Monday, December 27, 2010

Second Descent: Upper Rio Division

Here in Costa Rica I haven't been getting after as much paddling as I had originally hoped. Luckily within the last couple weeks I was able to get on some beautiful rivers with some amazing drops. One of which was the upper section of the Rio Division. Ferdinand Steinvorth, a Tico paddler very interested in exploring the gems here in Costa Rica, called me up and said that himself and Chris Baer were headed to do the second descent of the Upper Rio Division. Of course I said I was all in, and a couple days later met up with Ferdinand in San Jose. From San Jose we woke up early, and drove for a few hours to the put in. Within the first quarter mile there was some fun class IV-V rapids, and one un-run 20ft. falls. The rapid had a technical lead-in, and instead of the falls dropping into a nice pool there was a boil about 20ft. downstream that created a difficult upstream current. Non the less, I saw my line and decided to give her a go. Everything went smoothly, and Chris and Ferdinand followed with similar lines.

Lining up at the lip of Backwash
Just a few hundred feet downstream was the entrance to the first of two un-run canyons. Our original goal was to run both the canyons, but after evaluating the time that we had and looking at the sieved out entrance to the canyon we decided to save that expedition for another day.

Looking into the gorge downstream

With night falling, we made our way up to the closest pueblo to decide what to do next. Eventually we decided to ride in the back of a pick-up to a town below both the first and second canyons of the Upper Division. Cold, tired, and hungry after a long drive we made camp in a generous local's garage and chowed down on some grub before going to sleep. I didn't sleep too well, but by the time the sun was up and I saw the view of the valley a couple thousand feet below where we had camped I was ready to go. 

Our bivy on the Division. You have no idea how happy we were to find a roof to sleep under. 
Hiking down to the river the next morning
Once we arrived at the river we began to make our way downstream, boat scouting almost the entire run. We didn't come across any big drops, but I had an amazing time paddling some of the most continuous class IV-V rapids I had ever seen. Once we got a good feel for the river and the type of rapids we were paddling be began to move faster and paddled about 14km before mid afternoon. 

Ferdinand enjoying the "class fun" Rio Division

Boofing my way down the Division
When we got to the take out we were met by Felipe, the best shuttle driver in the area. We loaded up our boats, headed back to his house and prepared for our following day of paddling on the un-run Upper Rio Sevegre...

Felipe's 4X4 Shuttle Rig

Photos by: Chris Baer

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Mexico 2010: The Rio Jalacingo

To us kayakers, the Rio Alseseca is without a doubt the most popular class V river in Veracruz. However, for those of us who don't mind working a little more for the goods I think think that the Rio Jalacingo can dish out just as good of a time as the classic Alseseca. During our trip to Mexico we spent three very productive days on the Jalacingo. In our first day we drove about half an hour from Tlapacoyan to the end of the Jalacingo road. From here, we shouldered our boats and hiked another 20 minutes to the infamous Bukaki Slide. The Bukaki Slide, first paddled a couple years ago by Rafa, Iker, and some Canadian stoutmasters, is a dynamic slide that quickly pinballs you back and forth off a few tight walls before making a 90 degree turn to the left and freefalling 20 feet into a calm pool below. Evan, Rush, and Rafa all went first and had similar clean lines flying straight into and off the 20 footer. I took a little different approach trying to catch an eddy on river right after the slide, but before the 20 footer. However, the river had a different plan for me and I ended up spinning around and approaching the waterfall backwards. At the last minute as I began to fall off the drop I was able to kick my boat around in a backwards freewheel to land upright and forward in the pool below.

Rafa entering Bukaki
Myself at the crux of the drop, about to throw a back freewheel

Looking up at Bukaki from the pool below
Before ending the day we had one more thing to take care of. We paddled a short ways down from Bukaki and ran a few laps on a clean 20 footer. Afterwards Rush, or perhaps it was Rudy, decided it would be a good idea to have our filmer, Matt Baker, fire up the drop as well. Rush briefly described to Matt, who had been a kayak once or twice before, how to tuck forward and pull his skirt before throwing him into the current and over his first drop. Matt had a sick line and almost stuck his landing, but ended swimming in the calm pool below.

Matt Baker learning quick 

During our second day on the Rio Jalacingo we put in slightly below where we had taken out the previous day with intentions of paddling all the way to the Alseseca confluence. However, we ended up spending the majority of the day scouting and preparing for a 60 footer right at the put-in. This drop's dynamic S curving lead in, and questionable depth below were enough to keep me from running it, but Rafa, who had run it once before, and Evan decided to fire it up. I waited patiently in the pool below, and watched Rafa give 'er first with a big ol' boof. After landing pretty flat I was worried that Rafa may have injured his back or ribs, but like always he paddled away without a scratch. Evan followed with a similar stroke off the lip, but was able to kick down his bow to nearly vertical before landing in the pool. Afterwards, we spend what little daylight we had left scouting a stout 40 footer less than 500ft. downstream. We left our boats at the lip of the waterfall, and planned on returning the next day to continue our journey downstream. 

