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Thursday, November 5, 2015


Aeon Russo flying into Land Bridge
Waking up to the pattering of rain on the roof of the bus strengthened my expectations for an adventurous day. I hopped out of bed, got the coffee going, and grabbed the phone. Mass text messages were sent out looking for information on what creeks might be running, and who was heading out on a mission. The message responses were starting to feel unproductive as I started my second batch of coffee and the hour grew later. Then, Aeon Russo sent a message over asking if I wanted to join a team including Noah Weaver, Evan Spysinski, and Peter Ely for a mission to the Toxaway. I couldn’t respond fast enough: YES!

ominously huge put in slide

We piled into a couple of vehicles and rallied to the Jocassee drainage, arriving at the top of the massive slide that starts the Toxaway. After a quick search we found the gauge on the upstream river right corner of the bridge. The foot gauge was reading -2 inches; we quickly started trying to discern what that actually meant.

the crew preparing for war

After a couple calls, I was able to get in touch with Leland Davis who talked me through a scant two paragraph description of one of the stoutest sections of whitewater in the United States, a gradient drop of 680 feet per mile. What he conveyed was simple: scout everything!

Jason Hale on the put in slide

The crew was relatively young, and that made me a little nervous. However, once everyone started communicating about what gear they were bringing, I felt a bit better. The list included medical kits, break down paddles, food, headlamps, a 20oz Red Bull, and a beer for the take out. We were prepared for war.

TOXAWAYfrom Chris Baer on Vimeo.

The initial put in slide is a blast. But if your adrenaline really gets pumping by the time you hit the base of this 200 yard long, low angle slide, well, it’s time to get out of the creek and head to the car. The put in slide is by far the easiest of the major rapids, and there are countless in-between rapids that take true class 5 skill.

Evan Spysinski dealing with feeding trough
Our on-stream communication was spectacular! The crew was leap frogging well, and transferring beta smoothly. One boater would get out at the next imposing horizon line, give ultra-simplified beta, and the crew would sit tall and paddle one after the next into the unknown. I was amazed at how a crew that had never paddled together before this run was working so well together.

Aeon Russo smack in the middle of Energizer

The big rapids appear relatively quickly, and the crew was quick and consistent about scouting, portaging, setting proper safety, getting camera shots, and keeping some solid downstream progress.

Aeon Russo looking small, not even half way down Land Bridge

Land Bridge caused a little uncertainty in us about where to seal launch. I walked out onto the rock that creates the bridge, and with a very reassuring voice I stated, “It looks so good from here!” At the base of Land Bridge the team was high on life! It’s huge and for most of the crew it was the biggest rapid they had ever paddled. Still cheering and in ecstasy, we paddled over two small ledges before arriving at the last of the big rapids, Wintergreen.

Six years earlier, I had an absolutely amazing experience on the Toxaway that I share with anyone willing to listen. This day I was able to share that experience with two new members of the “Wintergreen Blind Team”. Drew Duval was part of the team six years ago and was acting as one of our main guides for the run. He waved Gareth Tate over to his eddy and they quickly started chatting about the line. Drew spoke in a deceptive tone, “It’s a 20 footer that kind of whites out at the bottom… then just stay in the middle.” Unbeknownst to me, Gareth at least partially knew he was getting sandbagged. As Drew left the eddy Gareth shouted out, “I’m on you!” It was at this point that I knew something was not right, and hollered to Gareth that I was on him. All three boats left the lip of the falls within a second and a half.

Now, I climbed on top of the right hand scout rock and peeked down at the entrance line. It was a quick glance, then an equally quick glance to the lower portion of the rapid. I didn’t want to destroy that blind sensation. Sitting back in my boat I hollered at Aeon and Noah, “This is Wintergreen, it’s a 20 footer that whites out, then be in the center”. The team raised our fists in unison, announcing that everyone was ready. I paddled to the top of the eddy, turned, and hollered, “Have fun boys!” before sliding into the biggest rapid of the run with four other boats in quick succession behind me. Reckless? Absolutely, it is the TOXAWAY, and Wintergreen is by no means anywhere close to a 20 footer.

