— This story originally ran in C&K's 2011 issue of Whitewater, now available on newsstands.
JESSE COOMBS IS TELLING ME WHAT HE DID LAST SUMMER. “Imagine a 14-hour jungle portage with 90 pounds of gear and multiple rappels over un-runnable 100-foot, 300-foot and 600-foot falls,” the expedition paddler says, describing just one of the four days he spent last August in Mexico’s Barranca de Piaxtla, potentially the deepest river canyon in North America. “It’s by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Coombs says of the first descent he completed with Ben Stookesberry, Rocky Contos, James Dusenenberry, and Darin McQuoid. That’s saying a lot coming from Coombs, 40, recipient of the 2007 National Geographic Adventure Hero Award and veteran of more than 30 first descents on some of the planet’s most difficult and remote rivers.
The key, he says, was to pack light and move fast. “We each only had two packets of oatmeal for breakfast, a couple handfuls of GORP for lunch, and a can of tuna with some mustard and a packet of noodles for supper, every day.” They also only had two harnesses and two belay devices between the five of them. “You can’t bring an entire rack of climbing gear. You just can’t,” Coombs says.
– Dave Costello
THE RIDE: Jackson Villain – “I’m using the Villain now, but I paddled the Super Hero in Mexico. I love it. It actually fits on buses in South America.” (jacksonkayak.com)
THE PADDLES: Werner Sho-Gun/Werner 4-piece Player (wernerpaddles.com)
THE PFD: Kokatat Ronin Pro-“I also use it as a pillow” (kokatat.com)
TECHNICAL GEAR: Sterling 60-meter static rope (two for the group; sterlingrope.com), Black Diamond Alpine harness (two for the group; blackdiamondequipment.com), BD ATC belay device (two for the group), three Petzl locking carabineers (petzl.com), 15 feet of 1-inch tubular webbing.
SAFETY: Salamander Paddle Gear Big Mouth 70-foot Spectra Throw Bag (salamanderpaddlegear.com), SPOT Locator Beacon (findmespot.com), pin kit (one locking carabineer, two non-locking, two Petzl pulleys and T-blocks, one Petzl Mini Traxion; petzl.com), first aid kit-“includes three types of rash ointment.”
MISCELLANEOUS: Two Watershed Futa Stowfloats, Ocoee camera bag (drybags.com), Nemo sleeping pad and Gogo EX tent (nemoequipment.com), Mountain Hardwear 15-degree UltraLamina sleeping bag (mountainhardware.com), Garmin GPSMAP 62 (garmin.com), Nuun hydration tablets (nuun.com). BIC lighters-“For starting fires … We usually don’t bring stoves.”
Check out the gallery of Coombs’s descent of the Barranca Piaxtla, along with his first-hand account of the epic here.