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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

Monday, March 23, 2015

Solo paddling big volume waterfalls? 4,000 Islands Lao

Sun setting on Cambodia

Lush green islands speckle the five mile wide Mekong river, creating intricate mazes of big volume waterfalls. This area is known as the 4,000 Island section of the Mekong River, and it ought to be on your whitewater radar!

So many options

Between the countless islands are paddleable sections of whitewater! The location was created by a plate tectonic shift, steeply lowering the downstream portion of the river by 40 vertical feet. In some areas this means big volume waterfalls, in other areas are steep multi-tiered ledges, while others become massive bird sucking hydraulics (the birds actually get sucked out of the sky into the massive crushing force of the water).

bird sucking hole

Picking your daily adventure can, and will always, be a bit of guess work. The islands overlap each other, and the scenery looks very similar right up to the horizon line.

4,000 Islands Lao! Solo? from Chris Baer on Vimeo

Accommodations are available on the island of Don Det, a relatively big island smack in the middle of the Mekong. The island has only recently come by relatively stable electricity. The only access to the island is by a small flat bottom boat pushed by a "long tail" outboard motor so make sure your gear is in a dry bag. Over the years it has become known as the party island, and its location in-between the borders of Lao and Cambodia allow it to have a very lackadaisical legal enforcement system, with “happy“ shakes available on the menu in many of the rustic restaurants.

the crew taking off

Paddling solo is dangerous.

With a lack of local paddlers and the rest of the international team heading “home”, I found myself solo in the midst of the limitless waterfalls. Deciding to paddle class 5 solo is really hard. Thoughts of injury, flush drowning in the massive boils, getting caught in a fisherman snare, and fist pumping at the bottom of one of the big drops all spun through my head. With some tough decision making and hearty scouting, I made the very selfish decision to fire up some of the gems solo. It was worth it!

adventure by Chris Baer

Friday, January 30, 2015

Kayak Spelunking? Xe Bang Fai River, Laos

Lao's subterranean beauty
Caves and rivers go together like orange juice and toothpaste…or so I thought. After years of paddling, “cave” has transformed into a heinous curse word. The idea of purposely putting on a river section that disappears for 12 kilometers seemed ignorant at best, but still very intriguing.

Our team from left to right, Chris Baer, Marlon Butler, Isaac Tracey, Miri Miyazaki, Ryan Butler, Lincoln Taylor, and Kieran

Our team had, yet again grown in number (Lincoln Taylor, Ryan Butler, Isaac Tracey, Miri Miyazaki, Marlon Butler, Kieran, and myself) and now contained a wide variety of participants, some with limited whitewater experience. Unfortunately, our team’s whitewater knowledge was not my first concern; the beta for the river section we were about to attempt was outstandingly insufficient.

Here is the translated beta I received;
1. Xe Bang Fai cave is at X point on the map.
2. A couple of trips have gone through the cave.
3. There are rapids leading to the cave that need to be portaged.
4. You should camp in the mouth of the cave.
5. There is a BIG “Swiss Cheese Falls” in the cave.
6. It should only take two full days.

“Vague” would be a kind description for this beta. We didn’t even have the name of the town closest to the put in or the take out. Adding apprehension to the mission, in the middle of nowhere, past midnight, one of the vehicles digested its serpentine belt while trying to set shuttle to an unknown destination. (The van was left on the side of the “road” for the duration of the trip.)

Due to the unexpected shuttle situation we were left sleeping in lackluster accommodations. The bed had two blankets over it to help conceal protruding springs, bed bugs, and I didn’t want to know what else!

The team constructed a new game plan: river or nothing! We piled two vehicles worth of equipment and people into an extended cab pickup truck and hit the road. Tracey and I were precariously balanced on top of the stacked boats teetering above the truck cab.

Xe Bang Fai River, Laos, Who thought paddling threw a 12 Kilometer long cave was a good idea? from Chris Baer on Vimeo.

Where is the put in?

Ryan Butler, looking into another siphon filled rapid

The road we were traveling on consisted of the finest rust-colored dust; when you stepped on the surface, your foot actually descended a solid half-inch into the dust. By the time we first stopped for directions, Isaac and I had acquired a new maroon skin tone. Another hour on the road and it started to parallel the river. I was getting excited now that we finally had found the river with a floatable flow. All of the sudden, I saw water flying through the sky! A second later, I heard a dull thud. After some investigation, my redneck assumption was confirmed. They still fish by dynamite in this region!

We stopped the truck just outside of “dynamite village” and made access to the river. The plan was to try to make it an unknown distance to the mouth of the cave by evening.