The crew was ecstatic. Joyous cursing, laughing and hugs were shared. Almost every emotion was blasting out of everyone at the same time. Beyond the exhilaration, there was one downfall; the daylight was just shy of gone. We paddled downstream another quarter mile, ducking some logs and sliding over others, as we approached what we could barely make out in the darkness to be a portage. It was at this point the team came to the conclusion that our paddling portion of the day was over.

On the left bank we could make out what looked like a trail. One last ferry for the day followed by a quick push up the bank and I was standing on our “trail”… In reality, there was no trail. We had a quick debriefing to talk about where the normal hike out road was located, and the fact that we were about to embark on a suffer-fest. Adding to the entertainment was the fact that it was distinctly dark and there were only three headlamps for five people.

The crew benefited from an enormous adrenaline high from our descent as we struggled to make any forward progress. Occasionally, we would stumble onto an old forest road cut, only to be greeted with thorns. As time went on, spirits started to wane. It was close to 10:30pm and we were three hours into the bush whack when Peter pulled out a cell phone and realized that we had very marginal service. A few futile calls and we continued the struggle towards our unknown destination. Half an hour later we had climbed far enough up the canyon walls to start getting a better signal and got word out that we were, in fact, ok, but miserable. Some communication on what direction the moon rose confirmed that we were still on the right track.

By 11:30pm, my legs were only good for short stints before giving out. One time, as we paused to rest, I nearly passed out. Then, the absolutely annoying voice of Siri rang through the darkness. “Point four miles to national forest road”. An exhausted cheer was expelled by all, and we resumed our slog through the bush yet again.

we weren't even close

At 1:30am, Bree McGreedy and Andrea Speed rounded the corner in the take out vehicle. We had crawled, hiked, and cursed the 1,000 vertical feet out of the gorge through amazingly thick vegetation. The lukewarm Pabst tasted like a gift from god.

How good is the Toxaway? We spent close to six hours portaging and sliding down rock slabs and another six hours of climbing out of the gorge to the road. My body is still sore, and Aeon and I dropped in for a second lap only five days later. If there is an excuse for not racing the Green, it is TOXAWAY!

adventure by Chris Baer

Monday, October 19, 2015

Time for a new Personal Flotation Device?!

new, old, and all the tools

Many people are oblivious as to when their PFD has reached the end of its functional life. An easy indication of when you ought to get a new Personal Flotation Device (PFD) is when you can’t read the label on the inside. When the label starts to deteriorate to the point you can’t read it, the flotation has probably started to deteriorate as well.

To say I’m picky about my PFD, how it fits, and what I carry in it, would be a massive understatement. If you spend the number of years having fun on the water that I have, you will encounter your share of rescue situations. What you have on your chest will be the tools at your disposal to fix those situations.


Thankfully, we are not all shaped alike. Try on a bunch of different PFD’s and find the one that fits your body shape best. Taking into account the level of paddling you will be doing and/or the situations you will be putting yourself in should dictate what you carry on your body.

What do you carry in your PFD? Tools of the trade.

1. A throw rope… on me. Mine is a simple homemade “dinger bag” 35 feet of high tensile strength Dyneema line. No flotation in the bag, as the rope floats already. This is not the only bag I carry, but it is the quick, ultra-accessible one on my chest. It’s also great for difficult portages and lowering boats or people.

throw rope and knife neatly tuck away in the pocket

2. If you’re going to carry a rope you need to be able to cut it. CRKT makes a nice, tiny, SHARP knife. Straight blade for quick access, tiny so it’s not cumbersome, sharp to get the job done now, and with a sharp point because I want the ability to pop a raft if I need to.

3. Whistle, Fox 40 mini. It’s actually louder than the full size version. Fun whistle, it makes a kazoo type noise, perfect for the comedy swims, or while racing the Green River Narrows.

4. CPR shield and gloves in a freezer bag. I carry a full size pocket mask and more gloves in my medical kit but I want the possibility to jump out of my boat and start working if I need to.

5. Extra carabiner. Petzl makes this tiny wire gate that is still full strength and takes up almost no space. Perfect for a quick two to one system.

6. Sunscreen and chapstick are a must for me as well. We are in the sun way too much and skin cancer sounds like a miserable way to go.

