Sunday, December 26, 2010

Partial First Descents of Rio Division and Sevegre

Partial First Descents of Rio Division and Sevegre

Todd Wells doing the first descent dance
Rio Division 
Ferdinand showed me a you Tube video of a couple of people trying to do the first descent of the Division river. These people were in a raft and a ducky, it looked laughable at best. It turns out the joke was on us. 2 days, 5 hours of hiking and scouting, and we accomplished just a bit better results then the rafters.

So where are we going?
I was sitting in the town square of San Isidro, when Ferdinand and Todd pulled up. We went and had breakfast, the conversation was filled with what do you think we are really getting our self's into. We planed for a two day trip, deep canyons, rope work, and just about every untold possibility.

A few minutes later Felipe showed up he was to be our shuttle driver and local beta guru. We hoped into his Toyota Land cruiser and we were off to Santa Eduviges.

Felipe's 4x4 of fun
Upon arrival we did a little pre put in scouting, we decided to skip some class 4 warm up and head right into the meat of the run. We took our time packing our over night and rescue equipment. The time was 12 noon, we had 5 hours of day light before we needed to camp, and everyone was pretty excited about the run.

Ferdinand, in a warm up drop.
We put on and went a mere 400 meters before we reached the first, previously unrun drop. It was a 20 footer that landed in a odd shaped cauldron. The walls were definitely undercut and the water boiled up 30 feet away from the drop. One by one we took our chances, and amazingly enough every one had relatively good lines.

Todd, sending the 20 footeer
We went another 100 feet, and saw the lip of a drop that looked absolutely amazing. Unfortunately it fell 30 feet onto a rock shelf, not to mention it was the start of a very containing canyon.

We took our time scouting the upcoming canyon and it was one horrendous looking drop after the next. There is no doubt in my mind that without some amazing rope work this canyon will never be ran. We had managed to move 500 meters in 5 hours, something had to change. The beta we had said there was another canyon ahead and it looked as containing if not more from the topographical map. It was time to skip the next canyon or anticipate spending a second night, with few calories somewhere deep in the canyon. After appraising our options, it seemed best to hike 500 vertical feet back up to the road and a half a mile to the town of Santo Thomas. Upon reaching Santo Thomas it was getting cold and dark. We meet a few locals and Ferdinand immediately started negotiating a truck ride down stream around the second canyon. An hour or so later we piled our equipment into a pick up truck and started the drive. As the rain pounded down we arrived at a shed, I was so happy to have a mildly dry place to lay my bivy sack.

Home sweet home

hiking back into the canyon
We awoke to beautiful views 1500 feet above the river. One of the locals told us he could hike into the canyon in 20 minutes, we anticipated just over an hour with the kayaks. What we encountered was a 2-3 hour hike through coffee fields, then banana fields, then the ground gave way. It got too steep to plant anything and the vegetation returned to native Costa Rican Jungle. We lowered our boats with ropes for the last 500 feet to the river. Upon reaching the river I was delighted with the sights of clean steep whitewater.
look close or double click to check out the 200 meeter waterfall
We had about 9 kilometers of river to paddle to get to our planed destination, the town of Savegre. We reentered the canyon about a kilometer or so above where the other group had. Therefore we had a kilometer of amazing, steep, first descents in front of us.
Ferdinand, with another cool rapid
The group had a new energy back on the water, we paddled well. Drop after drop we scouted and ran great lines, the white water was steep and technical.
Ferdinand having a little fun
There were no portages and most rapids had multiple fun lines. We paddled for less time then we hiked the day before, and we had the Savegre bridge in sight.

putting some calories back in our bodies, at the Sevegre bridge
Ferdinand made a phone call to Felipe, he was over an hour away so we decided to push on to the town of El Brujo. We were greeted with news that the next 9 miles to Brujo were class 4 and had been ran not that long ago. This took the group moral to new heights, and before you knew it we were boofing off random rocks, and running obscure tight lines. Just over an hour later we saw Felipe on the side of the river, it had been a long but very rewarding day.

