Kayak Blog Archives

Swiftwater Rescue on the Grand Canyon

One of the major perks of living in the Southwest is the close proximity of the Grand Canyon.

Matt Klema dropping into President Harding at 50,000 cfs

My friend Mitch Sasser landed the gig to teach the guides of Arizona Rafting Adventures a Swiftwater Rescue Technician course on their  bi-annual Grand Canyon training trip. Mitch lives in Futaleufu, Chile where he teaches rescue and free lances as a guide on the Futaleufu. We’d worked together on the Fu for Expediciones Chile 2000-2004. He dropped me a line in February saying he needed help with this course. “Ahh.. yeah,,” . Rule number 1, never turn down a Grand Canyon Trip.

An interesting side note was that Glen Canyon Dam was going to be releasing 50,000 cfs during the first five days of our trip. Although we didn’t get to see the big drops at the high flows, it was just cool seeing that much water in there. 

Roaring 20's

Our rescue courses start off with some traditional class time. During this lecture we cover swiftwater rescue absolutes, river hydrology /morphology and the details of the certification. The certifying body that recognizes this course is the IRIA (International Rescue Instructor Authority). The IRIA is an independent third party governing body that sets a very high standard for participating rescue organizations to adhere to. The IRIA has set itself apart by forming the Risk Management Matrix™. To learn more about IRIA visit www.iria.org. A major portion of this technician level course is the testing of all the skills.

practice makes perfect

Throwbags: This can be the most effective tool for a quick rescue. Many Grand Canyon guides complain that they are never used and can be dangerous. This is especially true when you don’t know how to use them. We generally start off with a throwbag course so students get the feel of just throwing the bag without deploying it. There a lot of different types of throw bags out there and they all have their advantages and disadvantages. The key is to find one that works for you and became super familiar with it.

Why are most students initially so horrible at throwbaging? it’s a pain in the ass repacking it. We address this issue with excessive target practice.

The second throw: After students get the hang of deploying their bag we move into the throwing of the coiled rope. Coiled throws work well for two situations. First being you missed your victim on the first throw and you still have time for a second toss. Rescuers aren’t going to stand there and repack the bag as the victim floats out of range. We teach students an effective method of quickly re-coiling and deploying the rope without the bag. This technique is also good for short throws when your victim may only be 10’ away and throwing 75’ of rope on top of them would only add to the victim’s problems.

Hands should be in front of your face

Swimming: Self-rescue is the name of the game. You cannot be an effective rescuer if you are a victim. This means aggressively swim for your life and get out of the water. Only assume the defensive whitewater position if you swimming shallow and steep whitewater and never stand up until the water depth is below your knee.

Entrapment on Havasu!!

Entrapment: This is the one of the big killers in whitewater fatalities, along with flush drowning. Entrapment suck!! And there are some situations that are futile. The bottom line is to get that victim an airway,, quick!! (I carry a long tube which maybe helpful in some situations). The standard methods of a fixed line stabilization and then additional synch lines is good team- rope-work practice, though this technique is pretty much worthless if your victim doesn’t have an airway. At rapid action rescue we teach some additional rescue methods for entrapment.

Know your Knots: Family of eights, Bowline, Munter hitch, Clove hitch, Water knot, double fisherman’s, prusiks knots. These are the building blocks of both river running and mountaineering.

Mechanical advantage: Students love to set up z drags. Just remember that in large part that mechanical advantage is for stable situations and gear retrieval. These systems also help students put the whole rope and knot puzzle together.

Rembering that munter hitch

Testing: Yes testing is stressful especially the throwbag staion. This requies two 50’ throw into 3’ diameter circle. This added stress does force students to truly learn the skills, and it is guaranteed you will be a throwbag nija after the course.

Thanks to Arizona Rafting Adventures for hiring Mitch and myself to put on this course. It was a blast. Many companies teach rescue in-house, though we believe it is worth it to have a third party come in and offer fresh perspectives & testing. AZRA is blessed with some very talented guides! Hopefully we can do it again.
Matt Wilson

Huallaga Video

The last major tributary of the Amazon yet to be Navigated! The run-ablity of the gorges amazed us as we had no major portages past the chalkstone. I’d highly recommend this run to anybody who enjoys multi-day adventures, though the clock may be ticking. Rumor has it that the Great Bend of the Huallaga will be inundated by 2013. We saw evidence of the possible dam site, though hard facts have been difficult to nail down.

This little clip showcases some of the classic runs around Cuzco.

In 2011 Telluride Kayak School will be offering guided kayak trips to Peru. The rivers slated for this trip include: Cotahuasi, Colca, Apurimac and the Paucartambo. Many thanks to Immersion Research for the Semi Dry Top, Splash Pants and the Lucky Charm squirt. It was the perfect jungle trekking ensemble.

First Descent: Great Bend of the Huallaga

Peru is hands down my favorite place to paddle on earth. Yeah it doesn’t have the classic slides and waterfalls of Chile or California but if you like huge canyons, incredible ruins and big adventures then Peru the place.

