Ecuador’s Quijos River Claims Two Lives This Winter, Saddening Boating Community

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Ecuador’s Quijos River claimed the lives this winter of two kayakers, saddening the boating community, friends and family members. While unrelated, the two deaths occurred within three weeks of each other, on different sections of the popular kayaking river.

Jacob Clark

According to reports, on the afternoon of January 20, 2022, a group of eight private kayakers put in at Bridge 1 on the Quijos river near Baeza, Ecuador, to paddle the classic “Bridge to Bridge” section. They were all experienced kayakers, many of whom had spent years paddling the rivers of Ecuador and the world. The water level was at the upper end of medium, pushy but well within the skill set of Clark and the group as a whole; they were among many groups of kayakers to paddle that section that day.

clark quijos
Photos courtesy Liquid Descent Whitewater Rafting.

Clark, an expert kayaker from Cleveland, TN, and a former guide for Liquid Descent Whitewater Rafting and Outland Expeditions on the Ocoee River, and many others in the group had paddled this section countless times over years traveling to Ecuador to kayak during the Northern Hemisphere winter. It was Clark’s third kayaking trip to Ecuador.

At the “Split Rock” Rapid, Clark, one of the most skilled and experienced paddlers in his group, reportedly swam after being caught in the hydraulic in the left channel. After the swim he was unable to get himself out of the river as he flushed into the next rapid. Despite ongoing efforts of his paddling group to help him to shore quickly—one report says a fellow kayaker had him grab onto the back of his boat, but then he swam after washing into another hydraulic—Clark lost consciousness after roughly two minutes.

Approximately five minutes later a member of the group was able to swim out and pull him to shore with the aid of a rope and another rescuer above the “Double Drop” Rapid. Clark was not breathing and had no heartbeat upon being taken out of the river. Despite efforts of three rescuers administering CPR for 20 minutes and the Cuerpo de Bomberos of Baeza continuing for another 10 minutes upon their arrival, he was unable to be resuscitated.

Boaters, friends, family members and rescuers were quick to thank everyone involved who did everything they could to try to mitigate this tragedy. A fundraiser was set up to help support the costs of bringing him home. On Facebook posts, his family said those who knew him can “honor Jacob by embracing life’s thrills and loving your whitewater family endlessly.”

“Jacob was an inspirational friend to so many in our community. Always looking for the next boof, bigger water, and new adventure. His spirit and love of river life were contagious,” the post reads. Those who want to contribute in Clark’s name can do so to the following organizations he loved:

Ecuadorian River Institutehttps://ecuadorianrivers.org/
ERI is a legit non profit with the mission of protecting whitewater resources, economic sustainability, and biodiversity in Ecuador.
The rivers in Ecuador are very special to Jacob and this nonprofit is dedicated to fighting the legal battles necessary to protect them.

American Whitewater
https://www.americanwhitewater.org/
AW is a nonprofit with the mission to conserve and restore America’s whitewater resources and to enhance opportunities to enjoy them safely.

The Second Accident

On February 11, 2022, another kayaker, unidentified per the family’s request, was killed downstream on the Bombòn section of the Quijos River in Ecuador.

The outfitter, SWA, released the following statement on the accident:

“SWA is sad to report the death of a kayaker on one of its trips. The accident happened on February 11, 2022. A group of seven kayakers—two guides and five guests—were running the Bombòn section of the Quijos River in Ecuador. The river level was low, reading 4.3 on the online gauge below the Oyacachi/Quijos confluence. At about one o’clock, the group stopped to scout the rapid “Curvas Peligrosas” from a gravel bar on river left. After scouting and discussion, four guests and two guides decided to run it, one guest opted to walk the rapid. The kayaker successfully avoided the big hole on the first curve, but then flipped on the eddy line downstream of the hole. He rolled up, but then drifted out of the eddy, where he flipped again. He was then swept into shallow water on river left, above the wall between the first and second curves of the rapid. A couple seconds later, it appeared that his head and/or upper body became entrapped. He was still upside down and still in his kayak. The kayaker pulled his sprayskirt and kicked free of his kayak, but he remained trapped underwater. SWA guides and group members quickly made contact with the kayaker but were unable to free him immediately despite heroic rescue efforts. Although a doctor was on scene, CPR was not successful. We send our thoughts and deep condolences to the kayaker’s family. “

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