Nothing better than exploring… and happily this seems to be a growing trend in whitewater sport. You can get out for a night, or for a few. It is tons easier than schlepping tons of raft gear to the car and then into every camp. Tons easier because you can’t fit tons into a kayak!
Back when I did my first exploratory runs self support, there was no equipment suited to the task, so gear packing was always a challenge. New crossover boats from Wavesport, LiquidLogic, and Jackson change all that with hatches for easy packing. If you don’t know the concept, think of a extra large creek-river running boat, with a rear hatch for gear.
On my late 80’s exploratory we got first descents in Mexico on the Moctezuma and Santa Maria Rivers. Those exploratory years introduced me to how sweet it is living out of a boat.
Those were some adventures! 140 miles to go through the unexplored 1000 foot deep Moctezuma canyon. 1000 feet deep. 9 days of food in our boats. First day 23 miles, easy. Second day, 2 miles total. Third day, 1 mile. You do the math. We started sweating it until the river eased up. More on that trip in another post. For now, just find a section of river, and get out there by kayak!
Here’s the second part of our belated Where is Baer updates. This time, Chris is exploring paddling opportunities in Colombia, including first descents, thievery, bad beta and amazing whitewater. We’ve taken Chris’ multiple posts and combined them into one. Enjoy!
Chris Baer Scouting the entrance rapid on the Estrecho section of the Rio Magdalena
The original research for this trip put a lot of different possibilities in my head. On the positive side, unexplored canyons. On the negative side, was the always interesting U.S. media. They spoke of kidnappings, Guerrillas, and for me the scariest issue land mines?! As usual my determination for an all out adventure won. I booked a flight to Bogota Colombia.
Collecting my gear in the Bogota Airport
Traveling with a kayak is always a bit stressful. The week before the trip my head was spinning with the possibilities. Was I going to be able to check it onto the first flight, the second flight, into the cab, on the bus, how much will I have to pay for it? International kayak ownership is not for any one that is on a schedule, or expects anything to go smoothly.
To my delight once again the boat got checked onto the flight. The adventure had officially begun. A quick flight from Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale, an eight hour lay over, and another smooth flight that was only delayed a few hours to Bogota Colombia.
Upon arriving in Bogota, I was deserving of a good nights sleep; but not until I got a quick walk about. My apprehension of a dangerous community quickly faded as I took few hour walk around the capital. It felt safe, at least as safe as any big city feels. Street food was on my mind, quickly I found myself immersed in the Colombian culture.
Bad beta meant taking a taxi cab to the bus station and waiting ten hours for the bus to arrive. Upon arrival the crowd made an awkward charge. Lots of big luggage was heading underneath the bus. The driver looked at me disgusted with the size of my baggage and waved me over. It took a couple minutes to shift cargo, but we got the kayak to awkwardly fit. Then the drivers hand went out, he was looking for a bribe. I offered a low number and he hit me back with a number that was substantially more then what I was thinking. After a few minutes of bargaining and talking to everyone that could possible be in charge, I slipped the driver more then what I thought fair. The bribe was still distinctly less then what the driver was originally asking for. He smiled at me; I think he truly enjoyed the bargaining process; all I wanted was my kayak to make it to it’s next destination.
As the driver speed quicker and quicker into the curves, blasting his horn at every animate and inanimate object, the person sitting next to me stated to snore. It was about that time the child a row behind me let out a freakishly loud scream. I wasn’t going to get much sleep. Arriving in San Agustin I was in full zombie mode. I paid too much for a cab, and too much for a hostel room. I needed to pass out for a couple hours and regain normal human functions.
The local transport, Chiva
This lively little town has a Wild West feel, horses make their way down the main street almost as frequently as motorcycles and the colorful Chivas. The vibe is fairly relaxed with farming and tourism (it is a UNESCO world heritage site) being the main supply of income for the community.
One of the classic stone carvings outside of San Agustin
Feeling small in the steep canyons of Colombia
The second day in San Agustin I meet up with a french gentleman, Amid runs the local rafting company on the Rio Magdalena. A quick conversation with Amid, and he encourage me to join his commercial clients on the beautiful class 3 section of the Rio Magdalena. Por que no (why not) was all I could respond with. Rafts, kayak, two guides, eleven clients, and myself smashed into a pickup; we were on our way to my first Colombian river.
Jared Page wheeling through a sticky hydraulic
Joel Fedak pulling hard
Day 3 and the kayakers arrive, Kees Van Kuipers, Maudy Verb, Giorgio Codeluppi, Jared Page, and Joel Fedak. Plans were made quickly, we would paddle the Canyon section of the Magdalena a.k.a. Estrecho. This section is a classic representation of Colombian white water. Impressively containing walls, with an ever changing rock structure. The river section brought us through basalt, conglomerate, and polished granite. The rapids were fun class 4 with a few mixed in dangers (overhanging, caved out, conglomerate walls, and a couple sticky holes).
Joel Fedak deep in the Magdalena Canyon
The posy loading boats
Chris Baer trying to find that tight line
The Magdalena Valley, yep there’s white water down there
After paddling the Estrecho section, my eyes were wide open. Colombia has kayakable river drainages everywhere. The next section was targeted quickly, it’s a small creek that is viewable on the drive to San Agustin. Rio Naranjos is a tributary to the Magdalena, and has a relatively steep, low volume characteristic that looks promising. Both Keeys and Giorgio had paddled the section before, but it had been quite awhile (5 years). Our beta once again was marginal at best. Keeys even told us not to use the information he had written for the Colombia Whitewater guide book.The water level at the put in looked pretty low. The rumor was there was another tributary that was going to add substantial flow to the river. To me it looked like an acceptable personal first descent level; low enough water to deal with the unpredictability of the run at river level.
