Tuesday, December 13, 2011

MAYU- Ecuador needs your support

It's the season of giving and here at Team Swain the top of our list to give to is a project that would help bring a little exposure to a place that is very special to us.

Matt Terry of the Ecuadorian Rivers Institute (E.R.I.), has been fighting to protect the rivers of the upper Amazon River basin free flowing for over two decades. He has done so with very little funding and no recognition. His approach has always been to educate the community first and present them the tools to protect the resources that they depend on.

In the past few years as in many other nations in South America, the pressure is on in Ecuador. Construction has begun on the Rio Topo, in Banos, and one of the greatest tragedies is a dam on the Quijos river below the beautiful San Rafeal falls.

The project is called MAYU which is the Kichwa word for "river". Once the project has been funded a film would be produced to bring a little exposure to the work of E.R.I. to help fund future projects. It could be the difference of Ecuador remaining one of the most in-tact, biologically diverse regions in the world, or an environmental disaster.

Click this>>Here is the link.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Chile 2010 Video Update

Another great video by Gareth Tate on our recent adventure to Chile this past winter. Enjoy!

Trip Report: Chile 2010 from 7 Finger media on Vimeo.

Its Hard to Beat the Southeast When Its Raining!

Over the past couple weeks the Southeast has been getting a lot of love from the rain gods, and it just reminded me of just how good the southeast is when its raining! With tons of great options within a couple hours of Asheville, it really is hard to beat. In the past couple weeks, I have managed to get on a number of NC classics that rival the best rivers in the world.

Upper Big Creek, The Green (with water in it), Big Laurel (flooded), Overflow, Horsepasture and the Linville all in a 10 day time span. Gotta love it!

Anne Sontheimer at Singley's Falls, Overflow (Photo by Jason McClure)
Me at the final drop of Gravity, Overflow (Photo by Jason McClure)

Me entering Thrasher Pike B, Horsepasture (Photo by Robbie Gilson)
Anne Sontheimer exiting Thrasher Pike B, Horsepasture (Photo by Robbie Gilson)
Dave Herman coming through S-turn, Linville (Photo by Paul Stamilio)
Anne Sontheimer at Cathedral Falls, Linville (Photo by Paul Stamilio)

Me at Cathedral Falls, Linville (Photo by Paul Stamilio)

 I must note that another thing that made this recent boating so awesome was getting my best friend Anne out on three big southeastern runs that she had never been on before (Overflow, Horsepasture and Linville) all in the same week! It was the first time we had gotten to do something new and big together since she gave birth to her son two years ago. Just goes to show that moms can still go big!

Friday, March 04, 2011

Second Descent Las Truchas

The Nuble river valley is situated in Region VIII of Chile. Often overlooked by kayakers visiting Chile in search of waterfall the laden runs Chile is known for. The Nuble itself sometimes has the feel of the "Numbers" of the Arkansas River in Colorado and sometimes the Gauley River in West Virginia, but all of the time it is graced with stunning Andean scenery. For those in search of unknown whitewater the Nuble river valley delivers, in the two weeks we where there we did the first descent of the Estero Las Damas, and the second descent of the Las Truchas.

The Las Truchas, a tributary of the Nuble was first run in 2007 by my friend Jon and two other friends after Jon had been combing over Google Earth trying to figure out what lie in the upper reaches of the river valley. The one problem was after the town of San Fabian road access is sketchy and very remote. The only way to make it to the top of the run would be by horse. After sorting out the logistics and finding some cowboys who were wiling to make the trip the first descent was completed, Jon spoke highly of the run but as most first descents go there was not a lot of time for documenting the run as your never quite sure of what lie ahead. Maybe you will encounter an un-runnable gorge, maybe you will have to make epic portages, on first descents it's always difficult to prepare for the "what if". It turned out that all was runnable for the most part and the run was completed with only a hand full of portages. The second descent is when you can return and really enjoy the place for what it is, a super remote river with outstanding whitewater.

