Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Lost GoPro?

How to modify your new GoPro Hero 5 Session

After losing my GoPro to the river last winter, I was in need of a new point of view camera for my upcoming adventures. As I began my research to buy a new camera, I found that GoPro had recently updated their cameras. I decided it was time to purchase a next-generation product.

modified GoPro Hero 5 Session

Why get a Session? First, it’s tiny. I’ve had fancy, cocktail ice cubes that were bigger, and definitely heavier. The big selling point for me was that when set in the 1440 aspect, it can record at 60 frames per second (fps). I have been shooting in 1440 for years, because it allows you to crop in post-production. This means you can adjust the frame so you don’t have your helmet in the shot; or if you haven’t aligned your camera perfectly, you can crop to put the horizon line in the middle of the shot where it belongs (or wherever you might want it).

My new GoPro arrived in the mail only a couple days after completing the order. Upon opening the box, the new Session camera looked good. I tossed it on the charger (new cord that I’m sure I’ll lose or break) and paired it via Bluetooth to my phone, quickly adjusting the settings to my liking. I also checked the angle of the mount on my helmet. This is when I noticed something a little odd. The skeleton housing that surrounds the camera has a couple of small plastic flanges to insure it stays in the housing. The odd thing is, on the front of the housing the flange goes all the way around the camera making it almost impossible for the camera to leave the skeleton housing, which is good. But on the back side there is only one tiny tab that secures the camera. This tiny tab is not enough to keep the camera in the housing. Even when the housing is latched closed, you can push on the front of the camera and, with a little force, manipulate the housing and slide the camera backwards and out of its plastic enclosure. Here are my suggestions for modifications to help keep your camera secure.

this tiny flange is what is supposed to keep the camera in the housing


Step One: Turn the housing around

In the extreme sport world, most athletes deal with excessive speed. A huge part of success within the “extreme” factor is avoiding any unscheduled really quick stops while traveling at said excessive speed. With that being said, sometimes we crash, and those are the videos that get a million views. We need to retain the camera during these sudden stops. By simply turning the housing around we can stop the camera from exiting through the back of the housing.

Step Two: Tether your GoPro


look close for the tiny metal bar

There are a few guarantees in life… death, taxes, and that POV cameras love to get knocked off your gear. If you play hard enough for long enough, your camera will eventually suffer an enormous impact, and when that happens something is going to give. Usually it’s either the mounting buckle or the adhesive on the mount. There is a simple solution: lash it down. Thankfully, GoPro agrees with me on this and has put a small steel bar on the front of the skeleton housing. But come on GoPro, why would you put the tether location on the front, near the lens? Do I really want a small piece of string bouncing around in my shots?  Yet another reason to rotate the skeleton housing backwards. And, just to make hanging onto your camera a little harder still, GoPro made the gap between the steel bar and the housing so small that it’s hard to find any line that is actually weight rated that is thin enough to fit through the gap. Thankfully, I was able to dig up some tiny line that I could finagle around the tiny bar, and then I attached this to some 550 para cord. This tether is then looped through the chin strap on my helmet.

Step Three: Dental floss?

two layers of dental floss attaching the microphone drain hole to the metal retaining bar

Now you have the skeleton housing attached to the helmet via mount and tether but the camera can still find its way out of its housing… I was sooo frustrated that I finally called the GoPro help desk. To my surprise, the person I got at GoPro was actually a human, spoke English, and was really well informed. He actually admitted that it wasn’t the best design, and yes, the camera could come out of the housing with some solid persuasion. Then he dropped a great little secret to me, “I’ve heard of some people finagling a line through the microphone drain holes.” Voila, a solid solution… kind of. The drain hole he spoke of is just shy of microscopic, definitely not going to find any weight rated line to fit through there. So, I used the strongest, most readily available, thin line I could think of: dental floss. A little cursing, and a little finesse, and I was able to get two loops of dental floss through the tiny hole. Then I brought the floss back to the metal tether bar that was now towards the back of the camera. Now, the camera is tethered to the housing that is tethered to the helmet.