Jared finding a fun boof in the upper Naranjos
The section of white water leading to the confluence was filled with conglomerate sieves. After passing a very marginal water quality tributary we found ourselves very slowly portaging our way down the river right side of the creek. We climbed over large boulders, through the jungle, all the while surrounded by garbage and sewage from the up stream community.
Looking for an exit in the Rio Naranjos
By the time we reached the confluence our morale was rather low. The crew could only laugh about our silly selection of white water. From the confluence down the water quality, and rock structure got much better. We routed into one polished boulder garden after the next. The last major rapid is a dark intimidating hallway that ramps off a clean six foot boof.
Classic beauty in Colombia
The adventures are just beginning here, and I am getting more and more excited about Colombia.
Yea! its walled in, look close that little spec is Jared
The Colombian adventure continues, next on the check list was the third descent of the Rio Caqueta. With some amazingly vague beta, “It should take one or… three days? there is some pushy white water! with a portage… or a few!?” Giorgio Codleuppi, Jared Page, Joel Fedak and myself packed our boats with a little better then an overnights worth of food, light weight sleeping arrangements, and few guaranties. What we could see from maps was that the canyon was covered in a dense jungle, and was very containing.
Middle of no where
We piled into a pickup truck and made our way to the river. Upon arrival the river’s flow looked pretty low, but the general size of the river was huge! An estimated 4,000 cubic feet of water per second was pumping through the canyon. We put on directly below the highway and quickly arrived at a vertically walled section. It’s Beautiful! There are a few small water falls plunging hundreds of feet into the canyon. These falls make the walls glisten with their spray.
House size rocks, and hydraulics to match
Early on day one, receiving a single thumbs up I charged into what looked like the big side of a fun rapid. Coming into the blind bottom section it was one huge feature after the next. A couple strong forward strokes blasting through hydraulics, a quick brace, and a WTF! In front of me was a twelve foot wide six foot deep hydraulic. The bravado in me said to boof over the hole. My attempt was almost laughable. A quick window shade and I popped up just in time to throw a horrible looking loop towards the corner of the hole. One more window shade, and I resurfaced with a single thought, “That can’t happen again.” The group pulled over and took a time-out to reassess our hand signals.
There was immense pour overs everywhere! Our group did a fair amount of scouting, wadded through side channels, and peering over house size boulders into the turbulent river. With an empty boat and a solid warm up, I know most of the marginal lines could come together… With a heavy boat and the looming walls of the canyon, skirting and running away from big features was the game plan.
Late in day one the pace was slowing, it was one huge barely scoutable rapid after the next. We spent an hour of scouting a particularly nasty rapid, just to agree upon a cheat line. Climbing out of our boats at the next horizon line we were confronted with an enormous siphon, the entire rivers flow smashes into a couple apartment building size rocks and disappears. After our quick portage the light started to dwindle.
4,000 cfs siphon
(Colombian rivers have been known to rise incredible amounts, last year Mark Hentze was washed away in the middle of the night do to a huge unexpected surge of water.)
We chose an elevated beach and unloaded our boats. The scenery was beautiful; but camping in the jungle has a few draw backs. Sand flies, and constant precipitation, made the small damp fire a little less enjoyable. We ate food and shared stories of near misses with huge hydraulics. As the evening developed the temperature dropped, and I found myself with an inadequate sleeping system. I slept in every layer I had that wasn’t soaking wet.
Once on water we were confronted with more scouting, and more running from huge pour overs. Arriving at yet another large rapid Giorgio charged in and disappeared over a large horizon line… It took him a few seconds to come back into view. When Giorgio looked upstream he once again gave us an awkward hand gesture. Joel was next to paddle into the melee. Upon arriving at the bottom of the rapid, Joel’s hand single was distinctly different. His hand signal portrayed a very well defined get left!
Jared took off into the rapid looking for the left line, unfortunately he found himself disappearing off a large horizon line. From above I could see his boat catch major air twice before relieving itself of the hydraulic. Jared then rolled up just in time to fall into yet another, much larger hydraulic. His beating resumed immediately. Jared was dealing with a heavy decision, and oxygen depravation was working against him. Abandoning craft, sleeping arraignment, clean water, and food, Jared hit the eject button. Thankfully Giorgio and Joel were in great position, and cleaned up the situation quickly.
Giorgio Codleuppi making friends with a local fishing family
Mid day on day two we exited the canyon. The gradient and pace quickly petered off, and we found ourselves slowly dodging fishing boats. We paddled the last two hours to our take out in the small community of Puerto Limon.
Puerto Limon, looking back at the beautiful Caqueta valley
Come on horses you know you want to drag kayaks into that valley
First descents are magical adventures. The opportunity to paddle through pristine valleys and test both judgement and paddling skill is truly… Epic! What most people don’t think about is the leg work that goes into searching out these elusive gems.
Giorgio, Joel, and our motorcycle guides looking up into the Putumayo valley
Fear and respect are often misconstrued. I respect the fact that I have no idea what is down stream during a first descent, there is no reason for me to fear that. White water is simply water, gradient, and obstructions. To understand these features and make solid judgement calls on the accessibility and kayak-ability of a given river takes years of practice.
