Friday, December 26, 2008

Río Gol Gol: V

The Gol Gol is yet another classic Chilean waterfall playground. Zak and Mike had been down before at higher water and we´d all heard plenty of good reviews on the river, so we made it a priority on our Christmas road trip. The Gol Gol is a step up from the nearby Fuy and while a class IV boater can easily run the river with a few portages, confident huckers can go as big as they want. There aren´t many boaters out there that wouldn´t be nervous and thrilled about dropping 50-foot Salto del Indio at the takeout.

We put in on a tributary of the legendary Gol Gol, parking at the border check on the Chilean side (although the actual border is way up the road). The scrapy float into the main river was oddly reminiscent of running Nordheimer Creek into the Cal-Salmon. After 20 minutes of flatwater and some class III rapids, we eddied out to scout the first drop.

Salto de los Novios (Boyfriend Falls?) was visible from the road on the way up and drops about 20 feet with the lead-in. The right channel had a really fun-looking line with a unique move, but it was out of the question due to a rock in the landing zone. We all chose the shallower left channel with mixed results. Both days that we ran it, Zak launched incredible super-boofs, landing stern first and keeping his head dry.

Mike running the far left line

There is plenty of recovery time to roll up after the falls, but a swim here would be painful due to the chunky rapid just downstream. From here, we paddled about a mile of class III/IV pool-drop rapids where nothing really stood out. That is, until we came to the second drop.

Brian on the entrance ledge

The second big one on the Gol Gol is probably my favorite rapid anywhere. The river spreads out over an 8-foot ledge with a variety of lines to choose from. The river feeds into 50-yards of class III boulder garden, then accelerates over a fast, clean 20-footer.

Zak finishing off the second drop

Both times I ran this one I flipped upon landing the bottom drop, but still came away intact and elated from a blissful rapid. Mike seemed to have the best line the first day, with a perfect entry angle to shoot away from the falls.

Immediately below the second drop is a class III rapid with a couple of fun boof moves. The next drop is a chunky 25-foot double drop we all portaged right away via a good trail on the right. From there it was easy boogey water to the fourth drop.

The fourth drop had me a bit nervous, as it had a retentive hole that swam two people last time Mike and Zak had been down here. We caught small eddies half-way through the lead-in and hopped out to scout on the left. Zak then led the way with a big, loud boof giving Mike and me confidence to follow with the same. It turned out to be a fairly easy drop so long as we were in the right spot, and the landing was a bit hard.

Zak cleans the fourth drop with a strong boof

In the pool below drop 4, we saw the Rio Colorado flow in from river left. Passing it, I couldn´t help but wonder how much time I could have saved the day before by following that river downstream. We soon were at the lip of another horizon line and were out of our boats again to scout 30-foot Salto Repercura on the right.

Scouting Repercura from the viewing platform

The morning before, we had hiked from camp to the viewing platform across from Repercura on river left. From there we could clearly see the line, but could also clearly see the nasty undercut/cave wall on river right. This hazard is invisible from the scout on river right, and I would highly recommend scouting from both sides before running the drop. We all ended up portaging that day on the left, where there is a marginal trail at the base of a cliff face.

The left channel of Repercura

After a 20-minute portage around the waterfall, the river offers nothing more than class II and flatwater. Oh, and a 50-foot waterfall: Del Indio. As big drops go, this one looks reasonably doable with a huge cushion, deep pool, and plenty of room to roll up below or swim your boat to shore if you blow a skirt or break a paddle.

On my third trip down the Gol-Gol, Allen got pumped up and fired up his biggest drop ever!

Halfway down, he disappeared behind the folding curtains and went super deep. The impact blew out an earplug, both elbow pads, and the corner of his skirt. But he resurfaced after several seconds and rolled up strong. Then came Brian....

The two boys had pretty much the same line, but Brian was only down for a couple seconds before resurfacing upright and paddling away with a big smile. I was just happy to sit in the pool below with a great angle to watch my buddies stick their lines!

Note: Many people refer to the waterfall I´ve called Repercura as Salto La Princessa. Just below this drop, the river corridor splits into two channels, rejoining in the pool below Del Indio, which is in the right channel. The left channel is now dry (at least at low water), but looking at the riverbed, it´s obvious there was historically a 25-footer followed by some rapids. According to local information, this dry waterfall is Princessa. The point is, if you think my pictures look just like those others took of a drop called Princessa, that´s because they are. Get over it.

Río Fuy: IV+ with waterfalls

The third stop on our Christmas road trip was the Río Fuy, a river well-known for its collection of consecutive waterfalls. We found easy camping at the take-out for the upper run, but woke up to rain and cold weather. After the first few rapids, I took a deep swim out of a ledge hole and ultimately hiked out halfway through the waterfall section on well-developed trails courtesy of the Huilo-Huilo lodge up on the highway. Clearly, I had to return for a sense of completion. So on Christmas Day, we awoke at the same campsite to beautiful clear skies and the promise of a hot afternoon.

