Flood camp
First Flood Camp

It was obvious to all of us that we weren’t going anywhere for the rest of the day. So we chopped a trail up the bank side and pitched camp well above what we thought would be the highest point the river could reach. The rain continued on and off the remainder of the day and on into the night.

The following morning, the river had dropped considerably. We broke camp at first light and started downstream in the muddy water. The day passed in a blur as we alternately shot the smaller rapids and roped down the larger ones. The rain started again, and the river seemed to pulse with flood waters as a new watershed would kick in and pour its runoff into the Sibun. At one point, the river would rise six inches in a matter of minutes, then drop over a period of an hour.

“...physically and mentally exhausted, we searched for a safe spot to pull out of the rising waters. The only thing we could find was a small level spot just big enough for two tents about 50 feet above the river...”

The Sibun watershed consists of these smaller feeder streams draining all the remote valleys of the upper Sibun. As the runoff from each of these spilt into the main river at different times, the river would pulse with these influxes. It became a problem if many of these individual streams would empty their loads at the same time. We stopped for a quick lunch at one of these feeder streams.

Lunch spot
A brief respite at lunch

As the afternoon rolled on, we could tell the water was rising again. Each rapids became more of a challenge in both deciding whether to run them or line them, and in the performance of either one of those actions. Each team was taking more spills also. The muddied water made it difficult to navigate the rapids. By late afternoon everyone was physically and mentally exhausted. We searched for a safe spot to pull out of the rising waters. The only thing we could find was a small level spot just big enough for two tents about 50 feet above the river

We pulled all the equipment and kayaks up the mountainside, pitched the tents, and crawled inside too exhausted to cook supper. The following morning, the water hadn’t dropped at all, in fact it had risen about 2 inches from the previous night. We were now getting worried that the outside world might be getting concerned. We were a day overdue. Jim had a hand held radio which he attempted to use from a high rock above the river. By some fluke he was able to reach a repeater and get a call into Rick Simpson, owner and operator of Belize Communications and Security Limited.

“...the British asked if it was a life-threatening situation. As much as we wanted an airlift, we were all safe with at least a days worth of food left...”

Rick’s office immediately called the British to see if an airlift was possible. As the situation was not life-threatening, the British advised against it. By noon, the water still hadn’t dropped, so we decided to rest the remainder of the day, and try to get an early start in the morning. The tag lines were lengthened on the kayaks in anticipation of longer runs of rapids. We ate well and talked about the trip to date. Tony’s knee was swollen and there was some concern of his ability to function in the high water.

Jim and Marguerite discuss our options
Tension mounts as Jim & Marguerite discuss our options.

The following morning, the water level was still high. But with only a days worth of food left, and the stress that comes along with inactivity, we decided to go for it. The first three rapids we encountered were large and powerful. Fortunately, the long lines we prepared the day before allowed us to guide the kayaks through the rapids. We would climb around and meet the kayaks at the bottom of the fast water. This turned out to be the last of the dangerous water.

The rain had let up some, and the water was slowly clearing. Still we pushed on as fast as possible. As we neared the entrance to the Sibun Gorge, the surrounding hills lost their steepness, and the spurs showed gradually rises. The rapids also lost height and therefore the power that would make them dangerous. Coming out of the gorge, the high water was actually a help. Boulder fields that we would normally have to haul the kayaks over could now be shot straight through.

Where it had taken Jim a day before to make his way out of the gorge from our morning camp, it took us only three hours. The water was fast but shallow, allowing us to cruise through boulder fields and small rapids. Behind us, dark ominous storm clouds built as another series of rain squalls poured into the upper Sibun. But by now we were out of danger and only an hour away from the Sibun River Bridge on the Hummingbird Highway.

The last three days had been stressful. The river had put us in a survival situation. Fortunately, the combined experience of the team provided secure feeling that we were doing the right thing at each turn. Between the rain, the river, and the flood, very little collecting was done by Ed and even less photography was done by Tony. But we all made it safe, sound, and became even closer friends then when we started.


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