Just an average day motorcycle scouting
In the case of the Putumayo our team, Giorgio Codleuppi, Jared Page, Joel Fedak, and myself spent three full days scouting from busses, taxis, and motorcycles (three of us on the same motorcycle). After exhausting attempts to penetrate further into the canyon our team reluctantly agreed on a lower then desired put in location. The plan was to paddle for approximately six kilometers to the next accessible exit point: a small bridge in the village of La Mangua.
Joel Fedak, talked like a pirate the entire time
Paddling day we started early, awaking with the sun. Our first hurdle was obtaining a pickup truck to transport us and equipment to the microscopic village of El Carmen. From El Carmen it is approximately three miles to our desired put in location. Wanting to save energy for the unknowns down stream, our group entertained the idea of renting horses. It only took a few minutes of chatting and one of the locals offered up his services.
Wave Sport horse
Look closely, we are bush whacking in there!
If you have ever tried attaching kayaks to horses, you know it’s a struggle. The saddle system our farmer had wasn’t exactly kayak friendly. Our three mile hike took two and a half hours of constant kayak adjustment and prodding of the horses. Once we arrived at the river the farmer told us that we could paddle across, and hike another 20 minutes up the valley to arrive at our originally desired put in location. Daylight hours were burning fast, and we hesitantly gave up on hiking further into canyon.
What Colombian horses are supposed to do
We put on a beautiful river. The Lower Putumayo has clean clear water and the rapids consist of fun class 4+ boulder gardens. There were few blind horizon lines, but all main lines paddled well.
Chris Baer in an average rapid
The headwaters is large, a heavy rain in the drainage could be disastrous to anyone in the gorge. The mountain the river cuts through has an amazing rock structure. The lowest formations are formed of large granite pieces. This would have the tendency to build large nearly vertical features. The canyon section will be very demanding and deserves more inspection. If you would like to know more please contact me.
Torrential rain at the take out bridge
International kayaking usually involves intricate logistics. That is not the case with this quick and easy afternoon lapper.
The river is truly across the street from the front door
Just South of the city of Mocoa, is Hostel Casa del Rio. I would strongly suggest basing here while paddling in the region. On a casual day you can truly walk across the street and put your boat in the local swimming hole, the Rio Rumiyaco. Paddle down and enjoy the local swimming hole culture for about a mile, and then confluence with the Rio Mocoa.
Giorgio with a swimming hole ride along
Unfortunately this river is attached to the plumbing of the bustling city of Mocoa. The water quality is bad. Wearing ear and nose plugs is definitely recommended. The good news is that the river is super fun class four. There are a ton of great boofs, tight slots, and attainment moves hidden everywhere. It can also be paddled from bottom of the barrel low to flood stage. The take out is just outside of Villa Garzon. Catch a truck in the town and zip your way back to Casa Del Rio just in time for happy hour.
The epitome of nervous anticipation, kayak an illegal canyon, with a very committing gorge, at high flows.
The weather in Futaleufu had turned rainy and the rivers were rising, after a great high water paddle of Inferno canyon I received a call from Matias Nunez. He said that the flows on the “Blanco” were starting to come up. I needed to catch a bus out of Futaleufu immediately. Walking out of the town of Futaleufu I bumped into Clay Wright and friends, and caught a ride across the Chilean Argentine border to the town of Esquel. The next day I caught a bus to a speck on the map and waited on the side of the road hoping that Matias would show up.
An hour later Matias’s pickup truck came into view and I was greeted with Yerba Mate and a warning that the river was a little higher then Matias had previously though, he said,”I might walk a couple things, but you have to run it all.” I was already nervous from previous rumors of, walled in canyons, big drops, and the fact that if you are not from Argentina it was technically illegal to paddle. The entire river is on private property and the American owner doesn’t want any one on his property. Luckily for the locals, there is a lake on the property and Argentine law says you must provide access to water ways, for Argentinians.
The laws are simple, If you are Argentine you can access the water ways, if you are from anywhere else it’s a no go. I was not supposed to be on the property, but that hasn’t slowed me down much in the past. I like to think that almost all kayakers break laws on a regular basis. We are constantly blurring trespassing laws and changing in and out of wet gear in public.
The level was ten inches on the bridge gauge, and it looked bank full to me. The high flow made a couple of the bigger rapids super fun and also turned a couple rapids into a jungle portages. Over the next week I was blessed with the opportunity to sneak pass the gate keeper two more times and paddle with Matias Nunez, Facha Morron, and Manuel Carignan. We paddled at a variety of flows from 10 to 2 inches. The locals talk about these flows as “damn that is high”, all the way down to, “most people still call this high”.
The river is simply amazing, bright blue glacial water, tucked between polished granite, in a 200 ft deep canyon. The river features are as beautiful as the scenery. From the top you get a tricky double drop, boof to slides to vert, boof to stumpy walled in hole, 10 footer to off angle 20+ footer, slide into a nasty wall, 8 footer that kicks like a mule into a mandatory 40 footer, 10 foot almost vertical slide into a super committing canyon, 200+ foot tall walled in boogie, and a nasty multi tiered rapid to get you out of the canyon, and into the two mile class 4+ paddle out.
The “Blanco” is the epitome of class 5 creek boating.