Todd, picking up his bow
There is absolutely no way this will ever be a classic, but with a little work you could make this an amazing one day adventure.

Todd, sending another first descent
With a nights rest and a good meal in El Brujo we tackled another big mission.

The Savegre

So Felipe's father lives on a piece of land near the Los Quetzales National Park, and was speaking highly of a back yard run. Ferdinand was more then excited to pick off another first descent, and so was I.  Todd, Ferdinand, and I loaded boats onto horses in the morning, and hiked back into the jungle. The horse trail was beat down, deep mud, and deeper ruts the entire 11 kilometers up to Felipe's house. Once at the house, Felipe's mother brought us a great hearty lunch. It was already just past noon and we had 11 kilometers, 5 or so of which had never been paddled before to descend. My energy was circling the drain, but I was excited to see some more quality white water. 10 minutes into the run I crested a pour over to see a retentive hole. I cranked out a hand full of strokes aiming for the right side of the hole. I hit the hole got stern stalled and felt the water pulling me back in for a ride. I took a couple good rides, and got on the foam pile, a few strong strokes and I was heading back in for another ride. A few more seconds later, and my low energy had gotten the better of me. I slid my knee out of the thigh brace and popped out of my boat.

It took a couple minutes to recover my gear, and I tried to get my head back in the game. Around the bend was Felipe and the whole family, they were there to watch us run the "big one". It was an ugly left to right drop that had a odd looking hole at it's base. Ferdinand fired it up first and got blown hard left into a pin rock. He dug in with a strong brace, and pulled himself around the pin rock and into the pool. Todd caught a lower eddy and made a strong move left to right but got spun out near the lip, and fell into the drop with almost no speed. This resulted in another entertaining run. I peeled out of the top eddy supper low and kept my momentum down the drop, I managed to cut through the nasty first hole, just to get immediately flipped in the compression hole behind it. Our exhaustion was starting to show in our boating.

Ferdinand lining up the "big one"
Ferdinand deep in the crease
We headed down stream picking off other drops and keeping a relatively fast pace. As we got further down stream Ferdinand informed us that we had already paddled more then half the gradient in the first third of the run. This put us all in a state of calm, we started goofing around again. A few more kilometers went by and the recognition of what we had done started to come over me.

In three days we paddled 23 miles, hiked 10 miles, kayaked 5 miles of first descents, and had an amazing time exploring a beautiful corner of Costa Rica.

a cool centipede
The video Ferdinand showed me, and are only real beta.

Savegre and Division River, partial First Descent from Chris Baer on Vimeo.

Chris Baer
exhausted, beat down, and smiling

Monday, December 20, 2010

First Descents, Canas, Ceibo Canyon, and Caterate Casuela

A sequence of the hardest big drop of my life
Chris Baer, contemplating the hardest drop of my life.

First descents.

Ferdinand and I had made it through the getting to know you stage, now it was time to do some serious exploring. I hopped in his car once again and we took off to explore a couple runs that have never been done before.

The morning bird show
Canas, 300 fpm class 4+ with one sieved out class 5 move.

I would have never guessed we were about to do one of the steepest class 4 runs in the world as we were driving through the pineapple fields of Costa Rica. Ferdinand had the Rio Canas on his to do list for two years, and I was lucky enough to get to run it after knowing him for only three days. We stopped on the side of the road walked down to the river and looked into the river corridor. The Canas looked good, steep boulder garden style rapids with a couple fun boofs in sight. The level was a bit low, but the water channelized really well. As we headed up stream we stopped at a few more places, and it all looked good. We found an easy access spot, and Ferdinand checked the elevation on his watch against the topographical map. It all was adding up, we had just over 3 kilometers of unrun boulder gardens to negotiate to get to the next good access point.

