This Blog

This blog is dedicated to explorations of spirit, life, adventure, and people. I hope that it encompasses much more than the actions of people, but rather creates a more complete picture of what it means to be an athlete and a person in the outdoor community.

Sunday, January 29, 2012


“Patagonia Sin Represas(Patagonia without dams)!” and “No Alto Maipo(No dams on the Maipo)” are posted throughout paddling destinations here in Chile.  There is always a sense of environmental responsibility that accompanies exploring the wilderness, and it is felt deeply here. The fight is alive. Dams are planned to go into two of the tributaries of the Maipo in the next few years, and there are dams planned in other drainages as well. The backlash is visible as you paddle the canyons. Chileans are incensed, and in some cases people from elsewhere fight with them to protect watersheds and other wild areas. Yvon Choinard and Doug Tompkins both are invested heavily in the protection of the Chilean ecosystem. The watersheds here haven’t undergone the vast damming that rivers in the states have sustained. Are they needed?

Dams can be helpful, dams can be destructive.  There is a ubiquitous message in the water community that dams are bad, that we don’t want any dams, but I have never heard the full story. Is it bad for the ecosystem? Is it bad for fish, insects, amphibians, mammals, birds? How bad? Is it better to have a nuclear reactor? Is it better to burn coal(which currently provides 50% of our electricity)? Are solar panels more effective, less intrusive? Wind turbines? We only have so many options. We hear that we should fight against the damming of such and such river, but what if we win, then what do they build? They still need power, and they still have money to make. Do they burn more coal? Questions like this linger, but dams have more tangible effects.

Dams affect the whitewater community. They are bad for kayakers because they are built on steep sections of river, our best playgrounds. On the other hand, you have the Narrows of the Green, which runs over 200 days of the year because of a dam. In some sense they cancel themselves out for us. I can’t run Tobin most of the year because it has a dam, but then in the fall it flows for two days a month, which would never happen naturally. Simply put, I don’t think that our loss of recreation is a legitimate reason to not build a dam, because it can open as many opportunities as it destroys. If there are commercial recreational opportunities then there is a legitimate argument stand against the construction of a dam. The Gauley is a great example; that river generates millions of dollars worth of revenue, and thousands of jobs. We lost what has been called California best river to learn on already, the Stanislaus. There is no way to estimate the number of dollars this lost the recreation industry, the number people who could have learned to play on the river, and the number of people whose livelihood was demolished by this bam; the simple fact that it still saddens some of the most well travelled whitewater professionals out there means that some dams just aren’t worth building.

There is much more to this discussion than the opinions of whitewater professionals and recreationalists. Dams effect the ecosystem immediately around it, as well as far downstream. Dams create reservoirs, which destroy riparian habitats directly upstream, and downstream. Riparian ecosystems have adjusted to the ebb and flow of a rivers life, not a permanent lake or drought that exist above and below these concrete giants. People also have become dependent upon life giving rivers. People use rivers to drink from, farm, and bathe. Fish can no longer pass to reproduce and complete their run. The amount of resources it requires to build a dam are nearly unimaginable, the hoover dam weighs 6,600,000 tons and contains enough concrete to pave a highway from San Francisco to New York or a 100 foot wide square 2.5 miles high. That is a mind boggling amount of resources.

But you can’t just damn dams. They don’t burn fossil fuels. With the global climate changing radically because of the emission of carbons, we can’t afford to continue to use coal as our major method for producing electricity. Dams are also somewhat long-lasting, they provide energy for 50-100 years and can be built in a way that allows fish to pass. Dams provide irrigation for farmland as well as power to people near them through the 100% renewable act of mother nature: Precipitation. Dams can help prevent dangerous flood patterns and store water for huge metropolitan areas.

These arguments only tell part of the story. It could be more of a philosophical decision. Do we want a managed, equalized nature, or nature in its fullest, wildest state? Floyd Dominy, the man responsible for Glen Canyon dam on the Colorado as well as hundreds of other dams "argued that if the West were going to be developed, the waters of the Colorado River;s cycle of flood and trickle would have to be managed. Others doubted that intensively developing the West was a wise thing to do in the first place; they thought that the region should be left unpredictable and fragile - that we should discourage settlement, rather than invite it. But Dominy convinced that could be improved; that it could and should, be manipulated and mastered in order to make life less difficult for human beings." (High Country News, 2005) There are many reasons to put dams in and people like Dominy seemed bent on controlling nature for needs.

