Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Rio Manso

Rio Manso

Finding myself out of my boat at the base of a 50 foot waterfall wasn't exactly the smooth reentry into paddling class 5 that I was looking for.
Matias slipping into the monster, Salto los Alerces.
Pucon season was wrapping up, and my itch to explore was growing by the day. I talked to Matias Nuñez about taking the bus over to Bariloche, Argentina and paddling with him before heading down to the Rio Futaleufu. Matias's beta sounded bleak. Everything was on the low side of good, but he thought that we could go into the Rio Manso and have ok water levels.

The Manso has had rough access issues over the years. My previous trip to the river involved getting harassed at the take out by the park ranger who believed it was illegal to kayak through the canyon. The ranger was even bold enough to call Matias a bad Influence for bringing me into the canyon. Turns out Matias is a great influence, he spoke to the proper people and got the access issue clarified. Now days the local officials actually contact Matias to go into the canyon and do biological research.

Arriving at the Bariloche bus station I was greeted with cold weather and ornery cab drivers. After some dispute over whether or not my kayak fit on the roof of the cab, I caught a ride to one of my favorite hostels, Refugio Patagonia. While spending long periods of time traveling there is something very comforting about arriving in a location that you are familiar with. Two years ago I had spent a week at this hostel while paddling with Matias. This year the owner of Refugio Patagonia, Tato, stepped out of the hostel and greeted me with a huge grin and said, "Wow, you're back. Come on in, I'll make you some fresh coffee".

The road into the Rio Manso is only one lane wide, and to prove it, the local officials have mandated that the road is a one way street. In the morning you can drive into the park, and in the afternoon the road direction reverses and you can leave. Matias and I chatted about our plan to paddle the river. We would meet early the next day to coincide with the one way road that allows access to the put-in.

A small idea of where we were, REMOTE, huge mountains on both sides.
The next morning a pickup truck pulled up in front of the hostel with five people already smashed into it. Matias and Santiago where there to paddle, the rest of the truck was filled with our necessary shuttle driver, and a couple of girlfriends. A few moments later I had my gear strapped to the truck and the six of us were headed on a two hour drive into the middle of Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi. Upon arriving at the Manso we checked the level and were happily surprised that the water was at a low medium. This meant that all of the drops were going to be good, and there was only one probable portage.

While gearing up our energy level was super high. Just downstream was the 50 foot waterfall named Salto los Alerces (Tamarack). As we climbed in our kayaks all I could think of was the line I wanted to put together on Alerces, and the fact that my shoulder might not be up for it. Three weeks had passed since I injured my shoulder, and paddling 15 kilometers of class 5 was probably not the best way to test it.

After a quick scout Matias hopped in his boat. A couple strokes later and he launched off the left shoulder of the waterfall. He got his nose down and connected with the rest of the water coming in from the right, disappearing into the veil. A long moment passed and Matias reappeared 50 feet below, celebrating in the backwash with his fist pumping in the air.

After stretching out my shoulders and practicing my tuck, I ran through the possible outcomes of what I was about to do. It seemed so routine. I was about to risk my life and it scared me. I smiled and whispered to myself,  "This is going to be so fun." Moments later I was lining up a rock flake and took a huge stoke.  Flying past all of the water out into the air I leaned forward and started falling. I was way out in front of the falls flying through the air for what seemed like an eternity. Then BAM the reconnect hit me like a ton of bricks and I started to rotate. Now I was crashing, not flying, and I was rotating towards head down. All I could do was tuck tighter and wait for the impending impact. It took forever… The next thing I remember was wondering why my legs where wet, and why does my left leg really hurt? I had rotated in the air, slamming into the base of the falls on my head. My boat hit the surface tension of the water and stopped, violently ejecting me.

While getting swirled in the hole at the base of the falls I started kicking my feet. It wasn't until I reached the surface and took a breath that I really accepted the fact that I was swimming. The 100 foot overhanging wall in front of me was coming up rather quickly, so I tossed my paddle and started swimming hard. After a little downtime I found a rock shelf just under the surface of the water. Slowly I climbed out of the water and did a system diagnostic. My head and neck felt fine, both of my shoulders felt ok, the inside of my left calf was bright red (I had smashed it on my Pelican Case as I was ejected), and my left shoe had been ripped off. It took a couple minutes to gather my gear, collect my wits, and put my shoe back on.

