Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving on the Madi Khola

First off, let me address the extreme amount of time between posts.  Apparently you have to work at keeping up a blog.  That being said, here is a trip report for the Madi Khola my friend Todd and I did on Thanksgiving Day in Nepal 2011.

The Madi Khola
From just south of Lamarkhet to Karputar
Class 4 (5), 15 miles, 100 ft/mile
3 out of 3 stars for both whitewater and scenery/wild?

Our ninth day of kayaking out of 10 started at 5:30AM.  We met with Charley at the Ganesh Kayak shop at 6am to meet the jeep that would take us up the 4-wheel drive only Nepalese mountain road to just before the village of Lamarkhet. 

He was late and had to stop and check his battery.  It was maybe a two hour drive we amazing views of the Annapurna Range.  The driver literally stopped in the middle of this mountain road to where we could see the river about 300 feet below us and said we are at the put in.  Any further up the road and we'd need trekking permits.

After carrying and dragging our gear and boats down to the water, we packed them up with dry bags full of dry clothes, cash, medical supplies, spare paddles, and river safety gear.  Putting on the river at about 10am, all we knew was there was a blue bridge across the river and that was the take out.  We didn't know it would take over 6 hours to get there.

Todd and I both agree that it was the most continuous river we had ever done and the winner of the best river of the trip.  The rapids just kept coming.  The longer, steeper ones got into the IV+ range and some were V, like where Todd swam.  It went about as well as those things can.  He didn't get pulled into the undercut rock and  I collected all his gear minus a water bottle about few hundred yards from the ledge that flipped him. 

I lead most of the river and ran almost all the rapids.  I'm really starting to feel as good as I did before my shoulder injury back in 2007.  I can't wait for this spring, especially living a block from Chester Creek in Duluth, MN.

The river opened up into a valley after the small village of Thumsikot with a temple on the left and mellowed out to easy class III with a few trickier rapids.  Then all of a sudden, the walls closed in around us and we were into a boulder garden like nothing I've seen before.  I don't think there was a safe line through it.  We walked around that one on the wrong side of the river.


Class V+ rapid

Inside the canyon another tributary entered on the left and monkeys were playing in the trees along river right.  It then opened into another valley and this time it was for the village of Karputar and our long, exhausting day was over.

We spent the night in a tea house where they fee and sheltered us for the night for less than $10 each.  There had been other kayakers staying there not two day before us.  For Thanksgiving dinner we had a traditional Nepalese meal of Dal Bhat, which is lentils over rice with curry potatoes.  We also got the best fried eggs I’ve ever eaten. 

Next morning we caught the 8AM bus out of the valley and above the clouds.  It was the most violent experience I've ever had in a vehicle.  There was a 50 lbs propane tank bouncing around the back of the bus where we were sitting.  You had to be careful not to hit your head on the window.  Class V bus ride for sure.  

Three hours later we were back in Pokhara and Todd got a massage and I had my hair washed by a Nepalese girl.  It was an intense, epic, amazing 30-hour Thanksgiving experience.

To the River,

Not even a quarter of the footage we got of that day:

Monday, November 29, 2010

Our one day of kayaking in Colombia (and how we lost the confidence of our Outfitter)

On Thanksgiving Day 2010, Todd Truen and I flew from Minneapolis to Bogota the capital city of Colombia.  The next day, Friday, we took a 7 hour bus trip to San Gil.  There we met with Cesar, a local kayaking guide who owned Colombia Rafting Expediciones.  We talked that night about prices and options on what we could do. 

Knowing that we wanted to run the Chicamocha River, Cesar informed us that a group of European Kayakers were looking to run it the next day.  With the recent heavy rainfall, roads to one takeout were washed out meaning it would be a 4 hour return trip to San Gil making it a 12+ hour day.  I was excited with the idea of more paddlers on the river for safety but also very concerned with the guidebook’s mention of a 2km IV+ rapid in the middle of the run.  Todd was more concerned with a long day on only our third day in country but super stoked about the run, and so was I.  It was on! The next day, we’d be kayaking our first Colombian River, my first river on another continent. 

In the morning, we met Cesar at the office in town and drove out to his house and boat shed.  Todd and I received a confidence boost when we laid eyes on two boats that looked quite familiar.  Cesar just happened to have a Wavesport Habitat, a kayak that Todd owns, and Bliss-Stick Huka, a kayak that I own. 

Once Todd and I fitted our boats we assisted with the tied down of all the boats for the group.  We drove back to the office and met three kayakers from Belgium and one from Holland.   We all piled into the van with a woman named Gloria who we’re pretty sure was Cesar’s wife.  She would be the shuttle driver for the day.  Along the way to the put in, we stopped to pay an entrance fee to the Chicamocha National Park. Steven bought some cooked ants, a snack we all ate on our way to the river.