These arguments stack up against one another. At this point in our history, at least in California, it is much more about relicensing and the destruction of useless dams than it is about debating the construction of new dams. That is not true about Chile, they are just beginning the damming of their rivers. Our history may be able to give them some guidance. Dams aren’t a no brainer, each site has to be evaluated carefully to determine the impact on species, people, and climate change. We need to make sure that the cost of production and its long term environmental changes are worth the clean energy that it is producing. Patagonia sin represas? Probably not, but it is possible that we find a Patagonia Sano(healthy patagonia) despite the dams, if they are implemented correctly.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Abandon Poisonous Food

This post is not tradition for a kayaking blog. It is about a buddhist slogan entitled abandon poisonous food. I am trying not to be so predictable. It is written to create a sense of continuity, gratitude, and acceptance. 

Sometimes things are presented in such a pretty and professional way, we don’t know exactly what we are eating, or taking in. Soon we are serving it to other people, spreading negativity. You can be having a nice conversation and soon you are serving other people a bunch of nasty remarks and bringing everyone suffering. This post is about a Buddhist slogan “Abandon poisonous food”. This isn’t about being a vegetarian, or eating kosher, it is about what you serve other people with your mouth, the things you eat with your ears.

Chogyam Trunpga states this about the slogan; “if an action is connected with increasing our personal achievement or individual glory(ego), if in that action we believe that we are in the right and others are wrong(judgment), and we would like to conquer others wrongness because we are on the side of the Right and so forth – that kind of bullshit or cow dung is regarded as poisonous food”. Thinking in this way, that we are right and others are wrong, that we are righteous and worthy and others are not, is poisonous food. We should not eat it. It is in the way that you think about an action or decision that matters. If we use our decision as a tool to increase our own ego, it actually causes us suffering. We end up having to pretend like what we did was better or right, and what others do is not so good, that they can’t achieve what we did.

What we do is spectacular, what everyone does is spectacular. We can spread it. Living this life and finding what you love is a miracle. Kayakers have found something, and we should be grateful to all those out there who have found something they love, we should be grateful that we have found something we love. It is our challenge to accept others as they are, their struggles, their passions. It is our struggle to spread the love of kayaking, all the way through to the top.

The opposite of criticism is gratitude. So I will end with that. 

Thank you AW, thank you to anyone who has ever given time to write-ups, thank you to anyone who has taught someone to roll, who has taken someone kayaking for the first time, who has been a guide for someone in any capacity, these are activities in the reduction of ego, the reduction of criticism. 

Thank you for creating a connection to water, a way to interact with it safely. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Rio Negro

We got stuck in the town of Hornopiren(Snow Oven) because of an issue with flat tires. But we did get to run a waterfall on the Rio Negro. There were a few more drops but  taking photos of them wasn't in the cards. I walked back up for another lap but on the way had a back spasm that lasted six hours. I was on the verge of puking, passing out, pissing myself, and defecating for the worst six hours of my life.

 The picturesque campground:

A short hike led to this:
Casey tango and I ran laps on the drop
Since it was easy to hike, and a hard lip to do well, we did a few extra

Then we headed home, tired from our trip to Cochamo and Hornopiren, we caught a ferry to break up the drive. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

The result of decisions

The decision to do the Cochamo never seemed to be ours. We were going, despite mixed information provided by people within somewhat hidden agendas. We had two main sources. One that said "Stout as fuck. Siphons upon Siphons with logs mixed in" and another that said "It is so good in there, you have to go". The guidebook called it one of the best steep creeks in Chile. Curiosity overwhelmed all other motivation. How could a creek have such an impact on people? What mixture of water, rock, and apparently logs could lead people to say such things?

The trip was tinged with off beat group dynamics. We had a powerful voice in our group drop out the night before because of a nagging injury. This may seem moot but the way that people interact is highly dependent upon the people present. It worried me. The group made sense with the four of us, somehow the  ingredients matched and now there seemed to be an imbalance, too much spark. These things keep me up at night. It isn't the water, it is't the sieves or the hike, it is the people. It is something someone said, a sentence of worry or doubt that sticks in your head. Sometimes I wonder if it is our doubt that kills us, that sets us up for failure. Nick Murphy was on the trip with Allen Satcher, who passed away on Upper Cherry earlier this year. Nick said that Allen had expressed sentiments of doubt and homesickness while on the trip. These kinds of expression make me weary. They linger in my mind. We were going, so I tried not to dwell on my worries. We made our way to the Cochamo.