Waiting for the Bus

After arriving in Santiago Jon, our friend Jeremy and myself made an obligatory stop at the Rio Claro for a run down the viente dos saltos and the siete tazas which is an amazing place, it was hard to resist staying longer at the Rio Claro, but Jon had already made arrangements with the cowboys who would transport our boats and gear to the top of the Las Truchas. So after a day of waterfall running we loaded up in Jon's truck and headed further south to the town of San Fabian. The next morning we would spend a few hours shopping and packing for our trip. The plan was to paddle the Los Sauces river, the largest tributary to the Nuble, then camp on the beach at the confluence where we would meet the cowboys to load our gear and boats on horses then hike seven hours to the put-in. We needed to be prepared for four nights of camping, three days of paddling and one full day of hiking. The one hitch in the plan was our shopping day turned out to be a Chilean holiday, which meant all the supermarkets were closed so we were forced to purchase all of our food from a "tienda", which has a selection of food slightly better than a well stocked US gas station.

Food for the trip

After piecing together our food and packing our gear we loaded the truck and headed up river toward the Sauces. The weather could not have cooperated any better as we had perfect Andean spring weather, warm and sunny the snow was definitely melting. As we headed upstream the excitement grew as we got our first glimpses of the Nuble full of water. As we passed the Estero Las Damas, Jon noted he had never seen that much water flowing out of it, for a minute he almost talked us into doing the first descent of it that day. After considering the fact that we had a seven hour hike the next day we decided against shouldering our boats to carry up to run it, we would return four days later to do that very thing. We pushed on over the terrifying, steep boulder exposed road to the put-in for the Los Sauces. We got our first good look at the Sauces from about one thousand feet above the river from up there it looked a little on the high side and pretty scary, we stopped many times scouting rapids from far above hoping once we got to river level they would look a lot better. As the road descended the mountain and got closer to the river the rapids looked much the same. Of course we put-in anyway and the portage fest ensued. After passing the crux gorge we joined our friend Pablo back near the road to get our overnight gear out of the truck and head downstream to the beach where we would camp for the night. As the sun set we relaxed by the fire eating fresh trout we had caught Pablo said "this is living".

On the road to the Los Sauces

Los Sauces

First nights camp


The Next morning woke up early and quickly packed our gear into our dry bags so they cowboys would not be waiting on us when they arrived. Just like planned they showed up with two pack horses and they two horses they would ride. Jon had told us of many epic failures loading gear on to horses, obviously the horses are somewhat startled by the bright colored kayaks and it is hard to bet the load perfectly balanced on their backs for the seven hour trek. It was clear though that these guys were professionals and in no time they had the horses loaded one with a kayak on either side, the other with all the gear and one boat. Loaded and ready to go we said good-bye to Pablo and started the hike. The first part of the walk was like walking back in time as we passed homestead after homestead of people living a stones throw away from civilization with no modern amenities. When the Nuble is low it is possible to drive across it with a truck but in the spring when it has good water it is not passable. On one side of the river in San Fabian people live a life with cellular telephones, satellite t.v., and wireless Internet. On the other side people don't have electricity, they still use horses for their primary transportation, they live this life not by circumstance but by choice. The irony is that there are two dams purposed for the Nuble River, one of which is already under construction. Chile has sold of its water rights to other countries who will build the dams and sell the power back to the Chilean people for profits. These people who have scratched out a simple existence will be forced out of their homes and into a life they know nothing about and do not seem to want. It's hard to see the fairness of that situation.