Arriving at the put in we started to unload and learned about a gear situation with the European group.  Apparently someone left their lifejacket back at the hostel.  Now if it had been me, I would’ve got back in the van and rode to the take out but I’m not a sponsored kayaker who paddles all over the world.  You’ll see him in the video; he’s the guy who finally saves Todd. 
The river starts out wide and smooth with some easy wave trains that are building in size.  Our group starts to really spread out and at one point I’m way out in front of this group of six boaters and reading and running on the fly.  It’s such a great feeling to be leading yourself down a new river, not knowing what’s about to come next.

Then the river begins to narrow and Cesar gets to the front of the group.  He signals for us to eddy out river right.  Todd and a European miss the main eddy and land just below us out of hearing distance.  I’m listening as Cesar and the rest of the group converse in Spanish.  As they talked, I looked downstream and saw nothing but chaos and worse yet, it continued around a corner and out of sight.  Not knowing what’s around the river bend is a scary feeling, especially on big water rapids.  Suddenly Steven yelled out “OK it’s a class IV+ rapid, you follow Cesar!” At this moment I knew Todd and I had to buck up and get this done.  “OK” I yelled back and slid down to the next eddy to talk to my friend.  “Todd, were gonna follow Cesar ok?” I decided not to tell him hoq hard it was going to be. 

This is when he started filming.  I’m just ahead of him in the blue boat.  I get stuck in a hole and get behind him in the beginning.  After we eddy out and take off again, the rapid below the eddy was huge.  I didn’t think we were gonna make it past that.  We do and continue down the river.  I get nervous when Cesar leads us to left of center, there’s was just so much water and I felt safer closer to shore.  Then he begins to cut back to the right.  You see Todd blast through a huge wave then into a large hole behind it, flip and swim.  What you don’t see, is me flipping behind Todd at the wave before the hole and also swimming, at the same time.  We seem to have a habit of doing that on our trips, Todd and I.

My swim pales in comparison with Todd’s.  According to the video he’s in the water for over five minutes.  I was in for maybe a minute and I was lucky enough to hold onto my paddle. Eric from Belgium was there to help me into an eddy.  Then he took off down river.  The last I saw of Todd, he was in the water.  I started to walk with my paddle downstream along the river.  I was tired from my swim and moving along the boulders, sometimes as large as my Cavalier, was a difficult and slow process. 

Now remember when you watch the video, I had to walk the entire distance he swam to get to him and it took me over a half hour.  As I was walking, all these thoughts were running through my mind.  What happened to Todd?  Is he injured? Is he even alive? Did anyone else swim?  Are they okay?  Did someone recover our boats?  Does Todd have his paddle?  Looking around the canyon walls, I realized any sort of rescue or hike out situation would be very tough if not impossible.  All I can do is continue to walk down river until I see… anyone.  The roar from the river was so loud that as I walked along the steep canyon walls, I could hear the noise reverberating back at me so that it was coming from both sides like being in the water. 

Eventually I started to see someone standing on a rock in the distance.  I get close enough to see two of the Europeans were with my paddling partner.  He was alive and not injured, just really tired.  We got some chocolate and water from our new friends and started walking together.  Todd did not have his paddle.  I remember walking about another 20 minutes before arriving at my kayak feeling relieved to see it was recovered and I could paddle out of here but fearful because I’d have to get back in my boat and paddle out of here.  Todd had to continue further down the river with Cesar to his recovered gear. 

The remaining rapids were just larger wave trains.  We had passed most of the big stuff.  One treacherous portage through the jungle we had to make but after that it was smooth riding all the way to the take out.  At the little shop at the take out Todd was buying rounds for everyone to say thanks for the help on the river.  He even did the classic drink a beer out of your river booty because you swam tradition.  I decided not to follow his example but he did swim twice.  The second was nothing compared to earlier.  He just landed in a hole at the confluence with the Rio Suarez and swam into a large pool.  Our day then ended with 4 hours of driving in a van between Todd and Steven on really bumpy narrow Colombian roads.  With dinner it was a 16 hour day.

After that experience, we arranged other activities through Cesar but we weren’t able to paddle with them again.  Every day we asked about rafting the Rio Suarez but they always said it was too high.  On our last day they gave us a cold shoulder and so we went to another outfitter.  There we learned from a guide from the states that gear is like gold down here.  I don’t Cesar was happy that we almost lost some of his.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Colombia - the first few days

Wow, here I am in really tiny booth in San Gil, Colombia.  ¿How did I get here? The flights in the down went pretty well.  When we landed in Fort Lauderdale, we thought we were in the right terminal with plenty of time to spare.  Then we heard our names paged over head (a new experience for me) for a final boarding call.  Some lady found us and radioed in our information as we ran a couple of terminals over to our plane that was already boarding.  Glad we made it.

