Rio Manso

Finding myself out of my boat at the base of a 50 foot waterfall wasn't exactly the smooth reentry into paddling class 5 that I was looking for.
Matias slipping into the monster, Salto los Alerces.
Pucon season was wrapping up, and my itch to explore was growing by the day. I talked to Matias Nuñez about taking the bus over to Bariloche, Argentina and paddling with him before heading down to the Rio Futaleufu. Matias's beta sounded bleak. Everything was on the low side of good, but he thought that we could go into the Rio Manso and have ok water levels.

The Manso has had rough access issues over the years. My previous trip to the river involved getting harassed at the take out by the park ranger who believed it was illegal to kayak through the canyon. The ranger was even bold enough to call Matias a bad Influence for bringing me into the canyon. Turns out Matias is a great influence, he spoke to the proper people and got the access issue clarified. Now days the local officials actually contact Matias to go into the canyon and do biological research.

Arriving at the Bariloche bus station I was greeted with cold weather and ornery cab drivers. After some dispute over whether or not my kayak fit on the roof of the cab, I caught a ride to one of my favorite hostels, Refugio Patagonia. While spending long periods of time traveling there is something very comforting about arriving in a location that you are familiar with. Two years ago I had spent a week at this hostel while paddling with Matias. This year the owner of Refugio Patagonia, Tato, stepped out of the hostel and greeted me with a huge grin and said, "Wow, you're back. Come on in, I'll make you some fresh coffee".

The road into the Rio Manso is only one lane wide, and to prove it, the local officials have mandated that the road is a one way street. In the morning you can drive into the park, and in the afternoon the road direction reverses and you can leave. Matias and I chatted about our plan to paddle the river. We would meet early the next day to coincide with the one way road that allows access to the put-in.

A small idea of where we were, REMOTE, huge mountains on both sides.
The next morning a pickup truck pulled up in front of the hostel with five people already smashed into it. Matias and Santiago where there to paddle, the rest of the truck was filled with our necessary shuttle driver, and a couple of girlfriends. A few moments later I had my gear strapped to the truck and the six of us were headed on a two hour drive into the middle of Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi. Upon arriving at the Manso we checked the level and were happily surprised that the water was at a low medium. This meant that all of the drops were going to be good, and there was only one probable portage.

While gearing up our energy level was super high. Just downstream was the 50 foot waterfall named Salto los Alerces (Tamarack). As we climbed in our kayaks all I could think of was the line I wanted to put together on Alerces, and the fact that my shoulder might not be up for it. Three weeks had passed since I injured my shoulder, and paddling 15 kilometers of class 5 was probably not the best way to test it.

After a quick scout Matias hopped in his boat. A couple strokes later and he launched off the left shoulder of the waterfall. He got his nose down and connected with the rest of the water coming in from the right, disappearing into the veil. A long moment passed and Matias reappeared 50 feet below, celebrating in the backwash with his fist pumping in the air.

After stretching out my shoulders and practicing my tuck, I ran through the possible outcomes of what I was about to do. It seemed so routine. I was about to risk my life and it scared me. I smiled and whispered to myself,  "This is going to be so fun." Moments later I was lining up a rock flake and took a huge stoke.  Flying past all of the water out into the air I leaned forward and started falling. I was way out in front of the falls flying through the air for what seemed like an eternity. Then BAM the reconnect hit me like a ton of bricks and I started to rotate. Now I was crashing, not flying, and I was rotating towards head down. All I could do was tuck tighter and wait for the impending impact. It took forever… The next thing I remember was wondering why my legs where wet, and why does my left leg really hurt? I had rotated in the air, slamming into the base of the falls on my head. My boat hit the surface tension of the water and stopped, violently ejecting me.