Annie Quathamer in the depths of the Colca

This would be my 3rd trip back to Peru since 2003 when I met up with Damon Miller and Russell Kelly for the Cotahuasi and Abysmo section of the Apurimac. These rivers completely blew my mind since I had only done a few overnight trips up to that point. Latter that year I spent Christmas in Pucon at Kurt Casey’s house. I remember over hearing him talking to Daniel Delavergne  about this river in Peru he had to hike out of. So when the first VTH  was to be the Huallaga, I wasn’t surprised. The last major tributary of the Amazon that had not been done, what a worthy mission.

Every few years it seems I have to find some new paddling partners, has many of my friends have traded in their kayaks for drift boats. This spring I was lucky enough to meet the Klema brothers & Ben Luck in Durango. Their motivation for kayaking was refreshing and contagious, paddling Pandora’s or  Vallecito everyday throughout Apirl and May. During that time I convinced them to blow off school for  a “trip of a life time”.  When Ryan Casey from Idaho told me he was in I knew we had a legitimate team. Then out of no where Evan Ross from Salida decided to hang up his mountain bike and go run the Huallaga off the couch.

Matt Klema , Ben Luck & Ryan Casey

Holy kayak shenanigans. As we all know ,flying with kayaks  isn’t a exact science. Some folks go with Jedi mind trick  at the check-in counter “no that isn’t a kayak… its a surfboard” ..”hmmm… ok sir that will be $25″ . Tears also seem to work if there’s a girl on the team. We had no hot chicks so we went for the shipping by container method. A month a head of time we put our kayaks on a boat for Lima. This is a sure way to get  kayaks to your destination,,,, but upon arrival,  be ready for bureaucratic hell. I spent three full days running around Lima like a chicken with it’s head cut off.  Lima’s got some really nice neighborhoods ,, like the barrio de Callao. This place smelled like death on a stick! All in all it took a week to get to the Put-in for the Huallaga and the boat shipment/importation costed us $500 each!! Ouch

Evan Ross happily reunited

Our goal was to get to the point where the Range Life hiked out ( the 2007 Vacation to Hell attempt) asap. Packed to the gills for 12 days, we were all mentally prepared for a jungle trek of epic proportions. If we did have to hike out of there,, it would be with our kayaks.   The first day of the Huallaga is sweeeet action. We decided not to take one photo or video clip in a effort to make good time. So we rallied hard that first day, making it to the mini canyon at noon. (Kurt Casey’s hike out 1st attempt 1998)  This mini canyon treated us to our first taste  of Huallaga portaging…good times.  From the bottom of this first portage the river just seemed to get better the further we went down. We finished our day 1 paddling a total of 30 k and dropping 500m. The weather on Day 2 was dreary and the rain started to set in right after we left camp. The rapids became steeper weaving through house-sized metamorphic boulders. At 9am day 2 we hit the Chalk Stone gorge where the The Range Life hiked out.  After some discussion we decided to just give’er……….. just kidding there was a plan.

Contemplating the rapid above Chalk Stone Gorge Photo: Evan Ross

Me running,, what is called these days,, Oh yeah .".the brown" Photo: Matthew Klema

Committed Photo: Evan Ross

Ryan and I would just send in all the young bucks in first and they would tell us that it was good to go. Perfect!!!. From the Chalk Stone formation we ran 3 walled out lime stone gorges. Between the gorges were quality class IV-V rapids containing epic hero boofs and juicy slots. Within the gorges the whitewater was conveyor belt class II.  And then there were the waterfalls!! something straight out of the lord of the rings, huge cascades directly into the river.  After  the 2nd gorge we consulted our map and gps, which showed our last cabrata to have three topo lines crossing the river. Portaging any of these gorges would be traumatizing if at all possible. So we found a crapy camp in the rocks before this last gorge. Day 3 started of with a bang, launching a kicker rapid into a boulder maze , down a hallway and under waterfall .  Soon after that We got to “ol three line gorge”.   We ventured in standard formation, youngest to oldest… and what did we find?….. More epic class 1 with cascades plummeting in from either side…YES!!. Damn,, the person who made this  map has some sick sense of humor.

Cooking Russian Style

After consulting the map and gps it was confirmed we had made it out of the shit. On the 2nd half of the 3rd day, tributaries  added double of the original flow and we paddled  class IV-V  rapids for about 15k to our take out. Somewhere along  this section we ran into a bunch of dudes wearing hard hats and official looking uniforms,, not standard local attire. There was also some large scale machinery  and it looked like to they were taking rock samples or something like that. Latter we found out that there is going to be a dam built in the heart of the Great Bend of the Huallaga. It should be completed by 2013. here’s a link about this pinchi represa. All I can say is get down there and see this canyon soon,, it is a gem.

More sweet action Photo:Evan Ross

After the Huallaga we still had a month left, so we jet setted for Cuzco to get on some classics. Here’s a short video about that.

In 2011 Telluride Kayak School will be offering guided kayak trips to Peru. The rivers slated for this trip include: Cotahuasi, Colca, Apurimac and the Paucartambo. Many thanks to Immersion Research for the Semi Dry Top, Splash Pants and the Lucky Charm squirt. It was the perfect jungle trekking ensemble. And a big shout for all folks on the two previous attempts of the Huallaga. The success of our trip was a direct result of their efforts.