One of the steepest navigable sections of whitewater in the world has just been descended again, this time with lots of water and some world-class photographers and cinematographers on scene. The Santo Domingo Gorge near Chiapas, Mexico, might be the ultimate playground for the very best waterfall kayakers in the world.
Dane Jackson and Bren Orton paddled down this insanely steep and formidable section of waterfalls on March 3. High water made the descent that much more difficult, as the kayak speeds increased and the hydraulics were that much bigger.
While Jackson should need no introduction, some outside of kayaking may not have heard of him. He’s a four-time Freestyle World Champion, five-time Green Race Champion (and record-holder), four-time North Fork Champion, and three-time Whitewater Grand Prix Champion.
He has also kayaked huge rapids and waterfalls (seven 100-plus-foot waterfalls so far) around the world — and so much more. Jackson makes massive, high-consequence rapids look like a walk in the park and does so with a smooth, unmatched style.
“I have been to so many incredible places all over the world, but the Santo Domingo Gorge is truly a one-of-a-kind sequence of waterfalls,” he said after his successful descent.
“It is one of those places you can’t believe when you see it. You can look up at that majestic sequence of waterfalls and know you can run the entire thing; there is nowhere and nothing like it.”
Kayaking Santo Domingo Gorge
About nine years ago, Rafa Ortiz, Rush Sturgis, and Evan Garcia did the first descent of Santo Domingo Gorge.
“Having seen this place in photos and video for over 14 years, it was a section always in the back of my mind,” Jackson said. “Coming up on 10 years since the last crew was able to make it happen, we knew it was finally time.”
The gorge descends nearly 800 feet in just over 2 miles. The steepest section, featured in the video, is a 0.2-mile section of whitewater that drops over 300 feet.
There are four main drops in this section. It starts with 80-foot Angel Wing Falls, then goes into 85-foot The Dome, then 65-foot Toboggan, and finally 35-foot Raw Dog. Each drop has its own challenges, but the real challenge is that they are stacked on top of each other, so a mistake at any stage could have a ripple effect.
The aquamarine-blue waters flowing over the travertine stone create beautiful rapids and waterfalls. The gorge is in a remote part of Chiapas, Mexico, which means the nearest hospital was two hours away on rough backroads.
Add in the time it would take to get an injured kayaker out of the steep gorge to a vehicle, and it was vitally important to have safety in mind when attempting this kayak descent.
The team in Mexico with Jackson consisted of Israel “River” Maderos from Mexico, Bren Orton from the U.K., Adrian Mattern from Germany, David Sodomka from the Czech Republic, and Issac Martinez from Mexico.
World-renowned action photographer Lucas Gilman was also onsite to capture the action.
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