The in-between rapids are a blast and take you through a super remote valley. Most of the time on the river all you can see is dense jungle on both sides and a never-ending beautiful blue green river dropping away in front of you. Our Team paddled the in-between rapids with huge smiles, taking in the gorgeous scenery.

Matias catching an off camber boof.
There are a couple of other major rapids on the run, Pinball, Triple Falls, and Horse Cock. Pinball has a relatively long lead-in that usually disorients you, and then there are two large offset holes to punch through. Santiago managed to make this rapid look rather intense as he almost surfed the first hole and got spun around after taking a big chunk of the second hole. After watching Santiago Matias and I tweaked our lines slightly and had a much smoother result. Triple Falls is just three fun ledges in a row, the last being a 15 foot big water boof. The other one is named Horse Cock. This thing is a huge 60ish feet with a nasty lead-in, and a cave at the bottom. After some solid scouting the decision was made that we didn't have enough people to set proper safety, and that none of us had big enough balls to match the size of the Horse Cock. 

Five hours of paddling, scouting, and swimming allowed us to cover 15 kilometers on the river. The Manso deposited us into Lago Steffen. Matias, Santiago, and I took our time to eat a late lunch and prepare ourselves for 5 more kilometers of paddling across Lago Steffen to our truck. An hour and a half of paddling across the lake and we arrived at the truck. We were greeted by our shuttle bunnies, they had big smiles and hot Yerba Maté waiting for us.

Looking back across Lago Steffen.
Paddling the Manso definitely was a rushed test for my shoulder. The tightly packed pick up truck felt slightly less uncomfortable on the drive out of the park, knowing that my shoulder had healed up enough to handle paddling class 5. I was back!

Blunt Family Paddles has a new poster girl, Ayelen Nunez.
Write up and photos by Chris Baer.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Kids Camp with Pucon Kayak Hostel

Kids Camp with Pucon Kayak Hostel

Danny going big on the Tres Saltos.
When David Hughes approached me about doing a kids kayak camp for his Pucon Kayak Hostel I fumbled my response.  I had never taught kids, or a camp. My personal philosophy took over: swing for the fences. "I could do that," I thought.  "Teach kids how to kayak, how hard could it be?"  Over the last few years I have taught a fair amount of adults how to roll, teaching kids couldn't be much different.  I was in for a major learning experience myself.

Danny and Lucas, kayaking the Rio Machine.
The students, Lucas, 15, and Danny, 13, are brothers from Santiago.  Both had rafted before and done a tiny bit of kayaking. We started the instruction from scratch, talking about all the gear, why we wear it, and how to outfit a kayak.  We got them suited up quickly and headed to Lago Caburgua where we began a roll clinic. There were more distractions then I could imagine, the kids splashing, parents looking on, and breathtaking scenery. The initial roll clinic went well, and the kids attention was quickly turning more and more towards kayaking.

Eric teaching Lucas to roll in the hot springs.
Paddling with people at an entirely different skill level is challenging, and taking them to a river that I have never paddled before was slightly frightening. The smiles on their faces were exhilarating as we all peered around corners, not sure of what was next.  I never thought taking two class 2 paddlers, down a class 2 canyon could ever bring such enjoyment. Everyone was so excited for the next challenge.

Kayaking and Stand Up Paddle Boarding the lower Trancura.

It was difficult for me to find a teaching style suited for Lucas and Danny. It was my job to remove boundaries and perceived fears. I instantly reverted to river guide mode. We passed in and out of small eddies, rolled in the current, had the kids lead rapids, and find their own lines. By slowing down and teaching the simplest portions of kayaking I allowed myself to see the little things again. I had my eyes wide open looking for tiny eddies, spotting geological abnormalities, and understanding the group dynamics the next time I went kayaking on something "hard."   Teaching truly is a learning experience.

Lucas crashing through a wave on the Lower Trancura.
We even had the kids write little stories about their experiences.  This took some serious prodding, but the end result is a simple view on their experience.

