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Monday, February 8, 2016

Sin Represas, Rio Puelo

Mark and Aeon staring into the big one

Puelo


Rumors of a better, longer Inferno Canyon (a section on the infamous Rio Futaleufu) sparked the crew's interest. The fact that there is a new road situated along the Upper Rio Puelo Canyon means the section is now lap-able!



How to get there

Lago Tauga Tauga

From the small town of Cochamo, continue south to Puelo. From Puelo, head east into the mountains to Lago Tagua Tagua. To cross the lake with your vehicle it’ll cost you 7,000 pesos, or ten U.S. dollars. After exiting the ferry stay on the main road all the way up to Primer Coral. There is now a large steel bridge crossing the river at Primer Coral. The old swinging bridge will be just downstream; this is the take out. To reach the put in, continue upstream river left for ten kilometers until the road epically downgrades. From here, hike slightly upstream and down towards the river, anywhere in this region will be an acceptable entrance point.

Blanquita on the Ferry

The water is iridescent blue, and the rapids are spectacular. The canyon is too narrow for the volume of water passing through it. This constricted water creates rowdy reactionary waves and surging boils. This means last second corrections, and on the fly problem solving.

save this valley

Chile Sin Represas 


Puelo community in action, Sin Represas

After two days of paddling this amazing canyon, we reluctantly made our way back towards civilization. Our timing couldn’t have been any better as we stumbled into an anti-dam rally. Most of the residents of this beautiful community had come together for a three day anti dam march. The demonstration concluded in the small town of Puelo. It was a spectacular experience to get to paddle in this remote canyon and then jeer with the locals. In Chile, like so many other locations, dams are halted by small community groups. I felt proud to join with my Chilean brothers in protest against the destruction of a beautiful community and stunning valley. For more info on Chile's continual fight against dams check out, www.chilesinrepresas.com.



adventure by Chris Baer


Monday, February 1, 2016

The Risk, Nilahue


Mark Taylor setting hero safety at the base of Nilahue

Salto del Nilahue


I’m sharing this experience with the hope that it will educate. Kayaking can be a very dangerous activity. All participants need to pay attention to the risks and rewards to properly arrive at their own threshold.

waking up to the beauty of Lago Ranco

Salto del Nilahue has been changing relatively rapidly. Less than ten years ago it was run as a fifty foot waterfall with a thirty foot reconnect. Then it changed into a sloping forty foot slide that transitioned into a thirty foot vertical. Now it’s a two foot tall curler that drops you into a fifty foot waterfall. And if these changes weren’t wild enough, the landing zone has been changing as well. The left wall is constantly being eroded, creating a heinous cave. It was in this cave that Juanito De Ugarte passed away just over a year ago.

Nilahue from Chris Baer on Vimeo.

Having dealt with access issues near Salto del Nilahue before, our crew was taking every precaution to be kind and upfront with the landowners surrounding the waterfall. Our goal was to attain consensual access to the river right property. Unfortunately the property owner was not around so, instead of risking an ensuing confrontation, we decided to use river left access.

Aeon Russo charging the curler

The new lip is pretty ugly. A two foot lateral is churning off the right wall. The line is to get up onto this curler and then do a massive pitch and yaw change mid-plummet. I wasn’t sold, but Aeon Russo sure was. Mark Taylor and I headed to the bottom to set up safety and media.

looking down into the Nilahue Valley 

Aeon’s line was beautiful. A powerful stroke pulled his boat up on top of the curler and then swiftly leaning forward and twisting, he corrected his angle, and stomped the bow down with a tight tuck into the massive boil at the bottom. As Aeon resurfaced the boil ripped his left hand off the paddle. Thankfully he was able to quickly re-index, roll up, and take a couple strong strokes away from the left wall. I was sold!

Very rarely do I change my mind after watching someone run a line. I usually like to stick with my gut feelings, but rules are meant to be broken and Aeon dealt with the curler at the lip amazingly well.


Chris Baer clearing the curler
Chris Baer nose down, but not a tight tuck

Sliding into my boat above the drop I was a little nervous. Partially for the seal launch, mainly for the curler, and also just a tiny bit of concern about the undercut left wall. Seal launching went well and I gave myself a quick pep talk floating in the eddy. My mind was clear, and positive I was about to have a ton of fun.   A couple of solid strokes and I was up onto the curler. Quickly I disconnected from the water and found myself airborne. Mid-air adjustments followed, small weight shifts to change the angle of the boat, and a lean forward to get the nose down. I was still steering as I blasted into the landing zone. The impact ripped the paddle out of my hands. One quick hand roll attempt got me most of the way up. It also gave me a quick glimpse of my surroundings, and in that glimpse I saw the left wall was coming at me at a much faster rate than I had anticipated. I stood up out of my upside down boat and did my best Michael Phelps impression, ripping out strokes, trying to work my way downstream as far as I could before making contact with the undercut wall.

