This story is set on Reunion Island, a small island in the Indian Ocean.
The small volcanic island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean might best be described as paradise. Its incredible scenery, which features towering mountains, enormous canyons, rugged coastline, and beautiful dramati sunsets, draws visitors from all over the world. It’s the perfect location to try something new and adventurous.
Now, an international team of whitewater” kayakers and canyoneers has come to the island for a unique challenge. These men are specialists in the sports, but this time they plan to combine their skills to create an entirely new outdoor experience. Whitewater kayakers typically use a kayak to move through fast-flowing water, while canyoneers explore canyons using a variety of techniques that include walking, climbing, jumping, rappelling and swimming. This team has combined these two adventure sports into an incredibly exciting sport.’ This thrilling activity attracts people who enjoy speed, great challenge, and danger.
The team is made up of three professional kayakers: Brad Ludden, Seth Warren, and Ben Selznick, all from the United States. They’ve traveled a long way for this opportunity and they’re definitely ready for the challenge. These three men intend to hike, climb, slip, slide, rappel, swim, and paddle their way across the beautiful green island that is covered in rough terrain.
Ludden has plenty of experience in sports as he’s a professional kayaker who has paddled in fierce whit water conditions on several contin nts. He has been the first person to kayak down more than 100 rivers around the world and has earned two world championship awards for kayaking. If anyone knows what skills one must possess to be a successful canyaker, it’s Ludden. He explains in his own words: is a hybrid that is using your skills as a canyoneer in other words, your ability to get through a canyon on ropes and harnesses and sliding-as well as your ability and skills as a kayaker, and combining the two.
Seth Warren and Ben Selznick also have an enormous amount of kayaking and canyoneering experience. Together, the team of professionals plans to anyakeTrou Blanc, which is the largest, deepest, most dangerous canyon on the island. It will be th first time that it has been done on Reunion Island and the first time it’s been done through Trou Blanc. Inevitably their adventure will require some careful preparation and intense training-and same expert guidance. Therefore, two other men join the t am: the experienced canyoneering guide Chris Schnoller from Austria and a local canyon guide, Christophe Chaume.
Chaume understands the attraction of the island because he lives here. He pauses for a moment to describe the wonderful natural area that he calls home: “Reunion Island, it’s a paradise in the world. You have the sea. You have the mountains. You can do a lot of things.” The island may indeed be a paradise, but it’s one that is full of challenges and dangers for anyone who is planning to cross it while doing adventure sports. The team must be ready for anything.
The first day of their adventure starts very early for the team. They begin with an early breakfast and then take some time to plan their travels for the day. Chris Schnoller shows them the maps of where they are going and explains the geography of the area in order to prepare them for the drive to Cirque de Cilaos. Located in the center of the island, Cirque de Cilaos is a huge depression in the earth that was formed by the sinking of the land following a volcanic event. The Cirque is one of the three natural amphitheaters formed in the rock of Reunion Island. The village of Cilaos, situated about 1,000 meters above sea level, is an attractive, relaxed village surrounded by high mountains. Chris Schnoller describes what the team can expect there, “It’s actually supposed to be the best canyon[ eer]ing resort in the world.” Understandably, the group is very eager to get started on their trip.
Accessing the best canyoneering resort in th world is also a challenge. The resort is approached by an incredibly high mountain road, which winds up from the coastal plain. With more than 200 very tight bends, known as ‘hairpin turns,’ it’s a thrilling drive through astonishing scenery. The team’s first real challenge, however, will come high in Cirque de Cilaos. There, the men will start their game adventure at a canyon known as Fleur Jaune. It’s the perfect training ground for their ultimate objective: the Trou Blanc canyon.