After finishing an amazing day on the Rio Manso I got a phone call. “Chris, it’s Nate. Can you be in Esquel tomorrow? We need you to take photos for some clients that are coming in.”
The next morning I woke up super early, and went to the bus station in Bariloche. My plan was to catch the first bus out of town at 7 AM. There were already two kayakers waiting at the end of an overly packed bus who were trying to squish their kayaks into the cargo area. I immediately walked into the terminal and swapped my ticket to the next available bus. An hour and a half later I was packing my kayak into the back of the bus and trying to get comfortable for the six hour bus ride south to Esquel. Once there, I was picked up by Adriana Radwanski, the manager of H2O Patagonia. She gave me the low down about what was going on. H2O Patagonia had two clients coming to the Futaleufu for a week who were interested in a photo package. I was there to create that photo package. We hopped in Adriana’s truck and headed for the Argentina border. When we arrived the skies started to let loose. The rain was coming down hard, and then harder. By the time we made it to the front of the Argentine border checkpoint line it was a torrential downpour outside. My kayak gear looked interesting to the border patrol, and they asked to thoroughly search my baggage. By the time they got done looking through all of my gear most of it was sopping wet. Adrian and I finally got our passport stamps and were on our way to do the same song and dance on the Chilean side.
Wild flowers cover the valley floor
A couple hundred yards further down the road at the Chilean border my gear was under questioning again. “Have you gotten your equipment washed?” The Chilean border control was trying to say that there had been a recent influx of Didymo algae in the Futaleufu valley, and they wanted all of my gear disinfected. Didymo is an invasive slime that attaches itself to the bottom of rivers, eating away and stifling all the naturally growing plants. The Chilean government is now taking steps to help slow down the spread of Didymo by washing all incoming water equipment, including boats, waders, fishing poles, and my mostly dry union suit. The Didymo can easily be killed off by completely drying your gear for 48 hours, or washing it with regular dish soap. So my mostly wet gear, from being searched in Argentina, got completely drenched with soapy water as I entered Chile.
Arriving at H2O’s base camp I was blown away by the amazing view of huge rugged mountains, bright blue skies above, and wildflowers below. The guides took me to the back porch, where a wood-fired hot tub was placed above the river. The sun was setting and lighting up the sky with a bright orange blaze that was reflecting off the glacial blue river. The Rio Futaleufu was showing off. My day of bumpy roads and wet gear was definitely worth that view alone.
Gorgeous views after a solid hike
H20’s guides Pedro Fernandez Cid, Tomas Binimelischatted, and Nate Mac brought me up to speed on the week’s itinerary. The trip was going to show off the surreal beauty of Patagonia.
Paddling duckies on the the Rio Espolon
By the time we returned to base camp everyday we were starving and tired. Chef Fabio Roman de Luca was also tired. He had been in the kitchen all day creating another amazing meal. Turning out great meals in the remote Futaleufu valley is not a talent, but an art.
People place so much hype on paddling the Rio Futaleufu, but that’s because it’s worth it. The river really wants to be paddled. The water is relatively warm, the features are friendly, and the beautiful blue water with amazing mountain scenery creates a jaw dropping experience.
After paddling both world renowned big water classics of the Futaleufu and the Zambezi within a short period of time, it’s hard to say which I like better. The Zam is definitely more out of control. You just paddle into huge features and get annihilated. You can’t do that as much on the Futa, it is a little more technical, and there are definitely a couple features that you don’t want to paddle into. They are both gems, and both should be high on your list for amazing adventures.
Stay tuned for the next write up from an illegal river in Argentina that is slated for dam construction.
Pucon season was wrapping up, and my itch to explore was growing by the day. I talked to Matias Nuñez about taking the bus over to Bariloche, Argentina and paddling with him before heading down to the Rio Futaleufu. Matias’s beta sounded bleak. Everything was on the low side of good, but he thought that we could go into the Rio Manso and have ok water levels.
The Manso has had rough access issues over the years. My previous trip to the river involved getting harassed at the take out by the park ranger who believed it was illegal to kayak through the canyon. The ranger was even bold enough to call Matias a bad Influence for bringing me into the canyon. Turns out Matias is a great influence, he spoke to the proper people and got the access issue clarified. Now days the local officials actually contact Matias to go into the canyon and do biological research.
Arriving at the Bariloche bus station I was greeted with cold weather and ornery cab drivers. After some dispute over whether or not my kayak fit on the roof of the cab, I caught a ride to one of my favorite hostels, Refugio Patagonia. While spending long periods of time traveling there is something very comforting about arriving in a location that you are familiar with. Two years ago I had spent a week at this hostel while paddling with Matias. This year the owner of Refugio Patagonia, Tato, stepped out of the hostel and greeted me with a huge grin and said, “Wow, you’re back. Come on in, I’ll make you some fresh coffee”.
The road into the Rio Manso is only one lane wide, and to prove it, the local officials have mandated that the road is a one way street. In the morning you can drive into the park, and in the afternoon the road direction reverses and you can leave. Matias and I chatted about our plan to paddle the river. We would meet early the next day to coincide with the one way road that allows access to the put-in.
The next morning a pickup truck pulled up in front of the hostel with five people already smashed into it. Matias and Santiago where there to paddle, the rest of the truck was filled with our necessary shuttle driver, and a couple of girlfriends. A few moments later I had my gear strapped to the truck and the six of us were headed on a two hour drive into the middle of Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi. Upon arriving at the Manso we checked the level and were happily surprised that the water was at a low medium. This meant that all of the drops were going to be good, and there was only one probable portage.
