Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Chile de Nuevo

A spring mission to California, an epic in Alaska, more good times in the Gorge, another 6 months in Chile, a whirlwind visit to Thailand, a summer at Riversport, great times with the family, a coast-to-coast road trip with my lady...I would love to sit down and write a detailed report about everything that has happened since my last blog post nearly two years ago, but that's not going to happen right now.

Grand Canyon with Cami

My present moment - Santiago, Chile. January 24th, 2012. CNN (English) is on the tele, and Obama is about to give his State of the Union Address. It's 10pm here and city lights have just replaced the last hint of daylight. I thought for a second that I should give my State of the Stouting Address, but I don't really feel I have the authority to do so. I do think it is funny to note that in just a few years, kayakers have gone from "running the shit" to "stouting" to "laying treats" to "running the brown," and now everone is "winning," like cracked out Charlie Sheen. By the way, my favorite Charlie Sheen quote - "I'm a rockstar from MARS!"

I am reluctant to jump on the "winning" bandwagon, but I have to say it is great to see so many people making a fun lifestyle their priority, and I have yet to see any kayakers losing down here in Chile.

Salto Palguin

After a month of no kayaking, I flew in last week frothing to get down some stouts while there was still a crew of boaters in Pucon. Day 1, Rodrigo and Max [Blackburn] picked me up at the bus station, and helped me get my stuff situated before they took off for a Kayak Pucon rafting trip. Rodrigo and Ema have been so good to me over the years, and they run a great business, so it felt weird to be there for fun rather than prepping for the raft trip with my friends, but not too weird. I was stoked to be free to go do whatever, but because I am not working and I do not have a car, I am a "barnacle" at the mercy of those with wheels.

Put-in. This way.

Fortunately, I met up with the 3 Garcias, Fred, Anton and Gramos and we took a quick lap on the Upper Palguin down through the ultimate, Jedi-stroke-n-stomp wondrous, "Boof to Swim." At these low summer flows, it might be more appropriate to call it "Boof to Win."

Nate D-o-doubleG, boofing to...

Anton Immler executing a textbook "squart."

Because it was super hot and becuase it is a particularly dry summer down here, we opted to go redneck it up at the Ojos De Caburgua on day 2. When there's no water in the creeks, cold beers and cliff jumping into ice-cold spring water is not a bad way to pass a hot summer day.

Another great way to pass hot summer day is routing down one of the most scenic and committing gorges of the area, the Middle Fuy. The same crew was motivated to escape from the tourists in Pucon in order to spend the weekend camping on the banks of the pristine Lago Neltume, and we carpooled down with "Blue Balls" and the Rivers, Lakes and Oceans van stoked for laps on the other Middle.

"Do you think my stitches will stay in?"

Salto del Puma. The majestic, mystical Middle Fuy starts here.

With 2-3 times as much water as I remembered from my last trip, the gorge felt pushy and more committing, but the rapids (minus a few portages) are quality at seemingly any level. Despite the tall and unpredictable seal-launch above, the marquee 40 footer was as good to go as ever. A campfire and a few cold beers made the transition to dirtbagging under the stars that much easier.

Garcias preparing for launch.

Dr. Gnar en route to the O.R.

Anton popped up on the downstream side of that giant ball of mist. B-D.

We fried up some eggs and ham on the fire in the morning before meeting Max and Ian for our 2nd lap. I was hoping to run the shit with Rodrigo, too, but he understandably opted to stay in Pucon with Ema to put the finishing touches on their new house. During that run I took a rowdy splat to eddysurf to swim in the lower gorge, just a short pool above the two hardest rapids. Fortunately no gear was lost, but it was a lesson in focus and responsibility, a reminder to respect every wave and eddyline on the river. Regardless, it was a hot day and the booty-beer at the take-out was refreshing. Eager to take advantage of the long summer days, Kayak Pucon guide Fede Medina rallied us for a run down the waterfalls of the classic Upper Fuy before we rolled back to Pucon that night.

Max-steeze with a personal 1st D of the big one.

Buena vista on the drive back to town. Volcan Villarica from the Southwest.

Highlights from the last few days of my week in Pucon include: more "Boof to Win," Nate's last day on The Middle, Fred and Evan stomping Stout 10, sleeping in duckies, sleeping in style at the new KP house on the Liucura, Lower Trancura rafting, more asados and more cliff jumping (Tres Saltos is epic, but watch your dome on the belly-sliding front flips...ask Evan Garcia).

Damn that's stout!

Only 70ft vert to go after this one.

