Monday, December 04, 2006


I had an incredible Thanksgiving Break hanging out with Katie and Stacy in Chattanooga, seeing good ole friends there and playing frisbee golf, all the while training Katie's puppy Sadie with a healthy mix of fear, intimidation, scoobie snacks, and sarcasm.
When we got hungry for Turkey we drove to Katie's and Stacy's home town Birmingham Alabama, to spend time with family. I was missing my own family at the time, but there were plenty of warm hugs to go around at the Hilleke household on the river. There were also a ton of huntin' fishin' boat ridin' and boat crashin' stories to go round.
And then I learned one of Bill Hilleke's (Katie's Dad) favorite things to say..."Wide Open"
And I've decided it's not really an expression that can be defined very well in words, but when you hear someone use it you immediately understand.
The day after Thanksgiving Katie paddled the Locust Fork as her first whitewater river since day 2 in Honduras, it was wide open <-- video link

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Searching for Gradient in Gracias, Lempira

Our purpose here began to strike me as ironic when I began to learn the history of this small town named Gracias (Thankyou). It was named this by it's founders who had been wandering the rugged terrain in search of a flat piece of land suitable for agriculture. When they came across this valley they were weary and greatful to have found their home, though it is a rather small piece of flat land in the midst of huge mountains. We three girls had come to this region in search of elusive waterfalls and river gorges that might never have been run before. So far we had had better luck with a lot of other things like experiencing the week long Lempira festival. The Honduran dollar, the lempira, is named after this national hero who died attempting to truce between the natives and the Spanish. The day we left Gracias was the last day of the festival and all the youth of the town of Gracias were dressed up for the reenactment of the slaying of their martyr, Lempira, and a grand day of fiesta.

Photo by Robin Betz

The day before we left Gracias, Jessie was busy directing our mechanic with her new found spanish vocabulary, Laura was on point wrapping up our Jungle Fashion photo shoot at the hotsprings, so I set out for one more scouting mission while we were there. I took a picture of this coffee stained topo map to guide me and grabbed a bus ride about 45 minutes south of Gracias to the small and 'quaint' little town of La Campa. You can see the steep gorge walls and a pretty good gradient on the map but that tells you nothing about the composition of river bed.
Photo by Robin Betz

After jumping off the bus I looked up and saw the skyscraper gorge walls that must be the beginning of the river I wanted to scout which flowed north east away from town.
Photo by Robin Betz

I started hiking downhill toward the river, and as the river gave way, even though it was too low, I noticed a healthy high water mark indicated about 10 feet above the river bed by coke and pepsi bottle eddy trash and debris in the riparian shrubbery. It was disappointing to realize, based on the amount of trash in the river, the people here must not realize that the rainwater and trash flows to from their streets...and into this beautiful gorge right next door. But as I rock hopped and bouldered my way downstream I realized that there were 3 basic criteria that must be met to some degree, which would satisfy our definition of a "runnable creek" These criteria are the following.
1) there must be a healthy flow of water
2) there must be a gradient of at leat 80 fpm, hopefully more
3) there must be a 'clean' or well-channelized river bed.

We all know that the Sierra Mountains in California have some of the best creeks in the world because of the great combination of these three criteria, 1) predictable river levels in a snow-melt environment, 2) sicko gradient, young mountains dropping fast into the ocean, and 3) Granite bedrock, enough said.
Well here in Honduras, things are not quite as straight forward, but I like this next picture because it says alot about what we found, and makes me this Honduras or West Virginia?

Photo by Robin Betz
1) the river levels here are rain dependant, and even though it rained everyday and were in the quasi rainy-season, we needed a rainier season, or a tropical storm event because all the water was getting sucked up by the surrounding lush vegetation.
2) no problem here finding gradient, but we still had to be careful that we were looking for gradient that had at least 10-15 miles of stream contributing to that section.
3) most of the creeks we found were much like the south east dominated by tbe boulder garden type rapid, however in this creek I found a strange type of bedrock that created some strange pothole features and narrow slots.

