a.m. We had a heavy load to portage. Each boat weighed between 80 and 90 lbs. We shouldered our boats and started the uphill hike. A tremendous help, some wildlife trails led up the same direction we wanted to hike. The trail was quite steep with some difficult footing. We spent two hours hiking, climbing, pulling, pushing and fighting up the 600-meter hill. Finally it flattened out a bit, and there was a grassy area that offered a respite.

After a short rest and a little water, we shouldered our boats and continued the portage. Soon the vegetation got even thicker and we spent the majority of the time pulling and pushing our kayaks under the walls of vegetation while trying to keep the stickers and branches out of our faces. This struggle continued for over an hour, and then we were confronted with a serious problem—it was 12:30 p.m. and we were all very low on water.

To make matters worse, we still had not started descending toward the river. The ridge we had just reached offered no visibility into how we might make a reasonable progress towards the river below. The terrain was choked with trees and brush, never-ending cliff bands, and hundreds upon hundreds of feet of vertical drop. We were already over four hours into this portage, completely out of water, facing 90-degree temperatures and no closer to the river. We could not afford a single misstep.

We dropped into the valley below us, which was steep and dense with vegetation. The valley naturally funneled us into a gulley that was clearly a water path in the rainy season. It wasn’t long before we got to a cliff band that required a rappel. There were so many that we stopped putting the climbing ropes away, and would coil them up and stuff them in a boat for the next time.

We had made a handful of rappels under 30 meters and one or two just under 60 meters before hitting a sloping granite face that opened up a daunting discovery. We looked to be more than 700 feet from river level with so many cliff bands and obstacles it was disheartening. The face of the wall on which we were standing was so sloped and tall, it was impossible to have any idea of height or options.

Exhausted and with the evening quick approaching though the brutal sun was still blazing, our adventure was just beginning.

Author: - Tuesday, July 27th, 2010
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