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


  1. Damn. Glad you are alright. That is one sketchy wall.

  2. Fuck yeah Mark Taylor! Thank you for saving my friends ass. Live long my friends.