Join us in exploring the rivers of the world!
Global Descents offers river expeditions to suit every adventure traveler. We cater trips to ten rivers on four continents. The Rio Futaleufu, Zanskar, Zambezi, Apurimac and Rio Suarez rank among the most sought-after descents in the world of whitewater rafting. The logistical complexities involved in running these rivers cannot be understated, but we have designed proven successful itineraries that produce high-quality, exciting, safe, and exceptionally fun trips every time. Whether you choose the aqua blue wave trains of Patagonia, the exotic wildlife and warm waters of Africa, the ten-thousand foot deep Himalayan canyon of northern India, or the jungle runs of South America, your adventure with Global Descents will be an unforgettable physical and cultural experience of lifetime!
Global Descents was founded on the idea of exploring and enjoying the best river trips in the world. Our goal is the continuing search for new rivers to descend and cultures to experience. On a Global Descents international river trip or multi-sport adventure, you’ll experience a lot more than just whitewater. Before hitting the rapids, you might spend time learning about locals’ spirituality in Ladakh’s Buddhist monasteries or you could visit a cluster of remote Peruvian villages. We also charge down some of the world’s premier stretches of whitewater, including the Futaleufu, Apurimac, Suarez and Zambezi Rivers. From the very first wave breaking over the bow of the raft to the first cup of tea in the home of a local family, these expeditions are sure to create memories for a lifetime. A typical river expedition involves teamwork and participation and can be very rewarding and fun. Our guides love to share this love for river exploration with all of our clients. The participation of everyone is what makes each river expedition with Global Descents a success. Come join us on one of these amazing journeys!
News & Media
Chile has a lot of great whitewater to offer for the adventurous kayaker. The Futaleufu is probably the most famous one, with great whitewater and easy access. But if you spend some time in Chile, you may want to step it up. Rio Baker is one of the two biggest rivers in Chile, the Pascua being the other one. They are both big, scary and remote…. just perfect. Read More >>
The Futa is the best place to warm up to any kind of big water adventures in Chile. Every section has a great class five which you can run, with multiple lines down.
When you are confident on the Futa and preferably have run all the rapids and is feeling good, then you might want to consider the Rio Baker as your next adventure… The Baker is close to Cochrane, the last ok-sized town on the Carretera Austral. The first canyon of the Baker starts below the confluence with the Rio Neuf, and it is this canyon which has the hardest rapids. You can scout all the rapids up front, which is quite nice. There are huge waves, holes, seams, all the fun stuff to deal with. It also feels quite intimidating as it is in a gorge…
At some levels there is a great surf wave at the take out of this run, but every time I have been down there, it seems like the Baker is flooded, and the wave drowned. The last gorge is also quite interesting, with big water class four rapids, one class five. We all walked this one, as it looked rather disturbing… 50 000 cfs drops through a slot about 5 meters wide.
So, after a successful run down the Baker, some of us tend to get some crazy ideas. One of them was to run the Pascua. This river is a mission on its own. There are a few ways of getting down to it, but none of them are easy.
Alex Nicks wanted to film for his new video and the group consisted of Matt Gontram, Alex Nicks, Tyler Curtis and myself. We never really got the logistics taken care of before we actually started out on the trip, but in Chile things tend to work out along the way! We drove three days south, and encountered thousands of problems along the way, such as bad weather, roadblocks, accidents, broken down ferries, flood…you name it. But after some serious work we found ourselves at the end of the Carretera Austral, in Villa O’Hiiggins. If you pull out a map, you will see that the Rio Baker drains the northern Patagonia Icefield, Pascua the Southern.
Villa O’Higgins is a remote little town situated close to the Argentinean border, and at the shore of Lago O’Higgins. You have to cross the lake to get to the Pascua, and as soon as you are there, it would take you days, maybe weeks to get to the closest house….The first group who did this run hired a boat to take them to the outlet, but we managed to get a pilot to fly us instead. We only got a few hours window of good fly weather, and against all odds we got dropped off at put in. Glaciers were surrounding us, condors circling above us, and 40 kms of whitewater ahead of us… What a great feeling!