7. Tow tether, high tensile Dyneema line tied to the releasable ring and to a locking carabiner. Make sure it’s long enough - if you paddle a long boat make it long!

clean and concise, with a pile of tools

Nothing should be exposed and you should strive to keep the exterior of the jacket as clean as possible. This will help you climb back into a raft, onto shore, or through the jungle without getting hung up. Classically, you will see people with huge knifes dangling off their jacket, creating an item to get hung up on ropes or vegetation, or worse leading to loss. Another classic example is a bunch of carabiners attached to a shoulder strap… where your teeth are nearby. Clean is quick and quick is what you need in the worst case scenarios.

bonus caution, swap out your tether pull cord with a monkey fist I had the little plastic ball pull off the cord once

Stay safe out there and don’t be complacent!

something to ponder by Chris Baer

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Losing to a twelve year old is pretty rewarding!

Holden Bradford and Chris Baer making their way through the Pine Creek Hydraulic

Smack in the middle of Colorado, surrounded by numerous 14,000 foot peaks, lies the Arkansas River. This year Colorado was gifted with a pile of moisture and sustained high water. As the season continued and water levels returned to reasonable flows, it was time once again for the yearly Race to Prom event. This is a boater cross style event where all of the crafts start simultaneously and race through both the Pine Creek and Numbers sections of the Arkansas River, culminating in a prom themed party with live music.


Horizon line playing for the crowd

This year I was ecstatic when Holden Bradford (12 years old) agreed to paddle with me. We hopped in a two person kayak and charged through the race course!

Embrey Exposures collecting tons of great prom photos

The results of this event are always a bit informal, as rubbing is racing, and there are no official starters or timers. That being said,  Surgio Vidal Bogdanovic took the win for the second time, and Holden Bradford arrived at the finish only milliseconds ahead of me to earn second place.

not always clean lines

Make sure to follow the athlete page as not to miss next year’s event!

Adventure by Chris Baer

Monday, June 22, 2015

Racing Blind?

The Pacific North West has a pile of great race events in the spring. The courses range from low volume class 4 on the East Fork Lewis to the waterfall play ground of Canyon Creek and the dangerous and demanding waters of Robe Canyon. These all sounded like a ton of fun, but the only issue was that I hadn’t paddled any of the sections before. The lack of practice and sleep from the healthy party atmosphere supported by the ultra-friendly local paddlers still couldn’t sway me from competing in these quality race courses.

East Fork Lewis

Showing up to the East Fork Lewis I had the misconception that I was on “Cascade Creek”. Setting my boat down in the top eddy I could see a respectable horizon line. I chatted to a couple others in the eddy and was introduced to Chris and Hillary Neevel, who took me under their wing for a quick practice run down the “race course” section. It was about four miles into the section when Chris looked over his shoulder and stated that he wasn’t sure where the race actually finished. Another mile downstream we reached a fun waterfall, after which we called it quits and hiked to the road to hitchhike back to the starting line. Upon reaching the starting line, we were informed that the course was only a little more than a mile long and we had significantly passed the take out. The race lap went relatively smooth and awarded me a third place finish in the long boat division. 

plopping off the first falls on the East Fork Lewis

high fives on the podium

Canyon Creek

A day later Chris, Hillary, and I were standing around in yet another parking lot talking about the next race, which in my head had to be this “Cascade Creek” I was certain we were racing. Turns out I was wrong again and we would be racing down Canyon Creek. Canyon Creek is a significantly harder course than East Fork Lewis and contains a handful of fun waterfalls. The beta at the top of the run was, “When in doubt go off the middle”. 3 2 1 GO! Pulling hard on forward strokes, the initial rapids went well. A couple of blind turns and the first large horizon line appeared, luckily for me there was more than ample safety on the course and I was able to shout out a quick, “Which way do I go?!” to a safety member. The response was comical, a dropped jaw and an, “A a a right!” The impromptu lines were working out relatively well but were definitely far from the fast race lines. As I fell off the tallest horizon line on the course smack dab in the center of the flow, I clipped a shelf halfway down and started rotating towards my head. Twenty feet below I landed solidly on my side, and with a strong brace and forward stroke pulled away from the veil to see safety members helping a swimmer out of the landing zone. The first of the final two ledges, though, was by far the most entertaining. Again I asked which way to go and this time the safety responded with a strong, “RIGHT!” Looking back at this, what I think he meant was right of center, but that was not where I was heading. I heard RIGHT and I was going RIGHT, all the way RIGHT. On the far right side of the river is a funky curler that led directly into yet another waterfall. A solid stroke onto the curler and my thoughts were that this line was way harder than anything else on the course. A nice boof-to-paddle-twirl and a solid extracurricular line was complete. From there the finish line was in sight, and a new section of whitewater was completed relatively quickly and with almost no beta.

