Published on February 19th, 2016 | by Kayak Session

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Epic on the Rio Claro (Chile)

Watch this very interesting video showing a group of paddlers facing an epic on the Rio Claro in Chile. From a rather dodgy situation, this segment shows how the crew worked their way out and successfully rescued the swimmer in an environment that could have led to the worst situation.

By: Riley Adams

While in Chile this past November/December, myself and three friends I was paddling with ran into a rather serious situation below the waterfall called Garganta del Diablo (Throat of the Devil) on the Entresaltos section of the Rio Claro. I didn’t include this in the initial footage I shared of the Claro, but it seems like it’s worth sharing.

Up front I’d like to say that we did not fully appreciate the water level on the Entresaltos section, the other parts of the Claro (Veintidos Saltos and Siete Tazas) had been very manageable, and truth be told, Entresaltos felt absolutely straightforward and none of the rapids were pushy or sketchy other than the one (very critical) place we had trouble. The undercut at the base of Garganta is definitely the limiting factor for high water in my opinion.

With that said, I feel we did make an effort to be responsible about running Entresaltos – we walked up from the takeout on river left the night prior to our run (braving the tarantulas) to do what recon we could, which later made it much faster to climb out of the canyon and back to the top of Garganta. We had adequate rescue gear including breakdown paddles, pin kits, first aid kits and I had a harness and belay device in my boat. Additionally, one of our group had run the section before (although at significantly lower water). Please keep in mind that video, especially GoPro, does not always do reality justice and while it does look like we could have gotten out of our boats below the falls, it was worse than it looked…I promise.

The commentary in this video is light hearted at times, which may seem like we didn’t take the situation seriously, but we did take it very seriously. I can honestly say I’ve never felt more helpless in a kayak then I did trying to figure out how to get a rope to a friend stuck in a pocket on the far side of a waterfall in a 70-100m deep canyon.

A QUICK SUMMARY (it may be hard to figure out from the video):

One member of our crew swam after running Garganta. The water was high, making the undercut wall below the falls very nasty. The swimmer was able to get into a pocket on river right and get out on a small rock ledge but his boat was pushed against the undercut. We failed to find a way to get to him, as options were pretty limited and we couldn’t get out anywhere. One of our group tried to paddle across the boil from the falls and nearly got in trouble with the undercut. Shortly after, the swimmer’s boat flushed down through the next drop, but was successfully recovered (with paddle) and stashed on some rocks in a micro eddy. At this point, two of us remained below Garganta watching the swimmer attempt to free climb up the river right wall next to the drop. About 7-8m above the water he seemed to run out of moves, and worried about him getting hypothermia we signaled to him that we were taking off to go downstream and find a way up to the canyon rim so we could rope down to him. We moved quickly but carefully downstream and found a place to get out and scramble up out of the canyon via some sketchy bamboo handholds. We ran up the trail we had used to scout the night before and were back above Garganta within 90 minutes. We breathed a huge sigh of relief when we saw that the swimmer had finished his free solo of Garganta (first ascent?) and was sitting on a precarious ledge above the lip of the falls on river right. Still 30m or so up above the water, we set up two anchors (one main line and one backup), since we were using two throw bags clipped together. I rapped down to water level on the opposite side of the river from the swimmer. The rest was pretty much what it looks like in the video, I got a throw bag to him across the river, then he jumped in above the lip and swam/was pulled over to river left. Then we both ascended back up the rope with prusiks. The rest of the footage is from a couple days later, after we tracked down an actual climbing rope and ascender, the swimmer went back down into the canyon below the rapid after Garganta and clipped his boat, then ascended up and we pulled his kayak back up to the canyon rim. All was well!

This was a big learning experience, and I think we did some things wrong and some things right. Reflecting back on sitting below the falls I don’t think we had a different course of action to choose as far as the rescue goes. Any climbers who see this will definitely have some criticisms on the rope setup i’m sure. We did the best we could with what we had and tried to make sure we were as safe as possible, using backups where possible.

In conclusion to this lengthy narrative –
Be safe, have fun, go prepared.

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