We headed down stream scouting countless blind horizon lines, most of the times all it took was standing up and you could see a couple fun boofs and a nice eddy at the bottom. Our pace was quick as we headed down through tight slots and fun little boofs. About 2/3 of the way down the run we encountered a fun 5 foot boof directly above a pin rock and a nasty sieve. I took a quick look at it and found a thin line on the far left. I got back in my boat flew off the boof and slipped just past the pin rock. Ferdinand liked my line and fired off the drop right behind me. The pace stayed rather quick and before we knew it we were at the original take out bridge. We both were having a good day and there was plenty of light left so we pushed on, and ran another kilometer of equally fun white water. This run would be great for solid class 4 boaters look to up there skills.

Ceibo canyon, 400-500 fpm

The night before the Ceibo mission Ferdinand and I spent the night looking over topographical maps and planing the assault on what looked like a meandering river, that came out of a slot canon. As we drove up the river valley, the river looked minuscule, my first impression was it was just too low. After talking to some locals we got the information we were looking for, keep on going up stream the river lives in a canyon up there. We locked the hubs on Ferdinand's little Suzuki and went up a ridiculously steep hill with supper loose rock. My head was bouncing off the roof, and I was holding the O'shit Handle out of necessity. We finally made it to a relatively flat area and stopped the truck. The river was a thousand feet below us. It was emerging out of a basalt mini canyon, I got really excited. We left the truck at the flat spot, and hiked another kilometer up the road, to the top of the first canyon.

As we entered into the canyon we didn't get more then 50 feet before we came around a blind corner and spotted a nasty class 5 sieve pile caused by a land slide. Ferdinand was deservingly hesitant, I saw a "hairy fairy" right in front of a sieve and  a marginal line bouncing down a pile of junk rock. We continued through the canyon scouting constantly, and found a hand full of great rapids. The 15 foot slide to boof and fun linked double slide were the highlights of the run. As we exited the canyon the character changed, we were now in a bouncy boulder garden, and the water quickly sprawled out. We paddled another couple hundred yards and got to a swinging bridge and pulled out of the river. After getting the first descent of this beautiful canyon, I am definitely planning on returning to check out some of the upper canyons. Two days and two first descents down, I was feeling a little physically tired but mentally I was on was on fire.
Ferdinand, in the midst of Ceibo Canyon

Caterate Casuela and the Cloud Bridge section of the Chirripo Pacifico, is a hike and huck

A few weeks ago I scouted this section and, my original opinion was that almost all the drops on this run where, marginally runnable, at best. Over the last couple weeks I have scouted almost every vantage and access point. When Ferdinand offered to set safety I was both excited and nervous. The morning came, and I was going through my mental readiness, stay calm, eat a light breakfast, listen to an upbeat song (Katy Perry "I kissed a girl"). Before I knew it Ferdinand and I jumped in his truck again. We cruised up to the Cloud Bridge reserve, and parked the truck. From that point on, there is no motorized vehicles allowed. We started our two kilometer hike into the reserve. We had a fan club following us, John and Jill from the hostel Casa Mariposa, the care takers of Cloud Bridge, and a couple other folks all came up to watch. As always it took a while to get cameras and safety in place. Then Ferdinand gave me the thumbs up, the Katy Perry song came back to the front of my head, I did a little happy dance, and new I was ready.

Caterate Casuela might be the most complicated big drop I have ever ran. It starts with a small slot on river left, that leads you  across the creek to a 8 foot drop. At the base of the 8 footer is a huge curler that explodes off the right wall. That curler drops another 15 feet into a cauldron, the cauldron is about 10 feet wide and rotates back under the curler at a proximately a hundred miles an hour. Then, the water falls off a beautiful 40 footer into a shallow pool. I am amazed I wanted to run such a messy drop, but as I have traveled and gotten better, I have fallen in love with "roller coaster" drops. The more dynamic the rapid the greater the reward for me. The idea of dropping 8 feet bouncing off a wall another 15 into a cauldron and then running a 40 footer all in the mater of 2 seconds was too much of a draw, I had to fire it up.

