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Galway Fest 2020

This weekend saw the ninth year of Galway Fest, and what a weekend it was! Team Paddler, Sal Montgomery headed across the pond to check out what it’s all about…

Over in the West of Ireland, an amazing community of paddlers dedicate a huge amount of time and effort into putting on this yearly gathering that attracts paddlers from all over the world. This year, participants from Ireland, UK, Spain, Austria, Germany, Poland, Netherlands, and America headed over for one of Europe’s biggest kayaking events.

From world-class athletes to weekend warriors and club paddlers, there’s something for everyone during this jam-packed 3 days!

Freestyle Friday

The event kicked off with a bang over in Tuam, where around 170 athletes, including several world-class freestyle paddlers, showcased their skills. During the day it was a jam-format, where each paddler had 2 minutes to score as many points as possible.

The banks were full of spectators as paddlers battled it out, trying to make it to the top 10 and through to the flood-lit finals. There were big moves and impressive rides put down, making for an inspiring and exciting event, for both competitors and spectators!

Men’s Results:
1st – Quim Fontané Masó – 1530
2nd – Robert Crowe – 1445
3rd – David McClure – 1315

Women’s Results:
1st – Ottilie Robinson-Shaw – 730
2nd – Sage Donnelly – 340
3rd – Lowri Davies – 310

Speedy Saturday

Roughly 300 competitors headed on over to the Boluisce River on Saturday morning for the individual time-trials, attempting to paddle the whitewater stretch (which finishes in the sea) as fast as possible. Crowds gathered at the final bridge, cheering as paddlers took on the last, chunky rapid.

Even the stormy weather didn’t seem to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm, with some paddlers even continuing into the sea for a surf (or a trashing!)

Men’s Results:
1st – Nick Bennett – 05:33.937 – New Course Record!
2nd – Lucien Schreiber – 05:44.667
3rd – Jack Ledwith – 05:45:122

Women’s Results:
1st – Sage Donnelly – 05:58.91
2nd – Aoife Hanrahan – 05:59.328
3rd – Cara Lee – 06:04:736


The 80’s-themed night started with arcade games at the Electric bar in Galway centre, before paddlers clad in bright-coloured leotards and leg warmers moved up to the exclusive-use upper level, ready to show off their dance moves! A good time was had, with probably a few sore heads the next morning!

Stampede Sunday

The highlight for many paddlers and spectators this weekend was likely to be the boater-x event. Taking place in the centre of Galway, many members of the public passing by couldn’t help but stop and see what all the noise was about!

Due to all the rain leading up to this weekend the river was pretty juicy, making for some big waves and powerful flows! Paddlers charged hard and put up a good fight for the win!

Men’s Results:
1st – Sean Cahill
2nd – Quim Fontané Masó
3rd – Lucien Schreiber

Women’s Results:
1st – Sage Donnelly
2nd – Susan Doyle
3rd – Ottilie Robinson-Shaw

The day was finished off with stories from expedition-legend, Dave Manby; from cardboard box races in Wales to wild first descents in the Himalayas, filling the room with inspiration and a lot of laughter, before event-organisers Aoife Hanrahan and Barry Loughnane announced the final winners. Thanks to the amazing amount of support from many brands and companies, the prizes up for grabs included a tonne of gear, (beer!), clothes, event entries, and even coaching.

The local paddling community also dedicated two awards as memorials for local paddlers and friends, Alex McGourty and David Higgins, who tragically lost their lives whilst paddling in South America two years ago. These two individuals were a huge part of the local community and their memory will continue to live on through the event.

Massive congratulations to all participants, volunteers and organisers! Galway Fest is an incredible event, which is likely to continue growing over the coming years. The range of events means that all levels of paddler can get involved and have a great time! The enthusiasm and stoke, as well as the welcoming and encouraging atmosphere over the weekend, were phenomenal, and I already can’t wait for next year!

Everyone involved did an absolutely outstanding job of ensuring that this event ran smoothly. It was obvious throughout the weekend that the organisers and volunteers cared greatly about the event and everything behind it.

Well done and thank you to everyone involved in Galway Fest 2020, in particular, Aoife Hanrahan and Barry Loughnane; you guys crushed it!

See you next year!


Lakeland Canoe Club and the Pyranha Burn

Lakeland Canoe Club is a small, but fast-growing paddlesport club based in Cumbria, drawing on members from across Cumbria, Lancashire, and Yorkshire. We paddle mostly in the North of England, with longer trips to Scotland and the Alps. We are a very active club, with trips most weekends, and also during the week, including Whitewater, Sea Kayaking, and Open boating; it’s this very active programme of trips which has fuelled our growth, and we have a mix of people joining, both those new to paddling and more experienced paddlers, often getting back into the sport after a layoff.

