Río Seco (Bajos del Toro, Costa Rica)
Photos here : https://eclecticcats.wordpress.com/2019/11/20/rio-seco-bajos-del-toro-costa-rica/
Too much water, and not enough rope…
Party: Fernando y yo.
I woke early, rolled over, and tried to go back to sleep. The rain picked up. I wasn’t feeling great: with a slight burning behind my eyes. To be honest I wasn’t super keen to run the canyon. I had a bad feeling, and thought I’d let the morning slip away…
I was supprised when Fernando stirred; the gush of air exiting his luxurious sleeping mat alerting me… Well. Time to get up I guess. The rain continued, and it was another wet, miserable morning. We dumped our dripping tents into the car, and soon were walking around in wetsuits to breakfast and finish sorting out gear.
Usually dry, Río Seco looked like a proper river with at least as much water as the start of Jabonosa. Walking under the bridge, 1.5hrs of creek walking followed. (It probably would take significantly less time if the river was actually seco).
The first pitch was a small waterfall of about 15m. A large bolder (CL) with webbing wrapped around it allowed you to abseil down into a deep pool where the geometry of the rock then funnelled the water over the lip in a concentrated torrent of water. Fernando went first and soon disappeared into the flow, quickly reappearing at the bottom. Apparently he couldn’t see the pull rope, so I figured I’d sort it out on the way down. Entering the jet of water I carefully planted my feet, ensuring I had a good stance. I dropped down a bit. The water hitting my chest suddenly flipped me upside down! Wow! I was definitely supprised. Water was somehow finding a way into my wetsuit which didn’t quite fit me, causing it to swell, stretching the neoprene, and turning me into the Michelin Man. I guess my childhood experimentation with upside-down abseiling actually paid off, as I continued upside down until i was out of the main flow. The problem was that I was now getting tangled in the pull rope… Case and point. ‘SRT in waterfalls’ I told myself. I thrashed around eventually getting my pack off, untangled myself and was soon the right way up just behind the waterfall, the water shooting over my head. ‘That was the bad feeling I’d felt in the morning’, I thought to myself, one waterfall to go…
The catarata a further 15mins downstream was about 150m and broken up into three pitches. We both regrouped on a small ledge at the bottom of the first pitch of only about 5m. It made me feel a little better that in a pinch, it looked climbable. Before pulling the rope, Fernando waited until I’d located the next anchor station about 40m below. It was in good condition and when I whistled up to notify Fernando, a howler monkey somewhere on the cliff to my left responded to my challenge.
Hanging off the two bolts embedded into the rock I deployed the 90m rope. As I waited for Fernando to join me the cheap harness I was borrowing dug into my sides – It didn’t even have gear loops! And I wished I had my caving seat and chest harness. As I started down the last pitch, I wondered what the flow would be like where the rope entered the side of the waterfall. 45m later, I found out; it had some strength, but was manageable. Continuing down, I was happy I was nearly down… Then I saw the end of the rope below me. No way! I was still a long way off the floor. I flicked the rope. Shit! I was still about 15m off the deck. I thought about jumping but it was impossible to know how deep the pool was, and if rocks lay hidden in the white froth. I could foresee my lifeless body floating downstream into the Río Toro. Up it is I guess. About now, I was cursing my past self for not heading back for the mechanical ascenders I’d forgotten in the car… I carefully sat my pack on my lap and trying to shelter my dry bag pulled out some accessory cord and made another prussic loop.
Slowly I began ascending. It was really hard work. Having descended the last 45m at a slight angle to avoid the main flow I had to maintain traction with one foot on the strangely sharp (but slippery) rock to avoid swinging into the flow. Sometimes I’d slip (bloody knuckles) and have to claw my way back. I tired quickly and eventually let the rope take me further into the waterfall. I gave up on the sliding clove I’d been using as backup – I had to minimise energy usage and instead, periodically tired an overhand into the rope. Now in the waterfall, I waited for the wind to carry the flow away from me before ascending in a quick burst, and then huddled there waiting again for the water to shift. Looking up, it felt like I wasn’t making progress. I hoped Fernando wasn’t getting overly worried. I knew I was taking a long time and looked occasionally down to measure my progress. Finally I ascended out of the water. Progress became easier, but I was running out of steam. I made contact with Fernando; exhausted and dehydrated, I pulled myself up onto an amazing ledge he had located just above and to the side of the anchor.
Very happy to take a break, I handed over the reigns. Using the ropes still rigged above, Fernando led a pitch of about 5.8(check Yosemite grading system) up to some trees, I followed and soon we were abseiling diagonally down, tree to tree. Three pitches and we reached a flat area were we slid down the slope for a final pitch into the river. Swimming across the river I think we were both happy to be down. We enjoyed some noodles and went to visit the bottom of the falls that had taken an extra 5hrs to reach.
The light was fading so we couldn’t stay long. Heading upstream we crossed the river twice more and after some bushbashing reached the bottom of the Catarata Poza Azul.
We quickly hit the trail trying to take advantage of the last bit of light. Crossing the river at the top of the falls, we took a much needed dip into the refreshing water and soon emerged into the small farm that provides access to the falls (in Costa Rica, all rivers are public, but unfortunately in most cases you need to pay for access :(). Despite it being dark, we met the owner of the farm, who after hearing our story waived the ¢6000 we would normally have had to pay.
From the main rd, it was a short walk back to the car. We washed in the shrunken river and skipping dinner, hit the sack.
Surprisingly, in the morning we had sun for the first time in about a week. And what supprised me the most was that the river certainly was seco. I could hardly believe it!
I exploded the car to dry everything out and we were soon on our way to visit some canyons around Turria