Photo by Robin Betz

Even though the walls were super steep, the gorge contained a healthy river bed in which I could rock hop and scramble down stream for roughly 2 km until the confluence as you can see on the map. At this point I realized I would need a machete and a set of climbing ropes in order to continue downstream, or maybe a rainstorm and a kayak for next time. So, I hiked out via the ridge and here is the view of the river below.
photo by Robin Betz

Sometimes it was disappointing finding rivers but no water, but we realized that this is what happens to all explorers; nothing ever goes as planned, travel takes three times longer than expected, and you end up finding something totally different than what you set out searching for. But someone has to go check it out, or else you'd never know. I think that more time is needed to fully investigate the whitewater potential in Honduras. I think that we were merely beginning to scratch the surface as our time ran out. Next time I would like to go in November, during the full-on rainy season, and ideally we would have a helicopter, or at least a set mules and a personal trail cutter, since road access made things quite difficult here.

At this point with about a week left we decided to check out the rivers in the mountains surrounding the city of Tegucigalpa. At this point the rivers drop abruptly to the south and west toward the Pacific Ocean. Again we found some potential but had limited time to scope them fully. From there we took a quick trip to surf the coast of Nicaragua. Stay tuned for this final trip report...

Monday, July 17, 2006

Is that a Jack in the Box?

photo by Robin

After 3 breakdowns on the way to Gracias we finally made it. The town of Gracias is located high in the mountains in the Department of Lempira, so it has been a wonderful break from the heat. It only gets hot for a couple hours during the day and you can count on a refreshing breeze in the evening followed by a thunderstorm. Unfornately the daily thunderstorms are not enough to fill the rivers.

After getting the Land Rover towed behind a banana truck, we dropped it off at the local mechanic, Julio, and began developing a strategy for scoping out the local creeks. We decided to scout out the creeks flowing from the Parque Nacional de Celaque. This is the largest national park in Honduras and contains one of the largest remaining cloud forests in Central America. From the topo maps, it looked like the watershed had a couple of creeks with just the right type of gradient for creeking and locals spoke of an abundance of waterfalls. We packed up enough gear, food, and ammunition for 3 days in the jungle and caught a ride with our bilingual friend Walter to the park entrance. Robin carried the GPS and water filter, Jessie the tents and food and Laura, the machete, along with a determination to slice something up.

Ironically, the park´s name, la Celaque, means ´box of water´. Unfortuantely for us, the box of water was more like a box of rocks... all the rivers and streams we scouted were far too low, even after a torrential downpour our second night there. We did, however, salvage the trip by summiting the tallest peak in Honduras, glimpsing a ketzal and killing a scorpion. I felt a little bad about the scorpion incident, but in our defense it was the middle of the night, it was right next to my bed and Laura insisted it was ´hella poisonous´. We ate dinner with a 75 year-old woman who had been living in the park her entire life. She cooked in a one-room shack over an open fire some of the best food we´ve had on the trip so far. The experience there was priceless, and my only regret is our Spanish wasn´t good enough to fully comprehend the abudnance of her knowledge and experience.

Right now, it is 2 PM local time and we are having a down day to figure out some logistics. I am writing this blog, Robin is running around town doing who-knows-what and Laura is sitting at the bar drinking cervezas with some locals who are pretending to understand her hack Spanish, but really they are just looking at her boobs. We are going to continue studying the maps and try to figure out our next course of action. The sickest waterfall ever seems to still be eluding us, but hopes are high we will track it down soon. Keep your fingers crossed for us. Updates soon...

Rio Aracagual...

Photo by Robin

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Broke Down In the Jungle

Stuck in the middle of the jungle with a broken 33 year old truck, all we could do is laugh at our ridiculous situation...