After this line on Stout 10, I don't think Fred will be seal-launching anymore.

Nate opted for the more prudent but equally scary seal-launch.

This is why most kayakers come to Pucon these days. Nate wanted to ride into the rainbow one last time before heading back to winter in Montana.

Now I'm excited to go hit the beach with my girlfriend, then we're off to the South for more boating, more asados and more "ganando" before I have to find a job and she needs to get back to classes. Ganando = winning.

Special thanks to NRS and Astral Buoyancy for your continued support!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Welcome to the Northwest! Rodrigo goes to Metlako

Before making the trip north to the USA, Rodrigo told me he could return home happy if he ran Metlako Falls on Eagle Creek. It was one of our first stops of his month long trip. This was my 2nd run of the falls and the first for Michael and Rodrigo. We had a perfect level and rare sunny day for April. Just the three of us hiked up and paddled down to the car. As they say in Chile, "Filete!"

Rodrigo was a little concerned about the hike. photo by Michael Shields

Do you guys see a waterfall around here?

I love this place. photo by Michael Shields

It's a long way down. photo by Michael Shields

Rodrigo lined her up perfectly from the top. photo by Michael Shields

Yeah buddy!

The Stoutmaster prepares for freefall.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Terremoto Tour - On the road with Jess and Ryan

photo by Jessica Land

photo by Jessica Land

photo by Jessica Land

photo by Jessica Land

photo by Jessica Land

photo by Jessica Land

photo by Jessica Land

photo by Jessica Land

photo by Jessica Land

photo by Jessica Land

photo by Jessica Land

photo by Jessica Land

About a week after the earthquake, I joined up with Jess and Ryan for a trip to the coast. We loaded up the van with our surfboards, camping gear and food and supplies for people who might be in need. We met a ton of great people and surfed some beautiful waves. Ryan and Jess brought the love! For more photos and great writing, check out their blog.

24 hours - Earthquake in Chile

Tree branches scratched at the roof. The house shook. Windows rattled. The lamp tipped over on a bedside table in my room. Glasses crashed to the floor in the kitchen and in the living room. The entire house began to bounce and rock and sway from side to side. Jared and I both broke from our heavy slumber and ran out of our rooms at the same time.

We shouted at each other, “Dude, what the fuck is happening?”

Thinking it was a bad storm, I stuck my head out of the open, bathroom window. The sensation was what I imagine to be the cabin swept away in a tornado, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, but there was no wind. As I surveyed the creaking woodwork I said, “I think our house is falling apart!”

We ran out of the front door in our boxers. Jared shouted as I followed, “Holy shit, bro, the ground is moving, too,”

“Dude…” I said with a confused expression as I leap off of the porch.
Jared said, “I think it’s an earthquake.”

“Holy shit..”

The earth started shaking around 4am and kept shaking for nearly 3 minutes. Several aftershocks followed through dawn. We discovered later in the morning that it had registered in the high 8's on the Richter Scale near its epicenter, and a solid 7.5 in Pucon.

The power was out but water flowed from the tap. Cell phones did not work. A heat wave brought one of the most pleasantly warm and windless days of the summer. Jared and I raced into the center of town on our bicycles, late for work. The sun was bright and the sky blue. No buildings or streets seemed to sustain any cosmetic damage. Businesses were open and active. Did we dream this?

As we rounded the corner onto the main street, we were shocked to see a line of vehicles waiting for fuel that stretched past our line of sight. People looked tired and concerned but patient. This was the last weekend of summer for Chilean vacationers, and the second largest city in the nation and the closest city to the epicenter, Concepcion, had been shaken like a late-night cocktail at a disco. Santiago had reportedly sustained significant damage to its infrastructure and airport. Were homes okay? Loved ones? No one knew. It was time to go home and find out. For many, the earthquake had spiked an urge for flight and an exodus began.

We made it to the Kayak Pucon office to find owners, Rodrigo and Ema, and our driver Mauricio discussing the nights events and rumors of its magnitude and destruction. Rodrigo said he was drinking and dancing with hordes of tourists in the local party spot, Mamas and Tapas, with long time friend and client Emilio when the earth shook the bottles off of the wall behind the bar. Ema was alone in their home, waiting for Rodrigo to return. They exchanged looks, one of wry apology and one of understanding, and then laughed in amazement and relief.

That day there would be no rafting or kayaking trips. The river had been temporarily closed for fear of an unstable riverbed. The volcano had also been closed. Tourism was canceled for the week. Rodrigo said, "This is really bad, bro. Chile is broken."