I hopped in my boat, checked my life jacket, helmet, spray skirt, did my supper quick stretch routine, and gave Ferdinand a loud whistle blast. A couple seconds later I heard Ferdinand whistle back, (safety and cameras were ready). I looked down at the shaft of my custom Blunt Family Paddle, and right there in the middle are the words "FIRE IT UP!!!". I gave the paddle a quick nod as to agree. I paddled back to the middle of the pool, rolled my neck, shrugged my shoulders, and started humming the song again. Out loud I reminded my self to just float over the first drop. I paddled to the slot with a nice right hand angle, and as I came through the slot I picked up a ton of speed. I was flying toward the first 8 footer, leaned forward and rolled over the first drop. A nano second later I got a quick left sweep stroke and the nose of the boat up on the curler. I followed it with a quick right stroke and was blinded by the spray of the curler, about then I felt gravity kick in. I got my left paddle blade ready for a brace and before I knew it I cleared the curler and was a foot away from the lip of the 40 footer. I didn't even get a chance for a stoke off the 40 footer, I did push my weight forward and cleared my paddle to one side. A half of a second of free fall and I entered the landing zone. I glanced off a rock about 9 feet under the surface and paddled away from the drop with a huge smile.
Chris Baer, about to hit the curler, Caterate Casuela

Chris Baer, reemerging from the curler, Caterate Casuela
Chris Baer getting the nose down, Caterate Casuela
I took a couple minutes to shout in celebration and a couple more to reflect on the scale and difficulty of the drop...
looking back up at the hardest drop of my life
dumbfounded that it went so well
Soon enough I gain composure and headed down stream. The next drop looked very marginal, I charged for a small rock flake and got pushed off early. I dropped 10 feet and glanced off another rock. The following drop looked absolutely horrible and Ferdinand and I both walked. Putting back on the river, I paddled another 15 feet to the next horizon line and saw another very marginal drop. The river in this section drops about 1000 fpm and was looking very unrunable.
Just another rapid on the upper upper Chirripo Pacifico
Ferdinand and I had a quick pow wow, and decided to abandon the project. All said and done this is one of the hardest hike and hucks I have ever seen, and I am absolutely stoked to have gotten the first descent of this amazing drop.

First descents of Ceibo Canyon and Rio Canas, Costa Rica from Chris Baer on Vimeo.

Three days and three first descents, not a bad mid week.

Chris Baer

Monday, December 13, 2010

Costa Rica, Chirripo, Chirripo Pacifico, Upper Buena Vista, and the San Rafael

The view from Cerro Chirripo
Packing up my equipment in snowy Colorado I really had no idea what I was getting my self into again. I have been traveling internationally to kayak for the last three years yet every time I pack my bags for the next grand adventure I have that voice in the back of my head asking me are you ready, do you know what you are in for, what if, what if, what if. I stop, and think about it like a big drop, I could either sit here and think about the down sides or, I could go live life to the fullest. I checked my list twice, repacked everything, barely slept, and before I knew it I was on the plane heading to Costa Rica.

I knew there was some boating in Terrialba, so that was my first destination. Apon Arival to the busy poluted relative gross city of Terrialba I was rather disapointed.
The town of Terrialba
I hung out for a couple of days and used every contact I could think of to find a paddling partner. Todd Wells showes up, and we imediatly got into the quick chit chat of who we are and what we have been up to lately. Todd then invites me to go with him to the other side of the country and check out some water falls and the tallest peak in Costa Rica.

