Adventure 2011 Argentina / Chile

28 11 2011

I am a decidedly hooked overseas traveler and could not wait to get my fix any longer! I’ve had some tough times these last couple of years, so I’d put off venturing, but nothing would stop me from exploring in 2011! I had over 100,000 frequent flier miles with United Airlines, which were set to expire. Last time I went overseas was in 2008 to Laos / Cambodia, and that was fantastic. I’m in love with SE Asia and the Himalayan region. I was tempted to return, but I’ve been there seven times – and I’ve never been to South America. So this time, I decided to head directly SOUTH. Time to save my soul and escape my world…to Argentina and Chile – to Patagonia!

Because  for me, getting outside my neighborhood, city, state – my country – seeing life from outside, from another perspective – only that refreshes my spirit!

Honestly, I didn’t have a lot of information, but I knew I’d like to experience the Andes, and probably Tierra del Fuego. Timing was important. In 2011, I worked as a sales consultant and guide/instructor at Alder Creek Kayak and Canoe, and their busy season is summer, winding down with the Lumpy Waters Symposium in October. I inquired with Suzi Elle, one of the owners, about taking vacation and her reply was “anytime after Lumpy!’ So with that in mind, I targeted late October/November for a start time!

It looked like this would be a good time for Argentina and Chile. But it would also be a good time in the Himalayas – prime time is right after monsoon season. Also in the southern hemisphere, I could head to South Africa, or New Zealand. But it seemed the right time for me to see the “other America.” It would be late spring down there. Without a lot of time for research, and wanting to see a lot, I wanted to do an organized trip, so I looked at two companies I’ve worked with, Djoser, out of Amsterdam, and Mountain Travel Sobek, based in San Francisco. I had gone to Thailand with Djoser in 2004 and had a great experience. In 2007 I did an unforgettable 110-mile Himalayan Trek in Bhutan with Sobek. Sobek had a 3-week hiking trip focused on Torres del Paine National Park. I looked into this and really was interested, but I couldn’t get frequent flier flights to match up. So, I looked at Djoser again, and began to realize their agenda might be more an experience I preferred. That is because their three week trip covers much more of Patagonia. They do time in the Fitz Roy Range, and Tierra del Fuego, and even have some days up in the Lakes District, as well as seeing marine life on Peninsula Valdes. It would be more “road time,” but one would get a better overview. Sobek’s trip would be much more in touch with the outback areas of Torres del Paine, away from the throngs of backpackers.

So I inquired at the Djoser USA office in Pennsylvania. They cautioned me that the trip I was looking at was an international group, so I might be the only American. I’d have to be OK with that. I was not worried one bit. Djoser’s groups mostly cater to Dutch, and some other Europeans too. I knew from my experiences with Dutch citizens that they are gregarious, considerate, polite and nearly everybody speaks English. I didn’t worry about any issues. I signed up, and went about calling the frequent flier desk at United. I tried. And tried. “No seats for those dates” was the response for several tries. I began to despair. But one customer service agent took me under her wing, telling me that, “Seats open up, so don’t get discouraged! Keep calling every day!” So I did.

And then it happened. One day I reeled off the same inquiry, dates, times, and the response was, “OK, we have seats on these flights…” I just about hit the ceiling! Hardly containing my delight that I got a FREE flight to South America on the dates matching my itinerary, I booked them on the spot!

I was going! I was going on a trip to Patagonia! We would be seeing penguins, southern right whales, elephant seals, carakaras, guanacos, condors, hike in Torres del Paine, watch tango dancers, bask in the view of the spires of Cerro Fitz Roy, walk on the Viedma Glacier, cruise the Lakes in the Lakes District near Bariloche, and reach the end of the world at Tierra del Fuego!

Here’s a great photo of my comrades on this trip! We were American, Dutch, Belgian and Turkish. A wonderful group…of varied ages and professions!

I was in! So what follows is a story of the trip to the highlights of Patagonia! Stay tuned!