Isaac digging for a boof

The pace started strong, we made progress down the gently flowing river bed interspaced with class 2 rapids. Then a couple good class 3 rapids and an interesting class 4 appeared. Most of the larger rapids were created by limestone rock configurations, forming the relatively deep and concise lines with occasional nasty undercuts and sieves.

duckie disaster

In one of these rapids the skill set of our team came under question. The rapid was a basic class 3 ferry, but one of the boats didn’t make it. The craft went careening down a sluice that I didn’t want to explore. During the botched maneuver a paddle was sent downstream on its own and disappeared under a rock. It took longer for the paddle to reappear than I can hold my breath for. The river was quickly proving its nature and made it clear that our team should ponder the severity of a mishap. A quick meeting was held; a couple paddlers decided to walk a few of the more sieve-infested rapids. Hand signals and a few white water basics were reiterated.

Late in the afternoon with Isaac and myself leading the pack, we made our way down to the entrance of the cave. Discovering no beach or camp at the mouth of the cave, we turned around and attained half a mile upstream to a large sandy cove on river right.

setting sun at camp, warming up with a fire and noodles

Camping on the sandy beach was enjoyable with a fire and the classic menu of ramen noodles and odd canned meet. Along with stories, we passed around a small bottle of moonshine that Lincoln was able to barter from the local wildlife rangers.

starry night at camp

The following morning, we arose with the sun. While stoking the fire, we warmed up and refueled with Nescafe, jam, and bread. We evaluated who had which headlamps and attached them to our helmets. Our team also discussed cave protocol: sandwiching some of the less experienced paddlers in the middle of the pack and being really careful.

Entering into the cave involved a portage over a river-wide sieve. It felt absolutely disturbing to walk over a fatal river feature within eye sight of the total darkness we intended to paddle into.

standing on a sieve, looking at the tiny entrance to a massive cave system

The entrance into the cave is stunning, with a massive limestone wall diverting the river underground. As my eyes started to adjust to the darkness, I made the initial move under an ominous overhang. The river reopened gently on the other side, allowing a final glimpse of light as we entered a partially collapsed room. The room was massive, easily over a hundred feet tall and wide, and it quickly leads you deeper into the dark abyss with a class 2 rapid.

“It’s dark, really dark!”

I had one of the better headlamps, and I still couldn’t see. The gigantic rooms were filled with mist. Paddling with headlamps in the mist was like driving in dense fog, you can turn the high beams on but you can’t see any further.

The first rapid we approached deep inside the cave sounded terrifying! The roar of the water was echoing off the ceiling and walls. I was full-on scared and wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. One by one the headlights lined up and descended into the pool below.

We continued on into the darkness running interspaced class 2-3 rapids blind. Catching unfamiliar last chance eddies in the dark does not happen. Each attempt to scout a rapid before running it was unsuccessful. I started to wonder when the rumored “mandatory portage” of “Swiss Cheese Falls” was going to appear.

One of the countless reflective cave features

Pushing on, our team occasionally spotted reflective surfaces. We would paddle closer and create a semi-circle around massive shimmering stalactites. At other times there would be a slight breeze bringing bugs and bats. It is absolutely amazing to look up and watch bats zip back and forth as they collect their meals.

stalactite mania!

After a few hours a light glow appeared in the distance: were we nearing the end? Where was Swiss Cheese Falls? The sun managed to reflect and bounce half a mile into the cave, illuminating bright blue water, ceiling and walls draped in a light green moss, and stalactites dangling everywhere. The team took time to bask in the beauty of the cave and celebrate a truly new experience for everyone.

the exit, almost as stunning as the entrance

Miri hiking out of the cave

We paddled away from the cave, a mile later, a local fisherman waved us over for a chat. The exit logistics were easier than anyone could have imagined. Scooter transport was arranged and an hour later we piled back onto the truck, headed to town.

Isaac and I tending the stack

Feel free to contact me for reliable beta on the Xe Bang Fai River, as well as applying for a permit with Green Discovery… and don’t forget to bring solid vehicles!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

All That Glitters Is Not Gold, Nam Lik and Nam Siam

Cultural day outside of Vang Vieng
International exploratory kayaking is exactly what it’s cracked up to be… difficult. Usually it starts as speculation, “Have you seen the gradient in Asia?” Then hours of probing topographical maps ensue. This usually creates a scratch pad full of river and village names that are impossible to pronounce. Subsequently, comes more inquiry, zooming all the way into Google maps, and hypothesizing if that blur of white in the riverbed is paddleable. Assumption are made, air flights are booked, and usually nothing else, because it’s all going to change once you get on the ground. Once leaving the airport, there are countless days traveling in all modes of transportation; usually on a loud, overcrowded vehicle, covered in dust, on very steep and jarring “road”. This only allows sufficient access to start ascertaining enough of the local dialect to make peace offerings. Physical scouting is the near culmination of the experience, fumbling through dense vegetation, and over inhospitable terrain. All of this is done while creating new alliances made through fringe connections. You will eat odd local delicacies that will certainly have you running for the toilet, or bush, soon. Financially, it’s completed on a shoestring budget, where sleeping next to the river deep in a canyon is the ultimate accommodation.