GoPro has made floaty backs for many of its full size cameras, but not for the Session (which I am sure doesn’t float… yet). A couple of layers of mini-cell foam glued to the back of the camera is just the trick. I would suggest putting this foam on the back of the camera while it’s in the skeleton housing that you’ve turned around. This foam will not only make the camera float, but it’s yet another way to make sure the camera won’t leave the housing. Don’t forget to trim a small gap at the bottom so you can still access the button on the back of the camera. Then, for good measure, wrap the mini-cell foam with a brightly colored electrical tape. The electrical tape is multifaceted: it keeps the mini-cell foam from breaking down in the sunlight, it’s bright and makes your camera distinctly more visible, and it also gives the product a slightly more finished, clean look.

So with only an hour or so of fiddling, your new GoPro Hero 5 Session is now ready to take on some brutal impacts.

Interested in a 30% discount on the latest GoPro products? Get online and check out HookIt, an online “sponsorship” program. It only took me a few minutes to update some info and fill out a quick application for GoPro. Two days later, I received an email from GoPro with a 30% discount code attached.

random info from Chris Baer

Monday, April 11, 2016

Verbal Beta on the Yuba Gap

Ben Coleman, that's a tight line

Tall snow banks lined the highway as we passed by the Northern California city of Truckee. There was a heck of a lot more snow in the mountains compared to last year. The temps were warming up, the rivers were about to burst. Unfortunately, I hadn’t done much paddling in California, and I had no idea what was in store for me. After a couple quick Facebook shout outs, the infamous Jason Hale (the voice of the Green River Race) contacted me. Jason and Ben Coleman were looking to paddle Yuba Gap (one of the best single days of kayaking in California) the following day. Immediately, I said “YES!”

Inbetween messages with Jason I delved into some internet research to see what I had really signed up for. Darin Mcquoid’s web site, DarinMcquid.com, gave light to the awaiting arena. After a quick scan of photos, a couple video clips, and a quick read it was hard to fall asleep. I was buzzing with excited anticipation.

The original plan was for a 7:30 AM departure, but with cool early spring temperatures and the water level holding steady at 280 cfs (a perfect medium flow), we pushed it back to 8:30. We put on and quickly started falling off polished granite. California boating was living up to the hype.

Ben Coleman, rowdy lead-in

Class 5 Verbal Beta

Giving and understanding concise beta is imperative on class 5 rivers. So often these class 5 sections limit our ability to scout (walled in, swirling eddies, siphons, etc.). Being comfortable both giving and receiving quality beta is a skill every boater should constantly work on. After traveling for a while now, I feel relatively comfortable showing up to a new group of paddlers and getting limited beta from someone I have just met for a difficult rapid with high-stakes consequences. Thankfully so, because our crew was mobbing down Yuba Gap with Ben Coleman shouting out a couple of precise nuggets of beta before each towering rapid and that was all that I was going to get.

This section is only seven miles long, but is stacked full of complicated horizon lines. Our descent was a quick, four-hour foray, but without a confident guide like Ben sharing concise beta this section would have been an all-day affair.

amidst of a ton of California granite, Jason Hale and Ben Coleman enjoy a quick snack break

What I Look For In Beta

Giving good beta is a difficult skill. Each horizon line, complicated rapid, and additional paddler creates compounding opportunities for problems. Here is a quick list of what I usually find pivotal in giving and receiving good beta:

1) Confidence
    I love hearing confident beta. This means no, “Uhms,” no, “I thinks,” just a solid, certain, “Go       there.”

2) Where to Be at The Horizon Line
    This is twofold: the reason we are scouting in the first place is that you can’t see the features of the rapid. It’s also the basic information needed to venture into the unknown… Where do I start?!

3) Where Are We Going
    In longer and more complicated rapids it may be necessary to pass on information about where to go once you are in the rapid. Simple, unmistakable landmarks, and/or specific distances are imperative here.

4) Why
    This is at the bottom of the list for me; if someone is giving me confident beta on where to enter the rapid and where to go, I could care less that there is a hazard on one side or the other… unless the “Why” is notoriously in play.

another morning view, Mt. Hood

Having good communication in a new group under high stress is hard. It will also vary between skill level and choice of craft. Class 3 beta might have more information than class 5 beta, because the more skilled paddler will intuitively understand, for example, to punch the lateral, or boof the horizon line.