For new joiners, we offer a range of coaching and training sessions, including indoor pool sessions to teach basic skills, and coached trips on rivers. To make this more effective, in 2019 we decided to buy a small “fleet” of kayaks which members can borrow. This posed an obvious challenge; with so many boats on the market, what to buy?

We needed something which was a good learning platform for novices, but still exciting enough for more experienced paddlers. As you’d expect, there was no shortage of opinions(!), but the clear winner was the Pyranha Burn, and we bought a total of four boats in Medium and Large. These have had a lot of use, and feedback from people who’ve paddled them has been universally positive.

For beginners and improvers, the Burn is a very stable boat which inspires confidence. It’s easy to hold it on edge without feeling you’re going to get tipped in, and it makes mastering breaking in and out, ferry gliding, and all the basic skills easy to learn. The boat just feels really solid, and able to look after you; one paddler described it as “a bit like being in a Land Rover, it’ll go anywhere!”

It’s also a great boat for improving your roll; we teach rolling skills indoors, and we’ve recently added one of the Burns to the teaching boats we keep in the pool. It enables paddlers who’ve got a basic roll to practice in a “proper” boat, before trying them on the river.

For intermediates and advanced paddlers, the Burn is often a revelation to those who’ve not paddled one before, especially those coming from more “old school” kayaks. The short length means it’s easy to edge, turn and spin the boat, but the rails keep it on track, and the high volume keeps you on top of most holes and waves. Several members who have perfectly good boats of their own now prefer to borrow a club Burn, especially for bigger water.

From the club’s perspective, the Burn is the perfect boat.


Welcome to the Fusion Family

Like all families, the Fusions share common traits, particularly in their adeptness across a wide range of different kayaking-based adventures, but each individual member has their own approach and specific qualities. Allow us to introduce you…

The Fusion IIs are adventurous…

Above: Director of US Operations/Logistics, Mike Patterson talks us through the Fusion II.

“The Fusion II is my perfect adventure kayak, and the first boat I pull out when I’m showing my non-paddling friends my favourite spots (especially as the three different sizes available make sure everyone is happy)!

I just find it so easy to paddle; the Fusion II is comfy, stable, super manoeuvrable, and especially for such a compact kayak, it tracks beautifully with plenty of speed. Whether I want to chill out on flatwater, add a little spice with some white water, or just paddle out into the sunset on a summer evening, it’s my first choice, and after hearing how much fun it is in the surf, that’s next up on my hit list…”

Lauren Mackereth, EU/ROW Sales Manager

The Fusion Duo is a sharer…

Above: The story of two families’ (including Designer, Robert Peerson and his family) shared journey on the river and by its banks.

“I believe the Fusion Duo really can turn a non-kayaker into a lover of the river in just one paddle. Not only can you take a friend on an overnighter down your favorite river, but it is also an amazing tool for teaching. The boat has nice length and volume for a full-sized friend, plus an easy-access hatch for all your camping or day-tripping adventures.

The Fusion Duo really is the best way to teach someone how to kayak or about rivers in general and makes for a unique learning experience. You’re sitting in the back of the boat able to explain each angle, stroke, and edge as you go!”

David Fusilli, Head of US West Coast Operations

The Fusion SOT is reassuring…

Above: US Team Manager, Big D gets his fish on with the Fusion SOT.

“As a whitewater kayaker, the idea of a Sit-On-Top never really piqued my interest; ironically (and unfortunately), I felt it to be beneath me. The first time I paddled the Fusion SOT, however, I couldn’t manage to wipe the grin from my face!

The Fusion SOT made rivers I know too well feel completely different and added a new level of comfort to overnight runs. I was able to pack more gear than I ever imagined, and surprisingly, swimming was no longer a dreaded occurrence; instead, it was easy to jump in, cool off, then slide back on the boat and keep paddling.

The thigh straps offer great control in whitewater, but when things mellow out there’s also enough room and stability to move around and relax. I found myself sitting sideways, with my feet hanging in the water, or lazily lying on the back deck taking in the views.

The Fusion SOT has even opened the door to whitewater for my wife, who’d previously been too nervous to attempt it, but the manoeuvrability and open design gave her the confidence to try.”

Mike Patterson, Director of US Operations/Logistics

So there they are, a family of kayaks to suit your family of paddlers!

Find out more about the Fusions at your local Pyranha dealer today.


Devil’s Canyon of the Susitna River, Alaska

There is no more classic test piece of Alaskan whitewater than the Devil’s Canyon of the Susitna River. As a part of the triple crown of class V big water expedition paddling, the Susitna has stood the test of time since its first descent, solo, by the legendary Walt Blackadar in 1972. Since then, the river has been descended numerous times, but it is still a rare event for the canyon to see a group of paddlers. I was super stoked to have the opportunity to paddle this storied river while spending the summer in Alaska.

