In Earth River’s nearly two decade quest to find amazing rafting destinations for our clients, we have had our share of unfulfilled disappointments on countless exploratories and first descents, as well as some land mark discoveries like Patagonia, Chile’s Futaleufu and more recently, Peru’s Yavero which will be featured in the August 2011 issue of Outside Magazine.
Our epic first descent of Tibet’s Shiulo River was chronicled in The National Geographic Magazine, the only time a commercial river outfitter has ever been featured in the publication’s 120 year history. After a harrowing week and one final 30 mile canyon looming ominously downstream, the expedition came to an abrupt end when a Yak trail offered the first escape from the Canyon. With the weight of the expedition on his shoulders, Eric Hertz, decided to abort the expedition.
Needless to say, there were some extremely upset expedition members. In an attempt to force a different outcome, the National Geographic writer approached Eric privately and said that quitting now, 30 miles short of the end, would for all intensive purposes kill the National Geographic Magazine story to which Eric replied, “If you don’t have a story by now, you’re not a writer.” The expedition ended on that rocky beach, that day. Six years later, a group of expert, professional kayakers attempted the Shuilo’s lower reaches. Even in light, agile kayaks, they had their share of problems and harrowing moments as they endured long, arduous exposed portages and severe unraftable rapids. They reported back that that attempting the final 30 mile canyon in rafts with gear and clients would have been extremely risky and nearly impossible and that Earth River's decision to end where they did, had been the correct one.
“I’ve rafted with Eric Hertz down some tough rivers—the Futaleufu in Chile, the Colca in Peru. He's one of the best in the business—obsessed with safety.”
“Rapid Descent”, National Geographic Magazine, November 1996 (see library)
Eric’s preoccupation with client safety began with his earliest guiding days. In 1973, as an 18 year old guide on the Tuolumne River in California, he came up with the concept of foot-cups to keep people safely in paddle rafts. Two weeks later Eric helped install the first raft foot cups which have been a fixture on challenging ever since. Eric’s preoccupation with figuring out the best way to challenge clients while guarding them from unnecessary exposure continued with Earth River which one of the first companies to teach clients aggressive self rescue, swimming techniques thereby challenging the norm of having swimmers floating passively on their backs with their feet in front of them.
When Eric Hertz and Randy Porpiglia made the first raft descent of the Futaleufu in 1991, the common belief in whitewater circles was that the Futaleufu could not be safely rafted. After that first successful expedition, the challenge was figuring out how to safely show commercial clients this wondrous place. Being the only rafting company there for the first few years, Eric invented a rafting safety system specific to the Futaleufu’s big, powerful technical water.
Twenty years later, outfitters are still using Eric’s original safety innovations including; the elimination of heavy, unwieldy baggage boats, incorporating the trail system for people not wishing to run class five, teaching clients aggressive self rescue swimming techniques, the use of custom made, stern mounted, oar-paddle rafts, a class 4 training warm up including swim test and flip drill and the use of custom made safety catarafts with safety decks (the first time catarafts were employed in this fashion anywhere). Leaving as little to chance as possible, Earth River also set up the two corresponding water level gauges and came up with the high water safety cuts offs for the different sections of the river which are followed to this day.