Try practicing on your local run with your established crew, and develop this imperative skill.

adventure by Chris Baer

Monday, March 28, 2016

Rio Negro

little van heading south

Stacked, eddy-less basalt rapids sound fun, that is unless they culminate in large drops with either a reconnect or a rock in the landing zone. The Rio Negro will never be a classic. Mainly due to the fact that it’s in the middle of nowhere (Hornopiren).

Hornopiren is either a full day of dirt road driving or a ferry ride away from anywhere. The perks: a small town atmosphere, fresh seafood, and beautiful camping next to the crystal clear river.

Bayside Hornopiren

Aeon Russo, no rocks in the landing zone, just a tree

The sloped basalt rock structure creates leaky eddies, (eddies where a large portion of the water, and potentially eddy-scouting kayakers, escapes out the downstream end of the eddy rather than recycling back up). This meant that eddy scouting was not a feasible option. At every major rapid we were forced out of our kayaks to scout. Our descent took four and a half hours to navigate the dense three kilometers of river back to camp. Thankfully, the basalt does stack into a handful of spectacular drops… that aren’t too problematic.

Aeon Russo, Rio Negro

Hamish Tills, U-turn Rapid

Aeon Russo, no rocks in the landing zone, just a tree

While this river has plenty of issues, its complications add to its intrigue, and the next time I find myself in Hornopiren I will make time to get another lap.

adventure by Chris Baer

Monday, March 7, 2016

Expedition: Short For Epic? Rio Manso, Chile

Expedition: Short For Epic? Rio Manso, Chile

Alerces Gorge

Rio Manso from Chris Baer on Vimeo.

Aeon Russo, Alerces Falls, argentina kayak waterfall , WhereIsBaer.com Chris Baer
Aeon Russo, Alerces Falls

The Upper Manso, or Argentine Manso is super fun; here are a few pictures, but that is not what this story is about.

Salto de Alerces, kayak waterfall patagonia rainbow argentina WhereIsbaer.com Chris Baer
Salto de Alerces

Mark Taylor, coming out of the jungle, kayak whereisbaer.com Chris Baer, Argentina Manso rio blue water kayak
Mark Taylor, coming out of the jungle

Aeon Russo, Manso Gorge, blue water whitewter kayak argentina manso WhereIsBaer.com Chris Baer
Aeon Russo, Manso Gorge

scouting another phallic named waterfall

Aeon Russo, flat water paddle out

During our time on the Rio Puelo, we bumped into an old friend of mine: Tomas Binimelis. He spoke of yet another threatened and very unique river section, the Rio Manso. But he wasn’t speaking of the more commonly paddled Alerces Gorge section in Argentina, but a very remote and mysterious section on the Chilean side of the border. Bennie’s beta on what we would encounter in the isolated valley was limited, and my understanding of that valley was beyond inadequate.


Years ago I remembered both Nate Mac and Matias Nunez rambling about the obscure Rio Manso Chilean Gorge. Accounts of “epic” was all I could remember. I tried to reach out to them and other friends in the area, and unfortunately (fortunately), the Puelo Valley currently has next to no communication with the outside world.

"coloring book map"

Our threesome (Aeon Russo, Mark Taylor, and Chris Baer) added a few new faces for the endeavor. Our newly amended crew now included Hamish Tills and Tomas Binimelis. We all started compiling our marginal beta, most of which was based upon hearsay and rumor, along with a few numbers from what Aeon so delicately referred to as the “coloring book map”. The alleged put-in, from the info that we could obtain, was four-hundred and twenty meters above sea level, and we were going to descend all the way down to just above sea level. The estimated distance was approximately thirty kilometers. After a quick mental conversion to the Imperial system, the river would fall at an average gradient of sixty-seven feet per mile for eighteen miles… a long one day event?