While gearing up our energy level was super high. Just downstream was the 50 foot waterfall named Salto los Alerces (Tamarack). As we climbed in our kayaks all I could think of was the line I wanted to put together on Alerces, and the fact that my shoulder might not be up for it. Three weeks had passed since I injured my shoulder, and paddling 15 kilometers of class 5 was probably not the best way to test it.
After a quick scout Matias hopped in his boat. A couple strokes later and he launched off the left shoulder of the waterfall. He got his nose down and connected with the rest of the water coming in from the right, disappearing into the veil. A long moment passed and Matias reappeared 50 feet below, celebrating in the backwash with his fist pumping in the air.
After stretching out my shoulders and practicing my tuck, I ran through the possible outcomes of what I was about to do. It seemed so routine. I was about to risk my life and it scared me. I smiled and whispered to myself, “This is going to be so fun.” Moments later I was lining up a rock flake and took a huge stoke. Flying past all of the water out into the air I leaned forward and started falling. I was way out in front of the falls flying through the air for what seemed like an eternity. Then BAM the reconnect hit me like a ton of bricks and I started to rotate. Now I was crashing, not flying, and I was rotating towards head down. All I could do was tuck tighter and wait for the impending impact. It took forever… The next thing I remember was wondering why my legs where wet, and why does my left leg really hurt? I had rotated in the air, slamming into the base of the falls on my head. My boat hit the surface tension of the water and stopped, violently ejecting me.
While getting swirled in the hole at the base of the falls I started kicking my feet. It wasn’t until I reached the surface and took a breath that I really accepted the fact that I was swimming. The 100 foot overhanging wall in front of me was coming up rather quickly, so I tossed my paddle and started swimming hard. After a little downtime I found a rock shelf just under the surface of the water. Slowly I climbed out of the water and did a system diagnostic. My head and neck felt fine, both of my shoulders felt ok, the inside of my left calf was bright red (I had smashed it on my Pelican Case as I was ejected), and my left shoe had been ripped off. It took a couple minutes to gather my gear, collect my wits, and put my shoe back on.
The in-between rapids are a blast and take you through a super remote valley. Most of the time on the river all you can see is dense jungle on both sides and a never-ending beautiful blue green river dropping away in front of you. Our Team paddled the in-between rapids with huge smiles, taking in the gorgeous scenery.
There are a couple of other major rapids on the run, Pinball, Triple Falls, and Horse Cock. Pinball has a relatively long lead-in that usually disorients you, and then there are two large offset holes to punch through. Santiago managed to make this rapid look rather intense as he almost surfed the first hole and got spun around after taking a big chunk of the second hole. After watching Santiago Matias and I tweaked our lines slightly and had a much smoother result. Triple Falls is just three fun ledges in a row, the last being a 15 foot big water boof. The other one is named Horse Cock. This thing is a huge 60ish feet with a nasty lead-in, and a cave at the bottom. After some solid scouting the decision was made that we didn’t have enough people to set proper safety, and that none of us had big enough balls to match the size of the Horse Cock.
Five hours of paddling, scouting, and swimming allowed us to cover 15 kilometers on the river. The Manso deposited us into Lago Steffen. Matias, Santiago, and I took our time to eat a late lunch and prepare ourselves for 5 more kilometers of paddling across Lago Steffen to our truck. An hour and a half of paddling across the lake and we arrived at the truck. We were greeted by our shuttle bunnies, they had big smiles and hot Yerba Maté waiting for us.
Paddling the Manso definitely was a rushed test for my shoulder. The tightly packed pick up truck felt slightly less uncomfortable on the drive out of the park, knowing that my shoulder had healed up enough to handle paddling class 5. I was back!
Danny going big on the Tres Saltos.
When David Hughes approached me about doing a kids kayak camp for his Pucon Kayak Hostel I fumbled my response. I had never taught kids, or a camp. My personal philosophy took over: swing for the fences. “I could do that,” I thought. “Teach kids how to kayak, how hard could it be?” Over the last few years I have taught a fair amount of adults how to roll, teaching kids couldn’t be much different. I was in for a major learning experience myself.
The students, Lucas, 15, and Danny, 13, are brothers from Santiago. Both had rafted before and done a tiny bit of kayaking. We started the instruction from scratch, talking about all the gear, why we wear it, and how to outfit a kayak. We got them suited up quickly and headed to Lago Caburgua where we began a roll clinic. There were more distractions then I could imagine, the kids splashing, parents looking on, and breathtaking scenery. The initial roll clinic went well, and the kids attention was quickly turning more and more towards kayaking.
Eric teaching Lucas to roll in the hot springs.
Paddling with people at an entirely different skill level is challenging, and taking them to a river that I have never paddled before was slightly frightening. The smiles on their faces were exhilarating as we all peered around corners, not sure of what was next. I never thought taking two class 2 paddlers, down a class 2 canyon could ever bring such enjoyment. Everyone was so excited for the next challenge.
Kayaking and Stand Up Paddle Boarding the lower Trancura.
