Thursday, March 19, 2009

Rio Suarez: IV+

Well the stars just aligned. After parting with Allen and traveling up into Colombia, I met up with Kees in San Gil. I hadn't seen him since Cusco in November, but our paths connected just before he left the country. As of St. Patrick's Day, Kees had paddled an hour and a half in all of 2009. I wasn't much better with not having been in a boat in seven weeks. But San Gil happens to be a popular rafting zone, Kees happened to know the best outfitter very well, and they happened to have all the gear I needed.

Gettin´ things ready

So they set me up with a Riot Magnum 80 and a tolerable gear kit as well as a ride to the river with an afternoon commercial trip. God, I love the boating community.

Not looking half bad for borrowed gear...

The Suarez is a great class IV+/V- half-day trip not too far out of town. We had a good level for some big water jungle boating. But I still felt rather intimidated, reflecting on the last time I decided to get off the proverbial couch directly into low class V. That humbling experience was about to be repeated.

Peeling out of the eddy, I immediately felt weak. It was a struggle to keep my angle and just to ferry across the next eddy. I almost flipped in the first wavetrain, and that wasn't even considerd one of the rapids.

The first wavetrain. This photo doesn`t do justice to the epic surf wave on river left at the top.

Through the first two rapids, I had a chance to loosen up a bit. I found balance in the new boat, but still was far from confident. I was paddling like I was scared. Perhaps because I was a little scared. I hadn't found a pool yet for practice rolls and wasn't sure how the big boat would react. The third rapid we ran was close to a kilometer long. So far there hadn't been many moves to make, but the hydraulics were plenty powerful and unpredictable. And I was out of breath by the end of the rapids. Then we got to the hard stuff.
Kees doing his thing

The next two rapids were bigger. They had holes to avoid. And rocks. The first one you enter on the right. Or was in the left? The second one has an enormous hole blocking half of the river at the bottom. With that beta in my head, we peeled out, Kees leading the way.
Ready to follow Kees over the horizon

We ferried across the river above a nasty boulder jumble, and the fun began. I saw Kees moving right above a set of holes. I tried to follow, but was relocated by a big lateral at just the wrong time. So I made a dicey airplane move splitting the two holes. I kept trying to move right, but it wasn`t enough. A surging lateral picked me up and dropped me right into one of the stickiest holes on the run, where the fun promptly ended.
I think this is what Kees was doing at the time


I held the side-surf upright for about three seconds before going under. Try as I might I couldn`t grab water with my paddle to pull me out the bottom of the hole, so this turned into any other violent hydraulic beatdown. I was backwards, sideways, upright, forwards, cartwheeling, looping, rolling, and starting to freak out. The only thing I wasn`t doing was breathing. After a 20 second battle, I finally cartwheeled my way out the back of the hole to calmer waters and gradually rolled up. The rapid began to let up and I eddied out with Kase, who told me we were close to the big one.
Kees makes everything look easy


After catching my breath, we headed downriver, making some fun moves through a boulder jumble on river left. Then made a big move through strong waves back right of the first big hole.
The raft about to punch a big one

From there we had an easy time working along the bank to the pool below, and it was time to have lunch.
Our nice little lunch beach in the jungle

After lunch we had some easy water grading up to more class IV wavetrains. One long one led us under the only bridge of the run, then turned a corner into a minefield of holes. I made it through alright, but the raft lost half of its passengers. One girl had a rather long swim but was holding the safety kayak for most of it.



Kees explodes off one of the bigger waves just above the bridge

We came to the last rapid and I got beta on the entrance move to split a couple big moves. I wasn`t agressive enough and rolled in the middle of the crux. I came back up with a lucky position and avoided everything. Then we barreled through 200 yards of monstrous waves. But it all went. Everyone cleared the finale with big grins and we made our way to the private take-out just downstream.



The last rapid, check out that high water line...


If you´re interested in rafting in Colombia, go with Colombia Rafting. They`re by far the safest and most professional outfitter around and the Río Suarez is well worth stopping for.
Eight happy people when all was said and done