Once they arrive at Cirque de Cilaos, the team prepares their equipment for the exciting activity ahead. They put on their wetsuits,and then attach their ropes and harnesses. They also put on the helmets, which are essential when going down a canyon at top speed. Following these preparations, the men then check their equipment. Meters and meters of strong climbing rope are going to be needed to make the run, and the canyakers need to be certain that every centimeter of it is strong and safe. Therefore, one of the team members spends several minutes checking and winding each rope carefully.
After the men finalize their equipment preparation, Chris Schnoller checks and rechecks it all. In this type of sport, one really needs to depend on the other members of the team, and trust for one’s teammates-particularly the leader-is crucial. On this trip, again the people will willingly give their lives in the hands of Schnoller, his years of canyoneering experience. Seth Warren explains why they’re working with Chris.The guy has been all over the place. I trust him with my life. he says. He understands exactly what he’s doing [and] when he’s doing it. I’m psyched.Schnoller is obviously a leader who inspires confidence, and that’s of critical importance in this kind of activity.
Everyone is very excited to be participating in this first-ever the trip through Reunion Island’s toughest terrain. The descent down the Fleur Jaune is full of risk and challenge, but the team is aware that a successful descent here will help them adjust to each other’s skills and bring them one step closer to that goal of this through Trou Blanc.
The Fleur Jaune canyon consists of seven st p drops for rappelling, ranging from a relatively short 15 meters to a breathtaking 45-meter drop. Some of these drops are also covered in flowing water, implying that the men will be descending extremely steep slopes on ropes through extremely fast-flowing water. At the end of each rappel there is usually a small body of water where the men can land and then swim or kayak to the side of the canyon.
At the first drop, Schnoller starts by attaching a rope to a piton and throwing it over the side of the cliff. Then, each member of the team rappels down the side of the steep slope. Rappelling is an activity that requires great strength and skill. The drops are almost vertical and the water is unbelievably fast-one mistake and a t am member could get injured or even be killed. Luckily, they all make it through the first drop safely and without any problems. Now only six more drops to go!
The team continues working their way through th series of multiple drops, lightly stepping and dancing their way down the almost vertical canyon walls. On the steeper drops, they use a rope to rappel down the slopes. On other less steep drops, the men actually us their kayaks and boat down the side of th canyon!
Finally, the team arrives at the tallest drop of all—a nearly 50-meter-high vertical waterfall. Canyoneers are drawn to waterfalls like this one because of their classic character from around the world to Reunion. The waterfall is so high that it seems to go on foreverand it’s definitely the greatest challenge of the day for the team.
Schnoller explains the technique they plan to use to descend the waterfall. Using a special type of tie called a clove hitch,he attaches a long rop onto a carabiner which is hooked to a piton inserted into the rock of the canyon wall. To this rope, which extends to the bottom of the waterfall, each member will attach a shorter rope using their own carabiner so they can slide safely down. By using this method, Chris says that everyone will be fine … but will they? Looking down at the enormous drop down the waterfall, the men must wonder if they’ll make it safely to the pool at the bottom.
Everyone is aware that a number of things could go wrong at the waterfall, and it’s the time when coordination among the team members really matters most. Here, at this moment, the team must unite. A mistake at this challenging sheer drop would lead to disaster-not only for one man, but perhaps for all of them.
The first man is lowered over the side of the 49-meter drop. He slips, but then recovers his footing. Slowly, he begins to lower himself down the waterfall using only his upper body strength while he hangs from the rope
above. Once he gets used to the experience, he begins to speed up and is soon dropping towards the water below at a relatively quick pace. Then finally, as the rock comes further out from the mountain, he extends his legs back slightly so he can rest his feet on the stone. He then begins sliding down the rock face as if skiing, before finally dropping into a free fall without holding on to the rope for the last few meters of the rappel. He drops safely into the deep water at the base of the waterfall and quickly swims to the side of the waterhole.
One by one, the rest of the men lower themselves down the rope, carefully and slowly, before finally dropping with a loud splash into the water at the bottom of the waterfall. It takes time to get everyone down the waterfall, and the atmosphere does seem to be intense, but in the end the demise is a total success. The team now knows that it’s ready for the next step: Trou Blanc!