Arriving in Colombia went really smooth.  The airport wasn´t too crowded, customs went fine, and getting to the hotel was pretty easy.  Walked around for a while, got some drinks, then crashed for the night.  The next day a taxi ride to the bust station then a long 6+ hour bus ride.  There were lots of stops for people getting on and off.  About 1/3 way into the trip I was sitting by myself when a cute local female sat next to me for the rest of the trip.  She tried talking to me, but I guess I didn´t pay enough attention in my high school spanish classes.  I did get her to rest her head on my shoulder as she slept, that was awesome.

We arrived in San Gil and took a quick taxi to the outfitter.  They were expecting us and spoke with the owner Cesar about options and prices.  There were 4 European boaters in town and they wanted to run the Chicamocha canyon.  I thought it would great to have more paddlers on the water for safety and help share the cost of transportion which was expensive because the shuttle back was 4 hours long.

We met at the outfitter the next day in morning and picked out our boats.  Todd and I lucked out because they had kayaks that each of us own, I was in Huka and Todd paddle a Habitat.  The canyon was beautiful.  One of the deepest in the country.  It started out mellow then there was a 1+ mile rapid.  Class 4+ BIG water.  Todd and I both got spanked by waves and had to swim.  My swim was fairly short and not bad.  Todd´s was a different story.  He swam a long ways but was saved by the Europeans.  I held onto my paddle and had to walk a long way to get to my recovered boat.  I had never been so happy and anxious to see my boat.  That meant we had to keep going.  The river started to mellow out and pretty soon it was big long wave trains.  Just pure fun.  We ended the river just before dark (6pm) and got back to the hotel at midnight, we stopped for dinner along the way.

Today we decided to try something new.  We went hydro speeding on a river that runs right through town.  Hydro speeding is using a large beefy kickboard with handles and you wear fins and basically swim in the river with the board.  It was new persepective for me on the river.  Class 2-3 waves looked huge when you´re at water level.

Now were headed out to do some paragliding.  I´m super pumped but Todd´s nervous about heights.  We should get some sick footage.  I hope to post some if I can find a PC that well take my memory card from my camera. 

All in all we´re having a great time and being safe.  We´re in San Gil a few more days then off to the Caribbrean for Scuba.  I´ll try to keep the updates coming.  I´m having the time of my life.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Journey to South America Begins

Well, this is it.  The dishes are done, the apartment looks good for the first time in a while.  My bags are packed, sitting next to the door.  There's nothing left to do but put my shoes and take my first step out the door.  My destination tonight, through what's left of the snow storm, is my friend Todd Truen's house in Minneapolis.  Tomorrow his wife will drive us to the airport and we'll make our to Bogota, the capital city of Colombia.  From there we head north to San Gil to paddle whitewater rivers and do some paragliding.  Then we'll continue north to the Caribbean for some SCUBA diving.  I can't wait!!  About 24 hours from now, we'll be there.  I'll try post something as soon as I can.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Home for "Thanksgiving"

Another week has gone by and I still haven't added much to this yet.  I'll have to work on that leading up to my trip.  Not much happened this past week.  I kept up with Masters swim.  On Thursday night Alex, our coach, invited us out to a very informal swim meet at St. John's University.  Not only was this my first swim meet, it was also my first visit to the campus.  I really didn't see much beyond the sports complex.  Their pool was really nice.  It felt really good to be back on a campus.  It was nice to walk around see more people my age.

On Friday night, on my way home to Rochester, I stopped in Minneapolis and watched the Banff Mountain Film Festival with some friends from Grand Forks.  The films were awesome!  I first when to the Festival in Duluth when I was going to college.  This was the first one I've been to in awhile and it did not disappoint.  It was awesome that they showed Wild Water, a whitewater film that showed record spring runoff on the North Fork of the Payette this past June.  Some of my paddling friends visited that river just after that event.  I'll have to add it to my list of rivers to paddle.

I did also get a chance to have a couple of beers with Todd after the show.  We talked a little more about the trip and about his recent trip to Honduras with his wife.  I was super pumped to learn that he can bring his video camera with us on our dives! It's gonna be awesome to get some footage from under the water!

Well hopefully I'll have some time tonight to back fill some posts.  I'd at least like to go back through this past summer. 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

First Blog Post

Well I finally found the time to start this thing up. I'm hoping to use this as a record for all the adventures I have.  Not much to report on this weekend.  I went Masters Swim this morning.  That makes 7 sessions in the past 3 weeks, 6 in a row.  I jumped right into that this fall after my traveling for fun and work ended and I knew I could attend some Saturday sessions.  I'm hoping to use the swimming workouts to get my upper body in shape for my upcoming trip.  More on that later.

Otherwise I'm "on-call" at the paper mill where I work.  That means I have to come into the mill and report out on my department at a 9am meeting.  I cover our two older paper machines called the SCA Line.  Really what it means is a few hours of work each day, can't really leave the St. Cloud area, and always having my phone on me.