Robe Canyon

stout crew

A few weeks later it was Robe Canyon time. At least I wasn’t still messed up on the name of the run, but yet again I had no practice laps. The Robe Canyon is definitely the most challenging of the three races and getting safety onto the course is difficult at best. So the “organizers” have decided to do the race as a team event. Every racer must complete the course with one other kayaker. This was interesting as some people had been training together and others where finding partners at the put in. I was distinctly in the latter group and was starting to chat up a handful of possible partners when Chris “Topher” invited me to be his partner. The course is spectacular and contains a handful of difficult rapids. Difficult enough to put me upside down not once but twice. A respectable finishing spot was attained and the party commenced at the newly installed commemorative bench.

1. Dave & Will                                29:50
2. Ben & Brian                                30:20
3. Sam & Jordy                               30:42
4. Sam & Benn                               31:00
5.Henry & Adam                            31:29
6. Darren, Scott & Christian           31:40
7. Brad & Evan                               32:15
8. Trevor & Chase                          33:20
9. Joe & Dan                                   33:39
10. Chris & Chris                            33:56
11. Hillary & Ellie                          37:14
12. Jon & JD                                   38:45
13. Chris & Leif                              39:37
14. Steve & Conor                          53:54

Racing blind is almost always guaranteed to give you a horrible finishing placement, but it is a spectacularly silly way to see a new section.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Sea kayaking the San Juans in whitewater kayaks?

looking westward into the San Juan Islands

The spring road trip had brought us to Anacortes, Washington, known to be one of the best sea kayaking destinations in the world. 

After calling a myriad of sea kayaking shops near the San Juan Islands Avery and I were still without any usable beta. The local paddling community was still mourning from a double fatality from early in the month and handing out beta to non-sea kayakers wasn’t going to happen. Some Google research later, and we had a rough idea of tides and a couple camping options on Cypress Island.

camp on Cypress Island

I’m not exactly into paddling non-moving water but that was my first misunderstanding. The water between the San Juan Islands moves at speeds upwards of ten miles an hour. Determining the lulls between high and low tide wasn’t easy, and Avery and I spent close to two hours making a one mile ferry from Guernes Island to Cypress Island due to a minor tidal misunderstanding.

sunsets on the ocean are beautiful

The camping was gorgeous and the fact that we came ashore pre-season meant we had the camp and ample winter driftwood to ourselves.

not your average sea kayak

Checking the weather report before we took off, it looked as if we would catch a small storm overnight with light wind and rain. The ocean showed us who had the upper hand with driving rain and gusts of wind upwards of thirty miles an hour. The Coast Guard issued a small craft advisory, and I’m pretty sure our whitewater boats are smaller than what the Coast Guard fathomed.

awaking to a pair of bald eagles

The next morning we awoke to a clear blue sky, light breeze, and the sound of a mating pair of bald eagles in the trees above. It was exactly what we were looking for, a relaxing morning of instant coffee and fire toasted bagels. We waited and timed our route back to the mainland with the current. Our six hour paddle out turned into a three hour return while using the current in our favor. This included a curious chase where we were trailed by our new friend, an inquisitive harbor seal.

our new friend the Harbor Seal

Sea kayaking will never overcome my love for the river but it is a unique way to see the Washington coast.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

How to pack for a winter Grand Canyon trip.

another Grand Canyon sunset
Two people, two sixteen foot rafts, eight oars, two frames, three dry boxes, two coolers, groover, fire pan, beer, and ten pounds of bacon is a lot to put in a fifteen year old mini van. The rig looked reminiscent of the Beverly Hillbilly’s with a mass of gear marginally attached to the roof rack. We were ready for the 550 mile tour to Arizona. The biennial Grand Canyon of the Colorado trip was about to begin.

prehistoric birds?

sunset at Redwall Cavern

Spending twenty-eight days without cell service, or for that matter any outside communication, allows for great introspection on the aspects of life I truly value. It reinstills the priorities I cherish; a good meal, terrific companionship, and awesome scenery are much more valuable than a large pay check. By completing this trip every two years it allows me to keep perspective.