We finally made our way from the comforts of Struth, La Ceiba and our gracious hosts at the Jungle River on the Rio Cangrejal and headed towards Gracias. We did everything we thought appropriate, studied the map, decided on our route, filled the gas tank and double strapped all our boats and bags... Unfortunately this wasn´t enough. We were about halfway between La Ceiba and nowhere and the story goes something like this - Robin was getting into her new four wheeling in the third world skills and Laura and Jessie couldn´t have been more encouraging. We made our way down some mountain gravel roads with proud gradient when the road abruptly went into the river. Laura and Jessie went to scout but instead only found an old toothless naked man with a machete and some fish on a stick. So we then ran back to Robin and told her to get turned around pronto. But the truck was really, really stuck. So we giggled and video taped in case our families needed the closure of actually seeing our deaths on Robin´s new camera. Luckily our machete-wielding local man was friendly and probably thought we were crazy. Plus Laura took ownership of our machete and swore she could take him. We ended up getting turned around but by this time the truck was smoking with a vengeance and it was about pitch black outside. So I guess that is how we got our first camp spot in the jungle...
Robin set up her hammock and Laura and Jessie shared Laura´s one-man tent and to quote her journal entry, it was ´tight and hot´. Morning came with lots of locals on horseback trotting through... Laura and I went to get antifreeze, aka agua de radiatore. We had some interesting experiences hitch hiking through rural Honduras but we finally did get the truck working, made it back to the main road and a town where we proceeded to burn through our fan belt. Finally AFTER that was fixed, we began our journey, on only major roads, to Gracias. Our new route had us driving about 4 hours out of the way. Perfect. So now we are finally, at 10 pm the next night, close to our destination - the elusive town of Gracias, Honduras. We miss you Katie and Stacie - we wish you could be here with us!!!! Love Jessie Robin and Laura

Friday, July 07, 2006

Indepence Day to Nightmare

July 4-July 7
July 4- Independence Day and Struth's 26 birthday... We spent the day on Struth's boat wakeboarding and roughing it in Roatan. We saw a local man spearfishing and bought lobster off of him. Katie started to feel really sick. She was having horrible muscle spasms in her stomach. She was a trooper though and did some 360's on the wakeboard. She could not keep either breakfast or lunch down. That night she could not handle the pain anymore so we woke up Struth and Rachel and headed to the local clinic. The doctor there examined her and said that the local hospital on the island was on strike. He said we needed to go to the mainland to receive medical treatment. The only flight out was at 6 am so we waited two hours and boarded the plane. At the hospital a man in a beige coat with staples on the pockets examined her in a room with blood on the floor. They admitted her to the hospital. The "internalist" (if they actually have those there)said that they did not know what was wrong but they were going to operate on her the next day. We thought this sounded like a bad idea. I, with the help of Rachel, called Katie's insurance company and started the medical evacuation process.
July 5- The medical evacuation people picked us up at the hospital at 6 and we headed to the airport in an ambulance. We boarded the private medical jet and they whisked us back to Birmingham, AL. We spent a record 3 minutes going through customs(they met us at the plane) and sped off to Brookwood Hospital. The flight nurse thought it could be kidney stones so we were really optimistic. The doctor examined her and they did a CAT scan and found a mass.

July 6- Katie was operated on today. She went in with a positive attitude and a fiery will. That is pretty much how she lives her life! They found the mass and under further investigation discovered that it was cancerous. The doctor believes that she has had it for 6-8 weeks. They sent off her lymph nodes to further investigate. She will be given time to recover from surgery and then begin chemo. This is all I know at this time. We are all floored but we are trying to stay positive. Please keep her and her family in your thoughts! If you would like to get in touch please e-mail me at I love her so much as I know all of you do too. Life is a crazy thing . The other ladies are headed down the next couple of days to represent. Katie and I will be here getting better.