It was difficult for me to find a teaching style suited for Lucas and Danny. It was my job to remove boundaries and perceived fears. I instantly reverted to river guide mode. We passed in and out of small eddies, rolled in the current, had the kids lead rapids, and find their own lines. By slowing down and teaching the simplest portions of kayaking I allowed myself to see the little things again. I had my eyes wide open looking for tiny eddies, spotting geological abnormalities, and understanding the group dynamics the next time I went kayaking on something “hard.” Teaching truly is a learning experience.
Lucas crashing through a wave on the Lower Trancura.
We even had the kids write little stories about their experiences. This took some serious prodding, but the end result is a simple view on their experience.
Lucas Miller wrote:
One would wonder how hard kayaking could really be, I thought it was a simple idea that relied on more physical power than knowledge. To my surprise, kayaking inhabits a world between these two things. A mere physical approach to the river would be possible, if not dangerous without the proper mind to “read” the river. Being able to see how a river moves and how it acts is invaluable in kayaking it. When i first started, i went on a beginner river, simple flat water. It could not have been simpler. Kayaking left my mind for several years. Then my mom told me of a kayak camp in chile, a great chance to train with the same school my cousin learned all his tricks, though he stayed for a semester and i am doing it for a week.
Lucas learning to roll in the Hot Springs.
My first impresion of kayaking was that it was a merely physical sport, but it is also of dicipline minds, being able to focus as the vastly powerfull waves or rocks rush at you. Or as you flip into the cold water, you try to keep your mind clear as you perform the flip. The flip is a trick that i had to learn, since getting out of the kayak everytime one flipped would waste time that i did not have. It was hard at first then i started to get comfortable with the hip snap and the paddle movement. I did my first flip on my second class, and my first combat flip yesterday. It was good that they made me rehearse the flip, i did it instinctevly right when i went under.
Lucas practicing rolling in the hot springs.
My kayaking teachers are Eric, Chris, and David Hughes.
You could tell where there were rocks or how they were positioned underwater by just looking on how the wave forms. The lines between eddie and current become more clear, they usually have little whirlpools and move the opposite direction of the current. Almost all rapids end in a V, the bottom of the V pointing downriver. I almost got flipped once when moving on a strong current to a slow eddie, the change is very difficult to cope with while your kayak is rocking precariously, though I am still a beginner.
Lucas firing up the top of the Tres Saltos.
It is always awkward to enter a eddie, but if you lean upriver and do a stroke on the upriver side of the kayak it would smoothen your entry instead of the usual rolling. It was funny seeing all the whitewater horizons, which could mean a waterfall, though most of the time in our case it mostly ment a bunch of rocks. Eric would joke that they were waterfalls and my brother would pretend to be scared, though more like terrified. Before that we looked at some really tall waterfalls that would have bashed me against rocks and flattened me. Eric quizzed me and asked where i would go if i were on the river, i chose the left side, and apparently i would have run into a big pointy rock on the bottom if I were really on the river. That would not have been the best of days.
Yesterday my brother, Steven, Eric, David Hughes, and me went on the Tolten river. It was an easy river, few strong rapids. My brother did drift downstream after falling off the stand up paddle board.
This camp is amazing since they know the rivers and Pucon has incredible views, kayaking with Volcan Villa Rica in the setting framed with picture perfect mountains. Literally crystal clear water that made the bottom visible. All in all, i would be sad leaving. Keep kayaking.
Daniel Miller wrote:
I first kayaked in Tennessee on the Ocoee river with my brother, I was about 9 years old. At first I thought kayaking would be easy but then I thought because of my size it was really hard for me. I was scrawny compared to my all american cousins who were paddling with us. I was even skinny compared to my cousin my same age.
Danny in front of Volcano Viarrica.
A few moments after I think of what I’m supposed to do I get flipped by my uncle, he wanted to see if I could get out of my kayak. I start to run out of my precious air, my mind is racing and I tap the part of my kayak that is out of the water. I had forgotten about the plastic handle that would allow me to escape my kayak. My uncle then flips me back up and says, “maybe you ought to paddle with out a skirt.”
I would never think that 4 years later I would be rolling like a pro and be in a kayaking camp. My first thought at the camp was were is the river? After a week I’m able to flip like a pro. The three things that I liked the most about this camp is that, my teachers would teach with a bit of humor. I also like that I can now surf the wave at the lake in my kayak. Another thing I like is all the amazing views of the landscapes and the animals I saw, like an otter and a strange bird and lots of fish, and lizards. All in all this camp has been the best camp I have ever been to.
Danny and Lucas in front of Volcano Viarrica
Daniel and Lucas’s plane that would take them back to the city of Santiago was nearing, and the smiles on their faces were slowly fading. They wanted to stay, and their week of kayaking and adventure had enlightened the three of us.
Write up and photos by Chris Baer
Introducing JKTV, a monthly web series from Jackson Kayak. Every first Monday of each month, Jackson will release a new episode covering trip reports, gear reviews, paddler spotlights, stories, instructionals and much more.
This episode features a trip report from the Costa de Oro; Team Spotlight with Damon Bungard; Misadventures with Indiana James; Tech Tip- How to Backloop; Gear Review- GoPro Hero2; Shot of the Month.
