The beatdown.  Photo Alan Panebaker. 

A clean line in a different drop on the B section.  Photo Alan Panebaker. 
After a miserable spring in New England due to nonexistent winter precipitation, kayaking season is finally beginning in Quebec.  The first rally of the year was a three day weekend at the Neilson River near Saint Raymond.  Last minute planning Saturday morning delayed us and we did not cross the border until 10 a.m.  Arriving at the takeout in a bleak mix of snow and rain, we found a high river (50 cms on the online gage and 6 on the river gage).   After driving 10 miles of beater dirt roads in the midst of mud season we finally put on at 2:30.  We made short work of the A section of the river, blasting through numerous class IV and V rapids that were just easy enough to run with minimal scouting.  I had never run the Neilson, and I was delighted to find an absolute classic.  It's not quite a creek but not quite a river, rather the perfect hybrid of steep and big.  And it's only 300 miles from my house (a short drive by Quebec standards). 

The B section is not as continuous, but the rapids are generally a step up from the upper.  We made our way downstream, scouting the large horizon lines more frequently. 

The last big drop is known as the Double Drop or Pothole Drop.  At the level we had it is a nearly vertical 5 foot tongue into a boily hole that immediately flows of another 8 foot sloping ledge into a monster hole. 

At first glance, I expected to portage the beast, but on closer inspection I saw a good line.  I knew swimming was a distinct possibility, but the rapid ended in flat but fast moving current. 

Without waiting for my boys to set up I hopped in my boat and peeled out into the swift flow moving to the lip.  Five or six fast and strong strokes delivered a big boof onto the boil.  I stalled and was backendered immediately.  "It's okay" I thought "I might land in the hole".  A fraction of a second later and WHAM I was hit in the head with a baseball bat.  A thunderous "chunk" reverberated inside my skull and a white hot light flashed behind my eyes.  Stunned, I felt my boat floating downstream.  A second later I rolled up and limply paddled into the safety of an eddy. 

As I waited for the crew I was light headed and woozy.  They looked worried "Are you all right, man?  You don't look good."  Apparently my eyes were glassy and dilated.  They gave me a few minutes to regroup and we decided the best thing to do was paddle out.  I took a deep breath and  managed to ride out the last few class IVs.   We got to the
takeout in fading light.  I took my helmet off and saw the crack.  I had a golf ball sized hematoma above my left ear.

Driving back home the next day with a nasty headache that would
persist for a week, I kept replaying the events.  I try to learn from
my beatings.  In this case I would have done only one thing
differently: waited for the team to set safety.  My impatience greatly increased the danger factor of the rapid.  I should have had a guy in a boat, ready to assist when things went awry.  We don't always know what lurks under the surface.

The second lesson was one I already knew from a previous whack to the head: WRSI helmets are the safest on the market.  If I had been using a lesser helmet I am certain I would have been knocked unconscious, unable to self rescue.

This little guy, Ryland, is particularly grateful to WRSI.  Thanks for saving Daddy's noggin.  He needs the few braincells he has left after 22 years of paddling.  


Snow to Jungle and back to Snow, good start to the season!

2012 has been very generous thus far! Since January I have been fortunate enough to paddle many new places with a whole lot of great people.
 Things started out with a Christmas break surf trip to my home-town on Haida Gwaii, in the true NorthWest of BC. As per usual, the Islands offered up some class swell. This gave me a chance to put some new carbon surf boats acquired in November at the world championships in North Carolina to the test. Highlight was one solo afternoon where the only thing bigger than the snowflakes obscuring my vision was the perfect pitching 6footers. I also enjoyed making snowballs from what accumulated on my deck between sets and pelting my mates freezing their asses off lying in the water on their surfboards.

After my trip to Haida Gwaii, I spent a few days skiing at home in Terrace BC, then packed up my car, slapped on some studded winter tires and drove the 14 hours south to Vancouver where I wrote my Nursing registration exam (which I passed!). Immediately after my exam I crossed the border and drove to Seattle where I spent a sleepless night at the airport before hopping on a flight bound for Quito, Ecuador where I was to meet up with a crew of friends for three weeks of South American whitewater.

some warm water boating
Kevin meshing with some locals
Dusty-Bear protecting the bags......... at all costs.

