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Monthly Archives: May 2014

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A somber grey overcast draped an uneasy quiet over the Canyon, accentuating our insignificance beneath limestone walls that seemed to press in from two thousand feet above. The rumble of Upset Rapid grew louder as we rounded the corner. Among the kayakers, a collective anxiousness was palpable, because leader Mary DeRiemer had laid the ground rules clearly: If you want to run Lava, you have to run left at Upset. This was the test.
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From Andrew’s brave charge in the front to Wayne’s Blackadar-esque rolling frenzy to Rick’s unique big water line through the heart of the lateral, everyone succeeded in their own way. At the bottom, howls of relief echoed between the canyon walls. Adrenaline, focus, determination, and finally the joy and camaraderie that comes at the end of that one little victory, within an awe-inspiring place. This is whitewater kayaking.
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Of course our fourteen day trip with DeRiemer Adventure Kayaking and Tour West wasn’t all high drama. Most days were the same old wonderful routine of life on the river: Wake to daylight and birdsong, go boating, stop for a hike, crack a cold one, eat, sleep, and repeat—the good life. My highlight was a hike to the 50-Mile Diving Board, due to be featured in the new edition of Grand Canyon River Hikes.
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But I get to lofty heights in beautiful places often. This is my life. What inspired me most on this trip in particular was seeing a crowd of 50, 60, and 70-somethings who were kayaking and having fun with it. Septuagenarian Tom Cowden was the senior paddler of the trip. He was on his 23rd, and maybe last voyage through the Canyon. His presence offered me something to shoot for, three decades down the road. It was an enlightening juxtaposition from my recent visit with Rush Sturges, Ben Marr, and posse—the elite kayakers of today—around whom I felt more than a little over the hill. Kayaking clearly has many faces, from pushing the limits of class V, to challenging one’s self on class III, to simply following the flow and watching the cliffs slip past.

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This blob brought to you by Funhog Press

Half-awake, I gazed at passing countryside reminiscent of Washington’s Skagit Valley. After a few hours on the paved and empty highway—the best kind—Samuelo, an Escualo, turned onto a narrow dirt road. A shortcut? No, just another leg of the still-developing Carretera Austral, Chile’s national southern highway. Patagonia was giving me civilization cravings.
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Arriving at the Futaleufu was a strange, ethereal experience. Having referenced and written about this place for so long, I had created a vision of the river and the surroundings in my head. Now that I was actually there, those ideas were shattered. I was presented with a reality that was quite different; beautiful, but different. It felt as if I were playing an unnatural role in my own dream.
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Paddling big fun challenging whitewater like the Futaleufu gets a hold on people. Lives revolve around this place, the paddling, and the river. Josh Lowry is the embodiment of this, and his small dedicated crew are disciples. Twenty-eight-year-old kayak junkie Joey Simmons is keenly aware of his  position in Lowry’s wake. “I’m here for the Josh Lowry experience,” he says with hardly a trace of sarcasm. Of course he’s here for the paddling first, but his Lowry association is cherished.
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Presently, Josh’s team is fired up on business strategies for their living-legend boss, whom I wrote about in issue #36 of Kayak Session. A switch in company name could be on the horizon, from the current “Futaleufu Explore” to “Futaleufu Experience.” The guides seized on the marketing possibilities immediately, scanning the Internet for Hendrix-esque company T-shirts. A new advertising tag-line was obvious: “Are you experienced?”
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I joined the boys for some experiences on the powerful Futaleufu, but my attention could not be strayed from a craggy spire above town. I had yet to reach the high country of the Andes during my visit to Chile, and the spire, called “La Teta,” beckoned. After following a caballero’s horse trail out of the valley, I camped on a flat of compacted volcanic ash, left overs from the Chaiten eruption that made international news several years ago.
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On the summit of La Teta the following morning, I watched clouds waft through an array of snowy Andean Peaks. As I left the summit, a whistling sound drew my attention to a condor hovering fifty feet overhead.
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Farther down, a hawk buzzed me three times as I emerged from the forest onto an open ridge. I thought it quaint at first, but then it nearly knocked me over with a high speed fly-by, and swooped once more when I wasn’t even looking. After that, I got my camera case ready to swing and knock it the hell out of the sky if it came in again.
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I spent a week in Futa before continuing north by bus to Chaiten, and then air to Puerto Varas, and the lovely Margouya 2 Hostel. One last paddle on Llanquehue Lake treated me to a rainbow over the water, luring me back to beautiful Chile before I’d even left.

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