Rafa, the pioneer of this drop, claiming its second descent as well

Evan flying off the lip

The following day we returned as planned and got straight to business. We gave the 40 one last scout then all fired ‘er up. Rush, who went first, claimed hands down the best line of the day with a perfect 45 angle of entry right off the middle of the drop. Evan and Rafa both ended up getting pushed left against some gnarly rocks, but paddled away without too much trouble.

Next it was my turn. As I paddled towards the drop I scrapped over a rock and lost the majority of my speed and control. I did everything I could to regain my direction and to reach for one last power stroke off the lip, but as I set my blade in the current I didn’t seem to grab any water and wasn’t able to get my bow up as much as I had anticipated. When I connected with the pool below I felt my paddle go straight to my face and became disoriented. The next thing I knew I was in the river left cave behind the waterfall, struggling to find any room to roll. About ready to give up I let go of my paddle and reached for the grab loop on my skirt. At the very last moment I felt a shelf to my left and hand rolled back up in the turbulent waters. As I opened my eyes to find my paddle, I noticed a disturbing flow of blood running from my nose. “Well let’s get of here first, then we can deal with that,” I told myself. After I turned myself around, I squeezed my way between the waterfall and shelf on the right to emerge back into the calm pool. Once the adrenaline wore off I began to feel a throbbing pain through my nose, but as my friends assured me that it “still looked pretty straight” I proceeded downstream with the crew.

Final scout of the 40 footer
Rush over the horizon line
Midway down, struggling to get my bow up
Finally finished with the gnar 40 footer we  paddled some fun slides and numerous clean boofs for a couple of miles. Afterwards, rather abruptly, we arrived at the entrance the only un-run (runnable) waterfall in the canyon. This particular 30 footer had a very unique and difficult lead in, but that wasn't our main concern. In the pool below there were three main hazards. The first was on river right where the falls landed within a few feet of the right side canyon wall and created a nasty pocket. The second was a huge cave on river left where the majority of the water seemed to be flowing. The third and final hazard of the waterfall was the 10ft. ledge immediately downstream with another nasty pocket on river right.Despite all the negative factors that played a roll in this drop, we all knew that there was a line. Rafa was especially confident, and again was the first to give 'er. He came flying off the 30 footer with lots of speed and a big boof to clear the  pocket on river right. He then waited near the cave on river left above the 10 foot ledge for whoever would be next. After seeing Rafa stomp his line about as well as anyone could possibly stomp it, I was inspired to follow him up. Off the lip I didn't have as much speed as I was hoping, so in a last minute effort to avoid the pocket on river right I turned myself towards the left, landed in the pool below and joined Rafa in the cave. Next up was Evan. From the bottom I watched as Evan came off the lip with probably a similar speed to myself. He was able to pull off a good boof stroke, but upon landing in the pool the vail flipped him back into the river right pocket. Evan tried and tried to fight his way out of the pocket, but eventually had to pop his skirt and swim for it. Somehow, once he was swimming, he was able to hand of god some slippery rock on river right to avoid swimming the nasty 10 foot ledge. While Rafa chased Evans boat downstream, Rush threw a rope to Evan and pulled him across the current as to avoid swimming the ten footer. Before too long everything was back to normal. However, after paddling about 500 ft downstream Evan's boat was full of water and we discovered an inch wide crack in the back of his boat.Rafa claiming yet another first descent on the Rio JalacingoEvan decided to hike out through a banana field on the left in hopes of finding a ride down to the takeout downstream. We didn't know exactly where he would end up, but we figured that the Banana fields must lead to some sort of civilization. After bidding him fairwell, Rafa, Rush, and myself proceed downstream. Aside from a sieved out 100 footer that required an exciting portage through a steep canyon, there wasn't too much much more good whitewater to be had and before too long the river turned to a manky class II-III boulder garden. After a few miles of boogying our way downstream we arrived at the confluence of the Alseseca and just a few minutes later arrived at our take-out about Tomata Falls. At the truck we were relieved to find Evan safe and sound. After a descent hike he had managed to find a ride down to where our shuttle vehicle awaited.This day turned into quite an adventure, but was definately one of my favorite days of the trip. I'm glad to say that we have now explored (almost) every section of the Rio Jalacingo river, and wow it's one hell of place. Now all I can do is look for more beautiful gorges around the world, and look forward to coming back to this one. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Mexico 2010: The Rio Alseseca

This year I was lucky enough to be invited on a trip to Mexico with paddlers Rush Sturges, Evan Garcia, Rafa Ortiz, and cinematographer Matt Baker for the filming of River Root's next film Frontier. So, on October 12th I gathered what money remained from my summer of work at the Kayak Shed, and headed south. After some hours on the plane and a long night in the Dallas Airport I finally arrived in Mexico City. There I met up with the crew and spent a few days exploring the world biggest city, a city of 27 million people. After la tour de la ciudad we headed to Tlapacoyan, Mexico’s epicenter of steep rivers and clean waterfalls. Each one of us had been to Tlapacoyan before, and this year our goal was to paddle as many of the classic runs and as many of the big drops on those classic runs as possible.

