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

Experiencing the Rio Claro, Chile 2010

Gareth on hour 36 of our travels to Chile

Last week Gareth and I decided to break away from the impending winter back in North Carolina and sneak away for a few weeks of kayaking in Chile. Our trip started out with getting denied at the Greenville airport with our boats, managing to change our flights to leave from Charlotte and eventually finally getting both of us and our boats on a plane South. After two full days of traveling, we finally made it to our first destination, San Fabian where we met up with my good friend Jon Clark.

Looking for a ride to San Fabian
Our first adventure took us up to the Rio Claro, most known for the Seven Teacups section. What I hadn't realized before, was that the Rio Claro also contained two other steep waterfall style sections that were exactly what I was looking for. First we did the Veintidos Saltos (22 waterfalls) section, which was aptly named as it contains 22 pretty sweet waterfalls. 

Me at one of the veintidos waterfalls (Photo by Jon Clark)

Gareth disconnecting with the water on a huge boof (Photo by Jon Clark)
After a quick snack we headed back on the water to venture into the section (and more specifically the one rapid) which we had been talking about since our arrival into Chile. The section is called the Entre Saltos which contains the infamous, Throat of the Devil rapid. The section starts off with some fun drops then quickly walls up. This is when you know you've arrived. The Throat of the Devil probably drops about 50 feet in total, with the first 20 feet dropping steeply through what I would describe as a mix between a skate park and a drain pipe following which the water falls about 30 more feet of verticle. Jon went first and I followed quickly behind him. Gareth shot video of the drop before taking the plunge himself.

Jeremy Anderson dropping into the skate park/ drain pipe on a previous trip to the river (Photo by Jon Clark)
Gareth beginning his ride (Photo by Jon Clark)
At the bottom of the drop you end up in a toilet bowl pool with a pretty sizeable exit drop to get through. What happens next is something that you really can't put into words. The river narrows down and the gorge walls fly to the sky and you find yourself paddling through the most magical place I've ever been in a kayak. Then you turn the corner to find a 30 foot tributary making the most beautiful waterfall pour down just beside you. Unfortunatley because of the nature of this, it is very difficult to take pictures, so you are just going to have to come experience it for yourself.

Finally we dropped through the "Vaginas," two very narrow slot rapids which its best to stay upright in. After a couple more drops the walls start to open up and you are transported back to the real world. That section of river is officially at the top of my list for one of the msot amazing places I've ever seen.

The next morning we dropped the classic, Seven Teacups section, which includes, you guessed it, seven waterfalls, before hopping in the truck and cruising back to San Fabian.

Gareth at the first of the seven teacups

Gareth finishing off the seven teacups section dropping the final 25 footer

Waterfall vista on the way out of town

The Hillux loaded down for the trip home

Monday, August 02, 2010

Exploring the Granite Planet on Upper Cherry Creek

Last week I was fortunate enough to take a trip to the granite planet on Upper Cherry Creek. Due to a work commitment and coordinating a plan for Gareth's dog, we had to wait a couple days to put on, which led to the water being lower than preferred. As it turns out though, Upper Cherry with any water in it is a spectacular place not to be missed.

Typical Upper Cherry scenery
I feel like most things great require work, and for Upper Cherry that means a 12 mile hike to the put in with a loaded down kayak strapped to your back. The first two hours were pretty miserable for me as my kayak backpack system more or less fell apart on me. Eventually I decided to give up on it and create a new system for myself with made the remaining 5 hours of the hike much more bearable.

Taking a lunch break on the hike in
Hour six of the hike 
After arriving at the creek we spent some time relaxing in the water and enjoying the sunshine. Eventually we decided to get away from the notorious mosquitos at the put in and head downstream a few rapids to find a campspot. The put in slide/drop was super fun. Just downstream we found a sweet granite slab with its own sandy beach to rest up for the night.