The next morning after breakfast, the team must leave Cilaos and walk towards the Trou Blanc canyon, which is over the mountain’s edge to the northeast. They look at their maps and plan their route to the canyon, which is reported to be the best place for a game run. Everyone agrees that the best way to get there, although it’s a long and demanding trip, is to hike over the highest point on the island, the peak known as Piton des Neiges.
They begin the long hike over Piton des Neiges, walking up slowly with their heavy packs. It takes the team hours and they must climb several sets of natural stairs that have been made from wood and soil in the side of the mountain. After hours of hiking up the forested paths, the group suddenly realizes that they are already above the clouds, and they’ve not even reached the top of the mountain. Then finally, they reach the top. From their viewing point at the top of the peak, the team can see far into the distance. Around them, the tops of other mountains appear through the clouds that cover the rest of the island. It’s a beautiful sight, but one that falls on tired eyes. The team will make camp here and rest for the night before they continue their trip to Trou Blanc.
It’s four o’clock in the morning when the men wake up on the highest point of the island after a well-deserved rest. The sunrise from the top of the mountain is incredibly beautiful and the view is still amazing, but the team can’t take too much time to enjoy it. Their plans for the day are going to be even more demanding and more dangerous than their long hike yesterday.
Later, Ben Selznik explains their schedule for the next few hours. Now that we’re here on the top of the pile at six-thirty in the early hours,” he suggests, “we are going to fall down-we’re going to drink a little coffee, have a ittle bit of breakfast, and then hike another four hours on to Hellbourg while two of the other people from our team go down, get the cars, and meet us over there.”
The lovely mountain village of Hellbourg lies in the inner region of the Cirque de Salazie in the northeastern part of the island. Local guide Christophe Chaume has arrive with the group to discuss and give firsthand knowledge of the canyons and terrain, but he also knows what an important part the weather can play in their plans. Luckily, the forecast is excellent. “It will be a very, very good day with a lot of sun,” Chaume says, as he drives to meet the team in Hellbourg. “The perfect day to … kayak in Trou Blanc. Yes!”
Once everyone reaches Hellbourg, the men get all of their equipment ready for the 40-meter rappel into the huge canyon. They make sure that the carabiners are secure, and that all the ropes and kayaks are in good condition. This time they’ll be taking the kayaks down on the ropes too. This is when the game adventure truly begins! Managing a 40-meter drop whil rappelling is definitely a challenge, but imagine doing it with a kayak! The men must bring all of their equipment with them for the trip, which includes backpacks, paddl S, and kayaks. When they finally reach the bottom of the canyon, the men get into their kayaks and start paddling through the deep, narrow passage.
While getting around these canyons is certainly a challenge, there seems to be a number of reasons why these men love this sport so much. Selznik explains why he enjoys kayaking in this way: “It’s so much more fun going kayaking with a harness and you abseil ” in, and it just mixes things up and gives kayaking a whole new perspective.” As the team effortlessly floats through the calm waters that flow through the bottom of the canyon at the beginning of the journey, it’s easy to see the attraction to the sport, but one must remember that things aren’t always this easy. Paddling on flat water is just basic kayaking; these men are looking to canyak.
Later in their trip through the canyon, Brad Ludden points out that they’ve finally reached a good spot to canyak and ride their boats down the water-covered sides of the canyon walls. “So we’ve just made it through the flat section,” he reports. “We stepped our boats thru it, and got to our next slide and it looks very good to canyak. It does look though like you could piton pretty hard at the bottom of it.” The men inspect the waterfall extremely carefully, weighing the risks and dangers. Between them, they have an enormous amount of experience, and they know what could happen to them if something goes wrong. Now they have one question in their minds: will they be able to descend the waterfall safely in their kayaks? There’s no guarant in this kind of descent at all. Once committed to the fall, they will have little control over the direction in which they’ll go. They’ll go wherever the water wants to take them. Crashing into a rock could mean a broken arm or worse. The rough and rugged terrain just compounds the issue; if something were to happen, evacuation is almost unthinkable.