Isaac catching a vertical aspect of a Golden Buddha statue

Nam Lik: A Quick Afternoon First Descent?

Lao had already produced a spectacular piece of whitewater, and anticipation of more had gotten the better of us. The group had grown, and we were now a party of six; Lincoln Taylor, Ryan Butler, Isaac Tracey, Miri Miyazaki, Marlon Butler, and myself. Armed with marginal beta, we took a stab at yet another first descent section. The Nam Lik, now known as the Nam Siphon, had appropriate gradient as far as our two dollar map could indicate; 50-80 feet per mile for 4-5 miles. The map also clearly showed that the river ran amidst some towering limestone features. Passing over the supposed take out bridge, the water flow looked low, but suitable for a first descent.

Driving to the put in, the anticipation grew. The road was gaining massive amounts of gradient as it switched back and forth. Cresting a tall ridge, we were able to finally look down towards the river. I was in awe; huge 2,000 foot spires of limestone rock shot up beside the river.  It created a gravity-defying sensation. The walls were too tall for their own good, and consisted of mostly exposed rock with every crevice or micro plateau heaving with foliage. The valley floor was obscured by the impenetrable dark green rainforest which didn’t even allow a glimpse of the whitewater below. I was sold, even if the whitewater turned out to be class three, the ability to spend time in this beautiful drainage would be worth it.

Unpacking the truck at the put in for Nam Lik

All that Glitters is Not Gold, Nam Siam and Nam Lik from Chris Baer on Vimeo.

A few more switchbacks and we passed a gate and official signage, where the road improved substantially. I was instantaneously concerned about the next “improvement.” One of the ploys used against developing countries throughout the world is a promise of new and unsustainable infrastructure. Improved roads in many locations are not put in for farmers and their cattle, but to allow access for much larger vehicles (bulldozers and dump trucks). Mining, deforestation, and hydropower companies are usually the first to exploit these diverse and naturally rich, yet ignorant populations.

The plight in our location was the ever present Chinese dam. The power is actually wired out of Lao over the border into China. Once again, we would be putting the boats in at a deforested location; and the outflow of a small hydro scheme. Luckily, the hydro station was relatively quiet when we arrived. There were no guards or employees milling around, and we took this opportunity to quickly grab our boats out of the truck and prep for the river.

Chris Baer "wheelchairing" over an early portage

It’s miraculous how Mother Nature holds her ground against the continual onslaught of human “improvement.” On water, we traveled only a few hundred yards and the dense jungle resumed its beauty, concealing the devastation behind us. It was gorgeous with huge native trees interlocking with each other to bar any outside influence. Even the whitewater was looking worthy. Before the dam existed, nature had allowed undisturbed floods and dry seasons to cut deep pools, and the occasional four foot boof. Everything was coming together, and it looked as if the river would deliver a spectacular first descent.

Isaac paddling a fun yet sieve infested line

As we worked downstream, the water split around an island where half the crew had to portage up and over a downed tree. Then there was another tree in the water. This tree was atop a pile of rocks that were siphoning the main flow of the river. Luckily, it was a quick portage through dense bamboo and over razor sharp limestone rock. After the quick scramble, we were greeted with a marginal section of whitewater that concluded in yet another portage. This exercise involved us climbing a two story siphon of limestone. It was savage to be able to look down through 20 feet of swiss cheese rock and see the river ever so diligently cutting its way through the rock.

Chris Baer, the only clean ledge

After half a dozen portages, the crew was starting to separate. I was getting concerned because a missed step or an awkward exit from a craft would easily put someone in the water. At his point, the water was consistently siphoning out, and was rarely visible on the surface. “Sketchy” would be a gentle term for the situation. Yet the team pushed on while the river pushed back; it was unrelenting. Upon clearing one massive siphon, all you could do was raise your brow to see the next, more imposing latticework of rock and vegetation.

As the team slaved its way through the maze, we soon became less and less of a team. We were all over the place; some two stories up on huge limestone ridges, others had worked to the shoreline and were battling through the dense jungle vegetation, yet others were wading and ducking under and through some of the siphons. There was no longer any support; it was everyone for themselves.

I was over it.

At this point, it would have been all too easy for someone to miss a step and end up with a massive laceration on the sharp limestone rock, or worse, slip and end up in one of the countless siphons. In order to rebuild the team, I let out a loud, “WHOOP!” and a couple others responded. Another “whoop” and the Marco Polo game commenced. Slowly, with a few sporadic curses between “whoops”, the team reconvened on the corner of a rice paddy. It was time to reevaluate our game plan. With everyone face to face, it was much easier to grasp the logistics. The facts were simple. During the two hours “on water”, we had covered just over a mile. The sun was going to set in another hour or two, and we had perhaps four more miles of unexplored river to cover until our presumed exit location…it was time to bail on the mission.