Lumpy Waters Symposium 2010 Sunday – Three Arch Rocks

25 10 2010

OK Sunday morning at Lumpy Waters Symposium I was feeling the effects of three days on the Oregon coast. Definitely a bit worn out.

Badge of honor-dry suit rash from NRS and Kokatat...1 per day

And showing the effects of a tight fitting neck gasket! Gotta do something about that.

I was scheduled to do a Three Arch Rocks tour, and I knew several paddlers had to be rescued there Saturday and one guy threw up seasick. On the other hand the weather had calmed somewhat. But I just had to be there because two of the instructors would be Leon Somme and Shawna Franklin of Body Boat Blade! They are two of the best instructors in the country and I couldn’t miss a chance at experiencing instruction with them! And Mark Whittaker of Columbia River Kayak School was also teaching. In fact, Rob Avery of Valley Sea Kayaks and Karl Cohagen of Kokatat were paddling.

Coaches Leon, Shawna, Rob and John

Three Arch Rocks National Wildlife Refuge is a really special place. It’s an Oregon landmark. Home to cormorants and gulls, it’s also a nesting site for tufted puffins, storm petrels, common murres, and pigeon guillemot.

It’s also a pupping site for the 2,000 lb stellar sea lion. It’s rare to get close to the rocks, because Federal regulations prohibit watercraft from coming within 500 ft of the rocks from May 1st to September 15th – the time when it’s calmest!

It was spectacular weather! As dawn broke frost covered grass and windshields. But the day was to warm to near 70 degrees! At breakfast everyone was talking about how crazy incredible the weekend’s weather was turning out! THREE days in a row of clear, pleasant weather in OCTOBER on the Oregon Coast? And, no fog whatsoever! WOW. It’s so unlikely especially as those of us who were trying to practice the weeks before the event kept finding the coastal conditions big – swells often over 10 ft and smOur destination comes into view!all craft warnings. We couldn’t get over our good fortune!

We headed to Oceanside, about 30 minute drive north. The route winding along the coast revealed vista after vista of fabulous headlands and gentle seas! Here’s what I saw as I neared the town.

The Three Arch Rocks tour had 24 students signed up. So it was split into three classes, and I got Shawna and Mark Whittaker! I was so excited not only to watch Shawna paddle, but to experience how she teaches.

Yeah, I knew the dry suit was open. I just threw the PFD on while carrying stuff to the beach!

Since there were so many students and coaches it took a while to get organized, but it was such a lovely morning. Everyone was in great spirits. They put some rocks on the beach and drew some lines representing Three Arch Rocks and the wave energy surrounding. Sunday’s swell was 5-6 feet max, and there was calm wind when we started. There would be some reflected waves on the north side.

Launching was pretty basic, except that once a little beyond the beach the surf was breaking in two directions, meaning you’d punch through one and then there would be another coming right at a 45 degree angle – so you’d need to quickly turn the kayak into it. Once beyond the small breakers it was nice!

Like Saturday it took me a few minutes to settle in. One problem was the paddle. I figured since it was a “tour,” and calmer I’d use the low-angle Werner Kalliste paddle. But right away, getting out through the surf zone and into the moderate swell, it didn’t feel right. Right then Shawna was talking with another student about using high angle for dynamic conditions and with that, I switched to my high angle Werner Cyprus. I should have loosened my thigh braces out a click, though!

It was 3/4 mile to the rocks. Very pleasant paddle, and as the rocks drew closer we saw there were some caves and smaller outcroppings. Plus, various birds and some small sea lions about. The sea lions, probably pups, watched us closely and once we got too close they jumped in the water and made their escape! I witnessed a brutal struggle amongst sea birds. A cormorant came up out of the water and swallowed a fish – then flew up 30 feet onto a steep ledge. Almost immediately two gulls began harassing the cormorant, until it eventually regurgitated its hard fought catch – and one gull immediately wolfed it down. So, even a swallowed fish is still in play! Not fair!

