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Rappelling the cascades

Scaling waterfalls at La Hesperia

semi-overcast 24 °C

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Fridays at La Hesperia are either hike days or days free for weekend travel. Every second friday, we hike one of the reserves many trails. These hikes vary in length and difficulty.
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The reserve ascends in altitude from 1,100 metres to 2,040, which takes in three ecological environments: pre-montane evergreen, low montane and high montane (cloud forest). As you can imagine, this change in altitude means some pretty steep trails, and as there is a river running through the reserve, it also results in some fairly significant waterfalls.
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One friday, Raul suggested the 'rappelling hike'. The vote (including mine) went in favour of this adventurous sounding expedition, and we were advised to wear our wellies and not to bring backpacks, even small ones, as they would get entangled with the rappelling harness. We set out at the usual time of 8.30am; there were five cascades to descend and the hike would take about 4 hours.
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After walking for half an hour or so, Raul set up the rope beside a waterfall of some 25 ft. in depth - we weren´t actually rappelling through the water, just down the face of the rock close to the fall. It took some manoeuvering to get the hang, so to speak, of the harness, but it was very safe, with Raul taking it on and off each volunteer, and Ceri, our very tall, longterm volunteer, waiting below in case he needed to catch any falling bodies...
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I loved it! The adrenelin was pumping, and the way the harness fitted around the torso made me feel well in control. We had to place our feet very carefully and control the speed of the descent by letting the rope out slowly or quickly. It wasn´t too long before I felt comfortable with the technique and really began to enjoy myself. The only regret was that the falls weren´t higher - I think the deepest one was around 35 feet. I can see how absailing has its attractions...
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Some of the rock descents were only 15 feet or so, and for these we used a simple knotted rope without a harness. This was a little scary at first, but there were footholds and our arms had become pretty strong from weeks of tough labour on the reserve. We also had to scale UP rock faces - an unexpected element of the morning´s hike. Raul appeared to run up the bare face of the rock without any support whatsoever, tied the rope to a tree or around a rock at the top, and up we went towards his waiting hands! No harness here either, but Ceri was below, shoving us up as far as his long arms would allow, and the knots, which were at regular intervals on the rope, were perfect aids in our ascent, along with the natural footholds on the rockface. It had to be said that wellies were not the best footwear here, but we needed them for the river walking parts of the hike. Ceri was happy, as he said it was the only opportunity he got to feel everyone´s ass...
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But, however enjoyable the rappelling itself was, the highlight of the hike for me was something completely different, which we were lucky enough to see: halfway down the biggest cascade, Raul spotted an alcove in the cliff-face opposite. He pointed it out to us, and with enormous excitement we realised that the dinosaur-sized branches which were carefully placed on the ledge were in fact a nest: it was the nest of a barred hawk! It was very hard to get a good photo of the baleful chick, sitting in solitary splendour on its giant structure, but we tried with our zooms..
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The noise of the crashing water was so great that we hardly heard another sound - the anxious screams of the parents overhead, as they watched this strange and threatening procession of aliens descending past their impassive fluffball, who seemed less put out than they.
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We moved on as quickly as we could, but even so, getting 14 people down the fall took an hour, and the parents were very agitated. Raul was thrilled because he said it was the first time a chick had been located on the reserve with both parents evident. This would go down in La Hesperia wildlife records.
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Raul, happy with his discovery, takes a well-earned rest after his morning's exertions
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Posted by Eleniki 12:50 Archived in Ecuador Tagged volunteer

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