Todd Wells, Caterata La Perla
First Descent of La Perla
La Perla is a 50 + foot drop that starts with a tricky slide into a 30 foot vertical drop. Todd and I had this gem in our sights for the last 3 weeks. We had been keeping ourselves busy with other adventures but today it was time to pluck this first descent. The drop is just a short hike up the hill from Casa Mariposa, (the hostel I have been home basing out of). After scouting the beast one more time there was little hesitation in running such a magnificent drop.
The lip of the falls is rather ugly, there are two rock flakes most of the way down the slide portion of the drop. The rocks are unnervingly close to the sliver of water that I want to be on, and look as if they might launch you out of control. There was a distinct possibility of launching out flat, or on your head into the pool 30+ feet below. To make it more interesting the main flow rides up on a curler at the lip of the falls. The water then drives left into the nasty left rock flake. It is a pretty thin line at the top of a rather large drop.
At the top of the falls I felt unusually calm, I had a third of the butterflies in my belly that I was expecting. Once again I had a funny song in my head, this time Avril Lavigne’s “Alice” was rolling through my head. I hopped in my boat, slapped the skirt on, and slid into the water. My pre big drop rituals are rather impromptu, today it was a extremely short lived wiggle warm up dance. Three strokes later my boat was right on line. I tossed in a quick correction stroke on the slide, and a second later I was rolling up in the pool with a huge grin.
Chris Baer, with big smile for La Perla
Ignorance is bliss, and it will make you hike some more in Costa Rica. I hadn’t learned my lesson about the upper upper Chirripo Pacifico, as Todd and I continued down stream. Our attempt was to paddle down to the most upper paved bridge. As we headed down stream we encountered a married of ugly and painful drops. After bouncing off of a hundred rocks, we found a set of very marginal drops. A quick discussion led us to hiking out of the river valley. To our luck we were in the back yard of Casa Mariposa, a short walk brought us to base camp, and beers.
Once again, the Upper stretches of the Chirripo Pacifico have turned out to have great hike and huck potential, and a low tolerance for allowing any downstream movement out side of bouncing off of rocks.
Chris Baer, airborne, funnel, wheelie on Catarata Pacifica
The team had left, Ferdinand had clients to paddle with, Todd was going to spanish school, and this left me solo. I had been studying the water falls in the valley for the last 3 weeks, the valley was home. After all this time I had a calling, I wanted to run one more of the big drops. I knew that Catarata Cloud Bridge was runnable but it looked painful, and I never got a good view from the lip of Catarata Pacifica. So I set out for another hike, I wanted to get a really good look from the top of Catarata Pacifica. I stopped at the normal overlook, and peered down onto the drop. The lead in is rather intense from above, and I couldn’t see a proper way to get to the lip of the falls. The embankment is all over hanging and full of lush vegetation. Upon further investigation I was able to wade down the river left side and get to some slippery rocks right at the lip of the beast. I was astounded, it looked…….ok?
I split the drop up into a few categories:
The lead in
The river bed was made of bed rock, and had odd shaped eddys, and diagonal holes protecting the true lip of the falls.
Upon rolling off the lip, the water disconnects for 15 feet, and then hits a small rock flake. It then disconnects again for another 15-20 feet before it gently reconnects with the bed rock a total of 40+ feet below the lip.
40 feet down the drop the rock starts to funnel together, the right wall is slightly overhanging and the left wall is the major issue. The drop at it’s widest is 20 feet, the exit is 5 feet wide, the left wall does all of the funneling. The results of hitting the left side from 50+ feet above looked painful at best. Not only was the rock pinching together from side to side, but it was also ramping into the pool. This transition into the landing zone made me feel a little better, I knew I would have a half a second to try to control my angle.
Looked ok, there was a deep boil rolling up 20 or so feet away from the base of the falls. There was also a relatively calm large pool on the left side to collect my wits in. The right side of the pool was moving fast off the next 6 foot drop, and also looked rather under cut. At this point it looked perfect, a 50/50 chance for a nice pool.