While getting swirled in the hole at the base of the falls I started kicking my feet. It wasn't until I reached the surface and took a breath that I really accepted the fact that I was swimming. The 100 foot overhanging wall in front of me was coming up rather quickly, so I tossed my paddle and started swimming hard. After a little downtime I found a rock shelf just under the surface of the water. Slowly I climbed out of the water and did a system diagnostic. My head and neck felt fine, both of my shoulders felt ok, the inside of my left calf was bright red (I had smashed it on my Pelican Case as I was ejected), and my left shoe had been ripped off. It took a couple minutes to gather my gear, collect my wits, and put my shoe back on.

The in-between rapids are a blast and take you through a super remote valley. Most of the time on the river all you can see is dense jungle on both sides and a never-ending beautiful blue green river dropping away in front of you. Our Team paddled the in-between rapids with huge smiles, taking in the gorgeous scenery.

Matias catching an off camber boof.
There are a couple of other major rapids on the run, Pinball, Triple Falls, and Horse Cock. Pinball has a relatively long lead-in that usually disorients you, and then there are two large offset holes to punch through. Santiago managed to make this rapid look rather intense as he almost surfed the first hole and got spun around after taking a big chunk of the second hole. After watching Santiago Matias and I tweaked our lines slightly and had a much smoother result. Triple Falls is just three fun ledges in a row, the last being a 15 foot big water boof. The other one is named Horse Cock. This thing is a huge 60ish feet with a nasty lead-in, and a cave at the bottom. After some solid scouting the decision was made that we didn't have enough people to set proper safety, and that none of us had big enough balls to match the size of the Horse Cock. 

Five hours of paddling, scouting, and swimming allowed us to cover 15 kilometers on the river. The Manso deposited us into Lago Steffen. Matias, Santiago, and I took our time to eat a late lunch and prepare ourselves for 5 more kilometers of paddling across Lago Steffen to our truck. An hour and a half of paddling across the lake and we arrived at the truck. We were greeted by our shuttle bunnies, they had big smiles and hot Yerba Maté waiting for us.

Looking back across Lago Steffen.
Paddling the Manso definitely was a rushed test for my shoulder. The tightly packed pick up truck felt slightly less uncomfortable on the drive out of the park, knowing that my shoulder had healed up enough to handle paddling class 5. I was back!

Blunt Family Paddles has a new poster girl, Ayelen Nunez.
Write up and photos by Chris Baer.


Ain't No "Can't" In The Word Canyon

Throughout the years I've had many great runs down a lot of different rivers here in Washington. I've fantasized about what some of the more obscure runs would be like as I've scanned the hundreds of pages of whitewater lore in the WA river bible. And recently one particular little chunk of the Cascades keeps calling me back to explore. Top notch runs like Deer Creek got me excited about other creeks carving their way through this bedrock sluice box. I've been up there several times, but for one reason or another never got on the water. Until today.

A few weeks back we had a big snow storm here in western WA that shut everything down. Fortunately some of us have 4WD which makes snowy roads fun, not scaryJeremy Bisson and I had been up to this spot before, but the snow was deeper and we weren't able to make it close enough to the put in affording us enough daylight to get 'er done.

Jackman Creek is about 6 miles long and starts way up a steep, old logging road. Two things I like seeing on the way to a put in, usually.

before we hit the snow line 

a new creeker on a butt-low creek
the BIG Villain

the new outfitting ROCKS!! even the beverage holder 

end of the road for the Previa 

Jeremy gets his kit together 

Scott Waidelich has no idea how steep the take out is going to be

every so often it's fun to go snowboating 

 gettin into it

mile 6? must be getting close, I hope 

snow angels or exhaustion?  

the snow keeps getting deeper
w/ Jeremy Bisson

I had parked in the middle of the snow covered road and didn't want the van to get defiled by some redneck 4WD hooligans trying to make it up further. I use the word park loosely, really I just couldn't drive any further, I was grading the road with my axles. I found a small pull out a half mile down the road that allowed other vehicles to get by (who would drive up here?) and allowed me to park far enough from the edge that I wouldn't worry about the van sliding off the road and down the 400 vertical feet to the river. By now it was 1-ish? and this little jaunt was feeling more like a mission. I was starting to get excited. New creek!! 