Loading up

Leaving Robles


The first hour or so of the hike was in the comfortable shaded low part of the valley, we crossed a few small streams before the valley opened up at we arrived at the confluence of the Truchas and the Nuble. Here the Truchas was wide and flat and there was plenty of water. We held our breath as we waded nearly waist deep in the icy cold water our feet completely numb by the time we reached the other side. On the other side the well traveled road led us to the community of Robles, as we walked down the main road of the town it was like a scene of an old western movie, holding pens for livestock on both sides of the road and ranch hands stopping work for a few minutes to have a good laugh at the ridiculously dressed gringos walking down the road. Our cowboys had stopped here briefly as well I sure to tell the people in the town about the three guys that were making the death march to the top of the Truchas, our lifestyle is as foreign to them as theirs to us. At the end of the town we arrived at a gate at the base of a steep rocky, exposed slope. The cowboys asked if it would be OK if they rode ahead so they could get back home before dark we paid them their wages and thanked them. The plan was for them to tie a White burlap sack on a tree near the put-in where they stashed our boats. Now the real hike began with the sun beating down we pushed on over scree slopes, rocky outcrops, and steep mountain sides. At times I expected to see our boats and gear in a jumbled pile at the base of a slope, I was amazed the horses could be so sure footed on such difficult terrain.

After six hours of hiking we got our first good look at the river we would paddle the next day there was defiantly water and it was white! We stopped several times to admire the amazing scenery from the top of one mountain we saw the cowboys traversing the slope on the far side of the river. The horses were boat free which meant that we were close. Eventually the steepness gave way and we were in an open alpine valley probably no more than five miles from the Argentina border. From about a mile away we could see my yellow kayak leaning against a tree, we were finally there after an exhausting seven hours of hiking. We spent the rest of the afternoon fishing, and napping in anticipation of the next few days of kayaking ahead.

View of the put-in

Camp at the put-in for the Truchas

We woke the next morning well rested ready for the day. We casually loaded our gear waiting for the sun to get high in the sky to push away the cold. We slid our boats into the water and began to work our way through the boulders. It did not take long for the river to gain momentum as we paddled downstream the gradient quickly increasing. We were able to boat scout most the rapids in the first few miles. Jon had remembered one rapid that had a fairly good sized waterfall which they had portaged on the first descent. We hoped to make it through the steepest parts of the run before the water got too much higher, snow melt runs always get higher as the day goes on, and with several days worth of food and gear in our boats we already had our hands full. We arrived at a noticeably steeper rapid which turned out to be our first portage of the day. We walked the rapid on river left and put-in right above one of the best boofs in the world. Shortly after we arrived at the waterfall for the top there was no mistaking there was a big drop downstream. We got out of our boats to scout the beast. The waterfall itself was not all that tall but it had a complicated lead with an intimidating hole, then the waterfall with sieves on both sides at the bottom then another big rapid. It was fairly easy to see why they portaged it on the first descent. After scouting it out Jon and I decided we would run it, I can probably count on one hand the times I have been that nervous in my kayak. We have both run bigger rapids but if something goes wrong out there, your really out there and help is a long way away. All you can do in that situation is push the doubt out of your head and go, so that's what we did. The feeling you get after having run a rapid like that is worth every but of mental anguish. After the waterfall we stopped and ate some lunch and relaxed for a few minuets while we were eating we were watching the water rise and decided we had better keep moving. As the day wore one it became harder and harder to make the moves as our forearms were so fatigued it was hard to keep a grip on the paddle. The river was not letting up either, we wanted to make it to the Nuble before stopping for the day. But the rapids kept coming and we started to entertain the idea of stopping but with a lack of good flat ground we kept on. Finally after eight straight hours of kayaking the rivers started to ease and the gorge opened up. We made our way into the Nuble and found a nice sandy beach to camp on. That night as we sat around the fire exhausted from the day we all conceded we had just had one of the best days of kayaking of our lives.

After the portage

Typical Truchas whitewater

The waterfall

Gorge scenery


More gorge scenery

More Boofs

If your planning on visiting Chile add this one to your short list even it is just to see the Nuble river before it is gone.
For Information and lodging in the Nuble river valley Contact: Pablo Jimenez at extremosurexpediciones@gmail.com

Friday, December 17, 2010

Going Big in Pucon

The last part of our trip, Gareth and I ventured down to the town most people think about when they hear of going creek boating in Chile- Pucon. We got there by hitching a ride with some people we met at NubleFest and took a few days to make our way down and paddle a few rivers along the way.