Avery, taking in a side hike

little boats in a big canyon

Instead of planning a sixteen person party, we trimmed the adventure down to just two people, Avery Potter and myself. Trip logistics were wildly different with only two people and the meal plan was unique. We decided to have a handful of meals planned out and then mix and match the large majority of the meals. Shuttle was completed with the help of Gordon, the solo rafter that launched the day before us. Our pace would be ultra variable with long mornings and the possibility for quick rigging available.

Madeline, nope Avery

classic shot with above average light

Over the years, I have compiled what I believe is an all-inclusive list… that gets added to on a regular basis. Some of this list is for a winter Grand trip, some is for a six month stint guiding and playing in New Zealand, and yet other portions are for your next weekend outing.

unique feathers

breakfast on the boat



Can Opener
Measuring cups
Papper towels
Dish soap
Hot pad
Sharp knife
Spoon, not the plastic sporks that break
Cocktail cup!
Pots, pans, and handles
Stove, and maintenance kit
Extra fuel
Cutting board
Coffee press
Koozie, for keeping your hands warm on the cold days
Water bottle
Wine screw
Pepper grinder and enough pepper
Emergen C
Hot chocolate
Sesame seeds
Irish cream, breakfast necessity 
Gear Bag, for beer

hiking deeper into the canyon

tiny boats


Bar soap in container
Razor and shaving cream
Nail clippers
Anti inflammatory pills, Alive, Aspirin, Tylenol
Wet wipes, the instant shower
Lotion, it’s dry in the desert
Bug spray
Toilet paper, seen TP traded late in trips for valuable commodities
Pepto-Bismol, ultra important on the international trips

Little Colorado adding some color

First Aid:

Triangle bandage
Ace wrap
Head lamp, hiked out of a canyon without one once, and I will never go creeking without one again
Suture kit
Water tablets, for cleaning water on an accidental overnighter
Duct tape

hula hooping with the Alaskan Pirates


Solar charger
Waterproof cases
Speakers, impromptu dance parties are awesome
Super glue
Computer and case
Cameras, and extras batteries
Sunglasses and croakies
Water purifier
Phone and charger
Sudoku, or some other mindless non-battery operated game you can do on a 20 hour bus ride
Long pants
Flip flops
Dress shirt and pants, it’s always nice to be able to go to a nice restaurant, or for shaking the local governing official's hand
Warm pants and jacket
Rain gear
12 volt octopus
Dental floss sewing kit, this is mandatory on almost any trip
Sleeping pad
Pigs, SUEY! Wild how this game gets so rowdy
Power inverter, changes 12 volt DC “car power” to 120 volt AC household power
Playing cards
Duck tape
Water container
Mud boots
Camp chair
Multi tool
Head lamp
Sleeping bag
Magazine for groover
Zip ties
External hard drive with lots of extra memory
Sharpening stone
Pocket knife
Foreign currency
Foreign power adapter
Mesh beer bag
Big bag to minimize check bags

gear bag or beer bag?


Shoes that last
Dry top
Cam straps
Boat bag, for concealing your “wave ski” as it passes through the airport
Paddle bag, for concealing your “skis” as they pass through the airport
Aqua seal
Extra gaskets
Bike tube patch kit, works in a pinch to repair blown gaskets
Med kit
Pin kit, pulleys, carabiners, webbing
Rappel rope
Climbing harness, carabiner, ATC
Elbow pads
Watershed Futa bags
Bitch-a-thane, it’s help limp more cracked boats off of creeks then I could have ever imagined

Redwall sunset

Don't forget to:

Leave a new voicemail
Call credit and debit card companies, let them know you're traveling internationally
Lock up your vehicles
Find out foreign currency exchange rate
Don't bring pocket knife on the plane
Get a second debit card, hide it deep in your bags
Some place to carry cell phone sim card from the states

 Mix, match and enjoy.

another beautiful evening
adventure by Chris Baer