When going down this first game drop, it’s obviously important for the team to be very cautious. They need to minimize the risks as much as possible and make sure that the team’s safety is everyone’s first priority. Seth Warren is hopeful about their chances, mainly b cause the gap through which the water is flowing is so tight that it’s only possible to go down one way. The men will be riding their kayaks down a waterfall that is about a meter wide and traveling at high speeds through a gap that is about one and a half meters wide. In Warren’s opinion, there aren’t many directions other than forward that the canyakers can go. “There wasn’t much room for diversity in [direction] row,” he has said. “So hopefully we all make it down it all right.” To this he adds with a confident smile, “I think it’ll be good.”
Once the men have taken a very good look at the fall, and studied the technical aspects of getting down it, the first brave adventurer goes down with his kayak. He basically rides on the water flow for a second and then drops straight down into the splashing water below. Finally, his kayak comes back up from under the water and, once he reaches safety, he shouts with delight. The drop is a huge success; all of the planning had also definitel paid off.
From that point, each man goes down the waterfall at top speed, traveling quickly down the tight gap between two huge pieces of rock. Later, the men continue their canyak through Trou Blanc and it proves to be all they expected. They have a wonderful time hiking, kayaking, and descending through the canyon. This is the reason they came here, for the thrill of game Trou Blanc and they want to be sure to enjoy it to the fullest.
As they travel through the canyon enjoying themselves, one must wonder what the trick is to performing such feats. Ben Selznik explains that he thinks the team’s success is due to the fact that they were able to coordinate well. “Sometimes in these canyons, we have multiple abseils [through] tight little cracks,he says. “It about team cohesion, when that runs nicely the canyon is nothing but butter.
These men certainly make the sport of this game look effortless and easy. They go down most of the small waterways of this region of the island by kayak, but sometimes they just slide down the walls in their wetsuits or even jump from the high cliffs into the water. In fact, one of the men even dares to go down a waterfall backwards in his kayak!
As they approach the final waterfall, the team realizes that their trip through Trou Blanc is complete; they have achieved their goal of challenging Trou Blanc, and they’ve won. This team of canyakers has successfully com bined the skills of canyoneering and kayaking, introducing a completely new sport to Reunion Island. Local resident Christophe Chaume is surprised by what the team has achieved while game. He explains that he really didn’t think that it was possible to kayak down such remote waterfalls; he’d never done it before, however he thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Seth Warren is also satisfied with the expedition’s activities and feels that the mission has definitely been accomplished. “Well, we finally finished the Trou Blanc,” he says, still tired from game and carrying his kayak. “It was kind of a bump and scrape.there at the end. We had a great couple of days and a great run, a good group, some good slides, [good]waterfalls.” With this he concludes happily, “[It was a] successful mission.
This small group of adventurers has even managed to impress the local residents of the island. Brad Ludden smiles when he explains that most local people didn’t think that what the team did was actually possible.
“I think the coolest part about it for a lot of us,” he says, “was that the day before when we were looking at it, all the locals said it was impossible. And since we’ve had a lot of people tell us it’s impossible, it’s kind of fun to tell them that we already did it.” Obviously, when a person knows that they’ve done something that most people think is ‘impossible,’ it can really make one appreciate it.
the canyakers put their kayaks on their backs and walk out of Trou Blanc. They’ve done what they came here to do, and they’re ready to leave the island. Some people come to Reunion for its beauty, others come to challenge themselves and test their abilities. These five young men have tested themselves in the most daring of circumstances, and have come out of the experience as winners. They came on their canyak adventure to takeon the wild dangers of Trou Blanc, and they did it-with style!