Cole Moore and Paul Ramseth entering ‘Devil’s Creek Rapid’

In July, the river levels started to drop into an ideal range and we quickly put together a plan. I was fortunate to link up with a great crew of paddlers, including my good friend Jay Mahan who I cut my creekin’ teeth alongside back in North Carolina. Along with Jay, we had Alaska (and Susitna) veterans, Eric Parker and Brendan Wells from the PNW (who shot a bunch of awesome footage we should be seeing before too long), Paul Ramseth, and Cole Moore. Jay has been working as a bush pilot in Alaska for the past several years and got us hooked up with a flight on a floatplane into an unnamed lake about 10 miles above Devil’s Creek. This destination marks the first rapid and entrance to the canyon.

Parker holding the plane in position for takeoff.

The flight up was spectacular. After taking off from a small floatplane dock in Talkeetna, we flew up the Talkeetna River before the view gave way to high elevation tundra, alpine lakes, a moose romping through a wetland, and peaks of the Alaska Range in the distance. As the Susitna River valley came into sight, so did a small alpine lake perched on the edge, several hundred feet above the river gorge. After touching down on the lake and floating to a stop against the far shore, we carefully unloaded the boats, snacked on some wild blueberries, and laid down for a tundra nap in the moss while we waited for the rest of the boys to arrive on the next flight.

With all of our boats, gear and people shuttled into the bush, ready to hike to the river.

Once the rest of the crew showed up, we spent the next hour bushwhacking and tundra-boatin’ downhill to the banks of the mighty Susitna. It should be noted that while planning for the trip, flows looked to be in the ideal range of around 15,000 CFS and steady. However, the day before we flew out we found they had climbed to over 26,000 CFS – definitely on the higher side of how much water you want in there! It appeared flows were levelling out and should drop, and knowing a descent was still possible at high water, we elected to go ahead with the mission. Putting on the river, we had a quick 10 mile or so paddle until we reached Devil’s Creek Rapid, the biggest and most complex of the Canyon.

Scouting ‘Devil’s Creek’

Scouting Devil’s Creek Rapid was one of the more intensive scouts I have ever been a part of. There is no one place you can see the entire rapid, but as we made our way downstream along the left bank, watching the previously wide Susitna begin to choke down all 26,300 CFS, you knew something significant was happening around the corner. The first vantage point was awe-inducing, but confidence-inspiring. An entrance of ledges and pourovers led into several mammoth, offset wave holes, the last one looking like it would pack a huge hit but let you through without too terrible of a beating. Getting stoked, we proceeded around the corner to see what the “runout” looked like. Turns out around the corner isn’t the run-out, its the 2nd half of the rapid that was as big, if not bigger, than what we had just scouted! And the punch-able wave hole would typewriter you left, directly into the biggest hole I have ever personally laid eyes on, that everyone pretty much agreed you didn’t have much chance of coming out of in your boat. That led into a several hundred-yard long massive wave train that led into the next rapid.

So, we had to do some re-evaluating of our lines through the entrance… Over the next hour, we contemplated every possible line choice, going back and forth over possibilities and every time finding something else wrong. What worked for the entrance would risk setting you up poorly for the runout, and where you wanted to be in the run-out was difficult to access from the entrance. The fact that we couldn’t see the whole rapid from one place meant having to remember key features and attempting to remember what was what from the different vantage points. At one point we considered camping out there for the night and hoping levels may drop overnight, providing new, better options.

Bouncing ideas off of each other, we finally found an option we all agreed could work, and not put ourselves at a level of risk we were not comfortable with. Cole and Paul probed it out first, and we ended up running a few variations of the same line, essentially catching a micro eddy above a rocky island in the center of the river and running a low volume boof, setting us up well away from the monster hole and allowing clean passage through to the right side of the river. It was one of the more creative line choices to solve a big problem, navigating a way downstream through an absolute monster of a rapid.

Cole Moore emerges from ‘Devil’s Creek Rapid’

With the stress of the first and very formidable challenge behind us, a huge tension was lifted, we all routed the next huge wave hole followed by some whirlpools in a rapid called ‘The Nozzle’, and set up camp in a field of granite boulders on the side of the river. There is something to be said for overnighters in the wilderness that I can’t quite put into words. Cooking over a fire and sleeping on a granite boulder under the stars in a river gorge that is a real, real long way away from any road or anything at all in the middle of Alaska was a great feeling.

Paul Ramseth blasts through ‘The Nozzle’ in his Machno.
Camp above Hotel Rock

The next morning, we got right to work on trying to make progress downstream. We had lined up a ride out on the train from a bridge that would save us about a 40-mile flatwater paddle out down to Talkeetna, so we were pretty motivated to make it to the bridge in time. We had about 10 miles of the remainder of the Devil’s Canyon, and about a 10 mile run out to go. We put in and paddled about a 100-yard long wave train before getting out to scout Hotel Rock Rapid, probably the narrowest point in the gorge, where the river flows around and over a massive rock with a pretty significant vertical drop. Unfortunately, the water had not dropped quite as much as we had hoped overnight and Hotel Rock was creating a horrible pulsing hydraulic. There was a line, but every 20 seconds or so the curler folded over in itself and surged straight into the hole, that looked very unlikely to ever come out of. It was more of a gamble than anything else, so we elected to portage, which after roping the boats up a short cliff was relatively easy.