 It’s hard to summarize my trip in Ecuador. The crew I was with was the raddest group of people possible. Kev, Dusty, Dan, Aliye, Daphnee, you guys rock and roll! When not running beautiful (boofy) rivers we spent in jungle missions, experiencing new culture, and yes... partying our faces off. We primarily based ourselves out of a town called Tena, and I was surprised at how set up things were for international kayakers. In Tena we stayed at El Welcome Break hostel, which caters to boaters, is clean, and cheap. It also is home to numerous hammocks which we logged considerable hours in when not on the many surrounding rivers.  The whitewater was all good to go around Tena, and we managed to find some tasty nuggets to fall off. Ecuador carnage consisted of a popped out shoulder for Kevin Whiting who managed to pop it back in under water and hand roll back up, and one massive impact to the back of my head on a rapid called Dos Huevos. I won’t go into details, but was very much thankful for having a reliable brain-bucket. Even such, I was treated to an underwater comet-show and had to concentrate extremely hard to remember how to roll back up.

El' Welcome Break Hostal, Tena
myself on Hollin Chico        Photo: Kevin Whiting
Dusty-Bear, in charge and going large    Photo: Kevin Whiting
Kevin Whiting following his brother
Dan Whiting with a big stroke off the lip   Photo: Kevin Whiting
After Ecuador, I flew back to Seattle and power-bombed my way back North to Terrace as the snow reports were huge and all my friends back home were raving about conditions. February and March were filled with some days in the mountains and two more trips to Haida Gwaii for some surfing.

Haida Gwaii sunset
My first river run in Terrace was my birthday present to myself on March 20th. After a half hour of waist-deep snow hiking to the put in, I was then held hostage in the middle of the river by an angry momma moose who was rather upset with me and would not let me away from the rock I was cowering behind. After almost an hour of mock charges, I decided enough was enough and crawled myself and my boat up the snow filled river bank to portage around the moose and put in below her. I’ve portaged a few rapids in my life, but that was my first wildlife induced portage.  And, after putting back in and floating down river a few minutes, I almost made a mess in my drysuit when the baby moose (that mom must have been trying to protect) ran out of the woods to check me out. Needless to say I survived, but it was a close call for my underwear...

 In the past month, the rivers around Terrace have been steadily increasing in volume and awesomeness. The most consistent run lately has been the Kalum river, home to Slapwave, which right now feels like surfing on the back of a herd of hungry stampeding vampire grizzlybears. Other highlights of the past month include a run down the notorious Copper km8 canyon labelled by a brand new Northern BC whitewater guidebook as: “not for the faint of heart, intense, violent, chaotic”.  It’s basically a 150m continuous big volume rapid with 4 or 5 must-make/significantly consequential moves in quick succession, which leads into a big dark (but short) canyon. I love Northern BC, and mark my words, with the snowpack this year, it’s gonna be a doozy.
Samuel drouin with an icy scout of the stout, Copper 8km

the bottom of the entrance rapid
 Until next time.......


Low Water Owyhee

This week, Kristin and I took off to check out the Lower Owyhee River (Rome to Birch Creek). Our school, Alzar School (www.alzarschool.com) has applied to get a permit to use this section of river in the future as it would make an excellent classroom.  The timing worked out perfectly, as we picked up our new helmets as we passed through Meridian on the way to the put in.

The river was at an extremely low level (~540 cfs, with the minimum recommended being 1000 cfs), but we needed to get on the river this week, so we squeezed down.  In reality, while the whitewater was not very difficult, the Owyhee did not disappoint as a possible location for future groups of students.  We just learned that at this flow, we should do it as a canoe trip!

One of the first things that can be studied on the way down the river is the incredible geology.  There are stunning basalt and rhyolite formations spaced out in several tight canyons.  There is also the high desert ecology... sage and juniper trees, quail, bighorn sheep, etc.

But more relevantly to our school, there is a fantastic lesson in collaborative leadership in the Owyhee's story of earning "Wild & Scenic" protection.  Our school studies leadership case studies as part of our curriculum.  Just a couple of years ago, leaders interested in protecting the river brought together stakeholders with a wide variety of backgrounds (fishermen, ranchers, whitewater enthusiasts, hunters, wildlife lovers, etc) and were able to come up with a collaborative solution that allowed for everyone to come together for the protection of the Owyhee River and surrounding drainages.

We're excited for the NW boating season to start.  Thanks to WRSI for equipping us and always providing quality helmets for our students!

- Sean Bierle, Head Teacher
Alzar School


Vancouver Island

Vancouver island is a kayakers dream. The island has it all, steep creeks, monsterous drops, clean water falls and boulder gardens are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to describing the rivers in this area. Along with the characters of these rivers, the insane concentration of rivers and the easy access, Vancouver Island is a lesser known location and a gem.