Day one passed with quite a bit of walking, as the water was super high and some of the rapids just straight up out of control. We kept the spirit high, thinking of all the quality that was ahead of us… Day two started and ended with a seven hour portage…We dragged, pulled, pushed, crawled, rappelled, fell and cursed the whole way, as the vegetation is taken out of a nightmare. All in all we only covered two kilometers that day, and the only paddling we did was a little swirly gorge at the top (which actually was pretty scary class three!), and the ferry from one side of the river to the other to get to a camp spot. The Pascua is a serious mission, and she will not let you through easily. The first of the two canyons which made us portage might go at lower water, but there was a very funky hole at the bottom of it. The second will kill you, with a hole in it called the ”Drowning Machine”.
That night we all were a little bit more silent, huddled up in the rain, trying to stay focused. It was more about making it out of the river at this stage, and hopefully some of the rapids further downstream would make it all worth it. We were exhausted, mentally and physically, but knew the next day would be a huge one. This might sound like a lot of complaining, but I have to admit, there couldn’t have been a better team on the river. Matt for always being positive and having a smile on his face, Alex for his interesting little remarks about everything, not to mention his ability in big water, Tyler for being a straight up nice guy with a huge talent on the water, and myself, for well, bringing a little bottle of red wine to cheer everybody up in the rain…
Day three was supposed to be the last one, but none of us were convinced, considering we had only covered half the length of the river in two days. It kicked off with a long long long canyon, with a lot of action. Class four – five seems would come out of nowhere and try and eat you (as happened to all of us a few times that day!) Then the whirlpools would make you paddle for your life to try and get away, just as a wave would build up in front of you and ultimately crash on your head, then disappear till the next one tried to get by. It was very scary, and even Alex looked tensed in his kayak. He put in words what we all were thinking: If it came to the point where you HAD to catch an eddy, you might not be able to. The eddylines were huge, mean and scary, and they were never letting you into the eddies the easy way.
One of the bigger rapids has a huge rock in the middle of it, and a crazy mess of seems, waves and eddylines. The normal stuff, only bigger. Alex went first to try and film us from the bottom, then Tyler paddled out. Matt went ahead of me, and didn’t even get out of the eddy before the eddyline swallowed him and sent him off line around the corner. I just hoped he was ok, stopped one second to focus and then paddled off. It was a great ride, fighting the whole way down, and I found myself in the bottom eddy with a huge grin on my face. It turned out that Tyler had been eaten in an eddyline, and Matt had totally vanished in his huge Pyranha M3 in a whirlpool along the way, but all in all, we were good.
My paddle got ripped out of my hands and I took the worst swim I hope I will ever have.
And then, we came to the last portage. All fine, except that we didn’t realize that it’s normally a portage, until we had run it. A narrow gorge where you basically just had to paddle like hell and stay in the middle. Alex went down first, as he accidentally caught the very last eddy you never should catch, especially when it is a no-return eddy…He was fine, even though the group had a little nervous breakdown as we watched him paddle over the first horizon line blind. It took us a while to establish contact with the lost warrior, as there was no way we could see what happened at the end of the gorge. Tyler, Matt and myself decided to run it together, knowing that it wasn’t much of a safety thing to do, but at least it felt a little bit better to be more people on the water at the same time. I was number two, with Tyler a good 20 meters ahead of me. The first top of the gorge was fine, and I could see a breaking wave/hole coming up. I picked up some speed and prepared for the hit. And then, I got straight up raped… My paddle got ripped out of my hands and I took the worst swim I hope I will ever have. At that moment I had the most luck in the whole universe, as Tyler had been pushed into an eddyline, and was getting back in the main flow just in the same second I swam. It is amazing that we actually made it to shore, and to make the story short, I will pay his beers for the rest of his life… Below the gorge there are a few more big rapids, before it opens up, and you are out. Without doubt, the best of the whitewater is in the last day.