a bunch of boaters waiting on a boat



Tomas, chatting with the captain

“Arduous” would be a massive understatement for this trip. Thankfully, Tomas, our fearless Chilean was hard at work orchestrating our impending journey. To get to the Manso put-in, we would drive up the Puelo valley to the Upper Puelo put-in. We would then hike thirty minutes upstream to a large eddy, await our next vessel, load ourselves and our gear onto a motor boat, and then go upriver into the headwaters of the Rio Puelo. We then exited the first boat at an unidentifiable beach, and hiked half a mile up the hillside to get our passports stamped out of Chile by the grumpy, under-caffeinated border guards at the ridiculously remote “Paso Puelo” (only accessible via boat). We hopped onto a slightly larger jet boat and skipped our way further up-stream. Launching up a solid class 3 rapid, the captain calmly mentioned that we had just attain-boofed our way into Argentina. Our passports were stamped into Argentina at the beautiful Parque Nacional Lago Puelo. Then we journeyed north via a family friend of Tomas in a pickup truck for four hours to Paso Leon. The road dead ends in Paso Leon. We then checked out of Argentina, crossed the Rio Manso by kayak, and then checked back into Chile on the other side. This single day of logistics would have taken me a week or more to contrive, but spectacularly, Tomas pulled it off like it was just another day in the office.

Paso Puelo

end of the road

heading to the border crossing for the fourth time in a single day


On Water


Mark Taylor, picking his way through the siphon pile

The tributary just North of the Rio Manso is the Rio Cochamo. Shortly after setting off into our trip, the Rio Manso revealed its similarity to the Rio Cochamo: essentially gigantic boulders stacked on top of each other in a narrow canyon. There were literally siphons stacked upon siphons. Downstream progress slowed to a crawl.

Mark Taylor, Manso Chile

The next ten hours were a blur of massive boulder gardens, countless sieves, live bait scouting, and way too many close calls. Late in the day after running a massive sieve-laden boulder garden, I caught a micro eddy in the middle of the river. Looking downstream, Tomas and Hamish were sitting thirty feet below. The water between us was exploding in every direction. Their paddles were straight up in the air (signaling that the rapid was ok). Mark, Aeon, and I dropped into the melee heedlessly; we were exhausted.

Aeon Russo, Rio Manso

Every skill in my kayaking repertoire was being abused. Mentally, I was battered and my confidence started to fade.

Too Dark


trying to dry out after a long day

The gorge glowed an amazing saffron hue as the sun set over the unrelenting canyon rim. We stopped on a rocky beach. Fourteen years of paddling class 5 rivers, and this was my first unexpected overnight. We collected every piece of driftwood on the “beach” and started a fire. No one was anticipating a night out. Food was slim and protection from the elements was absent. The rain started at about 2:00 AM, and sleep became unattainable.

drying out after a long, cold, wet night

The following morning the crew was moving exceptionally slowly. Most hadn’t gotten any real sleep. Thankfully the river had given up most of its gradient. Wearily, we paddled through sporadic class 3 for the final six kilometers to our take out.

the locals are fighting hard

Sin Represas


proposed dam site, already under destruction

Part of the reason why we entered into the lower Rio Manso Gorge is that it’s threatened by an imminent dam project. We had hopes of obtaining some beautiful photos and video of the valley that could have been used in the anti-dam campaign. It was at our unexpected camp, exhausted, cold, and hungry, that I turned to Tomas with utter dispassion and exclaimed, “I changed my mind, I want this section to be dammed. I don’t want anyone else to have to deal with this.” We both let out an exhausted chuckle.

Puelo locals protesting the dam project

an amazing location

Do Not Go Into The Lower Rio Manso Gorge…


Mark Taylor, exhausted after another big mission

… Unless you are looking for a truly next level experience. Prerequisites should include self-discovery runs down the Rio Cochamo, Linville, Lower Meadow, and Cheeseman Gorge. Bring your “A Game”… and definitely your overnight gear.

almost too exhausted to get the shot

A couple months after I published this article John Arthur reached out to me with discription of the first discent, even more Epic!

Dear Chris,
I noticed the article on your website describing the lower Rio Manso, and thought you might be interested in some info about early kayak exploration of this run.