Twenty minutes out of Pucon you come across the Rio Palguin, its attributes are stunning. The crystal clear water cascades down steep gradient that manages to pool up at appropriate places and plunge off of clean waterfalls the rest of the time. Two years ago I celebrated Christmas by trying to paddle as much of the Rio Palguin as I could in a day. This year I tried to step up and run even more, it didn’t work…
Christmas morning the group started coming together, and early that afternoon I put on the Rio Palguin with eight friends. To paddle the entire river takes skill, guts, and a bit of luck. Our group of nine was about to test the limits of all of these attributes. The run starts with the very optional Salto Palguin, an 80 foot waterfall with a super tricky entrance. The entire group, and most mortals, start below this impressive Salto. The normal run starts with a busy lead-in rapid that drops into a sticky hole immediately backed up by a rolling eight foot ledge. Next is a fast paced hallway that hangs a tight ninety degree turn and falls off of a twelve foot ledge. The ledge has multiple rock flakes to launch off of at it’s lip and one big hole to land in at its base. The third rapid is a super clean twenty foot falls. The twenty footer has an island in the middle, whichever way you pick, right or left, it offers similarly clean lines. Beyond the third falls the run transitions into boulder gardens for a bit.
Approaching the next horizon line is the first exit point out of the canyon, and on your right there is a well beaten trail. The horizon line is a twelve footer referred to as the Crack Drop. There are two islands separating the water into three different cracks. The left and middle cracks are paddle-able, but have a very marginal risk to reward level. The other exit point is just downstream on river left. This exit is exceedingly hard to spot from the water, and a guide is suggested for your first run. It would be very easy to miss the take out and accidentally paddle into The Portage.
It’s Christmas day and I am standing above The Portage, I’m feeling good and I have watched a handful of my friends paddle into it. Their lines all look very similar. Paddle to the edge of an eight foot crease and fall into the trough. Then they disappear under a rock that your standing on and reappear fifteen feet downstream. I have yet to see anyone in control as they reappear and immediately fall another twenty feet into the hydraulic below. This is the kind of rapid I have a tendency to laugh at and walk around. The risk to reward in my head just doesn’t calculate.
Looking towards Casey Tango I giggle and said, “For the past four years I have been doing foolish things for Christmas.”
Tango smiles. He says, “You have been doing foolish things your whole life.”
That sealed the deal. I was going to borrow Casey’s plastic hand paddles and doggy paddle my kayak into the rapid known as The Portage… I was thinking this isn’t foolish, this is plain stupid, as I was trying to put the hand paddles on.
Casey Tango showing off the beauty of the Rio Palguin
Hand paddling in moving current is something I have never done before. Sure I have played around in a heated indoor pool, but never ever tried to go downstream with them. The only reason I was contemplating the hand paddles is that the entrance move is rather easy, and once you fall off the entrance you are simply out of control. It doesn’t matter if you have a paddle or not in there. There is absolutely nothing productive that you are going to do in that violent melee of swirling water under a rock. The fact is that a fair amount of people break their paddle, or worse, the paddle breaks them. The hand paddles seem to eliminate some of these variables.
Clutching the hand paddles in my teeth and sliding into the kayak my smile started to grow. I was doing something way outside of my comfort zone. The hand paddles were adjusted and slipped over my fingers, again my smile widened. Pushing away from the eddy I got the first feel of the moving current on my new means of propulsion. A couple strokes later and I eyed up my target. One last big push and the water engulfed me. I felt the immense power of the entire river landing on my shoulders. Then the chaos started, and I was flipping over. I expected the rapid to be violent and chaotic, I knew I was going to roll at least once. What I didn’t expect was the next blow. My shoulder felt a sharp stab. All of my body weight, and most of the river’s power slammed my shoulder into a rock. There was a fair amount of pain but the ride wasn’t over. I felt my boat start to resurface and gave my wrists and hips a good flick. An eternity passed as I went cart-wheeling backwards off the twenty foot ledge. The impact at the base of the falls was rather unimpressive compared to the beating I had taken above. A few moments and thirty some odd feet below I snapped my hips and hands one more time and was sitting upright. I slowly hand paddled over to the edge of the eddy. My paddling companions with cameras and smiles on there faces awaited me.
“Sorry guys, my Christmas is over.”
The throbbing in my shoulder was starting and I was concerned that I had done legitimate damage to it. The hike out of the canyon was by myself. I pondered what I had done in the last year to piss Santa off so much. Coal for Christmas was starting to sound good compared to the beating I just received.
The rest of the group continued downstream, minds set on a Merry Huckmas. A little boogie water and there is a mini canyon that has a tendency to acquire wood. After the mini canyon is another ominously named rapid, Boof to Swim. It is a twenty foot curler that comes off the right wall and lands in a pocket hole. Depending on flows this rapid can be fun, or a guaranteed swim.
Josh Oberleas ditching his paddle on the Medio Palguin
The big one, Medio Palguin, is up next. This rapid has more video, stills, and write-ups then any other in Chile. It is a spectacular seventy foot falls that consistently gives paddlers the big waterfall taste they are looking for.
Gordon Klco peering over the lip of Medio Palguin
From Medio down the run tames a bit. There is one more suggested portage around Brennan’s, a tight mini canyon that leads into a deadly undercut room. The take out is a few kilometers downstream at a well traveled bridge.
The Puesco is the best kayaking I have done in years. The tallest drop is under six feet and there is a good eddy every couple hundred yards. Rio Puesco is all about kayaking, there are no stunts, no portages, and the photos look bland. I have been referring to it as Chile’s North Fork of the Payette. Heads up kayaking at it’s finest for kilometer after kilometer.
