January 3/4, 2017
Trail Access to Santa Domingo de Hollin
I had been in contact with Timothy Dent (Timo) of River People Ecuador since well before making the trip down.He was super helpful with lots of information about the rivers and transport. After talking some and seeing the cat in action on my Facebook feed, he invited us on a two-day overnight expedition on the Rio Hollin, an Ecuadorian classic that is only rarely run. The normal “guidebook” put-in is the bridge over the river at some waterfalls. Below lies Class 4 and 5 water, a portage or two, and a cave to float through. Tim pioneered the run on this river and no longer runs commercial trips on this tough upper section, preferring instead to use porters to carry gear in to an intermediate access point, making the trip a bit shorter and much less stressful.
After picking us and our gear up at Hostel Zumag Sisa, we transferred to the River People office/warehouse and loaded up the transport to the river. We were off, picking up some additional porters in Mondayacu where they are used to carrying rafts and kayaks into the Rio Jondachi. At the trailhead, we sorted out the gear, the porters loaded up and headed to the river. One poor guy must have drawn the short straw as he ended up carrying the raft (by himself). This was not one of our light catarafts, but a full-on 4 thwart 16-foot AIRE Tributary HD. These guys are strong!!
The trail is muddy, slippery, slimy, with stairs, logs, and the occasional horse. Not an easy trek, even though all I had was my personal gear until I took the oars off one of our frames because the gal carrying it was having some trouble.
Once at the river, we inflated and loaded the boats. The water level looked ideal and Tim said it was perfect for the raft. We set off and hoped that it didn’t rain (the forecast is always for rain down here).
The rapids began as nice, somewhat tight Class II and III boulder gardens. But there are some nice ledge drops like this one.
Before long though, Timo signaled us to eddy out on the left, not an easy thing to do in this section, and we could see why. The rapid just below led into a huge undercut rock and the left side was full of logs wedged in during the last high water. Tim and the crew were unable to stop so ran the drop and bounced off the undercut rock. Good thing there were no swimmers as this would be a bad place to swim. We carried the cats down the left bank and with Tim helping hold them in position (one by one) we ferried across the undercut. A great lunch was served just below this hazardous rapid.
More fun Class III rapids followed with a couple of Class IVs thrown in to keep us on our toes. The volume continually increased due to side streams that had plenty of water even though they are normally a trickle. We started to feel a noticeable change in the power of the river and some of the holes got pretty sticky in the light cats. Tim was an excellent guide and knew the river really well, which gave us confidence in running his lines. Alex and Ryan in the kayaks provided safety and made sure everything was clear before running the big drops and made sure we all had good, safe runs before moving downstream. Awesome crew.
After 3 or 4 hours on the river, we pulled in to investigate a possible camp at a footbridge that was being renovated. It turned out there was a nice camp spot up the hill a ways where the woodcutters obviously made camp when they were working. A few spare planks were available for use as table platforms and for the stove, and then served as sleeping platforms for the crew under the kitchen tarp. The rest of us hacked out some tent spaces that served us well. A starry night boosted our confidence that there would be no more rain and the river would continue to drop some. Not much luck starting a fire, but the guys gave it a go for a number of hours until we all turned in for the night.
The next day dawned bright and sunny and everyone was in high spirits. The raft was loaded and the kayakers were pumped for another brilliant day. Lacey and I were looking forward to what lay ahead.
This second day was filled with lots of Class III rapids that were read and run. So many waterfalls along this section! It was beautiful and definitely a classic jungle run. After a hearty lunch, the rain started to fall, accompanied by thunder and lightning! Not too many pictures taken after that.
After the Rio Jondachi enters, the Hollin seems even bigger and more powerful, although the rapids were not pushy at this level and were pretty open for oar boats. Of course, after creeking the last couple of weeks, this river definitely seemed open! Wafflemaker was an interesting Class IV, requiring a run down down the left channel as the right channel is blocked by huge boulders. The crux at the bottom is a center hole that is really BIG. If you can make the move to the right, there is a nice tongue there. On the far left, next to the wall, there is a small, but clean line that avoids the worst of the hole. For a kayaker, the best line may be to drive to the left eddy and then line up tight to the wall. Lacey and I in the light cats easily made the move to the right of the hole. This was a fun rapid, with consequences if you weren’t on your line. Landslide rapid was a fun run around and between two boulders on the left. It looked intimidating from the top, but ran really clean.
After landslide, there was little of consequence all the way down to the bridge at Santa Domingo de Hollin. As we arrived, so did our shuttle driver; perfect timing! Congratulations all around for a most excellent trip. I would highly recommend River People Ecuador for this and other trips in the Tena/Archidona area. They have an awesome crew. Thanks Timo!