As we descended into the gorge, our past decisions caught up with us. We had little food and put on late, 11, ignoring advice to start early. We made our way through the first gorge, the steepest of the run. We sat down after the gorge for some food, then continued downstream.
We started a portage. We had to climb up and over some boulders,  I pushed my boat down into a a pile of rocks. The nose glanced off and was rejected back into the current, it immediately filled with water at the bottom of the drop. I walked out to it and casually started pulling it out. It came free. The current started taking it and I realized immediately that a boat full of water weighs about 700 pounds. I had to either choose to hold onto a 700 pound object floating down a river or let go. So down the boat went on its own journey as I stood on shore.

The boat turned the corner and dread set in.  "I am never going to see that boat again". As I contemplated the epic I was about to have I ran around the corner. The boat was pinned again, cockpit facing the force of the current. This time we did it right. I swam and jumped my way out the boat, we attached a pulley to the grab loop and used it as a 2 to 1 mechanical advantage to pull the boat to shore. They threw me a rope, I roped it through the pulley and threw it back to them. Then I was stuck in the middle of the river. They threw me a rope and brought me to shore through a combination of jumping and swimming, with Gordon pulling and Tango grabbing me.

I lost my throw bag in the mix. I got back to shore and was happy to have everything else. We started paddling and my boat was really heavy and I felt like I was sliding around. My confidence was gone. I started getting scared and wanted out. My boat was doing a wheelie down rapids and I felt out of control. We got to another scout and I started emptying my boat. My drybag was completely full of water, drenching my sleeping bag, pad, and down sweater. Also, my seat had been ripped from the shell, making it slide around while trying to paddle.

At this point it is a no brainer, we are getting out of here. Unfortunately Casey had already run another rapid by the time I figured out all that had happened to my boat. He was 200 yards downstream with no possibility of getting back to Gordon and I. We got ourselves out of the canyon, but Casey was walled in. Rope skills came into play again. We set up an anchor, a belay station, and Casey made himself a harness. First we roped out his boat on a 2 to 1 and then set him up on a munter hitch and got him out.

90 minutes later we were at the takeout.

I let go of my boat, I should have had a flip line
Not enough food, take enough food, it is a big stresser, an extra meal at least, two if you can.
I did not have my throw bag tied in because it is hard to access and we were scouting a lot, so I lost it.
I used a rafting dry bag(Bill's Bag) and I took out my center pillar to get it in there. This left my seat vulnerable to shifting and my stuff vulnerable to getting wet.
Split the group without consulting, harder to get Casey out

What we did right:
Hiked out at the right spot, right when we figured out I was screwed.
Proper training, knew how to use a 2 to 1, how to make a harness, munter hitch, make an anchor
Knew where a trail was and how to get there.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Cochamo Valley, Chile

The beauty of this country never ceases.

Typically, sitting and drinking wine near the ocean does not lend itself to a kayaking trip, but Chile is different.
The Cochamo runs through a valley guarded vigilantly by rock giants.

There is only passage from the east and west, Chile and Argentina.

Only Horses and people pass through this canyon, occasionally people with kayaks. The trail is a maze that has been dug out by thousands of horse passages. When one became too muddy, they started another one, only to dig another hole.
A night in this valley makes you realize how perfect this place is for both kayakers and climbers. Huge walls tower above.

 We made a late start into the gorge of the Cochamo.

A bunch of big boulders and paddle strokes later the "Clean section" started. Gordon Klco on the entrance.

A portage and a seal launch later. 

And it was clean.

Casey Tango on the last drop in the series.

Then we had some problems, more on that later. 

Monday, January 2, 2012

Portages? Part II...

The Portage: Mariman on the Trancura
This rapid comes in the middle of a class III/IV stretch on the Trancura. The river tightens up and gets steep. The gradient all comes in two drops, the first is five feet and the next is about ten feet. It isn't really the gradient that is intimidating, it is the amount of water and the shape of the hydraulic at the bottom.

Bartl trying to get back to the cleaner right side

Paul Cleaning it up

Bartl actually did not really make it back to the right and decided instead to do what he loves: Playboating. Bartl doing a pirouette over the impressive hydraulic.

On this particular drop, perception deceives us. The hole at the bottom looks huge, but it actually does nothing, you really just float through. This tiny piece of information turns this rapid from a gnarly scary scout to a very manageable series of moves.
Casey Tengo shows us how he manages to style it every time
Apparently control is needed.