That evening we made it out to take-out, and found Louis waiting for us, being very happy to see us again. It seemed like half of Chile had been worrying on our behalf as we mostly fought the overgrown vegetation on the shores of the Pascua! It is needless to say that the rum we had saved for a take-out drink was soon gone…..We all agreed that it had been a great adventure, and we were all happy and proud for having made it out, but the consensus was easy: Never again…
Note: If you intend to run the Pascua, it would probably be a better idea to run it in the Chilean springtime, when the lake is not full of water after a warm summer. You also need a good amount of cash, as the plane is not cheap (we ended up paying around 800 dollars). The best is to have a driver at the bottom of the river, but there is nothing there at all. Bring a lot of food, both for yourself on the river, and the driver. Be prepared for the worst. This is not the place to go unless you are up for a class five mission, both mentally and physically. A lot is not easy to scout, and you have to make tough choices about either staying down by the river and eddyhop if possible, and have potentially hideous portages in sheer-walled gorges, or walking up high over longer distances. You would need an helicopter to get a rescue out of the river. Bringing a sat phone would probably be a good idea. Bring a map. Get info from people who have already been down it, and not at least: Good luck!
Global Descents offers multi-day international rafting expeditions in some of the most remote, enchanting – and often threatened – corners of the Earth: Chile’s Futaleufu, the Zambezi in eastern Africa, the vast depths of Peru’s Colca and Cotahuasi Canyons, and the Omo River in Ethiopia. Read More >>
GRANITE – Duke Bradford has yet to convince his mother his passion for whitewater belongs on his resume. But after nine years of running a successful river-rafting company, the Summit County resident is starting to prove his point.Infact, rafting goes far beyond just putting food on his table. Having been part of a recreation trend that draws half a million visitors each year down Colorado’s rivers, Bradford and fellow paddling enthusiast Matt Gontram of Leadville are determined to show the world how valuable an asset a river can be – not locked behind the steel and concrete of massive hydroelectric dams, but running rough and wild under bright yellow rafts full of tourists.His point goes beyond simple business. Having been part of a recreation trend that draws half a million visitors each year down Colorado’s rivers, Bradford and fellow paddling enthusiast Matt Gontram of Leadville are determined to show the world how valuable an asset a river can be – not locked behind the steel and concrete of massive hydroelectric dams, but running rough and wild under bright yellow rafts full of tourists.Bradford, 36, and Gontram, 33, have just launched Global Descents, a new venture to help push the whitewater rafting industry into the international travel spotlight.”We can show that this is a place worth saving,” said Gontram, who spends most of his winters on the Futaleufu River in southern Chile and his summers running the Arkansas and Colorado Rivers. “We’re showing that tourism is a much more successful alternative for local economies than hydroelectric dam projects are.”Rivers at risk
Global Descents offers multi-day international rafting expeditions in some of the most remote, enchanting – and often threatened – corners of the Earth: Chile’s Futaleufu, the Zambezi in eastern Africa, the vast depths of Peru’s Colca and Cotahuasi Canyons, and the Omo River in Ethiopia.InAugust, Gontram will shepherd guests along the banks of the Zanksar River in northern India. At 14,000 feet above sea level, the company’s maiden trip will be propelled by glacial runoff from the towering Himalayas. Along the way, they’ll encounter Buddhist monasteries and villages so isolated their inhabitants have laid eyes on westerners only once or twice before, if ever.Many of the regions to which Global Descents will bring its customers, and their tourist dollars, are grappling with growing populations, surging economies and development pressures. And with such forces comes the temptation of massive dams to supply hydroelectric power.India alone is home to 4,300 dams, which have flooded 37,500 square kilometers of land, wreaked environmental havoc and displaced 42 million people from their homes, according to International Rivers Network (IRN), a U.S.-based organization which advocates against large-scale dams. Just last month, the Indian government approved a new 44-megawatt project on the Suru River, adjacent to the Zanskar.In the southern Andes, the turquoise waters of the acclaimed Rio Futaleufu stand to lose 35 miles of whitewater in the face of a huge multi-dam project that’s tentatively on hold.”Once you’re in the Futaleufu Valley and you recognize the dangers that face it, it’s so sickening to you that you can’t help but get involved,” Bradford said. “We’re talking about Global Descents as a business, but we’re also talking about the struggles the whitewater world faces.”Despite the substantial economic and political hurdles these rivers face, Gontram and Bradford are optimistic about adventure travel’s ability to show that economy and ecology can and should go hand in hand.”I do firmly believe that, with help, the Futaleufu will survive,” Gontram said. “With tourism comes environmental respect and action. If we bring down as many people as possible, and we can show the local community and the politicians in Santiago, our chances are tremendous.”