My Dallas Airport bivouac

Of the many amazing rivers in the Tlapacoyan area, the Rio Alseseca is without a doubt my favorite. The most relaxed portion of the Alseseca is the Roadside section. The Roadside section, laden with continuous clean basalt rapids including the infamous “S-Turn”, is the perfect warm-up before hitting up the bigger stuff. The next step up from the Roadside Section is the Big Banana Section. This stretch of the Alseseca is longer than the Roadside and flows in and out of multiple deep gorges, which means countless clean drops. One particular drop on the Big Banana section, The Silencer, I had looked at last year, but neglected to run due to a hairy cave below on river left. This year I stepped it up and rolled off the 40 footer with a big 'ol boof stomp to steer clear of the river left cave. Evan followed with a similar line and a week later, once we had met up with a few other kayakers, Spanish paddler Aniol Serrasolses layed out a silky smooth line on her as well.

Myself on one of many sick drops on the Big Banana section
Rafa dishin' out mad steeze on Meatlocker
A must-make boof directly below Meatlocker

Aniol "La Cobra" styling the Silencer Drop

Heavy Rains on the Alseseca
Waiting in the rain for our ride back to town

Of course, a trip to Tlapacoyan could not be complete without an epic Tomata huckfest. Our first huckfest on Tomata resulted in mostly "not-so-clean" lines. However, when we returned for round two (in which I didn't participate due to a bum shoulder) everyone seemed to have pretty good lines. In that same day everyone proceeded to run Second Tomata as well. While Evan and Rafa endured some carnage on this stout, Rush, Aniol, and Iker Beristain Van Dusen "naturally stuck the piss out of it."

The full crew above Tomata. From Left to Right: Pancho, Aniol, Iker, myselft, Evan, Rafa, and Rush
Rafa Falling Off Tomata

Rush ridin' dirty on Tomata. More mount angles to be seen in Frontier

 A view of Second Tomata From Below
Also on the Rio Alseseca River is the infamous Big Banana waterfall. For six year this 128.6 foot monster had been looked at by multiple paddlers, but it wasn't until this trip that finally Rafa and Aniol stepped up to give 'er a go. Our team spent a full day scouting this drop from every which angle, and by the end of the day Rafa and Aniol decided that they would give 'er the following day. The next day Rafa and Aniol repelled 70 feet down to the lip of the waterfall, looked at her once more, and paddled off the lip. As I waited in my boat for first Rafa and second Aniol to come off the lip of the waterfall I was full of mixed emotions, but as soon as they emerged from the turbulent pool below I was hit with a wave of relief and happiness. Congratulations boys.

Rafa Scouting Big Banana from the lip via 70ft. repel

Rafa and Aniol sharing the excitement of having cleanly dropping the second biggest waterfall in a kayak

Photos by Lucas Gilman, Rush Sturges, Evan Garcia, Matt Baker, and myself

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Stikine- A First Timer's Perspective

When I open up my phone to see that I missed a call from Erik Boomer I know that something juicy is brewing and a wave of anxiety and excitement hits me. Three days ago when I opened my phone to see that Boomer had left me a message it was no different. In his message he said, "Todd we're going to the Stikine. Call me back if you can be in Portland in 3hrs."
Without much thought I called Boomer back and said "I'm in." Later of course reality struck and I remembered that I was supposed to work over the next few days and that I wasn't fully equiped for a trip into one of the most committing rivers in North America. Fortunately John H. the owner of the Kayak Shed, just happens to be one of the coolest bosses anyone could ever work for and encouraged me to get on the Stikine. In addition Jason Shroder at Outdoorplay stayed at work later than usual to make sure that I had everything I needed before heading North. With my last responsibilities taken care of I met Boomer in Portland and departed for the trip of a lifetime...

