Adventurers of the Year 2006

Ben Stookesberry + Jesse Coombs: Rulers of Class V

For the first descent of the Río Buey, outside Medellín, Colombia, early in January 2006, Ben Stookesberry 28, and Jesse Coombs, 36, paddled into a river gorge cum political battlefield: guerrilla soldiers on one side, paramilitary death squads on the other. "This local guy, a friend of ours, basically said just don't get out of the river," Coombs says. So early on day one when confronted with a 60-foot (18-meter) waterfall and no way to portage around, the pair hucked big, stuck their landings, and churned on for three more days of Class V water.

And that was just one river. On that same expedition Stookesberry and Coombs notched 20 Class V first descents in 30 days in Brazil. They then finished with a pioneering run down Mexico's Río Santo Domingo, one of the most extreme runnable rivers on the planet (with an 80-foot (24-meter) waterfall, followed by a 90-footer (27-meter), a 50-footer (15-meter), and a 70-footer (21-meter) all within a thousand feet (305 meters). More astounding still, these guys consider this business as usual. According to Tao Berman, one of the best known paddlers in the world, Stookesberry and Coombs "go out and do more first descents and explore more rivers in a year than most kayakers do in their lives." High praise, but more impressive is that their expedition was entirely self-funded. Stookesberry ties rebar and runs heavy equipment on construction sites. Coombs buys and sells real estate. Just two ordinary guys doing extraordinary things.