July 3

Our first night in Roatan found Katie and I sleeping in our hammoks at Marble Hills Farm where Rachel and Struth work. They grow all kinds of fruits and make delicious jellys. We found an incredible place to sleep on the two story dock at the ocean. The breeze was blowing and it was a marvelous night until a bad storm with horrible lightning blew in in the middle of the night. Katie did not bring her tarp so when the rain began she escaped her puddle and crawled in my hammok with me. The weight of two people lowered the hammock below the tarp and we were once again sleeping in a puddle. After weighing the pros and cons of getting struck by lightning, we decided to escape to Rachel's casaitta. We woke the next morning to beautiful skies and hot temperatures. Roatan has the second largest barrier reef in the world, which is right at Marble Hills Farm's backyard. They gracefully let us have full use of all there beach equipment. We picked the glass bottom sea kayak and took a voyage out to the reefs. We spent a delightful day snorkeling, exploring the reefs and irritating the fish. We then headed back in for banana and pineapple smothies.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

A salty bath is better than nothing

July2-We woke up this morning refreshed from a bug- free night of jungle sleeping. After a breakfast of eggs and frijoles with tortillas at the Jungle Lodge we headed to the truck. We got there just after a raft bus rolled into the back of Struth's truck. Part of a rack and Struth's bike tire later, we loaded up the truck to go back up river to the Rio Cangrejal. Struth droped Katie, Rachel and myself off at the top. Rachel took a refreshing bike ride in the mid-day Honduran sun while Struth went to the "cousin" of the guy who hit the truck(a welder) to get the racks repaired.
Katie and I had an exceptionally good day on the river. It was higher than the previous day due to a heavy rain the night before. The killer heat drove us to periodically stop to swim in eddys in the river. To cool off, we jumped off a ~20 ft cliff into the river at the take out.
The truck needed to be put into the shop for some repairs so we headed to the island of Roatan. We took the 2 hour ferry and headed to the top deck. The waves were so big we hid in the life boats to protect ourselves from the huge waves crashing on the boat. American refugees in Honduras...a first?

Monday, July 03, 2006

Man Boatin'

July 1- The first day on the river. Katie, Struth, and I paddeled the Rio Cangrejal. After paying some local elementary school kids to watch our big-honkin' truck, we put on the high volume Rio Cangrejal. It was higher than normal due to the rainy season but fantastic for kayaking. This is a local run that is rafted commerically even though it is risky due to abundant undercuts and large hydrolics especially at higher flows.

It is hotter than Alabama in August here. While paddeling we felt things crawling down our legs but after checking we realized that it was just sweat. On the bright side we are paddling in near to nothing, and traveling light. The views were incredible with locals cheering us on as we decended downstream.
We took out at Jungle Rivers and relaxed in the fresh spring pool and jumped off of the 20 ft. cliff next to the river.

At night we hung out with Oscar, the owner and a few of the guides at the hostel bar. We even helped in the removal of a scorpian spider(nice name huh?) from another guest's room. We returned to our hammocks for another night of spider/scorpian spider free sleeping.

Spiders, Hammocks, and Jungle Fever

June 30- Well the trip has begun. We arrived in Honduras unscathed. Paul St. Ruth and Rachel Van Sloun picked us up in a 1972 brittish army issue land rover with racks large enough to fit Cox's army on top. We head to La Ceiba to a place called Jungle River on the banks of the Rio Cangrejal. The hostel/ rafting outpost is a lush beautiful paradise deep in the heart of the jungle at the take out of a solid class IV+ run complete with bilingual mecaws. Culture shock first set in at bedtime when we went to our bunks. As I laid down I happened to notice the largest hairy spider I have ever seen in my entire life a foot above my face. After screaming like a little girl, Katie and I decide to embrace the out of doors in our spider free netted hammocks.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Expeditionette Profiles

We know you are wondering, just WHO are these girls? And how do we know they have what it takes to run the gnar in Honduras? Check out our short bios for now, and I am sure you'll get to know us better as the trip goes on....