Lucas Miller wrote:

One would wonder how hard kayaking could really be, I thought it was a simple idea that relied on more physical power than knowledge. To my surprise, kayaking inhabits a world between these two things. A mere physical approach to the river would be possible, if not dangerous without the proper mind to "read" the river. Being able to see how a river moves and how it acts is invaluable in kayaking it. When i first started, i went on a beginner river, simple flat water. It could not have been simpler. Kayaking left my mind for several years. Then my mom told me of a kayak camp in chile, a great chance to train with the same school my cousin learned all his tricks, though he stayed for a semester and i am doing it for a week.

Lucas learning to roll in the Hot Springs.
My first impresion of kayaking was that it was a merely physical sport, but it is also of dicipline minds, being able to focus as the vastly powerfull waves or rocks rush at you. Or as you flip into the cold water, you try to keep your mind clear as you perform the flip. The flip is a trick that i had to learn, since getting out of the kayak everytime one flipped would waste time that i did not have. It was hard at first then i started to get comfortable with the hip snap and the paddle movement. I did my first flip on my second class, and my first combat flip yesterday. It was good that they made me rehearse the flip, i did it instinctevly right when i went under. 

Lucas practicing rolling in the hot springs.
My kayaking teachers are Eric, Chris, and David Hughes.
You could tell where there were rocks or how they were positioned underwater by just looking on how the wave forms. The lines between eddie and current become more clear, they usually have little whirlpools and move the opposite direction of the current. Almost all rapids end in a V, the bottom of the V pointing downriver. I almost got flipped once when moving on a strong current to a slow eddie, the change is very difficult to cope with while your kayak is rocking precariously, though I am still a beginner.

Lucas firing up the top of the Tres Saltos.
It is always awkward to enter a eddie, but if you lean upriver and do a stroke on the upriver side of the kayak it would smoothen your entry instead of the usual rolling. It was funny seeing all the whitewater horizons, which could mean a waterfall, though most of the time in our case it mostly ment a bunch of rocks. Eric would joke that they were waterfalls and my brother would pretend to be scared, though more like terrified. Before that we looked at some really tall waterfalls that would have bashed me against rocks and flattened me. Eric quizzed me and asked where i would go if i were on the river, i chose the left side, and apparently i would have run into a big pointy rock on the bottom if I were really on the river. That would not have been the best of days.

Yesterday my brother, Steven, Eric, David Hughes, and me went on the Tolten river. It was an easy river, few strong rapids. My brother did drift downstream after falling off the stand up paddle board. 

This camp is amazing since they know the rivers and Pucon has incredible views, kayaking with Volcan Villa Rica in the setting framed with picture perfect mountains. Literally crystal clear water that made the bottom visible. All in all, i would be sad leaving. Keep kayaking.

Daniel Miller wrote:

I first kayaked in Tennessee on the Ocoee river with my brother, I was about 9 years old. At first I thought kayaking would be easy but then I thought because of my size it was really hard for me. I was scrawny compared to my all american cousins who were paddling with us. I was even skinny compared to my cousin my same age.

Danny in front of Volcano Viarrica.
A few moments after I think of what I'm supposed to do I get flipped by my uncle, he wanted to see if I could get out of my kayak. I start to run out of my precious air, my mind is racing and I tap the part of my kayak that is out of the water. I had forgotten about the plastic handle that would allow me to escape my kayak. My uncle then flips me back up and says, "maybe you ought to paddle with out a skirt."

I would never think that 4 years later I would be rolling like a pro and be in a kayaking camp. My first thought at the camp was were is the river? After a week I'm able to flip like a pro. The three things that I liked the most about this camp is that, my teachers would teach with a bit of humor. I also like that I can now surf the wave at the lake in my kayak. Another thing I like is all the amazing views of the landscapes and the animals I saw, like an otter and a strange bird and lots of fish, and lizards. All in all this camp has been the best camp I have ever been to.

Danny and Lucas in front of Volcano Viarrica
Daniel and Lucas's plane that would take them back to the city of Santiago was nearing, and the smiles on their faces were slowly fading. They wanted to stay, and their week of kayaking and adventure had enlightened the three of us.

Write up and photos by Chris Baer

Friday, February 3, 2012

Rio Cochamo

The Cochamo valley at it's finnest.
Preface: Christmas day I kayaked the Portage rapid on the Rio Palguin and crashed. It gave me a serious beating against a rock. A week later and we are trying to paddle the Rio Cochamo, and I am dealing with rather severe pain in my left shoulder.

