2021: Mexico's rio la venta packrafting expedition
"An inescapable remote jungle river cutting through a canyon of limestone walls, spring-fed from countless caves".
That's both how I imagined Rio La Venta to be, and how it actually turned out to be.
It took several years to get up the courage to pull together and execute this expedition. There is limited information on the internet about Rio La Venta, some of which, in my experience, greatly overstates the difficulty. As such, we overprepared for this one, and went in early December when we expected the water levels to be at the right level to be fun but still allow us to portage the heavier rapids. Much of this river is locked in with sheer cliffs right down to the water, and the difference between a portage and a mandatory run of a class V rapid may only be a foot or two of difference in the water level. Gulp.
But proper planning pays off. I thought the water levels were perfect. Our group (myself, Suhei Eddy, Nic Barth, Keith Richards-Dinger and Dave Weimer) agreed it might be more fun and exciting in high water levels, though some of our campsites would have been completely underwater with only a foot more water. And campsites are few and far between here, at times with miles between anything large enough to get a single tent on.
Most fearfully, there is a report online, which I was able to verify in-person on the river, of a December flash flood sweeping away a group of packrafters, who apparently were carried down a class VI rapid without their boats, and found two days later, one member completely naked, with no gear. It's a miracle any of them survived, let alone all of them. There's not much room to escape a flash flood in the second half of this river!
We built our skill set, wilderness capabilities, and spent several years getting to know each other's capabilities before finally committing to this trip. Nic, an amazing adventurer and all-around great guy, spearheaded much of the planning to get this one going.
We spent six days on the river, hiking in to the start, and taking the ferry out across the final reservoir. The river is near-continuous moderate rapids, without anything too scary (at the water level we ran it at, at least). Literally every single rapid can be portaged (again, at the water level when we were there), and I'd bet we ran about 90% of them.
Overall, it's surely one of the best, if not THE best, packraft trip in the world to date. The lush jungle, the stunning blue water, soaring cliffs, decorated riverside caves, abundant wildlife and ease of access make this one unbeatable in my opinion. That said, to be fair, it's a fairly tough trip, with countless rocky portages over slippery rocks, and you'd better be highly experienced before attempting this one.