In February 1995 I was spending some time at Chris Spelius’ camp on the Futaleufu, and asked him for help in setting up a river adventure.  He suggested the Rio Puelo, and offered to provide logistics.  I recruited Lars Holbek, who was working for Spe that year, along with a couple of other visitors to Spe’s camp — Dave Kemp from California and Dave Kalange from Idaho.  We all piled into Spe’s truck and he drove us to Argentina.  The plan was to first meet up with a bunch of kayakers from Bariloche and run the Alerces section of the Manso.  Spe had brought a bunch of old kayaks with him, to sell to the Bariloche boaters.  In gratitude, they treated us to an evening of asado and wine on the beach at Lago Steffen after the Alerces run.  As we drank more wine, the idea of simply continuing on down the Manso to the ocean somehow started to seem credible.  Lars was against it at first, since we knew almost nothing about the river downstream (we had only a highway map, showing an eventual confluence with the Puelo).  But the Bariloche boaters assured us that the Manso was navigable at least as far as the border with Chile.  Beyond that, they knew nothing, but there were rumors that a party of Germans had headed downstream just a few days earlier.  That was enough for Kalange and Kemp, and they talked Lars into it.  In addition, Bariloche boater Diego Rodriguez decided to join us. 

The next morning, after we sobered up, the plan somehow still seemed plausible.  We were there, the river was waiting — it seemed fated to happen.  So we packed our Responses and Crossfires with gear and food for an expedition.  I had brought lots of dehydrated meals from the US, and we had a couple of camping stoves and pots.  A Response can hold a lot of gear, but we regretted the weight later.  We said goodbye to Spe and to our Bariloche hosts, and paddled off from the beach.

According to my notes, we paddled about 35 km the first day, nearly to the border.  I remember easy paddling through pastures and forests, with great scenery.  On the second day, we paddled a nice class 3-4 canyon at the border, and crossed into Chile.  Then the river turned south and got serious.  We proceeded more slowly and made a few portages.  This day we covered about 20 km. 

On the third day, things got really serious as the river continued south.  A succession of big class 4 and 5 drops, some runnable and some portaged.  One portage required fancy rock climbing by Lars and a rope traverse for kayaks and boaters.  ( I recognize this drop in your video — you did a roped swim.)  In the afternoon we reached a vertical-walled canyon with two huge drops back to back.  The first drop looked marginal and the second couldn't be scouted.  So we scaled the cliff, and pulled the boats up with ropes.  Once on top we crashed through the bamboo.  Our progress was very slow, as we heaved the loaded boats over, under and through the bamboo jungle.  In 4 hours hiking we covered about 1/2 km and reached a side creek, where we camped.  Total mileage for the day:  about 4 km. 

The morning of the fourth day, we did some reconnaissance down in the canyon, and concluded that the river was runnable for at least a few km.  We lowered the boats to the river by rope and climbed down ourselves, jumping the last 40 feet into an eddy.  Big rapids followed but only one portage and the gradient gradually eased.  About 10 km of great class 3-4 rapids followed.  Late in the afternoon the river tuned west and the canyon abruptly ended, leaving us on flat water.  We camped just above the confluence with the Rio Puelo.  We had been conserving our food to this point, but now that we were out of the canyon we celebrated with a pig-out dinner.

On the fifth day we paddled all the way to the bridge near Puelo town, playing in the huge hole at the exit to Lago Tagua Tagua.  We caught the bus from Puelo to Puerto Montt, paying 5000 pesos to put the boats on the roof.

We never did catch up with the Germans on the river (though we found bits of plastic on the rocks at the portage points).  However, Dave Kemp eventually ran into them in a bar in Puerto Montt.  They made more long portages than we did, climbing out of the canyon at least three times.  Thus, our trip was either a first or second descent, depending on your criteria.  Diego Rodriguez came back with his Bariloche buddies later and proved that the canyon we hiked around was runnable.  He eventually set up a company (Adventure Tours Argentina Chile) and guided commercial raft trips down the lower Manso.