So as I mentioned before I was solo, no other boaters in sight, probable no other boaters within 100 miles. One of my major concerns about the drop was the lack of proper safety. I never like to count on non boaters to help set safety, but I didn’t have any other choice. I turned to John Titan, (Casa Mariposa owner) he is in his mid 40s and constantly over active. John was going to be my safety, I didn’t tell him much but I saw in his eyes he understood the possibilities. He was willing to dive into the water and drag me out if so needed. More then his willingness to set safety he had a gleaming light in his eye to watch the first descent of this glorious waterfall in his own backyard.
The day of descent was busy at Casa Mariposa, and it was just after noon before John and Jill where able to ditch there duties and join me at Pacifica. I was mentally prepared, I had gone through all the horrible possibilities in my head. After all the daunting thoughts, I still had the firm belief that I was going to get spat through the constriction at the bottom, with a huge smile.
Once again we had a crowd of onlookers, John was set up on a rock at the base of the falls with my camera in one hand and a throwbag in the other. I went through my final mental preparation and looked at the 5 foot gap 60 some odd feet below with a smile. I was about to make history one way or another. I looked up from the drop and gave John one loud blast out of my whistle, he looked around and got the thumbs up from the crowd, it was go time. I wondered back to my boat nervously slipped my spray skirt on and indexed mypaddle. I shrugged my shoulders hummed my song and turned to face the most imposing drop of my life.
I cranked out a couple paddle strokes picking up some speed into the class 3 maze of back wash, eddy lines, laterals, and rock flakes that made up the entrance rapid. I was one move away from rolling off the lip, I was totally committed and right then a giant smile came on to my face. Right or wrong this was going to be one hell of a big ride. I drove up onto a rock on the right hand side inches before the lip, it slid me back to the left onto a pile of water that pushed me back right, and with a slight right draw stroke I leaned forward and started my descent.
I was instantly airborne, with square shoulders and head held high, I anticipated my next reconnect. Uggh, I reconnected with the rock. I was already 15 feet down, I managed another tiny correction stroke and once again was airborne. I cleared my eyes, I was 10 feet away from reconnecting the second time and I looked to the bottom of the drop, I was spot on line. As I reconnected the second time I drove my heals down to match the rock slide and lessen the impact. I was instantly brought up to warp speed, and could barely close me eyes in time to get shot through the funnel at the bottom.
I hadn’t really thought about the impact into the pool, I knew the pool was deep, I knew I was going to be going really fast. I wasn’t sure what was really going to happen as I got rocketed through a 5 foot gap from 60 feet above. What did happen was the wheelie of my life. I was staring at the clouds doing 40 mph through the pool. My paddle got ripped out of my left hand and so I reached down and swept the water with my bare hand keeping me vertical, and mildly stable. After traveling 30 feet staring at the sky the speed slowed and I leveled the boat back down. I was a couple feet away from the crowd, it wasn’t till I smiled that the gaping jaws of the crowd lifted into a rejoining celebration.
Bumping my head
For the last few years, I have been having rather entertaining Christmas days. Two years ago I tubed the Micos water fall run in Mexico. Last year I ran the biggest drop of my life, the 70ft middle Palguine. This year the plan was to get the second descent of the La Perla waterfall. As I stood above the 50 foot slide to vert, I was all smiles. John got himself positioned with the rope and camera, we exchanged head nods, and it was time to go.
I hoped in my boat, slid into the eddy, and peeled out. I was trying to recreate my line from a few days before. On the way down I got pushed a bit further left on the slide portion and got a little cork screw action in the air. I lifted my paddle to try to square up for impact, and CRACK. This time it wasn’t the paddle that gave.
The bow of my boat slid into the water, the right blade of my paddle touched down on the surface, and my head followed through. I resurfaced quickly and immediately raised my left hand to my forehead looking for blood. As I pulled my hand away I saw a little pink. I turned towards the crowd paddled a couple strokes and felt the warm blood flowing down and dripping off my nose. Upon a second inspection I could feel the gap above my eyebrow. I told John I was ok, and I would meet him back on the road to the Mariposa. I took off through the next couple rapids and pulled over a quarter mile down stream and hiked back up to the road.
All I wanted for Christmas was a 50 footer… I have heard of getting a lump of coal for Christmas, but a lump on my forehead seems a little excessive.
Special thanks to John and Jill of the Casa Mariposa, you have helped set safety, shoot photos, mend ill friends, lend local knowledge and machetes, and most importantly share your home and the best base camp I could ever imagine.
Chris Baer, still smiling with a black eye.