I raced back to find the boys and boats gone. My boat was gone, too. I was puzzled. It took me a minute, but snowy footprints left me to only one conclusion: these boys were in a hurry! And Scott had talked Jeremy into dragging my boat behind his. True friends, I tell ya. Not all kayakers are dirtbags. I walked for a little bit figuring I would catch up with them, but I never did. So I started running. The footprints were easy to follow and I caught up in a few minutes. The further we went, the deeper the snow got. Soon it was over a foot deep. We hiked for a good couple of hours and had little beta on the run other than it was continuous and the put in was at a bridge. 

the first drop below the put in bridge

By now it must've been close to three and we were pretty excited to get on the water. Sometimes, after hiking for that long, it feels funny to climb into a boat and start paddling. We took one look at the first drop from the road and it didn't take long to decide to turn around and put in below this drop.

 Scott charges downstream straight outta the gate

 "how much more wood?"

Jackman may have been a sweet run at one time, but in the years following the publication of the WA river bible massive flooding, ice and wind storms had done a number on this creek. Either way, we knew the fastest way to the take out was to paddle, we hoped. What we found was a small riverbed with many drops and a continuous nature. Mostly IV-IV+ with some bigger drops peppered in once in a while to make it interesting. Uneasy might be a better word.

 Jeremy styles a fun sequence on Jackman Creek

Due to our growing desire to hastily skeedaddle this was the last pic I shot. There was a LOT of wood on this run. We were all pretty thankful Jackman was so low because there would have been very few eddies to catch in between all the pieces of wood and downed trees scattered throughout. I was glad the new Villain I had ordered came in just before this trip. It saved me from a number of pitons/pins and made ferrying and eddy hopping a breeze. Instead of paddling wildly, I was using a brace here and a pry there. Backstrokes to slow down were on the menu for today.

When one puts themselves in situations like this paddling becomes a delicate dance. We ran a lot of sketch wood we'd rather not have just to get to the take out before it was too dark to see. Scott did an awesome job of boat scouting many rapids and Jeremy made quick work of the scouts when someone needed to hop out for a look. I wasn't out of my boat quite as much as the notorious Upper Johnson Creek debacle, but Upper Johnson was only 2.5 miles. Jackman was 6 and we were running short on light. 

There were a lot of drops. One of the signature moves we almost portaged was a sweet midstream boof to the right that puts the paddler inches away from a large old growth which spanned over the landing zone. Enter center with a little right angle, boof hard off an 8-10 foot ledge drop, landing in a pocket and paddling out underneath the 40 foot long behemoth which spanned over the landing zone like a bridge. Cool indeed. 

In all we may have portaged half a dozen times. I don't need to say how thankful we all were to reach the take out in tact with all our gear and still have daylight. The takeout we knew would be less fun than the creek, but at least we weren't going to drown under some wood. We weren't really sure exactly where the takeout was, exactly, but we knew the gradient had eased way back and it was time to get up to the road. Since Jackman was listed in the back of the Bennett book, information was sparse at best. Few words were used  to describe the takeout, something about "arduous hike" and "clear cut". Well, the guide book was published 15 years ago and who knows when the last time this section had been run before the book came out. We kept looking for a good spot. We knew there was a logging road somewhere not too far above us we hoped, so we picked a spot and started the inevitable. It was a long way up, but we didn't care, we were on land! I think it took an hour just to get above the "forest section". Yes there was a clear cut section above the forest section, and while the forest section had its own dealings, the clear cut was much steeper and took at least another hour, probably more like two. 

