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Río Catarina, Main & Upper, Guatemala (area: Northwest; click here for the Guatemala table of rivers)

river photo

(photo by Nils Saubès)

Class: IV+, V; Ave. Gradient: 15 m/km, 25 m/km in upper; Portages: several, more in Upper; Length: up to 43 km; Time: 1 or 2 days

Season: June to November; rafts? no; Highlights: Puente Piedra cave ; Crux move: the hike down

Water Quality: decent; Water Temperature: cold

PI: Chenicham trail (1145 m) or Yulxaj trail (1295 m); TO: Río Azul bridge (670 m)

Description: (click here for general notes about my descriptions)

The Río Catarina is the very definition of a hidden creeking gem, ensconced in Guatemala’s northwest corner. If you make it out here, you will find beautiful mountains, some of them uninhabited, and a beautiful mountain stream that is unbridged, except naturally, for its lower 50 km below San Miguel Acatán. This river requires a hike-in, and I have found two options, the 1-day run and the 2-day run.

A full description is in the Mayan Whitewater Guatemala guidebook.

Descent History: My first trip, from the Chenicham trail, was in November 2003, with 100 cfs at the PI and 300 cfs at the Río Azul confluence. Nils Saubès joined me for the 2-day trip on the upper in October 2014; we had a fairly high 550 cfs at the PI and 1,200 cfs through the Puente Piedra.

Flow Notes: There is an online gauge downstream in Mexico on the Río San Gregorio (Puente Concordia gauge). In 2014, 5,000 cfs on the gauge gave 1,200 cfs on the lower Catarina, which was a little higher than ideal in my opinion. I estimate that the sweet spot range on the gauge is 2,000 to 5,000 cfs. Since the river is remote, one strategy when unsure of the flow is to run the Upper Río Azul beforehand to check the Río Catarina’s flow at the confluence. If the Río Azul is too low to run, the Río Catarina likely is also.

cfs graph cfs graph

Nearby Tourist Attractions: the Cimarron sinkhole north of Nentón

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