The partnership”Matt and I strive to be whatever there is in whitewater to be,” Bradford said. “We’re very passionate about whitewater, but we’re also passionate about the industry. We want to try to make this a better industry, to push the envelope … Pushing it here at home and on the global level is something I want to be involved in.”Gontram and Bradford’s skill set uniquely poises them to do just that.Gontram first thrust his paddle into Colorado whitewater 15 years ago and subsequently boated his way throughout the U.S. About six years ago, he ventured into foreign waters and has since guided trips through scores of rivers on five continents.While he claims his favorite river in the world is the Rio Futaleufu, it’s hard to detect any drop in intensity when he shifts geographical gears to talk about abundant African wildlife along the Zambezi, sunsets burning up the Ethiopian sky or scaling the deepest canyons in the world to reach the Peruvian Colca.”I’ve made a lifetime commitment to this. Absolutely, hands-down, ever since I was 18, I’ve known that this is what I want to do,” Gontram said.
Bradford, though not lacking international river experience, is more firmly rooted in Colorado. His first rafting company, Arkansas Valley Adventures (AVA), continues to grow each summer, due in large part to his relentless dedication to providing top-notch customer service. In the winters, he remains focused on the Colorado guest experience as a member of Keystone Resort’s ski patrol. And he balances it all with his roles at home as husband and father.With Bradford at the helm, AVA was among the first companies to offer commercial trips through Gore Canyon on the Colorado River and down the very “spicy” Pine Creek, the most advanced section of the Arkansas. Bradford had taken a handful of trips through the rapids of Chile and Ecuador when he and Gontram first crossed paths three years ago.”We started talking about what great rivers are really out there,” Bradford said. “After coming down to Chile to see Matt a second time, we looked at developing an international effort with my background of nine years directing a company and Matt’s international knowledge base – and both of us being really passionate about running the best rivers we could find.”Before long, the pair developed a business plan, with Bradford hanging back to man the headquarters and Gontram guiding the trips.”Through intense negotiations with my wife, it was determined that I was going to be the home base,” said Bradford, who is scheduled to become a dad for the second time in November. “But I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. That’s how the partnership works.”The resulting product is one that combines Colorado standards in customer service, safety and equipment with intimate knowledge of each far-off destination. Gontram works closely with the local communities in every locale, recruiting guides, drivers and cooks, identifying scenic stops and side-trips, planning meals and finding first-rate guest lodging.His close working relationships with locals have the added benefits of upping their savvy and skills in catering to vacationers and fueling the local economies with funds that wouldn’t flow if the rivers were locked behind dams.