From the put-in in Puerto Fuy, the river flows out of a large lake and gradually builds up steam to a collection of class III and IV rapids. With our flows, everything was boat-scoutable and pool-drop.

Mike running the ledge I swam out of

Joe having himself a great Christmas

After a dozen good rapids, the Río Fuy pools up, then drops off the edge of the Earth. The waterfall section kicks off with a clean 30-footer, followed closely by four more smaller drops. This may be the best 500 meters of whitewater I´ve ever run.

Mike 30 feet in the air with some serious gradient yet to come

Drop 1 - Salto La Leona: 30ft

The water was dead-calm approaching the lip, giving us plenty of time to line up exactly where we wanted. From the right bank, we could easily scout the line, which started off with a 5-foot slide into a flake that launched us out into a soft landing. At our flow, the drop was very flushy and most of the water we were landing in went right into an eddy on river right. Between the two days, we all had a variety of lines. I demonstrated my inability to boof out straight, both times turning sideways in the air and landing on edge. Still, I didn´t flip either time, which I attribute entirely to my boat. For a drop of this height, I can´t imagine it getting any easier or more forgiving.

Me at the top of La Leona with the second drop in the foreground

Joe resurfacing after a perfect line off the big one

Drop 2: 8ft

The river was still partially aerated from the first drop as it flowed over an 8-10 foot ledge. The second drop has a sticky-looking hole in the middle, with sneak lines on either side. Both times, Joe, Mike, and I took the scrapier boof on the right side while Zak and Alan had good runs with the left line. The ledge is immediately followed by a class III rapid leading into the next set of drops.

Mike in the runnout of the second drop

Drop 3: 10ft?
The third drop is really a low-angle slide that picks up plenty of speed before crashing through two big holes. It´s easily scoutable, and much steeper than it looks. Fortunately, with the speed you get coming down the tongue, the two holes aren´t a big deal. Still, this slide intimidated me into hiking out on the first run, mostly because it leads directly into drop 4. Alan and Zak still fired it up with a little chaos, but good runs.

Blue angels dropping in

Things get a little wild.....

But they keep it alive to the lip of drop 4

Drop 4: 10ft
This one isn´t easily scoutable or portageable, which is a shame considering the hole at the base of it. The lip is a uniform horseshoe shape and forms a massive hydraulic that I want nothing to do with. The line is to drive off the left corner and boof into the eddy, which isn´t too hard if you´re in the right spot.

The waterfalls from below, with the sticky fourth drop in the foreground

Drop 5: 15ft
The last waterfall offers up a great finale. An easy lead-in with an obvious marker hole lets you get plenty of speed before soaring off a boof flake that´s impossible to miss into a clean, forgiving landing. What more can you ask for? Below the perfect 15-footer is about a kilometer of class II-III to the take-out.

Zak approaches the lip

Joe with another great run

On our Christmas run I was nervous, but excited for the third and fourth drops (which we all ran as one rapid without eddying out). But when I arrived in the eddy above the the slide, there was runaway gear downstream and I was the only one in my boat. I had to go. I took a moment to catch my breath and try to recall what everything looked like from the scout several days before. The gear kept going and I made chase, driving left down the slide. I bounced through the holes without incident and set my eyes on the weir downstream.

Me at the lip of the slide (drop 3)

I came up to the lip with plenty of speed, but my timing was off. I was forced to boof with the wrong blade, but everything still worked out and I paddled away hooting. I continued to chase the runaway boat through a hundred yards of boogey water when I suddenly found myself at another horizon line. I hopped out to give the last drop a quick scout, ran the obvious and easy line, and pushed the boat into an eddy shortly thereafter. In the rush, I wasn´t able to get many pictures myself, but the other guys came down behind me with cameras.

On the same run, Zak waited until we had all gone through so he could run the first four drops in sequence without stopping. He took a perfect line off the 30-footer that lined him up to finish off the next three without getting his head wet. This is truly an outstanding section of whitewater.

Río Llancahue: IV+

About an hour and a half south of Pucon, the Río Llancahue flows off the southern flank of Volcan Villarica. We made two separate trips to this classic creeky run. The first time, we put in too high, forcing us into a silly portage back up to the road where we walked to a better put-in. Just below the put-in comes the highlight of the run: a beautifully clean 23-footer into a big pool.
Alan nailing the line perfectly, 20 feet in the air

The lead-in offers a fast angled approach to the lip, where you slide down the first five feet to an auto-boof flake. It´s easy to err to either side on this one, but the consequences are minimal. Here´s a sequence Mike took of me running the waterfall.