An old lesson was remembered from Mexico in 2008: dusk was upon us as we stood on the edge of a cliffed out hillside, and on the brink of a 20 foot cascade. The good news, freshly cut banana trees. If the farmers can hike out of here with kilos of bananas on their shoulders, the team realized there had to be a way for us to get out. The rice paddy that we were now standing in (in Lao) must also have a path out of it. A quick walk led Marlon to a tiny structure, where inside was the local farmer. Thankfully, Marlon’s Laotian proved to be more than adequate to chat with the local farmer. After a quick conversation, an exit strategy was ascertained. There was an overgrown trail that would lead us the mile and a half back up to the truck. As we hiked upstream through dense jungle, it felt almost forgiving, as at the very least we weren’t going to slip and end up under a rock.

Sometimes everything lines up, and it still doesn’t work. The Nam Lik is a blatant no go!

Plain of Jars
Isaac in the bottom of a bomb crater,Plain of Jars

Nam Siam

Earlier this trip, Lincoln and I completed an absolutely amazing trip on the Nam Ngiap. One of the major tributaries to the Nam Ngiap is the Nam Siam. As we passed it a week earlier, the water ran dark green in opposition to our mudslide ridden chocolate brown of the Nam Ngiap. After the trip, and returning to civilization, one of the first things on my mind was what did the gradient on the lower Nam Siam look like and what was the access? Studying topographical maps, Google Earth, and everything else I could get my hands on, it looked as if we could establish access by crossing a bridge near the confluence of the Nam Ngiap and Nam Siam. We would cross the Nam Ngiap and head upstream along the Nam Siam to an even smaller village. Upon arrival at the tiny village, we would be high in the drainage and I estimated that we would be just past the last major tributary.

We were in for a reality check.

We are in Lao, and nothing is easy. Upon reaching the confluence bridge there was a gate, and it was being well patrolled by some military and other government employees. There is a dam being built on the Nam Siam and access through the job site would prove to be difficult. The employees of the dam were already augmenting the local culture, and were definitely connoisseurs of our previous “dining” establishment. Adding to the difficulty, was the manager stumbling into our access debate on the whiskey side of intoxicated. Conversation continued and again the locals thought we would surely kill ourselves by going down the river. After twenty minutes, the manager was slowly coming to terms with our request. His counter offer included some money for his evening at the “dining” establishment, and that we “hire” a few of the men from the local military to escort us up the river, guaranteeing our safety.

Lao's navy, or just a lousy navy?
working out logistics with out hired guard

The plan was for two vehicles, loaded with four kayaks, a double ducky, a mom, young baby, and three soldiers to head up the river as far as possible to “look” at the river. Technically we were just there to look, we still hadn’t worked out permission to paddle yet. Quickly, the road degraded and the van started to bottom out. Eventually, we called the van off, but not until the van’s rear differential left a four inch deep five foot long streak in the dense clay. Halting the van wasn’t due to dragging the drive train, it was that we were high centered and the wheels wouldn’t reach the ground. The hired military escort became useful as we pushed, pulled, and cursed the van back to more appropriate terrain.

Ryan Butler on the Nam Siam

Repacking all of the gear and people into and onto the now overburdened truck, we recommenced the journey up the continually degrading path. At this point, we were only intermittently being passed by scooters heading up to the small village. We slowly covered four miles when our armed company relayed the fact that we were about to leave their jurisdiction and that we needed to stop. A quick conversation with the guards (who were keen to watch us paddle) granted us permission to put on the river as long as we exited above the dam structure. They were fine with us paddling; they just didn’t want to be found in contempt of the manager.

Ryan Butler, Nam Siam

Traditionally, the logistics are by far the hardest part of the river section. The whitewater is a mix of steep class four bedrock and meandering beautiful jungle scenery. This section would be a spectacular “class five” rafting section, with small boats and good guides. Unfortunately, it is about to disappear. The dam is well under construction and this gorgeous section of whitewater will be lost for generations.

Isaac, Nam Siam

Upcoming paddlers should entertain the possibility of entering this drainage through the top. I have no idea what kind of work it would take to access the upper village, but once there, ascertaining access to the river would have to be easier than trying to bypass the dam.

Chris Baer, Nam Siam

It’s painful to go to these stunning locations only to see the jungle clear cut and huge earth moving machines redistributing the landscape for a short term export. The world is globalizing, and with doing so, it’s imperative that we help save the culture of those we impact. Not learning from the past is the greatest way to duplicate it.

another adventure brought to you by Chris Baer