Brendan and Jay scouting ‘Hotel Rock’ on morning #2.

After the struggles of the massive scout, another big rapid, and a portage, it felt like we had done a ton of work and not a whole lot of kayaking, but that changed right around the corner. Just downstream was one of the best surf waves ever; an overhead, perfectly steep, green wave you could carve up for as long as you wanted, such a treat! Downstream from there were several miles of amazing class IV water, full of huge kickflip waves, and super fun lines down to the next named rapid, ‘Screaming Left’. After a quick scout, we fired this one up with clean lines all around and proceeded through some more quality boogie down to the last major rapid of the canyon, ‘The Pearly Gates’.

Having a look downstream above the exit of ‘Screaming Left’
Jay Mahan in the middle of ‘Screaming Left’

‘The Pearly Gates’ is nearly impossible to scout, with the vertical canyon walls not providing any real access downstream. We could see the entrance, and knew of several large holes, but weren’t quite sure of their exact location… I’m not sure how Walt Blackadar did it in the ’70s, but we opted to use technology to our advantage here. Brendan busted out the drone and flew it downstream as we all watched it realtime on his phone screen and were able to pick out a line that worked flawlessly! We also found out about a real big hole we were happy to know the exact whereabouts of. With The Pearly Gates behind us, we just had some more fun boogie to run out, and a big, flat water paddle down to the train bridge and we were done! We flagged down the train, loaded up the boats, and were back in Talkeetna by evening. My girlfriend, Kara picked us up at the train station with a cooler full of beverages (much appreciated!) and we went straight into Talkeetna to celebrate with some pizza!

Brendan Wells amongst it in the lower canyon.

Overall, this was a trip for the books, and I’m so stoked we were able to make it happen. Huge thanks to Jay, Eric, Brendan, Cole, Paul, Kara, and our pilot!

Stay tuned to in the near future; Eric and Brendan shot a lot of amazing footage on the trip and should have an edit up sometime soon!

– Clay


Review: Pyranha 9R II Large

With Photos by Ouzal Hinz

I was pretty excited when I heard Pyranha was going to make a second generation of the 9R series.  The original 9R Large fit me well and complimented my Machno nicely for times when I wanted more speed.  I also always have some amount of anxiety surrounding an update of an existing boat that I like.  I worry the new design might not suit me as well and being at the top of (or sometimes over) the weight range on most boats, sizing is always one of my biggest (pun intended) concerns (#bigguyproblems).  I always wonder if the new design will be big enough for all-day comfort and will it float me high enough in the water for me to take advantage of all the intended benefits of the design. 

When the stats of the 9R II Large were finally released, my fears were eased and my excitement spiked.  Despite being the same volume (90 gallons) as the first generation, the new large is around ¾ of an inch narrower and 6 inches longer!  Just reading the stats got me excited.  One drawback of the original 9R Large was that because of the design choice to keep the overall length to under nine feet (to keep it in the short-boat class when racing), it simply wasn’t as fast or nimble as the Medium version.  I was really pleased to hear that this time around the design would not be restricted to the arbitrary nine-foot mark.  The added length would certainly help add speed and just as importantly it allowed for a slight narrowing of the overall width, which enhances both speed and agility.

When reading a review of a boat (or any other gear), it is important to have some background on the reviewer to be able to take their assessment in context and see their opinion for what it is.  As for me, I started paddling canoes with my dad in the 1980s and moved from canoes to kayaks in 2000.  I’ve been paddling 100-150 days a year ever since with perhaps 20% of that time spent playboating and the other 80% spent running creeks and rivers.  As a big guy (6’1” tall and 265 lbs), I’ve made it a point to try most of the larger kayaks that have come out over the years.  I enjoy trying different boats and comparing the various design features… after all, every choice in design is somewhat of a tradeoff and I find it interesting to experience the differences.

At the time of writing, I’ve had about a dozen days in the 9R II Large.  A couple of great days on Johnnies Creek, a steep (300 FPM), low-volume creek consisting of a mix of bedrock slides and boulder rapids.  I’ve also gotten ten days on another local favorite, Little River Canyon, at levels ranging from 400-1300 CFS.  The character of Little River Canyon varies greatly depending on the water level.  At lower levels, it consists of technical, boulder-choked rapids that require precise manoeuvring.  At higher levels, the character shifts to that of pushy river running on steep rapids with some serious holes.  The variety of levels over the past month have provided a great opportunity to test the 9R II Large in a lot of different situations.