We were excited to get to the clear cut section due to the absence of downed trees and thick, tall underbrush, but once we were a ways up, we knew it was to be, simply put, a different flavor of sucking. Yes, clear cuts have many unnatural formations of wood and slash strewn about which make for uneasy travel and lots of stumbling. We found some, avoided others and stumbled a lot. It became an unpleasant game only made worse by the fact we were carrying 50+ pound boats and that we could either continue sweating profusely with our drysuits on, or unzip for temporary relief only to shiver soon after due to the already exorbitant amounts of sweat that were soaking our base layers and frigid temps as darkness fell. Sweat, wood, steepness, all cast in silhouette by a lovely full moon. Yes, the moon was up by now, the sun was down and we had a long way to go before we got to the road. This had to be the worst take out I've ever experienced. Many times I thought to myself as I looked up and shouted obscenities very loudly to no one in particular, "I don't think I will do this run again."

Jeremy made it to the road first. We had dropped his little 50cc motorbike at the "takeout" and, as to be expected, we took out a mile too soon. Scott made it up a few minutes later, then me. Scott was a zombie. He had nothing left and was just sitting on the frozen snowy road when I finally made it up. He couldn't even help me get my boat up the last few feet. I had a little more juice so I was standing, but no position was really comfortable. And it was cold. After I caught my breath I decided to start walking back up to the put in where the Previa was. At least it was only going to be 3-4 miles, not 6. It was kind of funny, a little bit, now that I didn't have a boat on my shoulder. By the end of the hike, actually long before the end, each step had become grueling. Jeremy had run down to the 50, I was making my way up to the van and Scott was nearly passed out. Soon enough though I got the van back down and we were all digging for warm clothes, food and beer. It felt so good to sit in the warm van, and the drive back down didn't take nearly as long as the drive up. I'm glad I hadn't stopped at all those places I wanted to for photos. I had left my house at 7:30 in the morning and got back around 11 that night. Jackman Creek... check. Next time I'm leaving at 6:30, oh yeah prolly not. The Year of the Water Dragon is upon us.


Kids Camp with Pucon Kayak Hostel

Danny going big on the Tres Saltos.
When David Hughes approached me about doing a kids kayak camp for his Pucon Kayak Hostel I fumbled my response.  I had never taught kids, or a camp. My personal philosophy took over: swing for the fences. "I could do that," I thought.  "Teach kids how to kayak, how hard could it be?"  Over the last few years I have taught a fair amount of adults how to roll, teaching kids couldn't be much different.  I was in for a major learning experience myself.

Danny and Lucas, kayaking the Rio Machine.
The students, Lucas, 15, and Danny, 13, are brothers from Santiago.  Both had rafted before and done a tiny bit of kayaking. We started the instruction from scratch, talking about all the gear, why we wear it, and how to outfit a kayak.  We got them suited up quickly and headed to Lago Caburgua where we began a roll clinic. There were more distractions then I could imagine, the kids splashing, parents looking on, and breathtaking scenery. The initial roll clinic went well, and the kids attention was quickly turning more and more towards kayaking.

Eric teaching Lucas to roll in the hot springs.
Paddling with people at an entirely different skill level is challenging, and taking them to a river that I have never paddled before was slightly frightening. The smiles on their faces were exhilarating as we all peered around corners, not sure of what was next.  I never thought taking two class 2 paddlers, down a class 2 canyon could ever bring such enjoyment. Everyone was so excited for the next challenge.

Kayaking and Stand Up Paddle Boarding the lower Trancura.

It was difficult for me to find a teaching style suited for Lucas and Danny. It was my job to remove boundaries and perceived fears. I instantly reverted to river guide mode. We passed in and out of small eddies, rolled in the current, had the kids lead rapids, and find their own lines. By slowing down and teaching the simplest portions of kayaking I allowed myself to see the little things again. I had my eyes wide open looking for tiny eddies, spotting geological abnormalities, and understanding the group dynamics the next time I went kayaking on something "hard."   Teaching truly is a learning experience.

Lucas crashing through a wave on the Lower Trancura.
We even had the kids write little stories about their experiences.  This took some serious prodding, but the end result is a simple view on their experience.