Journal Entry: Day 1- The Drive
It's funny that only now, 26 hours into our drive and about 3 hours from the put-in I've composed my thoughts enough to put them on paper. Throughout the hours of non-stop driving I've been hit with a variety of emotions. From excitement- "Wow, I'm finally here. About to put-in on what I've heard to be the adventure of a lifetime," to anxiety and second guessing- "Am I ready for a trip like this? Am I as mentally and physically prepared as one should be before such an endeavor?" But when such feelings of question come across me I remind myself that I've been preparing myself for this trip throughout my youth of travel, exploration, & paddling experiences. But what also calms my nerves is when I remind myself that I'm dropping into one of the most notorious rivers in the world with Boomer. Boomer's the fucking man. He, like myself, first paddled the Stikine as a teenager and since has paddled it an additional three times. I've only known Boomer for a couple years, but he's one of the very few people that I can trust is always watching my back and I think he know s that I'm always watching his. Also in the last 24 hours that I've spent getting to know Jeff West, our other paddling teammate, I feel like he's already gained a lot of my trust and become a close friend, which in a trip like this is necessary.

Journal Entry: Day 2- First River Day
Right now it's difficult to bring myself to write in my journal. I've never been this tired after a single day of paddling, but now my thoughts are fresh and if I wait till tomorrow to write them down they will have grown stale. Anyways, today was without a doubt the best day of paddling I've ever had. I've spent my entire youth on low volume creeks where it's easy to tell ow the water moves and how I must direct my body and my boat to get where I want. However, out here it's completely different. Here the river controls me as it so chooses, and I can never completely predict how it will react. One moment I could be exactly where I want and the next the river could swallow me in it's churning boils and spit me out where I least desire. That aside, I feel that I've done pretty well today. For the most part I've been able to stay on line and haven't had any close calls. Boomer and Jeff have also done incredibley well and have made paddling this river that much easier. Entry Falls, Wicked Wanda, Three Goat, Pass-Fail, Watson's, Site-Zed, AFP, The Wall, Garden of the Gods. These nine stand out rapids and everything in-between rocked my world today like never before. But, as Boomer told me just as we got off the river "Tomorrow the hits only get bigger."

Boomer, Myself and Jeff West at the Put-in

Site-Zed Portage

Myself in the bottom half of Site-Zed

Jeff West on the same rapid

Journal Entry: Day 3- Second and Final River Day
Today was amazing. We started of the morning leaving Wolf Track Camp. Wolf Track Cam, which I neglected to talk about last night, is an awesome oasis for the whitewater kayaker seeking refuge from the elements. A sandy beach on river left is the indicator to Wolf Track. And from the beach a nearby trail leads to the campsite. At the campsite a large conglomerate boulder towers over our heads to protect us from any rain, sleet or snow. We were able to dry gear cook food, and sleep with ease. On the river today Boomer was right, the hits only got bigger and bigger. The first major rapid we dropped into was Garden of the Gods 2 where once one is about halfway through the rapid and on the right side of the river they must paddle their ass off to ferry back to river left. An enormous house sized rock which separates the left side (where you want to be) and the right side (where you don't want to be) only adds to the extremity of this rapid. Later on the river tightens up and we reached The Wall 2, Scissors, The Hole That Ate Chicago, and V-Drive. We walked both Scissors which seemed to mostly flow into a couple ugly rocks in the middle of the river and The Hole That Ate Chicago which, living up to its name, looked like if one didn't hit their line right on they'd be in for one hell of a beat down. The final big rapid of the day was V-Drive, and let me assure you that scouting this thing from the high overlook on river-right does it no justice. This was quite possibly what I felt to be the most fun rapid on the river. In a short distance the river steepens and speeds up drastically, creating numerous huge waves that hit so quickly after one another that's it's difficult to prepare for the next. After V-Drive the river mellows out to some extend, and goats begin to litter the surrounding cliff walls. Boomer spent some time chasing down and photographing goats beside the river, and came home with some exceptional photos (hopefully soon you'll see these in a Nat-Geo Magazine). After enough flat water to take every ounce of energy out of my body, we arrived at the take-out. I don't think I've ever felt as accomplished as I did setting down my boat on the beach and looking back up the Stikine River. I love this place.

The Beach at Wolf Track

The Grand Canyon

A cool place to be

Boomer scouting V-Drive

The Tanzilla Slot- Here the entire river constricts to be about 4ft. wide

The paddle out

The Goats

Looking down river from the take-out

Hiking down to the Tuya River

The day after we took off the river we took a 'rest day' and hiked up and down a couple tributaries of the Stikine. But after our rest day we were ready for more. Back at the put-in the next morning we woke up at 5:30 A.M. and by 6:00 were back on the Stikine floating, in the dark, towards Entrance Falls. We took the day slowly, but with all the lines fresh in our heads, we arrived at Wolf Track within four and a half hours. Even with some lollygagging and a short hike during our run, we comfortably arrived at the take-out by 4:00 P.M. That night we ate a big ol' home-cooked meal of roast beef and mashed potatoes at the Tatooga Lake Resort, which is a must visit destination for any traveler in the area, and then proceed to drive the following 30 hours non-stop back to Seattle. This was for me the most epic trip I've ever been a part of and I look forward to seeing the Stikine again next year.

Photos by Erik Boomer and Jeff West