We hopped a bus and a day later we are in San Gerardo.
Waiting for the bus in San Jose
We had been referred to a real cool low key Hostel, Casa Mariposa. The next day we grab mechettes and start the bush whack, hike, and scout mission to check out some amazing waterfalls.
Chris Baer in full bush whack mode
A Mot Mot
Cerro Chirripo, is the hightest peak in Costa Rica and is basicly in the back yard of Casa Mariposa. So the mission started, we hiked 15 kilometers up to a freezing cold base camp building, and spent the night. The next morning the plan was to wake up early and summit early so we could watch the sun rise at the peak. At  4 a.m. I rolled over to hear the rain pounding on the roof. There was a few groins and grunts and there was a inaudible decision to sleep for a couple more hours, there wasn't going to be a view. I awoke again to the sound of rain, and I knew that I was still going to push to reach the summit. Two hours and five kilometers later I was at the peak with 30 mph winds and side ways rain, the view was.... grey.
A beautiful view on the way up Cerro Chirripo

Chris Baer at the peak , not exactly the best view

Todd, feeling a little beat down after the hike up.
Chris Baer, it is a long hike back down.

Back down at the hostel we took a day to recover, drank tea, ate copious amounts of food, and just lounged. That night I awake to hear Todd getting sick, I originally thought it was his body telling him to take it easy for another day. Then he stayed sick, day after day high temeratures and not eating. At this point I started having the thoughts of dengue fever, leptospirosis, and malaria. It was time to get Todd to a hospital. The morning Todd was to leave for the hospital he looked a little better. After a couple days in San Jose, I got a phone call saying he was back on his feet and doing well.

Enough of other stuff, lets talk boating. It took me way too long to get on the water this trip, but the wait payed off.
Beautiful rain forest canopy
Day 1
Upper Upper Chirripo Pacifico 500 fpm
Ferdinand, one of the few creek boaters in Costa Rica, called up one day, and said, lets go kayaking. The next thing I know he stopped by plucked me up and we put on the Upper Chirripo Pacifico, this run is STEEP, average gradient has to be close to 500 fpm. We put on the creek and it was obviously heading down the mountain. It was horizon line after horizon line with micro one boat eddys in between, I was immediatly happy with my winter choice of Costa Rica. Three kilometers and over a thousand feet lower in elevation we reached the confluence with the Blanco and took out on the right. My first kayak run in Costa Rica was filled to the brim with must make eddys, seives, undercuts, and more off angle boofs then I could imagine.
Ferdinand on one of the countless drops
Day 2,
Upper Buena Vista, 300 fpm
The Upper Buena Vista, the name immediatly made me think of my summer home in CO. This run had a slightly mellower pace, then the Chirripo, only 300 fpm. There was a couple distictly different sections to this five kilometer run. It starts with a handfull of 15 foot drops with nasty lead ins. Then mellows out into a section of four foot boofs and blind twisting and turning through micro canyons. The third section gets back into some bigger drops that are concealed behind gigantic boulders. The last portion is just junky rock piled high ontop of itself falling quickly down to the take out bridge.

San Rafael, 300-500 fpm
Our second run on day two was the San Rafael, another three kilometer run. The San Rafael had over 30 drops between 6 and 15 feet, absolulty amazing. By the time we reached the take out my arms felt like they where going to fall off, and my smile was actually making my face hurt.

Day 3
The Canan section of the Chirripo Pacifico, 300fpm no drop bigger the five feet. 
Ferdinand looked at the flow and said well it is a little high. What he meant to say was he had the previous high water descent, and now the water is six inches higher. So we put on, and it was pushy. A thousand cfs rushing down 300 fpm felt pretty out of control. We would peel out of a swirling eddy and go a half a mile down through huge holes and around blind corners in a few seconds. I was in survival mode, I was chasing Ferdinand down the run. Five kilometers down stream we stopped at a bridge, and I was thankful to be exiting the river.

Chirripo, Buena Vista, and San rafael from Chris Baer on Vimeo.

Three days four rivers and over a vertical mile of elevation loss. Not a bad way to start off a Costa Rica trip.

Chris Baer