Casey Tango paddling into another beautiful canyon on the Rio Maichin
Beautiful is the first word that comes to mind when describing the Maichin. The river passes through a handful of gorgeous moss covered canyons. The overall class of the run is 3+ with fun boulder gardens and multiple channels. There are two rapids of note, the first one is early into the run and easily scoutable from river left. It is a multi-tiered drop that lands in a blasting hole, the downside to the rapid is that both walls are severely undercut. The other rapid of note is towards the end of the run, you can scout and or portage river right.
Casey Tango boofing the “hard” rapid on the Rio Maichin
Story and photos by Chris Baer
4CRS Team Paddler Chris Baer has been busy for the past several weeks, chasing water all over South America, this time in Patagonia.
Baer & Co. managed to find the goods on the classic Rio Fuy as well as the Rio Llancahue, despite angry locals and a temperamental van.
Pucon was starting to dry out and the team packed the rental truck up to get on the road heading south. It was rather late in the evening when we arrived in the Rio Llancahue valley. After a quick search for camping we decided upon a grassy non-fenced portion of land near the river. The evening stars were magnificent and we were all happy to be out of Pucon.
Casey Tango and Gordon Klco getting dinner ready in a beautiful pasture
The sound of a tractor revving it’s engine awoke me. Then I heard curse words, even though they were being yelled in Spanish, the tone was clear and we were definitely camping in the wrong spot. The tractor ran over the corner of Tango’s tent, and its driver started beating our rental truck with a switch of bamboo. We packed up quickly but then noticed our truck had a flat tire. We proceeded to change the tire with the farmer glaring and cursing. Then we drove a couple kilometers up the road to get away from the angry local. The rude awakening shook the group a little. It took an hour of drying tents and sipping on tea to get the anxiety back under control.
I had a vague recollection of the put in location, but it still took a few minutes and a couple bee stings to find. The Llancahue’s river bed reminds me of Colorado. The rock has a rough texture and there is an overall feeling of mank to the run. That aside, it still has some really fun rapids including a twenty foot water fall and a rowdy mini canyon.
Gordon Klco taking a big stroke into the unknown, Rio Llancahue
The run went real smooth, but we were all still a little agitated from our rude awakening. The group consensus was to continue to move south. We packed the truck back up and headed towards the Rio Fuy, after repairing the flat tire in the town of Coñaripe.
Gordon Klco sitting in front of our rental truck with the tire off getting patched again
Living on the road isn’t easy in Chile, it likes to poke at your wounds on occasion. As we parked the truck at the put in for the Rio Fuy Casey Tango noticed the distinct sound of air leaking out from yet another tire. We drove around the quaint town of Puerto Fuy looking for a vulcanization shop. Spotting a car jack in a lawn we pulled over to a small house. The young resident hopped in our truck as he gave us directions to the local mechanic. An hour, and six US dollars, later we had another patched tire. It seems as if Chile isn’t really out to harm us, but it rather continually humbles us.
Gordon Klco popping off the first of the falls on the Rio Fuy
The Rio Fuy is the only place that I have ever put on a true lake, even though I have put in at plenty of dams in my life. Lago Pirehueico is the headwaters of this amazing river. We literally put in at the marina. There is a huge ferry nearby and a few other large commercial boats. I really enjoyed the feeling of paddling out of the lake and into the river as it constricts the flow of water and quickly picks up gradient.
The peaks near Rio Fuy
The largest volume run that we have done so far in Chile is definitely the Rio Fuy, which is about seven thousand cfs. It was really fun for me to get back on big water. The lead-in whitewater is classic big volume, with pushy rapids and a handful of hidden holes looking to give you a thrashing. The upper whitewater is super fun, but what I was looking forward to was the waterfall section. Two years ago I wasn’t able to paddle this section because the flow was several times larger.
One of the Frenchies on the first falls of the Rio Fuy
The waterfall section isn’t just waterfalls, it is a layer of bed rock that turns the meandering river into a beast for a half mile. The first and easiest rapid is a clean twenty-plus foot drop. Second is a slope to six foot drop that lands in a boiling eddy. Third is a drop that reminds me of the Zambezi. It has a protected tongue that leads into a boiling eddy-line, wave-hole combo. Fourth, and a little too close for comfort, is the Bird Sucking Hole. The hole has the reputation of being so powerful it actually sucks birds out of the sky and into its depths. I don’t know about all of that, but it did look like a body re-circulator. If the previous three drops haven’t made you lose your nerve yet, a very thin left line is available over the hole. The finale is a protected twelve foot ledge with a tricky, blind lead in. If all that goes well, the normal take out is just down stream on your right.
Casey Tango sloping off the second drop in the water fall section of the Rio Fuy
Eager for more action? Continue down stream. The river mellows out for a few kilometers and then the gradient picks right back up as it nears Salto Huilo Huilo, a hundred and forty foot monster waterfall. There are a few continuous rapids, and then the river breaks up through a hand full of islands where it becomes obvious that its time to start scouting. Here there is an elaborate rapid with multiple channels. I believe all the water in the left channel disappears into an underground fissure. The middle channel cascades dangerously close to the left line, and goes through an amazing double-tiered rapid. What water is leftover continues to the right through some tight slots and off a marginal twenty-plus footer. Remember to scout ahead, Salto Huilo Huilo is coming up quickly, and there are only a couple safe exit points before the falls.
Taking some time to enjoy the little things