Taking a break to enjoy the view and review the map

The Laja (one of the rivers we paddled on our way to Pucon)

One of many volcanoes in Chile
After arriving into Pucon we quickly hooked up with Matias (an Argentian friend who lived in the states for a long time) and spent the weekend hitting up the Pucon classics. That weekend we knocked off the Puesco, the Upper Palguin and multiple laps on the Nevados. The nice thing about Pucon is that everything is super close and relatively short so you can usually squeeze in 2-3 different sections of river in one day. Unfortunately while I got a photo on just about every rapid of the Nevados, I didn't get any shots on the other sections we did.
Matias and Gareth trying to figure out the stove

Gareth at the first drop of the Nevados

Matias sliding down the Nevados

Gareth dropping off the edge on the Nevados

Nicole Mansfield stomping the crack falls on the Nevados

Gareth at the Auto-boof rapid on the Nevados

Matias at Dulce Amor aka the wall boof on the Nevados

Nicole scouting the Demshitz drop

After saying goodbye to Matias, Gareth and I spent a few more days exploring some other runs in the area, including the Maichin and the Llancahue, both very enjoyable and beautiful sections of river. But before leaving town, there was one more beast so slay, the Middle Palguin waterfall. While Gareth was sold on this being something he had to do before leaving town, I was less certain of my interest in dropping off a 70 foot waterfall in my kayak. The second to last day we were in town, the opportunity arose to run the drop. I am the kind of boater that makes deciscions by the way I'm feeling, and I just wasn't feeling it that day. Gareth on the other hand was fired up and so I went for moral support to take photos and play safety. After a bit of scouting, our friend Danielle fired off the drop with a clean line and it was now Gareth's turn. I was anxious watching him up there alone getting ready to seal launch. That's one of the scariest parts about this drop, that to get in the water to run it, you either have to run a very stout 10 foot drop above it or seal launch in right above the falls.

Gareth scouting the falls

Danielle at the bottom after his run of the waterfall

Gareth going big off the Middle Palguin
Gareth had a beautiful line off the drop, but definitely took a hard hit at the bottom. He ended up hurting a couple ribs and rupturing his ear drum. That's part of the risk of running something that big- you might get hurt even if you have a good line. All in all though he was excited for the experience and was still encouraging me to have my go at it. I decided to see how I felt the next day.

I woke up our final morning in Pucon to cold and rainy weather, but also with a feeling of urge to go huck off a big waterfall. We joined up with the Demshitz crew and after managing to squeeze eight of us into a tiny truck, we were off to the falls. After watching a few of the boys give 'er, I decided it was my time to jump. I visualized what I needed to do one last time, then slid off the rock into the water. My seal launch went great, which I was pretty psyched about. Now it was time to go big, and I paddled off the lip. My plan had been to slowly get into my tuck and once there, simply drop my paddle right before hitting the water. I was a bit nervous about throwing my paddle since I had never done that before but it ended up working out really well. I tucked up tight as I slid into the water. I was waiting for the hardest hit of my life, but alas, it never came. The hit was soft. I couldn't believe it. And my skirt didn't blow. Another plus. I hit my first hands roll and paddled over to where my paddle was floating and smiled big because I had just run the biggest waterfall of my life.

Me getting ready to tuck up and toss the paddle
We then quickly headed back to Pucon where we grabbed our bags and made our way to the bus terminal (after a few celebritory beers of course). An overnight bus ride, a layover day in Santiago and an overnight plane ride later I was back in the states with only the memories of what turned out to be a way too short but very awesome trip to Chile.

Monday, November 29, 2010

NubleFest 2010

When most people think of kayaking in Chile they think of the steep creeks of Pucon or of the big water at the Futa, but I was fortunate enough to spend the past week experiencing another gem of Chile, the Rio Nuble Valley located in the small mountain town of San Fabian. I was brought to the town because of my good friend Jon Clark, who found this place many years ago and has since been returning yearly to experience the beautiful vistas, play on the river's waters as well as to support a movement to fight the hydro electric projects that threaten the Nuble River and its tributaries.