I enjoyed your Manso video, and even recognized many of the rapids after 20 years.  I’m very sorry to hear about the plans to build a dam in there, and hope the the local resistance to this plan is successful. 

John Arthur
Berkeley, CA

Descent of the Rio Manso from Lago Steffen to the town of Puelo, February 6-10, 1995
John Arthur
Lars Holbek
David Kalange
David Kemp
Diego Rodriguez

adventure by Chris Baer

Monday, February 22, 2016

Why Big Volume Waterfalls Are Such Fun: Rio Fuy and Gol Gol

There is just something about that big water boof

Leaving the swirling eddy with a little concern about the location of the obscured indicator feature; taking a couple strong strokes to get up to speed with the water; spotting that small, breaking wave to line up; Duffek onto the three foot wide, bright green tongue; leaning forward, waiting, watching the water glisten as it runs over the rock below you; looking for the moment that rock drops away and the water explodes into a white flash; turning the boat over on edge; levering the stroke deep, the solid friction of a blade full of water and pulling all the way through; leaning further forward; realigning the boat; falling, surrendering to gravity; the water droplets making contact with your face and chest; white-out in the eruption of water; feeling the firm yet giving impact of the bow settling itself into the aerated water; the stern making contact, transforming all of the vertical flight into forward momentum; wheelieing into the pool. All of this is why big volume waterfalls are some of the most sought after features in whitewater. The Rio Fuy and Gol Gol produce multiple opportunities for these types of rewards.

car camping at the Fuy put-in
Chris Baer finding that magic spot
Aeon deep in the Gol Gol

Another Vertical Rescue

It was our second day paddling the Gol Gol and the crew was a bit tired. Slowly, we made our way down to Salto Princessa, one of the “big ones”. The lead-in for this twenty footer is rather awkward and no one had a spectacular line the day before. After a quick group chat the consensus was that we were going to run relatively close to each other in a “blue angel” safety pattern. The going theory is that not everyone is going to crash, and that everyone will be relatively near each other in case anything weird were to arise. Mark went first, and from my eddy he appeared to have a good line. I fired off of the falls second and had a great line. As I set my stroke towards the eddy I spotted Mark’s boat upside down. Then I heard a, “Whoop!” My head swiveled. Where was Mark? One or two paddle strokes towards shore and another, “Whoop!” I started yelling back to an undisclosed Mark. Aeon came off the falls only moments later and was able to spot Mark tucked up into a rather nasty looking rock/tree undercut pocket. Thankfully, Mark was able to stabilize himself in the pocket by holding onto two marginal twigs. Mark’s precarious position was unfortunately costing him a ton of energy and he was quickly getting cold and tired.

Aeon Russo discerning that elusive lip

Aeon and I dove out of our boats, throw ropes in hand. We tossed a rope down to help stabilize Mark, but it didn’t seem plausible to pull him vertically out of the pocket. His perch was gross. The rocks and wood were overhanging on three sides of him and the water rushing in on the fourth side. It was taking too long. We were attempting rescue strategies that were going to put Mark in too much risk. It was simple. The best way to get him out of the situation was to turn on the adrenaline, get real strong, and pull him vertically up and out of the overhung pocket. This took two ropes attached to him and quite a bit of cursing. The tactile sensation of reaching over and grabbing his life jacket brought a huge smile to my face.

Aeon Russo waiting for the stroke

The team took it pretty hard. Legitimate rescues had been coming at a pretty ferocious rate on this trip. Had we been pushing it too hard? Were our balls bigger than our brains? Was it just our turn? The fact is Aeon Russo, Mark Taylor, and I make a strong team. It’s because I have faith in these folks that I’m willing to put myself in these dangerous situations. It’s because of this team that we have endured these trials and tribulations. I for one am excited about our next adventure!

Mark Taylor approaching free-fall

Rope Ladder

ten alpine butterfly knots in a throw bag
After two vertical extractions, here is another technique to retrieve an active victim. Simply tie one end of rope to a solid anchor and then tie multiple butterfly knots on the other end. The active victim can simply climb out under their own power. A good video on how to tie a butterfly knot can be found at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n2aRj8dQPRQ

adventure by Chris Baer