One of the first noticeable things, when looking at and paddling the 9R II, is the dramatic, up-turned bow.  The bow rocker continues almost all the way to where the deck of the boat meets the nose.  When sitting neutral in the water, the uppermost extent of the bow rocker is at least as high as the front of the cockpit rim, maybe even higher.  On the water, this results in a ton of bow lift and a boat that wants to go over everything in its path.  When coming off pour-over features and ledges, it changes downward momentum into forward momentum extremely efficiently… sending the paddler satisfyingly skimming across the backwash.   

Despite the overall width being narrower than the original 9R Large, the widest part of the 9R II Large stays wider for longer towards the stern of the boat.  This strategically placed width and volume really helps keep the boat more level when coming out of holes and landing drops.  Instead of a big wheelie, where the bow shoots skyward and lots of momentum is lost, the downward momentum becomes forward momentum without slowing down as much.  The updated large also has a little bit more pronounced chine edge in the center of the boat which can be engaged with a slight lean to whip into an eddy or hold a line when charging through turbulent water.

The Large Machno’s greater overall load capacity is something to consider for paddlers over the recommended weight range for the 9R II Large, those planning to carry enough gear that would put them over the recommended range, or just those wanting the biggest, most forgiving boat for heavier paddlers.  The Machno’s higher volume and rounder edges do make it even more forgiving, but it is certainly not as high performance.  The tradeoff is that being narrower and having a slight edge keeps the 9R II from getting pushed around as easily in higher volume situations and in those scenarios, it seems to hold a line a little better than the Machno.

Below is some video from my first week paddling the 9R II Large.  I tried to pick out clips that show the way the hull reacts in a variety of circumstances.  Since that first week, I’ve moved the seat forward and am feeling even more dialled-in, a change I’d definitely recommend for anyone at the higher end of the weight range.  With my weight slightly more forward, it was easier to control the bow and seemed to really add precision to my boat placement.

The 9R II is an impressive design and combined with the dimensions of 9R II Large, Pyranha has created perhaps the fastest and most nimble boat that has ever been available for bigger paddlers.  Faster acceleration, faster outright speed, quicker turning… what’s not to like?  Despite all its high-performance characteristics, overall it is also very forgiving, a feature to be appreciated by beginners and experts alike.  A few quick strokes bring it up to speed, it boofs over anything, and moves around the river with the handling of a sports car.  I love everything about it and look forward to zipping around my favorite runs in it for years to come!

Until Next Time…
Adam Goshorn


Bren Orton | Pyranha Ozone Review

Naming anything is tricky business. From pets to companies, to boats. Kayaks are no different, however, in the case of the name for the new Pyranha kayak, I think they smashed it. Paying homage to iconic designs of the past such as the Inazone and Prozone and playing with the fact that the Ozone surrounding our earth is made up of three oxygen atoms, the subsequent kayak is also a triple threat. River running, freestyling, and learning, the Pyranha Ozone does it all.

River Running | I have been using the Ozone almost exclusively since the start of the year and have taken it down everything from whitewater parks to a high water Etive. It is incredibly easy to boof, snaps into eddies and is a treat to ferry glide – it really feels like I am surfing across the tiniest, slowest pieces of whitewater to the other side of the river! At seven and a half feet it’s surprisingly quick and the fact that I have a lot of space in the front and a big footblock to go with it gives me some confidence if I was to piton. However, it is not easy to handle on hard whitewater. You have to be quick, light on your strokes, and ready to react. I would say that this kayak is best enjoyed on class four and below but to each their own.

Freestyle | Most modern freestyle kayaks don’t give easy access to that genre of kayaking. They are lightning quick on end, designed for advanced aerial tricks as opposed to vertical ones, and are only good in specific types of features. Making it hard to learn in them. The Ozone takes a more traditional approach, it is slower on end allowing you to figure out what is going on if it’s your first time and figure out how to link the next trick if you’ve done it before. It cartwheels beautifully and while its main repertoire is vertical tricks, it can still get aerial and you can pull off some more new school tricks in it. It’s good at hole surfing, like really good. But on a wave, it is out and out outrageous. It is the fastest, loosest whitewater kayak I have ever had the joy to surf and I haven’t even gotten it on a good one yet. On small, mediocre waves I was astounded at how fast this kayak is and how much of a good time I could have just carving around and front surfing and how it would literally surf everything.

Learning | The Ozone will make your regular run much more fun, challenge you to learn new skills and allow you to become a much better, well-rounded kayaker. It has already made me brush up on some old, rarely used skills and I look forward to re-learning many more.

The time has long gone when we would use massive kayaks designed for steep rivers on easier sections of whitewater and float easily over the top of all the features or just park and play at one spot. It’s time to enjoy the river, the whole river in the new Pyranha Ozone.

