November Update

Though the blog’s been quiet, lots has been going on here at EP. We though it was about time that we got everyone up to speed on the latest.

Recent Happenings: River of Action

200 paddlers got together on the Willamette River in downtown Portland as part of the International Day of Climate Action.

Smithsonian Article

Kyle Dickman captures the scientific significance of the Congo River expedition on Syndicated by and seen by more than a million readers.

Outside Clip

Trip Jennings recounts the incident with AK-47s that nearly stopped EP's expedition down the Congo for Outside Magazine's November issue, then offers advices on how to keep yourself safe, wherever you are.

Coming Up:

The Ultimate Recession

Andy Maser looks at climate change in Bolivia, from seat of his kayak, for Wend's December/January issue.

National Geographic's Expedition: Granted

Come November 19, EP's plan to return to the Democratic Republic of Congo to help stop elephant poaching will solidify. Trip's up on Ben Horton by 40% for National Geographic's Expedition Granted. 2010: Back to the Congo.

Vote for Team Elephant at the contest website:

River of Doubt

November 23, EP's off again. This time, their joining National Geographic Television and Zeb Hogan on Brazil's famed River of Doubt to guide scientists through Class V whitewater and hook jet-ski sized catfish from their rafts.

(NPR Story on Doubt):

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Wild Times Continue for Epicocity in Bolivia

Our team just returned from our epic adventure to the Challana River basin, where we attempted a huge first descent. Unfortunately, after nearly a week of carrying our boats and gear from village to village, down from 14,000 ft to 8,000 ft, we got shut down at the putin. We hiked through days of rain and arrived at a river just slightly too swollen for us to feel comfortable paddling, so we took a layover day and watched as the river slowly dropped to a perfect level. As we crawled under our tarp for the night, we dreamed about the days of spectacular kayaking that lay ahead.

Unfortunately, we awoke in the middle of the night to a torrential downpour. I laid in my bivy saying over and over again, “please stop, please stop!” but it continued for most of the night. We awoke to a completely flooded river and the end of our Challana first descent attempt. So we broke camp, shouldered our boats, hit the trail and climbed right back out the way we came in. Needless to say, we are very thankful that we didn’t get caught on the river as it flash-flooded.

Our team has had an absolutely epic run of successful first descents in the last year and a half in Papua New Guinea, Tibet and Congo. In this case though, the best decision was to walk away.

We have 2 more weeks left in Bolivia though, and more huge adventures lined up. We’re heading out early tomorrow morning for several days of kayaking and a summit attempt of the 22,000 ft glacial peak that supplies much of the area with drinking water. We also have another first descent on tap, in addition to further exploration of the Zongo River drainage.

On the science and conservation side of the expedition, we have our most exciting interviews lined up with hydrologist Edson Ramirez, advocacy groups working to further water access for citizens of La Paz and El Alto, and policy makers developing adaptation plans for this metropolis that is quickly running out of water.

Check back early next week for another update from our team in Bolivia!

Also, if you didn’t catch it, I posted an update to the National Geographic Adventure blog last week also:



Epicocity/National Geographic Challana River expedition launches Monday

On Monday, we will begin the main exploratory portion of our Bolivia project—a descent of the Challana River basin from its source to the village of Guayana in the Amazon basin. This roadless, very remote basin drains the rapidly diminishing glacial water source for the cities of La Paz and El Alto.

Our team will begin by making the trip up and over the 5,000m pass from the western side of the Andes to the village of Challana, where we will first explore the glacier and series of natural lakes that feed the Challana River. We will then begin the trip downstream, first on foot with our kayaks and equipment on mules for the first few miles. Given the gradient of over 1,000 feet per mile and relatively low flow at the source, we expect that this will be our only means of travel. At 7,000 or 8,000 feet of elevation, we expect the river to become passable by kayak, and when this happens we will bid our guides and pack animals farewell and hit the water.

We just finished several days of kayaking on the Zongo River, one basin to the south, to get some idea of what we might expect on the Challana, but lots of unknowns still exist. The Zongo is in a much tighter gorge than the Challana, has 10 hydropower dams affecting its flow and has a road along it. The team is nervous about the upcoming week, for sure. Check back with us in a week or so for an update!

Epicocity would like to extend a very special thanks to the sponsors of our Bolivia expedition. We are very grateful for all of your continued support:

National Geographic
Sierra Designs
Alpine Aire
Sweet Protection
AT Paddle
Adventure Medical Kits

And our media supporters:
National Geographic
Wend Magazine
National Geographic Adventure

Epicocity completes their first kayak mission in Bolivia

Our team just got back to La Paz after our first paddling mission of the trip—a first descent of the Zongo River. A team of UK kayakers completed the first descent of two sections of the Zongo during their trip to Bolivia a few years ago and absolutely raved about the quality of whitewater they found. The lush Zongo valley carves a path from the 22,000 ft Huayna Potosi mountain to the Amazon Jungle, and is directly across the Andes from the cities of La Paz and El Alto. We drove up and over the pass and dropped down into the valley, driving along the river and waiting for the gradient to ease and the flow to build to the point where we felt like it was time to put on and start paddling.

Driving downhill from the top of the pass was a gorgeous experience in itself. As we made the 10,000 ft descent into the valley, we gradually transitioned from cold, rugged alpine terrain to lush jungle. During the 15 km drive towards our eventual putin, we passed 10 different hydropower dams that diverted small amounts of flow to generate power for La Paz and El Alto. The projects utilized reservoirs only minimally, and we all agreed that this was probably the most responsible hydropower sequence that we had seen in our travels.

Our driver hadn’t been along on the previous mission to the Zongo, so we had no idea where the last crew had begun paddling. The river was way too steep and low volume for the first 10,000 ft of elevation drop from the top of the pass, but we finally found a section clean enough that we felt comfortable paddling. The crew suited up, scouted the first series of drops and began the trip downstream.

This section of the Zongo is fun, mostly read and run technical class V boulder gardens. It is continuous, clean and would certainly be considered ultra classic by anyone’s standards. An amazing find, for sure!

After a couple hours of picking our way down, we approached a section where the river began to gorge up. Having gotten on the river later than early, we decided to hike up and out to the road instead of committing to the gorge. That turned into an adventure of its own, as a road crew surprised us by dumping loads of debris down the very steep scree drainage we were climbing up. Fortunately, I was able to get their attention before they dropped too many bucket of large rocks down on us.

The next day, we gave it another go with more daylight and successfully completed the section down to the next dam. It was only another hour or two of paddling from the point where we hiked out the day before, but it contained several solid class V drops, so we were glad we had made the decision to hike out the day before and attack the last bit with the confidence plenty of daylight brings.

Now, we’re back in La Paz gearing up for the next phase of the project—the first descent of the Challana River, one drainage basin north of the Zongo. The Challana is roadless, very remote and should take us about 7 days to complete. More on that later though.