Here’s a video by Chris Lockyer, one of my Saturday instructors, of what it is like paddling in the area! Kind of hard to watch.

Watch the video by clicking on this text.

Shawna and Mark Whittaker were my coaches. Watching Shawna paddle, and experiencing her coaching was like watching a symphony performance. No matter the rocks or water surging around – every stroke/rudder movement was smooth, and all the while smiling, remembering the students’ names and giving everyone personal attention. She’s very re-assuring, calming nerves, telling students to breath deeply. We made some moves in and around the rocks near one of the big arches.

We found a small sea cave too!

Then we moved out to the weather side of the arch. There, the conditions were different as the swells reflected off the arches. But it wasn’t as unsettling as off Cape Kiwanda Saturday. Shawna suggested we paddle the surge in between two of the arches. That was fun and exciting! The swell surges in between, squeezing through the arches, and you kind of get “pushed” along as on either side of you it crashes along the rocks.

The group paddled through the arches. Randy tried to do a re-enter and roll in the swirly conditions in between the arches, but after several attempts gave up and got an assisted rescue from Mark Whittaker. Laura, back behind the arches did a nice cowboy self rescue! I didn’t feel like it because I already did that the day before. But now I regret not doing a roll out there just for kicks.

We played around the rocks for another 45 minutes, and then heard one of the other groups needed to head back because they had a sea sick paddler. We eventually decided to head back to the Oceanside beach, too.

I was one of the first to try the landing, and I picked up a little surf and rode it in, only to capsize and get thrashed in knee deep water. No matter. I forgot my Feelfree Kayak Snap Pack was hung around my neck with my non-waterproof camera inside! I dreaded opening it but was excited to find my camera 100% dry inside!

Well, the day was done. I was really stoked to have Mark and Shauna as my coaches, and maybe I’ll just have to take a session with Body Boat Blade. What a great weekend of ocean paddling!

Here is a 14 minute video of some of Lumpy Waters 2010!





Lumpy Waters 2010 Saturday

23 10 2010

Another day of Alder Creek Kayak & Canoe’s Lumpy Waters Symposium!

Saturday broke beautiful and blue bird clear! My class for the day was Cape Lookout Tour. It was to be an all-day class and I was really looking forward to it. In 2009 I did only half day classes, which are good, but I wanted to experience a full day on a major landmark on the Oregon Coast.

My cabin-mates Stuart, Gary and Dave all got along well. Friday night everyone was crashed out early to re-energize by getting a good night’s sleep. At six a.m. I motivated to grab an early shower and get refreshed. Once done I headed to the “kitchen shed” where All Star Rafting’s staff put together a spread of breakfast goodies for the hungry paddlers. Everybody was in a terrific mood looking forward to an epic day on the water!

Classes gathered at 8:30 for a meet and greet and to set out the day’s plan. My instructors were John, Chris and Ron. Unfortunately they told us we couldn’t do a Cape Lookout tour because the swells were north->south, meaning very rough conditions on the north side of west-pointing Cape Lookout. Friday evening Neil Schulman told me a story of a time when he had a group launching on the north side of the cape and most wound up swimming. Later, Mark Whittaker told me he and Ginni Callahan had paddled down from the north one time to scout the put-in on the north side and described the conditions as “catastrophic.” Although there is a way to put in on the south side of Cape Lookout, it’s a complicated logistical problem with property rights/access issues.

The upshot was John proposed an alternative of rock gardening by Cape Kiwanda, then heading out beyond the cape to see what the north swell was like, then heading south to check out the haystack rock and maybe paddle to the mouth of the Nestucca River and up back towards Pacific City. That’d be a very long day but at that time we were up for it.

We launched and headed out into the swell coming into the beach at Pacific City. Weather report said it was a seven foot swell. Not all the waves incoming were that big.

Wind had dropped from Friday. Anyway we were given instruction on rock gardening in and around the rocks near Cape Kiwanda. It takes time to get used to the wave action but it’s manageable. You can surf down an incoming wave in between rocks.