Friends from Eugene, Oregon, Ryan and Jessica Lambert were camped at the Kayak Pucon land on the Liucura River. They pulled into town and met up with us at the office just after Jared and I had finished telling our tale of the quake. They related their experience as equally surreal, wildly awakened by the moving earth beneath. They were soundly sleeping in their van and had initially thought in their sleepy confusion that someone or some animal had been rocking the van from the outside.

With no power and no work and no official news of the true significance of what had happened to Chile, we collectively decided there was nothing better to do than to celebrate life in the sunshine. We made a run to the store for some food and libations and packed into Ryan and Jess's van for a day on the water. We passed the entire day in front of Rodrigo's family's cabins on the Lago Villarica, soaking up sun on a floating dock and playing around on a stand-up paddle board that had been left as a gift by Dan Gavere. Relative to the earth's chaotic night, the tranquility of that day was remarkable.

Only later that evening did we discover the reach and power of the earthquake. Rodrigo told us again, "This is really bad for Chile, boys." Power had returned and broadcasts of images of collapsed bridges, fallen buildings, cracked and sunken highways, tsunami-flooded coastal towns, looters and the injured. Ryan and Jess dropped us off in town, where the streets were eerily empty but a few restaurants and pubs were full of people glued to televisions, discussing the death count and sharing stories of both tragedy and good fortune. One of our friends had been on a parked bus when a terminal's roof collapsed, but managed to escape unscathed. Another friend told us of her friends who had been crushed and severely injured in a disco on the central coast. We had yet to hear from our buddies who were bus traveling from Pucon to Santiago at the time of the earthquake.

The "celebrate life philosophy" carried us through the night. I vaguely remember mobbing to the lake and drinking rum and cokes on the beach in town with our local friends after the bars had sent us on our way. At 4am the full moon shone enough silver light to brighten smiling and thoughtful faces that stared out at its reflection on the water.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Lifestyle Technicians Unite in Pucon, Chile

Considering the evolution of Facebook and its photo albums and the blogging habits of the homies (EG, Rodrigo and Demshitz), I'm not too surprised by my own absence from this blog. These other outlets for information combined with work and parties and shit-running in my freetime have left me with a lot photos and memories that may not be published. But, today I'm chilling in Pucon's best breakfast spot, the Ecole Cafe, with cloudy skies keeping the tourists away from the doorstep of Kayak Pucon, and I have no excuses. Some stories need to be told, photos need to be uploaded.

I flew into Santiago, bought a truck, hung out with the family of my good friend Israel, and boated the Mapocho with Nico and Sergio - a whilrwind of "hola" and "adios" before heading south. When I rolled into Pucon in November, a rowdy crew of the world's best partiers, I mean kayakers, had already established themselves in the sleepy, springtime vibe of the town. They were lapping 60 footers and building record-breaking bar tabs. Record holder, Tyler Bradt was bringing smiles to the local fans both day and night. A fresh crew of Spanish crazy kayakers had already been robbed. Rush Sturges and Anton Immler had already set the standard for extremes by jumping off of a giant cliff. Steve Fisher ran the world's best eddyturn, the Middle Palguin, something like 20 times in 7 days right after I moved into my house with Demshitz brownstar, Jared Seiler. Jared set the standard for his own self-abuse by first descenting one of the last great unrun stouts of the area, The Car Wreck of the Rio Carhuello - see previous blogpost for more info.

December began with a grave incident on the Cascada de Rio Bonito in Villa Angostura, Argentina, when Rush hurt his back on a brave descent of the falls. I was not there, but I have run this drop twice before, and considering the steeze and experience of this talented rapper, I feel pretty lucky to not be broken.

Around that same time, the Rio Nevado dropped into the "Demshitz Zone" on the local kayaker gossip guage, and the drama continued. It was actually kind of high according to its keepers, Jared, Rodrigo and EG, but "that shit was good to go." The Demshitz Drop and the Lower Nevado is something that had intrigued many before, but most considered it to be too stout. I remember looking at it back in 2005 and thinking that it was runnable, but only by crazy bastards like Tao. Since 2005 standards have changed, kayakers are more comfortable being crazy, and Pucon can get kind of boring if you sit around Mamas and Tapas for too many nights in a row.

The Lower Nevado begins with a fast entry into a technical eddy catch, followed by one of those "I guess I'm doing this now" kind of peel-outs into a dreamy but mandatory 5-foot boof, which runs immediately into the Demshitz, a 40 foot falls with limited control. The falls drops into a granite punchbowl with ampitheatre seating at its upper rim for spectators and scouters. The exit from the pool is The Diablito, named after Jared Seiler, who claimed the First D in November of 2008. This drop actually claimed Jared on his first run, and just one year later, he was claimed again.