Spreading the wordThe pair jointly shoulders the company’s marketing, which has proven to be one of the top challenges of getting the business off the ground.”We’ve used the traditional methods we’re comfortable with in Colorado – but Colorado sells Colorado in the rafting business. Moving onto the international level, just letting people know these opportunities exist and what they can expect – that’s the biggest struggle,” Bradford said.The pair has settled on a combination of conventional outreach tools, like the Internet and travel expos, along with a grassroots education approach that focuses foremost on river conservation.Gontram has developed a slide show bursting with images of Class V rapids, exotic birds, thundering waterfalls, misty canyons, riverside towns and cloud-piercing peaks. Throughout, he chronicles the threats faced by these natural wonders – the Futaleufu in particular – and their communities. And he hopes to take his message into as many conference rooms, living rooms and impromptu venues as he can find.”We recommend people go down there with anyone. Any way people can get down there is a plus for the Futaleufu,” Gontram said.”They come away realizing this is truly a wonder of the world,” Bradford added. “We’re showing people how beautiful and magnificent and endangered it is. And we’re giving them the opportunity to come down and see what we believe.”
You know that friend who has traveled to all corners of the world and had tea with the Dalai Lama? Well, chances are he or she hasn’t been to Zambia. In the center of Africa’s southern prong, landlocked Zambia has never had the kind of public transportation or low-cost accessibility that has attracted independent travelers to some other African destinations. Read More >>
1. Safari in South Luangwa National Park: South Luangwa is among the great wildlife sanctuaries. Find a tour through your lodge, or arrange to rent a four-by-four and do the driving yourself. After taking in the amazing sights, head out to the shops along the main entrance road and have yourself a beer to celebrate a day well spent.
2. Bungee Jumping over Victoria Falls: With Bushtracks Africa, you can take just a few seconds to crash through one of the most exhilarating rides of your life above these gorgeous falls. If falling from heights at an outrageous speed isn’t your thing, you may still find plenty more to do in this tourist-friendly area.
3. Raft in the Batoka Gorge: Combine high-energy rapids, exquisite scenery, and the chance to listen to and gaze on surrounding wildlife, and you have the elements that make white-water rafting in Zambia a world-class experience. The Batoka Gorge rafts launch from just below the Victoria Falls. More-extensive, multiday Zambezi River trips are offered by Global Descents and may be the hard-core outdoorsman’s preferred choice.
4. Tour Livingstone: Zambia’s gateway to the falls is typically overshadowed by Zimbabwe’s more commercial and frequented Victoria Falls city. Livingstone has a lot to offer, though: the city’s namesake museum has sections covering history, archaeology, and art. The Railway Museum recalls a colonial past and even organizes a stroll through town that allows you to see colonial architecture at the North Western Hotel, the St. Andrews Anglican Church, and the Coillard Memorial Church.
5. Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage: Write or call ahead, and ask the selfless volunteers who run this center whether you may stop by and learn about their important work in saving infant chimpanzees. Even if you can’t visit, consider making a donation.
6. Lake Kariba: Zambia’s tourist department boasts that this manmade body of water is the host of “Zambia’s undiscovered Rivera!” Not quite, but it is very pleasing and can make for a welcome break from high-adrenaline white-water rafting and safaris. Get cozy in one of the lodges on Lake Kariba, or rent a houseboat. Learn about the dam that created the lake and the efforts to rehabilitate the Batonga tribe, which was displaced by the lake’s creation.
7. Lusaka: If you are traveling in Zambia, you have probably seen many a metropolis more impressive than the capital city, but no trip to Zambia would be complete without at least one or two nights in Lusaka. Check on the Lowdown for a list of what’s going on about town, and maybe visit a nightclub or a bar. Though its wares may not be on the level of those available elsewhere, browsing through a market just for the experience may be fun. For crafts, visit the Kabwata Cultural Village; an excellent ceramics market is held on the last Saturday of every month in the suburb of Kabulonga near the Dutch Reform Church.
8. Shiwa Ng’andu: The British officer who started this renowned, resort-style lodge had come to the region to map the border lines between British and Belgium colonial claims. Legend has it that Stewart Gore-Brown fell in love with the area around Shiwa Ng’andu and, having purchased it for a song in 1914, returned to it after World War I to build a massive estate. A visit to Shiwa Ng’andu is akin to a trip to the past. Make sure to stop by the Kapishya, a natural hot spring, which sounds mighty relaxing to us.