This past May, we hosted our first Advanced Packraft Paddling & Expedition Course with lead guides Dan Thurber, Steve “Doom” Fassbinder, and Ben Phillips. Eight people participated in the course on the Animas and Dolores rivers. Waldo Aguayo Riquelme, owner of the Chilean packraft guide service, Scouting Rios, was one of those participants. Waldo also lived at Scullbinder Ranch for a month, where he worked his butt off and impressed us immensely. We have invited him back to work at the Ranch and to instruct some Spanish-speaking courses next year (to be announced this fall). ~ Lizzy & Doom
One ordinary November morning in Puerto Río Tranquilo, Chile, I was drinking my standard several cups of maté at home. While checking my cell phone, I found a post on Instagram about an advanced whitewater packrafting course. The amazing photo and a great description of the course outlined just what I had been looking for! Within a minute I sent an email…
Lizzy Scully, CEO of Four Corners Guide responded immediately.
Coming to America!
So in February, after a lot of help, fundraising events, brands supporting me, friends, family, personal work, plus a proposal of “work for a trade” at Scullbinder Ranch, all my hopes were reactivated. This Chilean packrafter managed to get a spot on the course. Tickets to the United States!
It was my first time out of the country. In every big airport I thought I was going to get lost. But at the beginning of May I arrived in Durango.
The first day in the States was a lot of fun, I met Kent Ford, a historic kayaker from the area. I took a bike ride on the Animas River trail. Then Lizzy arrived, and we paddled the Animas with new friends. Exhausted after a long day of traveling, we went straight to the ranch that evening and I fell asleep in the Scullbinder Ranch cabin on the Mancos River.
The next day I met Saddle and Doom. Saddle is one of the fastest and funniest dogs I have ever met, and a big fan of bike rides. Doom is the lead guide of Four Corners Guides. Together with Lizzy they started this amazing project of guide service and Scullbinder Ranch as a base camp for their tours and courses. Located about 30 minutes from Mancos, it feels remote, has no signal and little human trail. It felt like home.
Working at the Ranch with Jaron Segay (their contracted employee for the summer), Doom and Lizzy energized me. I felt motivated for the course to begin. I would enjoy five days of packrafting!
The Chilean Packrafter Learns Advanced Paddling Skills
Finally, the course started.
Doom, Dan and Ben, all very experienced packrafters with a lot of teaching experience, more than delivered on the promises of the course. The first three days on the Animas River we started with a lot of practice, from the basics, improving paddling technique, posture, self rescue, catching eddies, peeling out, ferries… I improved even something very difficult for me before the course, being able to surf with the packraft.
We paddled a section of the river that runs through the city of Durango, but spent most of the time at the play park. It was spectacular to be there, full of people with their kayaks, body boards, sup, rafting rafts and our packrafts.
Then, to finish the course we went on a two-day trip to the Dolores River, where I used a packraft loaded for the first time, using the cargo fly. I added any new things to my boating repertoire! Camp was a classic, set high in the mountains in the San Juan National Forest. We had a campfire (before the fire ban) and great company.
Wrapping up this trip, I noticed a big change in my paddling over five days. And I really enjoyed paddling with my teammates: Jeremiah, Andrew, Lizzy, Jaysun, Chris, Marty and Aaron.
Post Course Adventures
The Gunny Gorge
The truth is that I traveled with zero planning on the routes to do on my days off. Before this trip I was on other courses and trips. But I was able to go for three days to the Gunnison Gorge with Jaysun. The paddling was out of this world. My first time in a canyon, I found the river to be big! We applied everything we learned in the course.
Without a doubt, I experienced the most intensity and difficulty in the Gunny Gorge, exactly what I look for nowadays in my packraft. And Jaysun ended up being a great packraft partner.
Wedding Fun & Ranch Life
A couple of days later Lizzy and Doom got married! I continued to meet great people and new friends and had a lot of fun. About 130 people attended. We ate two lambs, which I helped cook throughout the day, and we danced until late night to two DJs!
By my last week doing hard labor with Doom at the ranch (we built a concrete patio!), I thought the packraft adventures were over. But I ended up accompanying Doom on a three-day trip with Jaron and three clients: Kevin, Laura and Peter. We paddled the San Miguel and Dolores rivers in a high desert plateau of significant scenic beauty.
Then to finish off a tremendous stay, I spent my last day in Colorado paddling the Animas River, just as it all began. Doom dropped me off at the airport with my gear still wet in my bag.
Conclusion: Thanks from the Chilean Packrafter!
Thanks so much for making me feel at home and for all the good vibes Lizzy, Doom, Jaron, Tyler, Ian, Thad, Jon, Neal, Roman and Peggy, Riley and Dorothy, Ben, Dan, Jeremiah, Jaysun, Aaron, Chris, Marty… and, well, to all the people I met on my first trip to Colorado.
Now I return home with new tools and knowledge for my work with packraft classes and tours! I am also recharged with motivation for my personal sports projects in Patagonia.
Thanks also to my parents, family and friends, especially Hernan Benavides and family, Hector Diaz and family. Without your help and support this trip would not have been possible.
Also, thanks to Isaí Madriz and Kristina for their constant support with equipment and teachings. And my great friends from Patagonia, Chimiriski, Susan, Marco, Cote, Franco, Feña, Choteko, Pablito, Alvarito… I could go on all day, but you know who you are.
Finally, thanks to the brands that support me Level Six, Coffee Jam and Patagonia Raft.
Colorado, see you next year!