Lucas Miller wrote:

One would wonder how hard kayaking could really be, I thought it was a simple idea that relied on more physical power than knowledge. To my surprise, kayaking inhabits a world between these two things. A mere physical approach to the river would be possible, if not dangerous without the proper mind to "read" the river. Being able to see how a river moves and how it acts is invaluable in kayaking it. When i first started, i went on a beginner river, simple flat water. It could not have been simpler. Kayaking left my mind for several years. Then my mom told me of a kayak camp in chile, a great chance to train with the same school my cousin learned all his tricks, though he stayed for a semester and i am doing it for a week.

Lucas learning to roll in the Hot Springs.
My first impresion of kayaking was that it was a merely physical sport, but it is also of dicipline minds, being able to focus as the vastly powerfull waves or rocks rush at you. Or as you flip into the cold water, you try to keep your mind clear as you perform the flip. The flip is a trick that i had to learn, since getting out of the kayak everytime one flipped would waste time that i did not have. It was hard at first then i started to get comfortable with the hip snap and the paddle movement. I did my first flip on my second class, and my first combat flip yesterday. It was good that they made me rehearse the flip, i did it instinctevly right when i went under. 

Lucas practicing rolling in the hot springs.
My kayaking teachers are Eric, Chris, and David Hughes.
You could tell where there were rocks or how they were positioned underwater by just looking on how the wave forms. The lines between eddie and current become more clear, they usually have little whirlpools and move the opposite direction of the current. Almost all rapids end in a V, the bottom of the V pointing downriver. I almost got flipped once when moving on a strong current to a slow eddie, the change is very difficult to cope with while your kayak is rocking precariously, though I am still a beginner.

Lucas firing up the top of the Tres Saltos.
It is always awkward to enter a eddie, but if you lean upriver and do a stroke on the upriver side of the kayak it would smoothen your entry instead of the usual rolling. It was funny seeing all the whitewater horizons, which could mean a waterfall, though most of the time in our case it mostly ment a bunch of rocks. Eric would joke that they were waterfalls and my brother would pretend to be scared, though more like terrified. Before that we looked at some really tall waterfalls that would have bashed me against rocks and flattened me. Eric quizzed me and asked where i would go if i were on the river, i chose the left side, and apparently i would have run into a big pointy rock on the bottom if I were really on the river. That would not have been the best of days.

Yesterday my brother, Steven, Eric, David Hughes, and me went on the Tolten river. It was an easy river, few strong rapids. My brother did drift downstream after falling off the stand up paddle board. 

This camp is amazing since they know the rivers and Pucon has incredible views, kayaking with Volcan Villa Rica in the setting framed with picture perfect mountains. Literally crystal clear water that made the bottom visible. All in all, i would be sad leaving. Keep kayaking.

Daniel Miller wrote:

I first kayaked in Tennessee on the Ocoee river with my brother, I was about 9 years old. At first I thought kayaking would be easy but then I thought because of my size it was really hard for me. I was scrawny compared to my all american cousins who were paddling with us. I was even skinny compared to my cousin my same age.

Danny in front of Volcano Viarrica.
A few moments after I think of what I'm supposed to do I get flipped by my uncle, he wanted to see if I could get out of my kayak. I start to run out of my precious air, my mind is racing and I tap the part of my kayak that is out of the water. I had forgotten about the plastic handle that would allow me to escape my kayak. My uncle then flips me back up and says, "maybe you ought to paddle with out a skirt."

I would never think that 4 years later I would be rolling like a pro and be in a kayaking camp. My first thought at the camp was were is the river? After a week I'm able to flip like a pro. The three things that I liked the most about this camp is that, my teachers would teach with a bit of humor. I also like that I can now surf the wave at the lake in my kayak. Another thing I like is all the amazing views of the landscapes and the animals I saw, like an otter and a strange bird and lots of fish, and lizards. All in all this camp has been the best camp I have ever been to.

Danny and Lucas in front of Volcano Viarrica
Daniel and Lucas's plane that would take them back to the city of Santiago was nearing, and the smiles on their faces were slowly fading. They wanted to stay, and their week of kayaking and adventure had enlightened the three of us.

Write up and photos by Chris Baer