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:

adventure by Chris Baer

Monday, February 8, 2016

Sin Represas, Rio Puelo

Mark and Aeon staring into the big one


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

How to get there

Lago Tauga Tauga

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

Blanquita on the Ferry

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

save this valley

Chile Sin Represas 

Puelo community in action, Sin Represas

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

adventure by Chris Baer

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Risk, Nilahue

The Risk, Nilahue

Mark Taylor setting hero safety at the base of Nilahue

Salto del Nilahue

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

waking up to the beauty of Lago Ranco

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

Nilahue from Chris Baer on Vimeo.

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

Aeon Russo charging the curler

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

looking down into the Nilahue Valley 

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

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

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

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

Chris Baer hand roll attempt heading towards the cave

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

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

Extended hugs were given.

another beautiful horizon

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

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

adventure by Chris Baer