Near the beginning of April Pavel Bendl and I set off for a ten day road trip to the island. The plan was simple, fit in as much paddling as we could for the ten days we were there. With the prospect of creeking after a long winter spurring us on, we pulled an overnighter leaving Canmore after work and driving untill we hit the ferry. The ensuing day brought us to the gordon river, where we met up with our friend Glen Carpenter. The Gordon is an island classic, this run has it all water falls boulder gardens and to top it all off beautifull scenery. After spending two days at the Gordon it was time to move on. We had heard rumors that Little Qualicum falls was going off and rallied to check it out. Upon arrival we found a pretty meaty flow, and a tricky line. Little qualicum falls is a tough 20 footer to a perfect 30 foot water fall. The line on the first drop has been traditionally to plug it on the right down a chute and prepare for some down time, but at this flow it looked like you would pop up on the lip of the second drop. I opted for the left line over a flake and missing some rocks at the bottom. My first run sent me into a pitch pole off the top so I decided to go again and was able to stomp it. Thanks to Pavel and Glen for setting safety.

Little Qualicum Falls
After our day at Little Qualicum we were pretty fired up, so we headed to Gold river. The Squamish of Vancouver Island gold river has at least five class 4/5 runs within a 15 minute drive. We were able to get on the Pamela, Ucona, and Upana, all of these rivers were full of drops and sweet rapids. Our trip was starting to come to an end, but before we left we were able to get on Lens Creek with a massive crew of the locals. All in all it was a pretty rad trip and I would definately suggest getting out to the island for some adventure and some amazing boating.

Gettin ready to run the goods on the Upana

Locals on Lens

Pavel getting in for the must run drop on the Upana


Rio "Blanco"

High water line on the "Cali" drop,
The epitome of nervous anticipation, kayak an illegal canyon, with a very committing gorge, at high flows.

The weather in Futaleufu had turned rainy and the rivers were rising, after a great high water paddle of Inferno canyon I received a call from Matias Nunez. He said that the flows on the "Blanco" were starting to come up. I needed to catch a bus out of Futaleufu immediately. Walking out of the town of Futaleufu I bumped into Clay Wright and friends, and caught a ride across the Chilean Argentine border to the town of Esquel. The next day I caught a bus to a speck on the map and waited on the side of the road hoping that Matias would show up.

Manuel Carignan, dangerously close to anther undercut wall
An hour later Matias's pickup truck came into view and I was greeted with Yerba Mate and a warning that the river was a little higher then Matias had previously though, he said,"I might walk a couple things, but you have to run it all." I was already nervous from previous rumors of, walled in canyons, big drops, and the fact that if you are not from Argentina it was technically illegal to paddle. The entire river is on private property and the American owner doesn't want any one on his property. Luckily for the locals, there is a lake on the property and Argentine law says you must provide access to water ways, for Argentinians.

The "Blanco" valley
The laws are simple, If you are Argentine you can access the water ways, if you are from anywhere else it's a no go. I was not supposed to be on the property, but that hasn't slowed me down much in the past. I like to think that almost all kayakers break laws on a regular basis. We are constantly blurring trespassing laws and changing in and out of wet gear in public.

Chris Baer, poping off another 10 footer
Stomping that nose down
The level was ten inches on the bridge gauge, and it looked bank full to me. The high flow made a couple of the bigger rapids super fun and also turned a couple rapids into a jungle portages. Over the next week I was blessed with the opportunity to sneak pass the gate keeper two more times and paddle with Matias Nunez, Facha Morron, and Manuel Carignan. We paddled at a variety of flows from 10 to 2 inches. The locals talk about these flows as "damn that is high", all the way down to, "most people still call this high".

Manuel Carignan, tucked deep down in the "Blanco" canyon
The river is simply amazing, bright blue glacial water, tucked between polished granite, in a 200 ft deep canyon. The river features are as beautiful as the scenery. From the top you get a tricky double drop, boof to slides to vert, boof to stumpy walled in hole, 10 footer to off angle 20+ footer, slide into a nasty wall, 8 footer that kicks like a mule into a mandatory 40 footer, 10 foot almost vertical slide into a super committing canyon, 200+ foot tall walled in boogie, and a nasty multi tiered rapid to get you out of the canyon, and into the two mile class 4+ paddle out.

The "Blanco" is the epitome of class 5 creek boating.

another adventure by Chris Baer