First Descents in Costa Rica with Chris Baer

Chris Baer

First Descents, Rio Chirripo Pacifico, Cateratas from Chris Baer on Vimeo.

Chris Baer getting the nose down, Caterate Casuela

First descents:

Ferdinand and I had made it through the getting to know you stage, now it was time to do some serious exploring. I hopped in his car once again and we took off to explore a couple runs that have never been done before.

The morning bird show

Canas, 300 fpm class 4+ with one sieved out class 5 move.

I would have never guessed we were about to do one of the steepest class 4 runs in the world as we were driving through the pineapple fields of Costa Rica. Ferdinand had the Rio Canas on his to do list for two years, and I was lucky enough to get to run it after knowing him for only three days. We stopped on the side of the road walked down to the river and looked into the river corridor. The Canas looked good, steep boulder garden style rapids with a couple fun boofs in sight. The level was a bit low, but the water channelized really well. As we headed up stream we stopped at a few more places, and it all looked good. We found an easy access spot, and Ferdinand checked the elevation on his watch against the topographical map. It all was adding up, we had just over 3 kilometers of unrun boulder gardens to negotiate to get to the next good access point.

We headed down stream scouting countless blind horizon lines, most of the times all it took was standing up and you could see a couple fun boofs and a nice eddy at the bottom. Our pace was quick as we headed down through tight slots and fun little boofs. About 2/3 of the way down the run we encountered a fun 5 foot boof directly above a pin rock and a nasty sieve. I took a quick look at it and found a thin line on the far left. I got back in my boat flew off the boof and slipped just past the pin rock. Ferdinand liked my line and fired off the drop right behind me. The pace stayed rather quick and before we knew it we were at the original take out bridge. We both were having a good day and there was plenty of light left so we pushed on, and ran another kilometer of equally fun white water. This run would be great for solid class 4 boaters look to up there skills.

Ceibo canyon, 400-500 fpm

The night before the Ceibo mission Ferdinand and I spent the night looking over topographical maps and planing the assault on what looked like a meandering river, that came out of a slot canon. As we drove up the river valley, the river looked minuscule, my first impression was it was just too low. After talking to some locals we got the information we were looking for, keep on going up stream the river lives in a canyon up there. We locked the hubs on Ferdinand’s little Suzuki and went up a ridiculously steep hill with supper loose rock. My head was bouncing off the roof, and I was holding the O’shit Handle out of necessity. We finally made it to a relatively flat area and stopped the truck. The river was a thousand feet below us. It was emerging out of a basalt mini canyon, I got really excited. We left the truck at the flat spot, and hiked another kilometer up the road, to the top of the first canyon.

As we entered into the canyon we didn’t get more then 50 feet before we came around a blind corner and spotted a nasty class 5 sieve pile caused by a land slide. Ferdinand was deservingly hesitant, I saw a “hairy fairy” right in front of a sieve and a marginal line bouncing down a pile of junk rock. We continued through the canyon scouting constantly, and found a hand full of great rapids. The 15 foot slide to boof and fun linked double slide were the highlights of the run. As we exited the canyon the character changed, we were now in a bouncy boulder garden, and the water quickly sprawled out. We paddled another couple hundred yards and got to a swinging bridge and pulled out of the river. After getting the first descent of this beautiful canyon, I am definitely planning on returning to check out some of the upper canyons. Two days and two first descents down, I was feeling a little physically tired but mentally I was on was on fire.

Ferdinand, in the midst of Ceibo Canyon

Caterate Casuela (vestment) (( that funny vest thing a priest wears)) and the Cloud Bridge section of the Chirripo Pacifico, is a hike and huck

A few weeks ago I scouted this section and, my original opinion was that almost all the drops on this run where, marginally runnable, at best. Over the last couple weeks I have scouted almost every vantage and access point. When Ferdinand offered to set safety I was both excited and nervous. The morning came, and I was going through my mental readiness, stay calm, eat a light breakfast, listen to an upbeat song (Katy Perry “I kissed a girl”). Before I knew it Ferdinand and I jumped in his truck again. We cruised up to the Cloud Bridge reserve, and parked the truck. From that point on, there is no motorized vehicles allowed. We started our two kilometer hike into the reserve. We had a fan club following us, John and Jill from the hostel Casa Mariposa, the care takers of Cloud Bridge, and a couple other folks all came up to watch. As always it took a while to get cameras and safety in place. Then Ferdinand gave me the thumbs up, the Katy Perry song came back to the front of my head, I did a little happy dance, and new I was ready.

Caterate Casuela might be the most complicated big drop I have ever ran. It starts with a small slot on river left, that leads you across the creek to a 8 foot drop. At the base of the 8 footer is a huge curler that explodes off the right wall. That curler drops another 15 feet into a cauldron, the cauldron is about 10 feet wide and rotates back under the curler at a proximately a hundred miles an hour. Then, the water falls off a beautiful 40 footer into a shallow pool. I am amazed I wanted to run such a messy drop, but as I have traveled and gotten better, I have fallen in love with “roller coaster” drops. The more dynamic the rapid the greater the reward for me. The idea of dropping 8 feet bouncing off a wall another 15 into a cauldron and then running a 40 footer all in the mater of 2 seconds was too much of a draw, I had to fire it up.

Chris Baer, contemplating the hardest drop of my life.

I hopped in my boat, checked my life jacket, helmet, spray skirt, did my supper quick stretch routine, and gave Ferdinand a loud whistle blast. A couple seconds later I heard Ferdinand whistle back, (safety and cameras were ready). I looked down at the shaft of my custom Blunt Family Paddle, and right there in the middle are the words “FIRE IT UP!!!”. I gave the paddle a quick nod as to agree. I paddled back to the middle of the pool, rolled my neck, shrugged my shoulders, and started humming the song again. Out loud I reminded my self to just float over the first drop. I paddled to the slot with a nice right hand angle, and as I came through the slot I picked up a ton of speed. I was flying toward the first 8 footer, leaned forward and rolled over the first drop. A nano second later I got a quick left sweep stroke and the nose of the boat up on the curler. I followed it with a quick right stroke and was blinded by the spray of the curler, about then I felt gravity kick in. I got my left paddle blade ready for a brace and before I knew it I cleared the curler and was a foot away from the lip of the 40 footer. I didn’t even get a chance for a stoke off the 40 footer, I did push my weight forward and cleared my paddle to one side. A half of a second of free fall and I entered the landing zone. I glanced off a rock about 9 feet under the surface and paddled away from the drop with a huge smile.

Chris Baer, about to hit the curler, Caterate Casuela

Chris Baer, reemerging from the curler, Caterate Casuela

I took a couple minutes to shout in celebration and a couple more to reflect on the scale and difficulty of the drop…

looking back up at the hardest drop of my life
Dumbfounded that it went so well

Soon enough I gain composure and headed down stream. The next drop looked very marginal, I charged for a small rock flake and got pushed off early. I dropped 10 feet and glanced off another rock. The following drop looked absolutely horrible and Ferdinand and I both walked. Putting back on the river, I paddled another 15 feet to the next horizon line and saw another very marginal drop. The river in this section drops about 1000 fpm and was looking very unrunable.

Just another rapid on the upper upper Chirripo Pacifico

Ferdinand and I had a quick pow wow, and decided to abandon the project. All said and done this is one of the hardest hike and hucks I have ever seen, and I am absolutely stoked to have gotten the first descent of this amazing drop.

Three days and three first descents, not a bad mid week.

Chris Baer

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