Chris Baer hand roll attempt heading towards the cave

The initial contact was rough; my legs slid under the wall at a forty-five degree angle and I was just barely able to catch a hand hold. The water was violently sweeping past me, siphoning under the wall. Looking over my shoulder I spotted Mark, who had covered a huge distance and was now amazingly close. He tossed a throw bag in my direction. Unfortunately, throwing a throw bag from a kayak is tricky business and the throw was a little off. I knew I couldn’t hold myself on the wall for long and started bouldering my way downstream, one sketchy move after the next. I had attained close to ten feet of progress when one of my mossy hand holds slipped and the water flushed me under the wall.

Initially, I fought like hell to get purchase on the wall and climb back to the surface, but the rock was slick with moss and the hydropressure was way beyond the brawn of my lactic-filled muscles. Quickly it became apparent that I wasn’t going to be able to climb out from under the wall. A moment later I got flushed into a dark room speckled with little bubbles, the walls were smooth, and buoyancy felt neutral. I started to get scared but remembered to stay calm in an attempt to preserve my remaining oxygen. About that time another surge of water hit me and I got blown deeper. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye I spotted light and gutted out a handful of strong swim strokes. Then something got tangled around my arm; it was the throw bag. I gripped it with everything I had left and after five or six full-length pulls I hit the surface, twenty-six seconds after disappearing. 

Extended hugs were given.


another beautiful horizon

So, what is the moral of this tale… Have amazing people set safety. Pay as much attention to the landing zone as the lead-in, or the falls. Be Strong. Be Calm. Be Careful.

By no means would I tell someone not to run a rapid, everyone has their own skill set and risk to reward threshold… That being said, the current situation at Salto del Nilahue is super sketchy.  

adventure by Chris Baer


Friday, January 22, 2016

Southeast Steep Creeking in Chile... Rio Nevado!

If you refer to yourself as a creek boater and haven’t heard about this river there is something wrong with you. It’s a little piece of Southeastern steep creeking tucked into the quintessential kayak destination of Pucon Chile. Multiple 20 footers, a bed rock slide, and enough mank to keep Mark Taylor and Aeon Russo smiling.

Aeon Russo taking flight

Aeon Russo probing the right side of wall drop


Mark Taylor falling into? Crack drop!

Aeon Russo, Dulce Amor

Aeon Russo in the quintessential Chilean gorge

Monday, January 11, 2016

Vertical Extraction on the Rio Claro


Aeon Russo, Caracol

Watching the sun set from sixty feet above the aqua blue waters of the Cocina section on the Rio Claro was beautiful… But being stranded there for three hours after swimming head first off a six foot ledge wasn’t what I had planned for the evening.

Put-In and Take-Out Beta for the Rio Claro


Looking back up into the Siete Tazas section

 

Siete Tazas

 

Mark Taylor enjoying the Siete Tazas

Beta for the Rio Claro sections is marginal, so let's clear it up. As you drive up the valley the first section you will reach is the Siete Tazas (Seven Teacups). Park at the big Siete Tazas sign. During peak tourist season this area will be a zoo. Walk in on the main boardwalk to the viewing platform and scout your exit from the canyon. Most groups don’t paddle the last drop that is directly under the viewing platform. Getting out before the last drop makes the exit from the canyon slightly easier. The hike out is sketchy at best, and many crews will use ropes to extract boats. To reach the put-in from the parking lot, walk up the boardwalk past the restroom to the second flora-fauna sign, hop the guard rail on the left, and make your way upstream on a marginal trail for approximately 200 meters to a rock cairn. From here start your descent into the canyon, I highly encourage using a rope to lower boats on the last pitch.

Entre Saltos


Aeon lining up one of the marginal entry rapids in Entre Saltos

The next section up is referred to as the Entre Saltos, or (In-between Waterfalls) and contains one of the most photogenic drops I have ever seen: Garganta Del Diablo (The Devil's Throat) aka Caracol (The Snail) aka Twirly Bird. The exit from this section is not too far above the Siete Tazas put-in, but it is mandatory to exit the canyon here as the entire river drops into a siphon between the sections. To reach the take-out head upstream on the main road from the Siete Tazas parking lot. Within one kilometer there will be a small turnoff that leads to a bridge which crosses the river and a campground. Cross the bridge and head upstream river left to a set of stairs that go all the way to water level. This is your take-out and you must exit here. Scout it carefully and keep your eyes peeled for the stairs while in the gorge. To reach the put-in continue upstream on the main road to Parque Ingles where the main road crosses the river, and put-in here. There are a couple of marginal rapids in the first kilometer that can be portaged relatively easily. Thankfully as the canyon walls start to close in the drops clean up.