Me hitting the first boof of the run (Photo by Eric Giddens)
 Introducing Gareth Tate, the newest up and coming videographer to the whitewater world
Chilling at Camp One (Photo by Eric Giddens)
Waking up on Upper Cherry (Photo by Eric Giddens)
This trip was special in that it not only included two friends, Rebecca and Allison, who hiked the entire trip along side us in our kayaks, but it also included Bishop, Gareth's dog. Bishop now has the first known dog descent of the entire Upper Cherry Creek, from hike in to paddle across the lake. It was a pretty difficult feat for him, as he is not exactly fond of steep slick granite slabs, but he made it happen. Congrats Bishop!

Bishop checking out his new territory
No words can describe it (Photo by Allison)
After a great day of low angle slides and low water creeking, we finally arrived at the most well known rapid on Upper Cherry, and probably all of California- Cherry Bomb Falls. There was a big debate here as to whether or not to scout the gorge, or just go in there. With the water low, the fact that all of us have seen numerous videos and pictures of the place, and having multiple people that had been in there before, we felt pretty good about bombing (no pun intended) in there. The only thing we werent so sure about was how the exit drop of the gorge, which is backed up by a rock, would handle the low water. Eric was a bit concerned that there might not be a line there with the water being so low. After hiking up the first part of the scout, we all got lazy, had a group meeting, and inevitably decided we'd just deal with whatever we got in there and went back to our boats.

After a quick scout of cherry bomb proper at water level, we all launched off it. There were mixed results on whether or not it was better to go left of the rock at the entrance, or right of it. I decided to go right of the rock and had as good a line as I could've hoped for.

Rachel Curtis launching off Cherry Bomb (Photo by Allison)
Me dropping the Bomb (Photo by Tim Collins)
After we all got through the main drop, we still had the left, left, center, right, center, left sequence of drops in the gorge to get through. It was the final left that we were a bit worried about, but Drew was able to do a sketchy scout and give us the thumbs up that the final drop still went. That was a bit of a relief...

Our team making it through Cherry Bomb Gorge
After Cherry Bomb the creek just keeps delivering. Next up is the oh so fun Jedi slide followed by teacup drops which take you right into Flinstone Camp. We had a great evening of lapping these drops, racing them, swimming them, fishing, drinking tequila, and all around enjoying the company of everyone there. It was hear that Josh, Nick and Taylor caught up to us and joined the party.

Gareth boofing into Camp Two
Josh and Taylor swimming into Camp Two
Drew fishing at Flinstone camp
Gareth prepping his camera
Enjoying the night 
Flinstone Camp, Morning Three
The next morning we awoke to morning laps on the tea cups before making our way down to the good below. Right off the bat you have a series of back to back sweet drops... West Coast Groove Tube, Perfect Twenty, Douple Pothole, Waterfall Alley, Kiwi in a Pocket and Dead Bear.

Taylor Cavin at West Coast Groove Tube (Photo by Allison)
Me at the Perfect Twenty Drop (Photo by Allison)
Gareth at Double Pothole
Waterfall Alley
Nick Urquart at Kiwi in a Pocket
Taylor Cavin at the second drop of Kiwi in a Pocket (Photo by Rebecca Giddens)
My boat going big off of Dead Bear (Photo by Gareth Tate)
A big group of us all ran Kiwi in a Pocket and were psyched to get to do so. This was one place where the low water allowed us to run a rapid we may or may not have otherwise. This did lock us into a somewhat gnarly portage around Dead Bear, but we worked as one happy team and made it happen with relative ease. It actually turned out to be fun in the end as we all launched our boats off of Dead Bear with everyone else sitting on a rock just downstream cheering us and our boats on. Some boats had great lines, some not so much....

After lunch at Dead Bear we had a bit of a low water paddle out until reaching the last of the goods right before dropping into the lake.

 Getting Bishop, the hikers and their packs across the lake (Photo by Tim Collins)
What can I say? It was an amazing experience filled with lots of beautiful granite, fun rapids and quality time with good friends. Low water is definitely better than no water on Upper Cherry Creek!
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