Rio Baker, WOW!
So let’s start this story from the beginning. I was asked by Marcus if I wanted to go to the Rio Baker, the only real information I knew about the Baker was that it was HUGE, so my obvious reaction was, “YES!” For a week I trained on the Futaleufu, trying to get mentally prepared for some of the biggest white water in the Southern Hemisphere. The morning we were to leave I find out that Marcus, our trip leader, isn’t going to go. I became immediately apprehensive. The success of our adventure seemed very vulnerable. Marcus was the only one in the group that had been to the Baker before; this mission was getting harder and more entertaining by the moment.
The Spider Van
The group slowly convened and we piled more and more equipment in, and on, the Spider Van. In total we had five kayakers, one girlfriend, and a driver. The first day of driving was constantly interrupted by unexpected stops: a flat tire, extra fuel, boats falling off . . . We got our selves off to a slow and very entertaining start.
Back in the van, back on the road, we headed south for half a day and stopped in Coihaiqlue to stock up on food, beer, and a new used tire.
The view just outside of Tranquilo looking across Logo Carrera
The next stop was Tranquilo for food and an amazing view across Lake Carrera. We jumped back in the van only to realize yet another tire was losing air rapidly. We slapped on the spare (that was also low on air), drove across the street to air up the tire and the police rolled up right behind us. It took a while to get the full story, but one month earlier our driver was pulled over by the police and given a stern warning for driving without the proper vehicle paper work (at this point in the trip, it made total sense that the van was not properly licensed.) Those same police were now right behind us and eyeing us hard. We waited and waited, the police took off and this was our chance to hightail it out of the little town.
en I am sitting in the middle of them. As we hiked in to scout the third big rapid, I noticed the group was really sprawling out, some people weren’t even scouting, my trust in the group was dwindling fast.
I awoke calm and well rested, no scary big water dreams, thank god. It didn’t take long for Zach and I to get fired up. We quickly ate a little food, downed some water and jumped back in the Spider Van to go back up to the put in. I got to the edge of the water spotted my “land (water) marks”, got in my boat and had a wonderful line on the first rapid. The rest of the boys slowly came down, with a myriad of lines. Zach ended up getting pushed way too far towards the middle and tucked under what might be the nastiest hole I have ever seen, Jacob did almost the same thing. I think the friendliness of the hole inspired Aniol to try the right line. Aniol slipped thru the upper waves and then got violently surfed in the giant hole at the bottom, a quick beating, a little down time, and he flushed.
The group was definitely split on how to run the rapids; the group that ran it the night before wanted to scout again. Zach and I on the other hand were confident in our lines, and believed the best way to run these huge rapids was tight and fast. I looked at Zach smiled and paddled right into the second rapid. It was huge, I got to the right side of the river and looked for my first key feature the 50 foot wide 30 foot deep hole that took up the entire left side of the river. I flew down the tongue and past by the huge hole, I knew it was just getting started. The boily mess after the hole lasted 300 yards, and was full on. There were random rogue waves and the boils off the walls were super pushy. I fought hard to get back to the left and avoid the 100 foot wide lateral that was coming off the right wall, as soon as I cleared the lateral it was back to the middle to start the brawl.
There were huge laterals and rogue waves everywhere. I got picked up on a random wave and thrown to the left. I cranked out a few more strokes, and was hit by another random wave-hole, I was rolled, and rolled back up. I did a quick look around and got rolled again. This time I snapped up super quick, looked over my shoulder and saw a huge hole. Wham bam swirl, swirl, roll up, clear the eyes and straight into another hole, and this one was violent. The water grabbed at my paddle it felt like it was going to get torn from my finger tips, and this is when I heard thunder. Ca-boom! it was loud underwater, the noise came from my right hand and I felt the paddle give way. Shit.
I had been brought to the right side of the river, the side away from the road. My boat, camera and the small part of my paddle that had been rescued up stream of me had all been taken to the river’s left side, the side of the river next to the road. The group was pretty unorganized people, didn’t know where the others were. I spotted Zach upstream and immediately gave him the pat on the head letting him know that I was ok. It took a while but the guys were able to ferry my boat and a break down paddle over to me. I hopped back in my boat took a couple strokes, cleared my head, smiled at Zach, and headed straight into the third rapid. Every one has their own way of dealing with stress, mine is a calm breath and straight back in to the fire.
The third rapid is no slouch. The river makes a hard left hand turn and there is a eddy on the right that looks just shy of impossible to paddle out of, to top it off there is a huge wave-hole at the top. The right hand side of the wave-hole is a wave and the left is a nasty hole. I was right on the tail of Zach and I saw him drop down the tongue. Then I was down in the trench and he was 30 feet above me cresting the gigantic wave. The swim obviously hadn’t scared me too much, as I aimed for the absolute tallest part of the wave. The wave surged while I was on it and as I reached the top I was tossed end over
end right off the peak.
I snapped a roll, braced against the next giant pressure hole and then slipped thru the exit slot on the left into the calm water. All of the paddlers regrouped and we paddled down thru the huge whirlpools and crazy eddy lines. There was one more good sized rapid before our camp-take out. The communication was spectacularly bad for this rapid and Zach ended up having an unnecessarily entertaining line. We paddled through another mile of whirlpools and got to camp.
The groups original plan was to continue down stream through the third gorge. Zach confronted me and said that he was rather disappointed in the teams ability to do anything safely and I couldn’t agree more. Zach and I got out right then and there and called the Baker done. We had traveled 700 kilometers in a broken down dusty van and paddled four rapids, we were already out of fun tickets.
The other part of the group ate food and put back on; we met up with them down stream, and heard stories that confirmed our lack of trust. Back in the Spider Van for the long, dusty, bumpy ride back to Futaleufu.
Lessons learned or at least reaffirmed,
1 Watch out for spiders, BE AFRAID!
2 Bring an extra roll of fun tickets.
3 Don’t put on too late.
4 Make sure your team is competent.
Four months of traveling in South America has been amazing, and exhausting. I am looking forward to a little down time as I travel back to the states.