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Río Mocal, The Gorges/Middle/Lower, Honduras (area: west; click here for the Honduras table of rivers)

river photo

Class: V; Ave. Gradient: 11 m/km; Portages: a lot; Length: 56km; Time: 25 hours or more

Season: June to November; rafts? no; Highlights: putting yourself "out there"; Crux move: preparation

Water Quality: good; Water Temperature: medium

PI: Guanajulque (elev: 720m); TO: Mapulaca bridge

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

The Río Mocal is a full-on class VI creeking adventure for the hardy and brave. It descends Mount Celaque's remote south side through an endless series of convoluted bedrock gorges forcing many a portage. Once you put-on you are committed come hell or high water, both of which are distinct possibilities. It is an experience you will never forget (and a highlight of my career).

The run is both a physical and a mental challenge. One is constantly forced to make critical decisions between running a difficult rapid and executing a tiring portage. On my run I was always able to portage in a straightforward way, staying close to or on the rocks, without technical climbing gear (besides a throw rope).

(note: for those looking for a similar full-on crazy gorges experience, but in a day-run, I would point you to the Rancho Grande run.)

Here is a brief description to give you the run's character profile and to roughly monitor your progress. At the PI expect low water whose flow quickly doubles after a couple creeks come in. The first 3-4 hours are mostly III and IV and I scouted a handful of times. Then the gorges start, each crazier than the next but uniquely beautiful. The next 7-8 hours include lots of scouting and ~8 portages, some long, but with some good rapids in between. The following 4-5 hours are the worst, with one portage after another, again some longish. The next hour things improve with most rapids being runnable. In the next 4-5 hours you will notice longer pools but still with challenging rapids linking them. In the last part here the river bed is becoming more open. The final 5-6 hours the rapids are class II & III, except for a class IV/V triple-chute rapid about 3 hours from the end.

The bedrock starts out basalt but becomes mixed further down.

(Obviously your run time will depend a lot on your scouting and portage speed. Note also that in the lower half there does exist some rough access so the full run described above can be shortened, but I have not driven into these spots.)

Flash Flood Danger: high--check forecast before, be attentive during, and be prepared for an extra day.

Descent History: I believe I was the first and only, in June '05.

Flow Notes: The gauge on the Mocal is broken. You can get a hint of the flows by looking at the Río Sumpul gauge which is a parallel drainage. My impressions are from a run with 150/1300 cfs at PI/TO (gauge=1.75), which seemed about as comfortable as it's gonna get.

Shuttle Notes: Guanajulque is about 40 km and 2 hours south of Gracias on dirt roads passing through La Campa and Corante. Signs are few so you will have to ask along the way. In Guanajulque just ask for the best road down to the river, there is no bridge. The TO bridge is on the road between La Virtud and Mapulaca. From Gracias it's a 4 hour trip, going to San Juan on good roads and then through San Andres, Gualquince, and Mapulaca on poorer roads. Note that between San Juan and San Andres there are 2 roads, one through Santa Cruz and another through Erandique, and you should ask which one is faster.

Accommodations: Gracias has a number of hotels. There is a basic hospedaje in Mapulaca for those finishing late in the day.

Nearby Tourist Attractions: Celaque National Park; wonderful hot springs just south of Gracias (signed, off the main road).

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