See you on the water,


The North Nahanni River. Mackenzie Mountains, Northwest Territories.

Peering several thousand feet down into the fifth canyon of the North Nahanni, I strained to recall what I had seen down in the depths of this slot six days previously when we had scouted the canyon by bush plane. After paddling through four canyons since that flight, my memory was getting hazy.

Ben pondering whats down there.

Seven days earlier after a two hour bush plane flight we unloaded our gear and began hiking down towards the headwaters of the North Nahanni River, a 200 mile tributary of the Mackenzie river. After an hour of walking through the tundra we arrived, setting up camp at waters edge. As the never ending sunset of the northland continued we fell asleep dreaming of the days on the river to come.

Making our way down to the river.

The first three days on the river we made quick progress, paddling through four of the North Nahanni’s major canyons. The first canyon contained the most challenging whitewater of the trip with several steep powerful cascades and surging corridors. While the whitewater was difficult in the first canyon, the biggest challenges lay downstream as the canyon walls grew larger.

First Canyon

Canyons two, three, and four had looked mellow from our scout flight and we paddle through them with relative ease enjoying the class three and four rapids.

Canyon two

On the fourth day, we paddled through the first half of the fifth canyon. The walls were dark and a foreboding storm set the mood as we paddled through the canyons quality whitewater. After a full day of running great rapids we camped in a spot where the canyon briefly opened up. Unbeknownst to us as we fell asleep that night, three days later we would have only moved one mile downstream from that camp.

Putting on the fifth morning, rapids began right around the corner. Soon we were climbing up the limestone cliffs doing an extended scout of a narrow section of river. Three of us scouting on the left and three on the right. The canyon was so narrow you could almost jump across from rim to rim. Five days earlier, we had spotted a section of river on our flight in that looked like it went under ground. Was this the section? We all hoped it was as we got in our kayaks and paddled into the gorge after deeming it good to go.

Morning of day five. Rapids build and canyon walls rise up.

With the previous gorge still in sight, we all got out for another extended scout as the river appeared to be going into a much deeper section of canyon. As we got a look at what lay downstream, we knew that we had not yet passed the feared section of subterranean river. We watched as the water disappeared into rock and entered one of the deepest canyons I have ever seen.

Getting a look as the river goes underground.

At 10 am we made camp and started problem solving. For the remainder of the day we hiked along both river left and river right trying to located a potential route for re-entering the canyon should we choose to finish the gorge at river level. If we chose the alternative, we would be faced with a multi-day portage over the final ridge of the Mackenzie Mountains before the terrain flattened into the plains.

Our only potential option for re-entering the canyon was on river right. The following day we ferried across the river and began portaging high out of the canyon, feasting on blueberries during breaks. Making our way back towards the river, we left our kayaks on a ledge, still 700 feet above the river. After scrambling around on the cliffs, we found a potential rappel route that could get us back to the river. Still uncertain of what lay downstream, however we spent the remainder of the day scouting the rest of the gorge.

Even after a full day of scouting on river right, one section of river still remained a mystery. Pinched tightly between the towering cliff walls, we were unable to see into this deep and dark corridor. The following day we split up the tasks at hand. Ben and Nate portaged back upstream, crossed the river, and hiked down river left to get a view into this questionable pinch. The rest of us began to set up a rope system to lower ourselves and our kayaks back into the canyon. After several hours of rope work, we confirmed that we could reach the river. Ben and Nate returned from their scout with good news, informing us that the corridor in question was runnable! We relaxed that evening, camping on the cliff edge, knowing we would be finishing off the North Nahanni at river level.

Knowing we would be going in come morning.

The following morning, we scrambled down to our rope system and began lowering into the canyon, one at a time, to a small ledge ten feet above the river. The ledge was only big enough for two, so we planed to seal launch in and regroup downstream. After many hours of lowering, the whole group was reunited in the canyon. We ate a quick lunch and the rest of the afternoon was filled with scouting and running beautiful big water rapids.

Re-entering the canyon
Making our way through the final canyon.
Well worth the effort
As the river cuts through the final ridge of the mountains, the canyon walls approach 3,000 feet.

After the river cut through the last ridge in the Mackenzie Mountains, the canyon walls receded. Very few words were spoken as we exited the canyon, still processing the surreal whitewater and the towering cliffs we had just paddled through. Hoping to make progress on the 100 miles of flat water ahead, we paddled into the night being led by the northern lights.


Rio Cofanes

The Rio Cofanes is the unicorn river in Ecuador. On the walls of Gina’s restaurant are two big portraits of beautiful bedrock canyons, contrasting the pink and grey walls with the luscious green of the jungle above. Of all the photos on display, they are the ones that your eyes are drawn to, filling you with wonder and desire.

