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Río Xacbal, middle, Guatemala (area: Mid Cuchumatanes; click here for the Guatemala table of rivers)

river photo

Class: V; Ave. Gradient: 26 m/km; Portages: many; Length: 5.5 km; Time: 6 hours

Season: June to February; rafts? no; Highlights: challenging creeking in a narrow canyon; Crux move: careful scouting, including the political situation

Water Quality: good; Water Temperature: cold

PI: El Llano bridge (986m); TO: Juá bridge (842m)

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

The Middle section of the Río Xacbal (sometimes spelled Xaclbal or Xalbal, or sometimes called Río Chajul) takes the rapids of the Upper section up a notch. The canyon is deep and narrow, and you pass through many bedrock gorges. The action is fun, continuous, creeky, demanding, and beautiful. Expect to portage a lot, and expect a lot of wood. At lower levels, I figured everything was hair-boatable. (With more wood in the creek nowadays, judging from more recent runs of the Upper section, I doubt that is still the case.) The drops generally increase in size through the run.

A full description is in the Mayan Whitewater Guatemala guidebook.

*This run is marked politically sensitive because of conflicts over the Xacbal dam just below the TO. Hopefully, taking out at the Juá bridge should not cause any issue, but expect to be questioned by the locals about your strange activities. However, the planned new dam here may make your presence perhaps more suspicious. In 2015 there were violent conflicts with local communities because of the project. Endeavor to find out the political climate in the area before driving in.

Descent History: I ran this solo in February 2004, with 400 cfs at the PI.

Flow Notes: The Río Xacbal maintains boatable water levels most of the year, though March to May are iffy. I believe the scouting, not to mention the paddling, would be extra tough at flows over 1,000 cfs, more likely in the high water months of August and September. The Río Lacantún gauge gives a hint to the flow, though I have only one data point: in 2014, 24,000 cfs on the gauge gave 800 cfs at the PI.

cfs graph

Nearby Tourist Attractions: The Ixil triangle: trekking and culture near Nebaj, San Juan Cotzal, and Chajul.

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