On our second lap, everyone had great runs. We came away warmed up and excited for the rest of the run. Below here, the run is class III boogey water until the bridge rapid, which can be seen/scouted from the road. This is one of the tougher drops on the run and can get rowdy, but is a total blast when done right!

Below the bridge are several more twisty bedrock rapids. Here´s Zak leading the charge on another IV+ drop.

And Mike on the same ledge, shot from below:

Along with a handful of tight, pushy rapids, the volcanic bedrock creates several boof ledges other than the waterfall. Here´s Joe on the biggest:

The entire run is roadside, so the take-out is wherever you want to make it. I believe the 8-foot ledge pictured above was the last rapid we ran before taking out above a log jam. Apparently there is one more great rapid below that portage, but further down is a huge drop that´s only been run a couple times. The Llancahue is a great day trip and is easy to run on the way to some of the other classics down south. Just upstream, Termas Ríncon offers great camping at the hot springs.

Access: From Pucon, drive on pavement through Villarica and Lican Ray to Conaripe. From there, follow signs to Termas Geometricas. After several (10?) kilometers, you´ll start driving along the river and eventually reach the turn-off for Termas Geometricas. Park your rig, hop the fence, and find your way down to the river there. Take out wherever you´d like. The full run is only about three kilometers, so the shuttle can easily be walked.

click here to check out more photos

Upper Elk Creek (Klamath Drainage): IV

Sorry, there are no pictures yet for this write-up. It is strictly to provide some beta and rave about one of the most under-recognized creeks in Northern California. I first ran Elk Creek one day when nearby classic Clear Creek seemed a touch high. We took out just below the turnoff to the East Fork of Elk Creek and put in about a mile above Sulphur Springs campground by hiking up the trail on river-left. Then we learned we could have driven that far up. I was blown away by the quality of the run, with several miles of good gradient and mostly bedrock slides and ledges.

Recently, I went back in with a crew of five and we got the logistics dialed in. We put in even higher up and gained over a mile of fun class IV above the trailhead. The section above Sulphur Springs is characterized by long, low angle slides. It's slide after slide after slide. Some of them may have a fun boof somewhere in the middle, a blind corner, or perhaps a big hole at the bottom. Then there will be a good eddy to regroup above the next slide. It went on like this for miles!

Eventually, we came to a steeper, shorter slide on a sharp right turn and scouted. It was a clean drop with a good eddy at the bottom, but the next rapid was the most significant on the run and we all chose the easy portage along the bedrock shelf on the left. From there it was a short paddle down to the footbridge at Sulphur Springs where the character changed significantly.

Rapids on the lower section were shorter and several had significant ledge drops. Again, we boat-scouted our way down most of the run through quality class IV rapids. At the higher flow, there were several key class IV+ moves to avoid significant holes. About two miles below Sulphur Springs we came to a three-part rapid below a big slide and scouted with some creative clambering on the right bank. Other than the earlier portage above Sulphur Springs, this was the toughest rapid on the run verging on class V. It is somewhat complex and culmunates in a powerful 8-foot ledge, but it went just fine provided you were upright and paddling.

The last mile was back to class III boogey water until the take-out. Elk Creek is truly a gem of a run and I'm amazed it doesn't get more lip service for having so many clean, fun drops. This is a great place to get some training on creekboating.


From Hwy. 96 in Happy Camp, turn onto Elk Creek Road and cross the Klamath. After about 10-12 miles, there is a left turn for the East Fork of Elk Creek. Continue straight with the river on your left about 1/4 mile and keep your eyes peeled for a little double-track cutting off to the left. This public mining claim makes a great take-out.

To reach the put-in, continue upstream following signs for Sulphur Springs. Put in here if you don't want to deal with the portage or continue up the road another 1.5 miles to the trailhead. If you want to hike and add some miles (highly recommended with good water flows) you'll have to follow the trail to the creek, get in your boat, and ferry across to continue up the trail on creek-left. Hike as far as you have time for, it only seems to get better the further you go!

Elk Creek has no gage, but is very close to Indian Creek into the Klamath. Any correlation is very approximate. On our first trip in January of 2010, Indian Creek was flowing about 1000 cfs. This put Clear Creek on the high side of good and we found Elk Creek to carry about 250-300 cfs at Sulphur Springs. This was a good flow, but my recommended minimum. The main rapids were fun, the in-between was bony, and it overall made for a class III-IV day.

The second trip was in late October of 2010 during the first rainstorm of the season. Indian Creek must have soaked more water into the soil, because it only came up to 700 cfs. Meanwhile, Elk Creek was actually much higher than the previous trip, and we estimate flows of 450-500 cfs at Sulphur Springs. This was a more preferable flow as it padded out all the gravel bars and shallow slides. However, it also made every pool a bit flushy, created some stomping holes, and gave the whole run more of a class IV+ feel with a few tougher drops.