The Rio Cofanes is in the north of Ecuador, near the border with Columbia. Putting on in the quaint mountain village of La Sofia, the river winds down for 34 miles until it confluences with the Rio Chingual to form the Aguarico (meaning “rich water” – presumably due to the discovery of gold). Starting out at a gradient of 105 feet per mile, the river cuts its way through three beautiful bedrock canyons. A third of the way into the run, the Rio El Dorado joins, the gradient halves and the river becomes more open. But more importantly than the guidebook facts – the river looks like a dream.

📷: Jeremy Nash

So, what’s the catch?

The Cofanes is notoriously hard to catch at the right levels. It has to be low. The three bedrock canyons are completely committing, filled with must-run rapids and a pretty sketchy portage. Once you are in, there is only one way out – downstream. Now, remember that you are in a rainforest with no reliable weather forecast to speak of. So, it is not surprising to learn that only 9 crews have ever previously descended the river. There had been a lot of rain in Ecuador this season, so I never thought this would be the year. However, after a week-long dry spell, we got the call that we had been hoping for! Knowing that this was not a river to run as a pair, Jeremy Nash and myself spent the next hour trying to convince Rowan James (who was fresh off the plane 12 hours earlier) and Jack Grace (who had never done a multiday before) that this river would be everything that was missing from their lives.

After a 6-hour drive to the put-in the next day, with a quick pit stop to buy food and a machete and the opportunity to be real tourists at the Magico waterfall, we were greeted with primo flows. Filled with anticipation and excitement, we explored the local village, chased some chickens, tried to befriend a parrot, and put some important phone numbers into my InReach.

Magico Waterfall
📷: Jack Grace

Just as it started to get dark, the heavens opened and the rain poured down upon us. Nervously looking around at each other, no-one wanted to voice aloud our concerns. “It’s the best river of your life” – Abe Herrera’s words echoed around my head as I kept all of my fingers and toes crossed for it to stop raining. After the longest hour of my life, it started to subside. However, my night’s sleep was still restless, filled with dreams of flash floods and portaging mishaps. Thankfully, I woke up to find the stars shining down upon us! The next day we tried our best to force the big breakfast of rice, lentils, chips, and chicken down our throats at 6am to give ourselves enough energy for what lay ahead. We packed up quickly and hiked down the steep road to the put-in. A big sigh of relief echoed around as we saw that the river was still crystal blue and did not appear to have risen significantly from the night before.

Right from the get-go, the action started, with high-quality rapids weaving their way through a maze of big boulders. Jeremy took the lead, as the driving force for the trip, with no rapid too steep for him to read and run. Countless boofs and waves had us grinning from ear to ear as the reality that we had actually made it to the Cofanes began to sink in. The first canyon passed without much difficulty and the whitewater eased for a second, giving us the opportunity to take in our surroundings and check our progress on the map.

Reaching the second canyon, we were greeted with a large horizon line dropping into the steep-sided gorge. I knew this was the “Narnia” rapid from the photo at Gina’s. Hopping out to scout, the rapid was steeper and burlier than I had been expecting. At the bottom of the rapid, all the water dropped away into what looked like a giant hole, with the water flushing out of the right side quickly towards… the canyon wall? We were unable to see past the corner to be 100% sure, but at least we could take comfort in the giant pool we could see downstream.

Jeremy’s last words of wisdom were to remember my new year’s resolution (to have more confidence in my kayaking) and that he would be at the bottom. Then he jumped in his boat and paddled into the abyss. I quickly followed suit, knowing that scouting for longer would only serve to make me more nervous. Whilst driving right for the final move, I got caught in the seam, plugged off the drop, went straight down to Narnia, and popped up the other side, feeling very happy and relieved!

The most extreme way to demist your GoPro lens…

Miles of quality read and run whitewater in the third canyon eventually led us to the portage. This was the part that I was dreading. A couple of years ago the perfect waterfall boof on the Cofanes collapsed, leaving behind a walled-in hole which is unrunnable except at the lowest flows. The only way around is to jump from one slippery-as-ice boulder to another, lower boats down, then try to find a spot on the rock flat and stable enough to get in your boat. Oh, and this all happens right above a siphon. Figuring out the best way to tackle the portage was like a fun puzzle, but actually doing it was one of the scariest things I’ve done in a while! It was great to be with a team who I completely trusted to work together and keep each other safe, but I was very glad to see the back of it once it was over.

📷: Jack Grace

Cruising on down knowing the worst was done, we passed the confluence with the Rio El Dorado. At this point the flow doubled, the river opened up, and the character changed. All that was left to do was to find the perfect spot to hang our hammocks, make some dinner, and get a well-earned night’s sleep! The next day, with all of the hard work behind us, we could sit back and enjoy the stunning scenery. Thin veils of water shimmered down the cliff walls whilst parrots screeched in the sky, flying back and forth above our heads.

