update – I recently headed up to Poco Sol again and saw that the hydro project on Quebrada Gata was complete. I don’t know how far up the canyon they tubed the water but I do know that because of the electrical generating infrastructure they no longer allow access to the area. Ours was the first and quite probably also the last descent of this beautiful canyon.
First Descent & Last Descent
Christine and Suresh have owned and operated a rafting company in La Fortuna de Arenal Costa Rica since 1992. When the neighboring town of San Isidro decided they’d like to attract tourists the mayor gave them a call and a few days later we joined them on an assignment to explore a canyon that had been entered from the side at a few points but because it was so steep and isolated had never been descended from top to bottom.
First we stopped by their commercial waterfall rappelling tour “The Lost Canyon” to pick up some gear and then headed to the mayors office. The mayor and her assistant loaded us all into the town’s 4WD pickup and drove us to the home of the couple who manage the ranch that backs onto the primary forest encompassing Quebrada Gata.
After much discussion about how to actually get to the entrance to the canyon, and a delicious breakfast we finally hit the trail.
It was a little disconcerting that the mayor’s aide had to continuously stop and wait for us on the trail. After all we were the big explorers and he was a city slicker in slacks and loafers who was just going to show us to the canyon entrance then drive the mayor back to town. At sunset they ‘d meet us at the bottom where the Río Agua Gata empties into the Río Peñas Blancas along side the 4WD road to Poco Sol.
Subsequent to the Gata trip Sue and I have taken training courses and gotten our ACA certification. We now know what we did back then was probably pretty stupid but at the top of the Gata we were novices. I’d done a lot of rock climbing so knew my way around the ropes and gear but Sue and Christine had never done anything like this.
Our fearless leader Suresh was really the only qualified canyoneer. Because of the steep walls and difficult access no one really knew what lay between the entrance to the canyon and it’s outlet at the Río Peñas Blancas a few kilometers and several hundred meters elevation loss below. We had a short discussion an decided that we’d dive in. We had harnesses, helmets, 150 feet of rope, plenty of anchors, a good first aid kit, a little bag of granola and half a book of matches.
Once we cleared the first drop there was no turning back and there was no climbing out. If we ran into any waterfalls higher than 75 feet (you have to double the rope over so you can retrieve it) we’d be spending the night in the canyon and waiting for the rafting guides to come looking for us with more rope and equipment the next day.
There were three significant waterfalls in the canyon but only one of them gave us any real reason for concern. Standing at the top of the middle falls we looked down at a 35 foot drop into a vertical wall slot canyon filled with dark swirling water that disappeared around a corner. There was no ledge or bank to step out on and the only choice we saw was for one of us to rappel down, float around the corner (while still on the rope) and hope that the next 120 feet (you can un-double the rope if there is still someone on top) would provide a way out.
I slid down the easy rappel and kept playing out rope until I rounded the bend and heard the roar of another waterfall ahead. Fortunately there was a small rock outcropping at the top and as long as no one floated right over the lip we had room to set the next rappel.
The descent was longer and tougher than we expected. As the sun dropped towards the horizon we were about half way down and there was much discussion about what a good idea it would have been to bring a few more provisions and a pile jacket or two for the night it looked like we might be spending in the rain forest.
Fortunately there was only one more small waterfall and we made quick progress hiking and scrambling down the last couple of kilometers of stream bed to the 4WD road where the mayor was waiting in her truck with a concerned look on her face.
Video of Quebrada Gata
The video shows some of the story, a beautiful waterfall or two and a great natural rock waterslide, but unfortunately most of the really cool stuff and big waterfalls isn’t on the video because we were too busy making sure we didn’t break our necks in what turned out to be a very challenging canyon. Someday we’ll go back.