The portage above Sulphur Springs just looked manky and nasty at the lower flows. At higher water, it was quite clean but the turbulence cauldron of a landing zone scared us all away. Next time Elk Creek, Next time.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Río Paucartambo/Mapacho

While we were in Peru, our biggest mission by far was the 10-day class IV/V trip on the Mapacho, also known as the Paucartambo. I´ve been a marvelous slacker and have taken forever to get the posts up, but they´re all now available on the blog for viewing. Over the next few days/weeks, I´ll continue to add pictures, but that has proven to be a little time-consuming, so be patient. For now, those interested can at least read a little bit about what each day had in store for us.

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5
Day 6
Day 7
Day 8
Day 9
Day 10

Enjoy, and check back for more photos!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Lower Santa Teresa (III)

After a disappointing morning on the Sacsara, we decided to take a look at the more voluminous Santa Teresa. We all decided against our initial aspirations of checking out the upper run, which is reputed to be a steep, multi-day classic. Instead we agreed on running the lower roadside section. Initially, our hired shuttle rig took us to the upper bridge at the end of the road in a town called Playa. Sadly, some recent road construction has dumped plenty of sharp rocks into the river creating steep rapids that needed much more water to be clean. So we opted to put in at the middle bridge about six kilometers upstream of town.

To say the least, the Lower Santa Teresa is fun! The water was the clearest we´d seen yet in Peru and the flow was enough to avoid destroying our boats. Much like the Sacsara, the Santa Teresa was very continuous and shallow, but unlike the Sacsara it was more channelized and every section had a clean line and plenty of boof practice.

The run down to the lower bridge was a fast 5 km that took us just over a half-hour to cruise down. Everything was easy read-and-run where we only eddied out to catch our breath. Zak and Kase got in the first lap on this run and when we all went back as a group, we decided to continue down to the confluence with the Urubamba. Below the last bridge, the Santa Teresa got a little more powerful and near the confluence the river is loaded with wrecked train cars and railroad tracks leftover from a flood that ripped through here in 1998. Moving carefully, we were able to safely avoid all the scrap metal and finish off the fun last rapid on the Santa Teresa.

The Santa Teresa enters the Urubamba in the run-out of a class V rapid. Below the confluence, however, the river slows to class IV+ and then to class IV. We chose to take out at the bridge a few hundred yards below the confluence, although if you´re up for the tougher rapids, it´s worthwhile to continue another mile and take out at the next bridge next to the hot springs. The hike to the road is much easier down there. Sorry folks, no pictures....

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Río Sacsara: III/IV

We made it to Santa Teresa near the downstream end of the popular Inca Trail trek to stay at Gian Marco´s place and check into some of the creeks in the area. The first was the Río Sacsara, a fairly clear tributary of the Santa Teresa.

From town we hired a ride up-river to the bridge a few kilometers above the confluence with the Río Santa Teresa and got geared up. The water looked low, but optimism prevailed. Or perhaps we just felt the obligation to paddle since we´d paid the shuttle. Either way, we scouted the first section and pushed off.

Mike in the first section below the bridge

The Sacsara is very continuous with plenty of eddies, but none big enough for our whole group. We took to a leap-frogging policy where anyone who eddied out had to wait for the back of the line. After examining the first section for a moment, I was able to find a line where I didn´t hit a single rock. As the day progressed, I wasn´t so lucky. The water was LOW.

Once past what we´d scouted, we were no longer hoping for clean lines, just cleaner lines. Then it was no longer a game of avoiding rocks, so much as bouncing off them at favorable angles.

Kase scraping through boulder gardens

By the end of the first kilometer, I was no longer kayaking, just linking together a series of frantic rudder-strokes to either avoid a straight-on piton, or keep my boat in the right channel. Occasionally I would briefly pin or wash ashore where the river spread out too shallow for my boat to float.

This low brace helped slow me down too, so I didn´t hit the next rock so hard!

Not far into the run the road came into view. I had no trouble hiking out. With the river running bony and a good road along side it, I actually made faster progress hiking than the other guys paddling. Occasionally the river would go out of sight and I´d hear some hoots and hollers, but it was later confirmed that the run never got better. When the rest of the guys reached our take-out at Gian Marco´s canopy, I was ahead of them with dry clothes and an open beer.

Our conclusion? Certainly not a classic. If you´re in the area, it´s probably well-worth doing at double the flow (we had about 200 cfs.) At even higher water, the river would be a really good time and considering the lack of gorges, it´s probably good to go at 1,000. Driving up the river, you get a plenty good idea of the character of the run. If the Sacsara looks too low, consider the lower Santa Teresa.