The kayaking was much faster on the second day. Even though we still had half the distance to cover, we reached the takeout only 3 hours after putting on. We lucked out when we found a group of local fishermen, with their truck parked right at the takeout, who agreed to drive us to Lumbaqui so that we could catch a bus back to Baeza. Exhausted and aching but elated, we even arrived back in time for the Bridge to Bridge race party.

The Cofanes really was everything I had hoped for and more. It was some of the best read-and-run whitewater I have ever done, in one of the most remote, beautiful places I have ever been to. Our need to get past the portage on the first day prevented us from taking much media, but this is a trip that I will not forget anytime soon!



39 days. 4 countries. 1,000km of kayaking. 1 River. The Sava. April 24th – June 1st 2020.

This has been our idea for many years, and in 2020 we are making it a reality! Balkan Rivers Tour 5 will see our crew put in kayaks at the source of the Sava River in Slovenia on April 24th and then paddle the entire length of it through Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina to Serbia, where we will take out with a grand finale on June 1st, the International Day of Sava, in Belgrade.


To show how stunning the Sava is; how many different animal and plant species still call it home, how flood forests protect the cities along its flow, how many incredible tributaries add to its waters, and how it connects different landscapes, nations, and traditions while remaining the river which defines the Balkan peninsula.

The Sava in flood mode.

But unfortunately, there’s another ‘Why?

It’s because we want to create a counterweight to absurd ideas of what decision-makers call development. On top of 9 already existing (highly destructive) hydropower plants on Sava river in Slovenia, there are plans for at least 14 new HPPs in Slovenia and Croatia, a channel connecting Sava and Danube in Croatia and many other projects that would turn the Sava River into a series of dead reservoirs (and this way kill one of the last corridors for wildlife in Europe). On top of that, there are more than 500 new HPPs planned in the Sava catchment.

“No more dams like that.”

So, the goal of Balkan Rivers Tour 5 is to unite everyone who understands the value of wild rivers for humanity and build up the momentum along a 39 day-long action with a big final event in Belgrade, where we will make clear statement directed at decision-makers; the Sava is an integral part of Europe’s greater freshwater ecosystem, acknowledge it as a climate change mitigation tool and provide better biodiversity protection while supporting ecotourism and economy. Instead of mass destruction through HPPs (which would be heavily subsidized by taxpayer’s money, this way enabling rampant corruption and completely unnecessary devastation), we will demand from decision-makers and investment institutions to back out from hydro and rather support way cheaper and real green alternatives all combined in one simple concept; giving rivers more space through announcement of new protected areas and restoration of degraded stretches of rivers, solar panels on already existing infrastructure, and general transition to sustainable economy with smaller general power consumption in the future. 

How can you join in?

Well, come paddle with us and show that protecting the Sava and the tributaries is a demand coming from all over the world. We are giving you a promise you will have a blast hanging around with a bunch of special people, experiencing cool cultures, and seeing some incredible stretches of river. Best times to join us are the first stage (April 24th – May 3rd) with cool whitewater sections and the last stage (May 25th – June 1st) if you are into flatwater kayaking and lots of parties. You can find the full program here.

How can you get directly involved?

In order to prove fighting for Balkan rivers is a movement rather than a project, we are inviting you to create your River Action on any of the numerous rivers in the Sava catchment. Use your connections, wild ideas and imaginations to come up with it. To help you a bit, here are our guidelines.

See you on the Sava or its tributary!
Rok and the BRT5 crew


Can you spare a few clicks to help fight for access on our rivers?

It’s time to join a movement of paddlers calling for the freedom to paddle on all our country’s waters and demanding protection for our precious environment.

Here in 2020, we take our stand.

This year marks 20 years of the Countryside & Rights of Way Act; 20 years of enjoying a right to roam on our amazing mountains, moors and heaths. We often take it for granted that our hills and crags are our playgrounds for adventure and fun – but pick up a paddle and on some waterways in England and Wales you will be made to feel unwelcome and often threatened with trespass, or worse.

We believe the right to roam should be extended to our waters – so that more people can enjoy paddling and swimming in all corners of the UK. We also believe our rivers and oceans should be left clean and clear for the next generation; free from the growing tide of plastic pollution and alive with rich native wildlife.

“No one will protect what they don’t care about, and no one will care about what they have never experienced.”

Ultimately if we cannot access these amazing spaces, then we stand little chance of being able to save them for future generations. Climate Change for many feels distant and too big to grasp. BUT every one of us can play our part, by fighting for the health of our rivers and demanding an equal, shared right of access.

Whatever you are signing up to this January, whether it is ‘Veganuary’, or ‘Dry-January’, spare a few clicks to sign the NEW Clear Access, Clear Waters Petition. Lend your support to the campaign urging Government to tackle this issue now. We made fantastic headway in 2019 and it’s time to build on that momentum.

These are your rivers, this is your sport. If we remain passive, the status quo will never change.

Visit now to find out more.

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