Stacy Heer

Been Around Since: June 9, 1981

Loved By (Sponsors) Pyranha and for this trip: Astral, Immersion Research and watershed

Years paddled: 9

Hometown: Alabaster, AL

Residency: presently homeless but Chattanooga, TN in august

Favorite Boat(s): Pyranha 245 and a shred squirt boat

Favorite Rapid/Why? Big Timber Falls in Montana because it is fast, steep, so much fun AND in the crazy mountains

Biggest Huck: Tallest would have to be Spirit Falls in WA

Most Notable Accomplishment: 1.graduating college 2. Quitting my real job as an Industrial Hygienist with the State of Tennessee

Other major interests besides kayaking: mountain biking, hiking, reading, traveling, snow boarding, anything outside

Most Played on the iPod: John Prine, The Beastie Boys, and Jurassic 5

Laura Nash

Been Around Since '84
Loved By (Sponsors) Dagger, KAVU, AT Paddles, Smith Optics, Level Six
Years paddled 9
Hometown Belleville Ontario
Current Residency Victoria, BC
Favorite Boat Mamba 8.0
Favorite Rapid Widowmaker on the Nile
Biggest Huck Hoyin Falls
Other major interests besides kayaking: 1 year left of undergrad!
Most Played on the iPod “skiing in march” playlist

LNash at Qualicum...

Vida Kathleen Hilleke (Katie)

Been Around Since October 30, 1979 but I’ve only been kayaking since 1996.
Loved By (Sponsors) Pyranha
Years Paddled 10 amazing years
Hometown Birmingham, Alabama
Current Residency Nowhere right now, but most recently I lived in Burnsville, NC (near Asheville).
Favorite Boat Pyranha H3:235, until I try the Burn, which I hear is the best creek boat ever.
Favorite Rapid/Why? Gorilla on the Green. That rapid has some serious meaning to me. There is some powerful juju there.
Biggest Huck I think Mike Tyson’s Punch Out may be the biggest rapid I’ve run. But Spirit Falls on the Little White Salmon is the tallest. I also ran Lower Mesa Falls, which was the second tallest waterfall.
Most Notable Accomplishment I don’t know…I think graduating from college and working in a career that I love is my biggest accomplishment, I am not sure what my most notable would be.
Other major interests besides kayaking I have so many interests most of which I am still learning. A few of my favorites are Surfing, Yoga, Wakeboarding, and being an Aunt to my new nephew.
Most Played on the iPod I haven’t bought one yet. I am saving up though! Right now, I listen to whatever everyone else is playing on their iPods.
Vida going left at sunshine...totally sweet!

Robin Betz

Been Around Since June 15, 1980
Loved By (Sponsors) Wave Sport, Shred Ready, Astral Buoyancy, IR (hooking us up for this trip!!)
Years Paddled 6
Hometown Annapolis, MD
Current Residency Blacksburg, VA
Favorite Boat The small Habitat (aka the new Wave Sport Creek Boat)
Favorite Rapid/Why? Groove Tube straight into Sunshine on the Green at 200%
Biggest Huck Wabeena!! (just kidding, haven’t got much vert.) The random 20-30 footers from the Royal Gorge are definitely some of my favorites.
A Notable Accomplishment Got to run the Middle Kings Canyon summer ‘05!
Other major interests besides kayaking been writing my thesis on the topology of stream networks in the mid-Atlantic highlands…it’s going to be on Oprah’s list so, get ready! ;)
Most Played on the iPod – KT Tunstall rockin’ alright now

Robin in the 20' plugger above Wabeena...

Monday, June 19, 2006

Girls At Play Donate 100 Luna Bars to Fuel Our Expedition

Thanks to Anna Levesque and the team at Girls At Play, we now have 100 Luna Bars for our expedition to Honduras! Even if all 5 of our poor gringa stomaches can't handle the sketchy tomales and empanadas, we will still be able to match our calories burned from long days on the river with Luna Bars.

Thanks Anna!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The First All Women's Kayaking Expedition to Honduras

This July a group of five female expedition kayakers will be heading south to run the steep creeks of Honduras and Nicaragua. This team of Expeditionettes includes a well rounded team of kayaker athletes and expeditionists from all over North America, featuring Katie Hilleke (Asheville, NC), Stacy Heer (Chattanooga, TN), Jessie Rice (Truckee, CA), Laura Nash (Vancouver, BC) and Robin Betz (Blacksburg, VA).

Photo by Robin Betz

Katie Hilleke launches left at sunshine (above) on the Green River, NC. Stay tuned for more bold moves by the Expeditionettes and updates on this kayaking extravaganza to Honduras.