San Fabian's town square
Five years ago Jon started organizing "NubleFest," a festival to promote the town of San Fabian and showcase the value that the river can have to not only the people of San Fabian, but to greater Chile. The festival lasted the whole weekend with its primary goal to get as many people as possible excited about the river. This involved taking hundreds of people on free rafting trips, a boatercross event, a raft race as well as a freestyle rodeo.

The raft racers plowing towards the finish line during NubleFest

The Nuble watershed has something for everyone. The Nuble River itself consists of over 25 miles of whitewater with a number of different sections including a harder class four upper section, a class three middle section and a lower class two stretch. When the water is flowing good, it has a feel similar to a cross between the Gauley and the Ocoee. If creeking is your thing, there are a number of tributaries to the Nuble that will give you what you're looking for. The week leading up to the festival, Gareth and I were fortunate enough to get to experience the magic of one of the Nuble's tributaries, Las Truchas.

I had heard about Las Truchas from Jon years ago when he went up there and got the first descent of it. He spoke of an overnight trip, with a big hike in and lots of creeky style rapids. Immediatley I knew it was right up my alley. Then a few weeks ago Jon did the second descent with some other friends from the states, and again the stories drew me there. With Jon busy preparing for the festival, Gareth and I decided to venture into the upper reaches of the Nuble Valley for a little expedition of our own.

The adventure started by hopping on a bus from San Fabian that took us as far up the watershed as you can reach by road. We were dropped off next to another tributary of the Nuble, Los Sauces and proceded to gear up and paddle ten minutes downstream to the beach where we would be meeting our cowboy in the morning to load up our boats on a horse and start the long hike to the creek.

The view from Camp One on the banks of Los Sauces
First thing in the morning our cowboy arrived and we helped get everything loaded up on the horse and started the 8 hour hike to the put in of Las Truchas. Intially, Gareth and I were skeptical about paying for a horse to carry our boats, but by the end of the hike we both conceded that Jon was probably correct to push us in that direction. The hike itself was one of my favorite parts of the whole trip. We were staring at snow capped peaks and mountain waterfalls pretty much the whole journey. We spent the night camped out by the river ready for a full day of kayaking down the Truchas the next day.
Our hard working horse getting loaded down with Nomads

Preparing to cross one the first of many cold creek crossings

Our first view of Las Truchas from high above on the hike

Gareth taking a break to enjoy the view

The aftermath of our little box of wine in the food bag disaster

The shelter we made at camp two after spending the previous night soaked by dew
Las Truchas turned out to be a great class 4-5 creek, with a steep boulder garden feel and lots of moves to make and boofs to hit. The steepest miles involved a lot scouting and managed to keep us both on our toes the whole day. In the end it took us eight hours to make it down to the confluence with the main Nuble and because we wanted to shorten our final day, we pushed on another hour down river before discovering an epic campsite below the Andean peaks.

Gareth nailing the line at the waterfall rapid (I personally decided to nail a rock instead, not recommended)

Another big boof by Gareth

Enjoying an Andean sunset by the fire

Our magnificent night three campsite
Our final day consisted of a full day of paddling on the Nuble, from the top most section all the way back down to the town of San Fabian. We arrived just in time to get showered and experience a real Latin American Thanksgiving, complete with a lamb asado and to make us feel at home, they even threw in some turkey and mash potatoes.

If the proposed hydro electric projects were to happen, it would flood the Nuble valley all the way up to the confluence of Las Truchas, eliminating the Los Sauces tributary (which is known to have some steep creeking class 5+  sections) and creating a lake where the best rapids of the Nuble currently sit. The easy logistics of the Truchas, with busing up from town and paddling all the way back to town would be lost and the experience not nearly as magical.

If you come to Chile, make sure to make the beautiful town of San Fabian and the waters of the Nuble watershed a must make stop on your itinerary. The more people that come and experience this wonderful place the better chance that we will have it in its current state (without dams) for many many more years to come.

If you would like more information on the festival or the logistics of visiting San Fabian, feel free to email me or contact Paul Jimenez of Extremo Sur Expediciones at extremosurexpediciones@gmail.com.
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