[Juliet’s note: if you took one stretch of river anywhere and called it “world class” most of the ERA Team would say the Lower Reventazon/Pascua Section here in Costa Rica. We have been running/guiding on the Pascua Section of the Reventazon since 1990….with guests who loved it/kissed the ground when they got off it/said they would never do it again–but would not have come back again if it were not an option….it is amazing Class IV-IV+ big technical whitewater. It puts a permanent smile on the face of any Class IV-V+ boater!
And because the rivers here in Costa Rica change so much, some years it seems easier, some years it seems harder. Harder seems to be the trend the past two years. So we knew our Advance Team–Craig & Joe, would be the lucky ones to scout it out this year.]
Here is their story:
Let’s start with Joe-the rookie on the Lower: “Wow. What a day. Putting this into words is going to be difficult. Words can only do events a certain amount of justice, and today is no exception to that rule. In my 12 years of kayaking, I have run some incredible rivers. The Futaleufu, Pacuare, Ottawa, Upper Gauley, and Grand Canyon of the Colorado are just a few I have been privileged enough to see from the vantage point of a whitewater kayak. Today, I added the Pascua section of the Reventazon to that list.”
Joe continues: “The day started off just like any other scouting day. Craig and I woke up in Turrialba, ate some Wagelia breakfast, and decided it was time to go run some rivers. Arriving at the put-in for Pascua, Craig insisted we start below a rapid aptly named “Land of 1,000 Holes.” I was feeling pretty darn good after reading and running five class IV rivers and one big waterfall, so I proceeded to heckle Craig “El Martillo” Parks about not wanting to run a few big rapids right off the bat. Let me take this opportunity to say that The Hammer has been working in Costa Rica for 12 years (as long as I have been paddling); therefore, he knows what he’s talking about (at least when it comes to rivers).
My first day ever in Costa Rica; I heard about an epic day on Reventazon. I figured I had a good idea as to the task at hand on this day. En realidad, I had no idea. We put in, and started making our way downstream toward the explosions of brown water in the distance. I’m thinking in my head, “Wow, this is some big water, but not too hard yet.” The first few rapids are big wave trains (emphasis on big) with some hole dodging involved. Then the volume came together in a narrow, pounding wave train that showed what this river really can do. Craig points out an alternate put-in/take-out, and we head in to a rapid that looks like more of the same. The river shifts left, and as we make our way through Craig starts to push right over a few huge waves. I follow suit, crash through the crest of a massive foampile, and open my eyes to the terrifying sight of Craig being chundered in a HUGE river wide ledge hole. This is where words cannot do justice to that which they trying to illustrate. I didn’t have time to think about how scared I was, but this was one of the scariest moments of my paddling career. I tried to punch it, failed, and proceeded to get worked. Meanwhile, Craig is right next to me getting surfed. I don’t know if I was more scared of losing half my teeth on Craig’s bow, or of swimming. What am I saying? I was scared of both…terrified in fact. I side surfed for what seemed like an eternity, got spun toward the river right, and started an attempt at digging my way out of this thing. The light at the end of the tunnel appeared, and then I got spun and backendered. I thought I had failed and that a swim was inevitable, but as I figured out which side to roll up on, the water became less and less turbulent. Unbelievable! I made it out…in my boat.
I rolled up, and there’s Craig, looking completely and totally bewildered (for those of you who don’t know El Martillo, this is a sight seen only in tica-saturated areas). Congratulations Craig and Joe, you’ve officially survived a tenth of the Pascua section.”
Craig chimes in here:
As much as things change over the years here; some things have always been the same. There’s always a 300 foot wide channel at the second Pascua put -in, and a good long warm up section below. There are always options. Places to go. Ways out. In a river that averages 4000cfs with continuous gradient, you can be sure that you need ways to squeeze around holes. In fact, on Pascua, I took those options for granted over the years. It was always a thrill to read and run rapids that big and technical. We ran a super steep section into a right hand turn and massive 10 foot curling waves, really good stuff. Then we came to that next put-in. Abruptly, an unexpected and incredible change. The entire river turned left and fell out of sight on the other side of a tree line.
I made sure Joe saw the other put-in/take-out and cruised down through the curves. I was tooling along about 20 mph in 5 foot confused chop… normal Reventazon stuff. Then, something started to register. The normal, blasé, read and dodge vibe became a sick awareness of something serious. A massive hole was the right side of the river. Normal. But then, a horizon line across from the left, a ledge that was surely over 6 feet, too big to boof at that volume. I only had a second to panic and make a decision. So, I pushed hard hard right up into the foam pile of the right side hole. Surely, there’s an option on the other side. A place to go. A way out. I came over the top, and there wasn’t. This is the one thing you don’t expect out there… it just can’t happen, won’t happen on that river. And I gave up. Time to save energy. I went limp, held tight to my paddle and knee gripped the thigh hooks. Maybe I’ll go under or through. Nah, I’m doing back-loops and an upside-down bow stall, come out in a side-surf. In the back of my mind I am wondering if Joe will hit me, and relief as he clips my bow. But, as I go into more un-intendos I see a blur of yellow Z ends. I had noticed from the foam pile that the tree line ended, the width of the channel doubled again, and was nonstop chop out of sight. Drowning water. This is one of those horrible moments that rarely occur for most kayakers. The size and scope (literally) of our situation was at the front of my mind. Only two of us; and both in this hole. A sick, depressing question…is this one or both of us getting killed? All I could do was relax and wait for opportunities. The boat edge tweaked and started thrashing again. So much water in here. And then I was out of a back loop upright on the foam pile, floating away. Huge relief, obviously, and, take care of Joe. I started digging back toward upstream with glimpses of him getting it. And then he was out. We eddied out in awe and took a moment to soak that in.
Back to Joe-
I was quite timid for the remainder of the run, thinking that below any big wave the river could, once again, dump in to a massive hole. Craig was also on edge, shell shocked and not so confident of his scramble-miss river reading ability. About a mile downstream, after portaging a steep slot rapid aptly named “Blind Faith,” we paddled in to another boulder-choked rapid without a name. Craig had indicated that this was the scene of several brutal swims one day in 2008. It is a rapid that must be cleaned as it leads into Dimple (you guessed it, another massive hole that is the right side of the channel). Several giant slots appeared between boulders and pillow rocks, but the gradient seemed slack enough for him to wing it and find a line. Suddenly, I was having deja vu. He was drifting, reading, and then paddling super hard toward a boulder pillow and fell out of sight. Oh geez. I drove hard up into the pillow and saw Craig digging across a hole trying not to get hit. Not again. I hit bottom off the pillow and backflipped. It took some time to get a roll and I looked upstream to see some ends flashing, and then he was out with a smile. Geez. “We’re supposed to guide this thing?” “Not this year,” he said. That was a relief.
We continued on without further complications. Everything I had heard about Reventazon was true, such an incredible run. Himalayas was my favorite, a simple choppy line beside the most beastial ledge hole you can ever imagine. Craig said the river had turned right, then left, and lined up like never before for a bedrock spire and ledge. Absolutely incredible.
We finished the run with a hot lunch, a Guaro cane-liquor shot, and a Rum and Coke. We also rinsed our gear with a scout run on Pejiballe, a clear-water creek. This was one of the best days we could have had on two rivers, especially after a day of van scouting and…well, two other epic sections of whitewater. If anyone really wants to get on the Reventazon; I can’t say no. But lets give Craig some space. Let him find some options. And maybe a way out.