We practiced along the rocks...

We did a bunch of laps. Then they asked us to try it backwards. Like surfing, rock gardening requires patience. You do OK if you pick the right surge to take in between the rocks. Everything isn’t as hard as it looks.

Then John said let’s go out into the ocean, beyond Cape Kiwanda. There’s a buoy off the cape, a good meeting spot. The swells were coming around the end of the cape and bending into the beach. The plan was to paddle beyond the cape, in between it and the haystack rock, and head north to check things out.

The swells entering the beach at Pacific City were all reduced swells – meaning despite their size, they didn’t have their full energy since they were wrapping around the cape. Also none of them were reflected. But once we rounded the cape we experienced their full energy, plus reflection off the cape. My kayak was going uphill on the incoming swells and downhill on the reflected waves.

North (left) side of Cape Kiwanda was much worse Saturday

Then there were “lumpy” waves, wind waves in between the swells. For me, even looking at the cape was unsettling. The swells were crashing against it. I had to look out to sea. I was not feeling sea sick, but I was feeling a sense of adrenaline making my body stiffen up. What was bothering me was that I knew I should be loose – my lower body should be able to be loose from the upper but I kept transmitting too much of the wave action from the boat to my upper body. Usually this feeling goes away in 10-15 minutes. Making things worse was I think my foot braces were a click too close, meaning too much body English /wave energy was being transmitted from the boat to my body, making it seem more unsteady. Out there, reaching under the deck to my feet to adjust the braces seemed unthinkable.

All smiles, besides pitch poling twice!

I was the only one feeling that way Saturday afternoon. Everyone else was comfortable. Either way, John decided to ask us to meet at the buoy, which was much further out to sea away from the reflected waves. One thing all the instructors told us was to keep moving if possible. They said think of it like a bicycle – it’s hard to stay upright if stopped, easy when moving. Same in a kayak.

Once we neared the buoy, I felt much better. Out there it was mostly incoming swells, less reflected. We headed down and planned to gather past the haystack on the south side. From where we started it looked to me like the swells were breaking way out on the seaward side of the stack. But John assured me it was just foam moving out to sea. That turned out to be the case, though it sure looked from afar like breaking waves!

So we spent some time messing around the rocks on the back side of the haystack. We all did some rescues back there. No problem. At least I can say I did my first deep ocean rescue! It seemed not much different than anyplace else I’d done it. Just the fact that the water was moving up and down 7 feet. It reminded me of rolling a kayak. It is all about nerves. If you calm yourself down, all the points are the same, just a different environment. If you do the same steps, so what if you are out in the ocean? You just remain calm and go through the steps. So I need to do a roll out there. It would be the same thing, just settle your brain down and do it. In fact they often say doing the roll calms your whole body down. Like getting wet – once you are wet it is all over and you are used to it.

Then it was decision time. Choices? Either head back to the beach for more rock gardening/surf session, or a long kayak to the Nestucca River mouth and another 7 miles up the river. We chose to head back to the beach area to practice.

Window shading!

Testing out the surf!

When done, I hung out on the beach watching the “Fear to fun in the Surf” class.  Here’s a video with lots of kayaks going back and forth, some succeeding, most not! And then…a paddler makes her way in and someone else doesn’t make it!

Here’s a 2009 video of Lumpy (conditions were more difficult) but there is one shot of me in the orange/black Pyranha burn heading out…

I even saw a woman pitch pole (rolling stern over bow) twice!

Later in the evening we had another happy hour and pizza! Then Karl Cohagen of Kokatat put on a fun trivia contest. Lots of schwag for prizes, all about kayak trivia! The unruly crowd was hard to control! One of the trivia questions concerned a pair of instructors from the Pacific NW…

During the trivia contest Karl did a shout out to all the instructors who came to Lumpy Waters!

Here’s Carl’s shout out for all the instructors!