Veintidos Saltos 


alternative driving option, partially up the Veintidos Saltos section
Aeon splashing off yet another waterfall

The section upstream of Entre Saltos is Veintidos Saltos (Twenty Two Waterfalls). From Parque Ingles hike upstream on river right approximately two kilometers. Immediately after the fourth tributary look for a rock cairn. Carefully make your way down towards the river onto a rock ledge, and make your way upstream through a small patch of bamboo and over a high-water strainer. The seal launch is kind of sketchy, so I prefer passing the boats down as a team. All of the drops are clean but very committing. The take-out is the Parque Ingles bridge. If you are interested in lapping this section, take out at the first beach river right as the gorge opens up. This allows you to paddle all of the good drops and shorten the hike considerably.

life-styling at the shortcut hike up for the Veintidos Saltos section
Mark Taylor enjoying one of the twenty-two waterfalls


La Cocina


Mark Taylor and Aeon Russo looking into La Cocina

The uppermost section is only occasionally paddled and is called La Cocina (Kitchen). To reach this section continue to hike upstream river right from the Veintidos put-in for approximately fifteen minutes. Here you’ll find a patch of burnt trees, and at the most upstream portion of these burnt trees there is a trail which leads down to the river. Take out at the Veintidos put-in, or continue down through the Veintidos section to the Parque Ingles Bridge.

multimedia headquarters
I wasn't kidding these guys are everywhere

How to Get Out of an Overhung Canyon if You’re Not Chris Sharma.


Mark Taylor, Aeon Russo, and I had been putting laps in on the Veintidos Saltos section and had an absolutely stunning descent on the Entre Saltos section when we bumped into Tino Specht and Evan Garcia. They gave us the heads up that there was a relatively new section upstream of the Veintidos Saltos that people were starting to paddle, La Cocina.




The section starts with a twisting three stage drop. It’s here that I got back-endered. Aeon was directly behind me and partially landed on me at the base of the ledge. During the beating my paddle got blown out of one hand, as I reached up to index the blade I found Aeon’s boat and grasped on. He was able to drag me out of the hydraulic just in time for him to get a stroke off the next six foot boof. Unfortunately this left my boat perpendicular to the canyon, and it broached at the lip of the next ledge. Instantly I was partially ejected from the boat and found myself with one leg in and one leg out of the kayak directly above the six foot ledge. A quick look around and I decided that downstream was the only exit strategy. Head first, I flopped out of my boat and found myself swimming down a vertically-walled hallway toward the unknown. Without hesitation both Aeon and Mark scouted downstream and found a small ledge where I was able to get out of the water.

The cliff above my perch was just shy of vertical, and I tried a handful of climbing attempts but the sloping, polished basalt finally stifled my upward progress. I was on a small ledge sixty feet above the water. After a quick conversation we decided that the next move would be for Mark and Aeon to head downstream to the Veintidos put-in where they were able to exit the canyon and head back upstream to aid me in my extraction.

fishing for paddling gear, three carabineers and some electrical tape

The canyon rim directly above me couldn’t have been worse. The belay station was steep, loose dirt sloping into the canyon. Initially, Aeon and Mark built a simple belay system in order to pendulum me from one route to the next and find a climbable way out. After making marginal progress I was left standing on an even smaller ledge higher off the water, and my climbing skills failed to match the canyon. Aeon and Mark then changed the rope setup into a three-to-one haul system. This system meant that I was absolutely dead weight and couldn’t help them at all. Some grunts later the system was abandoned; there was way too much friction in the system and the location they were pulling from was sketchy at best. The sun was setting and our energy and light were dwindling rapidly, (remember to always carry a headlamp!). Eventually we settled on a two-to-one system where I was able to help pull on the line. This eliminated a ton of friction and allowed me to participate in the pull. It worked! I clambered up over the last vertical pitch and found the outstretched arms of Aeon and Mark through the dense vegetation obscuring the lip. We collapsed in a group hug. We stumbled back to camp under the new moon.

Mark Taylor flying off Skate Park

My Personal Take on Mechanical Advantage Systems


I’m a huge fan of simple, clean systems. A two-to-one system dragged me out of the Rio Claro and it is my go-to system for just about every haul situation. I don’t carry pulleys. They are massively helpful in mechanical advantage systems but I’m not willing to deal with the extra weight and bulk of having them in my PFD. That being said, friction is a major deficit in any haul system. The average throw bag rope being bent through a carabineer causes somewhere in the neighborhood of a twenty percent loss in power. The average person can pull approximately 100 pounds on a throw rope. So by building a three-to-one mechanical advantage system with carabineers instead of pulleys the actual pull for one person drops from 300 pounds to only 180 pounds. A two-to-one drops from 200 to 160 pounds. Remember these are rough numbers. Now put in friction from vegetation, rocks, and whatever it is that you’re hauling and the systems start to fail.

Be safe out there, know your limitations, learn new skills, and surround yourself with a solid crew!

another adventure by Chris Baer

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Toxaway!

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.

Fit


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