The Diablito is a 10 foot curtain falls into a boily pool that banks off the canyon walls and spills into a slot not much more than a boat width wide. The canyon makes nearly a 90 degree right turn into this slot, so keeping your kayak straight through it's opening is definitely a concern. The higher water and rowdier boils pushed Jared's boat sideways at the entrance to its slot and he got pinned badly. Thanks to Rodrigo's monkey-ninja-wet rock-climbing skills, Jared was able to get his boat safely connected to a rope and he was able to escape unscathed. Since that day, Jared has run The Diablito three more times and cleaned it every time. Victory! The rest of the lower canyon is mythical, magical and awaits your visit.

Ok, back to the general wrap-up of the last few months...

Also sometime in december, we had the good fortune of making a trip the "Magic Valley" in the Kayak Pucon van. EG, Candace, Diablito, Todd Richey Rodrigo and I motivated to make a First Descent of the Rio Blanco above it's hot springs. The Blanco is beautiful and well worth a trip, even if just for the camping.

By the way, there were many many many kayakers running around Pucon and Chile at this time. There was a race on the Upper Palguin, won by Keegan Grady. He and his friends were also getting their laps on the big drops and steep creeks of the area. Todd, Jared and I were living toegether and doing our best to get our waterfalling on when not working - Kayak Pucon keeps me BUSY - thanks Rodrigo and Ema!!!! The Humboldt county boys were out there running the shit as well. The Spaniards and the Garcias were and still are traveling like the true gypsies we all want to be. The Desague and Puesco, arguably some of the best rivers in the world, were running daily. And, yes, we were all have way too much fun at the bars.

Christmas in Pucon for kayakers is usually defined by hangovers and the Rio Palguin. On the morning of the 25th, a massive group rallied to do a "Todo Palguin." On this day, we did the whole thing, Salto Palguin included. Steve Fisher ran the beast for the first time just a week or two before. (Steve and Anton also did the first "double descent" in a Jackson Duo over the Middle. Yes, he is a super hero.) I ran the Salto first and Jared followed. No one else wanted any of that one, on that day, but I think 7 more people have run it since??? Did I mention Pucon can make kayakers a little loose? I was lucky enough to make it through that one with a clean line, rolled up at the bottom and paddle in tact, no injury - woohoo! There is a really good Todo Palguin update on Evan's blog, but we all ran the portage and Jared and I also ran the entrance to the Middle Palguin stout falls, which had never been done before since the falls transfomed into 65-70 footer. Big props to Adam Bixby, Brian Kirk, Chris Baer and Nate Garcia who all ran the Middle for their first time that day. Yes, we like it.

New Year's was a huge party, everywhere in the world I'm sure. Thanks to Zorro and Villa for getting it started at their house. Thanks to Mamas and Tapas for tolerating us!

January is a blur. I think I did around 50 trips down the Liucura River, paddled the Nevado and its Lower Canyon a few times. One of those times I got ejected on The Demshitz and I was glad that we set a rope a the bottom, because I went first. Jordi, a wild Spanish man, also ran the Demshitz that day and it was his first time - way to go, bud! Young buck, Steve from Canada, ran the Todo Palguin (Salto, portage and Stout 10 entrance to the middle). I think he is 18?? Good work.

Also of note in January - Macy and Amanda came down from Reno and had a reallly good time. The Run Shit trip from Montana and Oregon kept Rodrigo, Ema and I busy but also helped with our sanity! Rodrigo, Todd, Jared, Ian, Jake and I went to the Rio Negro de Hornopiren for a little vacation from Kayak Pucon work. We wanted to hit up the Coachamo, but we just didn't have the time. The Negro is a classic, and one of the most beautiful areas of Chile. Go there if you can.

Well, I started with good intentions of sharing a lot of detail, but this will have to do for now. I hope the world is happy. I definitely feel like I've been trapped in a little bubble down here. I'm stoked to see the World Class family here now, and I can't give enough thanks to all of those who have come to paddle with Kayak Pucon. Mauricio, Ema, Jared and Rodrigo and I are all loving all of the work, even if it means a little less freetime.

Phones are ringing and it looks like some people are going to go do a lap on the Nevado, or maybe the Puesco or probably the Palguin. It's Zorro's birthday today and he wants to run the Middle.

photos by me, rodrigo, todd richey, adam bixby and candace sanders