Our alarm clock.


The beta we were collecting on the Rio Cochamo was spot on Chilean. Loose. None of the stories add up, and there was a constant downplay on the size of drops, not to mention the lack of directions to and from the river. The stories of paddling the river over the past 15 years were as varied as they come. "Sieves on top of sieves with logs, super clean, it's the Chilean Yosemite, big rapids, smooth granite, slides, hike in, use horses, complicated, don't use horses, multi-day, one day." The beta on this run was almost comically bad. The only consistent beta was that in a very remote part of southern Chile there was a river and it was worth paddling.

Boats precariously balanced in one of the beautiful inlets of the Pacific Ocean.
Our group was quickly forming, and the addition of another rental car sealed the deal for our trip. Casey Tango, Godon Klco, Anna Bruno, Matt Smink, Seth Dow, and I packed the rigs and set our sights south. A full day of driving later and we were nearing Puerto Varas. The scenery was incredible as we passed by Lago Llanquihue and multiple volcanoes. Small inlets from the Pacific Ocean came into sight and my jaw dropped. We were passing through some of the most beautiful parts of Patagonia.
Our poor rental truck, slightly overloaded.
Lago Llanquihue and one of the countless volcanos.
After another hour of incredible scenery we arrived in the town of Cochamo. The town was bigger then I had pictured in my imagination, and the river was wide and flat. The water level looked acceptably low, more than a few inches below the buttress in the middle of the bridge. That evening was spent arranging horses and packing the necessities for our mission the next day. We had decided to hike the boats in and have the horses carry the food, camping equipment, and the rest of the kayaking gear. We would camp overnight at La Junta and paddle downstream the day after, New Year's Eve.

Our cowboy for the trip.
For more info on using horses see how to travel internationally with a kayak. 

That evening I was on the fence about whether I was physically able to paddle or not. After another spike of pain my mind was set. It was not worth risking the team's safety for my desire to paddle. This was an exceedingly hard decision to make. I have suffered plenty of injuries over the years, but this one was really hurting me mentally. I was going through my nightmare scenario, flying back to the states, having surgery, getting a "real job," and not being able to kayak.

The next morning we drove the vehicles along the river to the end of the road. Some place along the drive the rental car received it's first flat tire. Get the wrench, loosen lug nuts, raise car, take tire off, spare on, lower car, and tighten nuts. At this point in the trip I was feeling like a NASCAR mechanic. Next we talked to the cowboy that was going to wrangle the two rented horses to the top of the river. Casey, Gordon, and Seth shouldered their kayaks and started up the 10 kilometer hike. Anna, Matt and I followed behind carrying cameras and water. The aging access trail consists of braided trenches stamped into the earth by millions of hooves.

Gordon Klco hiking through the trenches.
After a full morning of hiking and multiple creek crossings we reached the kayaker's put-in location. Looking further into the valley the granite walls grew tall and polished. We pushed forward another hour or so and reached camp. The entire team immediately collapsed and devoured our hodge podge lunch. You really haven't had anything like a manjar, aji pebre, mustard, avocado, cheese, and tuna fish sandwich on squished bread.

The view looking up from the bridge in Cochamo.
The group slowly began to motivate, setting up camp and going on other hikes. After years of kayaking my brain always has rivers in the subconscious. After spotting a sign reading Cascade Trail, I laced my shoes back up and went for a look. The scenery was unreal. There were massive mountains made from one single piece of polished granite. The granite was covered in snow and ice, and it was slowly melting and quickly cascading back down to camp.

Next generation.
The next morning the kayakers woke up early and hiked back down the trail to their put-in location. That left Anna, Matt, and I to do some other side hikes and enjoy a rowdy, natural slip-in-slide. 

New Year's Eve
Star trails for New Years.
The group re-met at the vehicles. Stories were shared about a broken boat, sieve laden rapids, and a hike out just shy of completing the run. The beta on this run stays confusing, and once again all I know is that it is worth it. The new year was celebrated with tired bodies and great memories in a beautiful valley.

Celebrating New Years with some wine and a beautiful view.

Write up and photos by Chris Baer