Rivers Be Dammed: Somos del Rio Baker Update

The Somos del Rio Team give an update on their journey down Patagonia's rivers

Since they set off in early February, the Somos del Rio Team has paddled miles of some of the world’s biggest whitewater down in Patagonia. Their journey was to paddle the country’s endangered rivers and immerse themselves in the life they support before the proposed damming project erases them from the earth. They have offered a report of their travels so far.

Scouting big rapids. Photo: Reel Motion Media

By: The Somos del Rio Team:
Evan, Jesse, Leif, Pete and Maija

We were tired and starting to feel the past couple weeks of non-stop paddling, shooting and traveling. There just wasn’t time for days off, and the relentlessness of the trip was starting to catch up with us. We sure as hell did not sit through almost 24 hours of bus rides just from the Futa alone to get this close to the fabled Rio Baker and not take full advantage of our opportunity to paddle in her waters. For Day 2 on the Baker we had the 3rd Canyon section planned with a large group of eager paddlers.

Diego Valsecchi, Rio Hibarger and Big Wave Dave Kashinski, all Baker veterans, lead the way, enabling us to spend more of the day filming and working through a large group instead of spending too much time worrying about what was around the next corner. We still did plenty of that…

About As Big As It Gets

When I first heard about the Baker, I had no idea about the hydro-electric plans for it, and I also really had no plans to ever run it. It looked amazing, but the stories of Stikine sized whitewater and a lack of confidence/practice in my big water skills added up to a “no-need” on this one: travel to the ends of the earth to paddle some of the biggest whitewater on the planet. I mean there are certainly larger, more difficult rivers out there, but I’m guessing it’s probably just a handful. For mere mortals such as myself this was some heavy shit to aspire to.

It happened though, one day after a few summers in a row of paddling in Idaho and a Grand Canyon self-support trip; a newfound confidence in my big water skills was born. But seriously the Baker? Kalob Grady, a solid and well traveled Canadian paddler who ran the Baker earlier in February gave us his breakdown when we caught up with him on the Futaleufu before heading south.

About to crash? Photo: Reel Motion Media

OK…

Huh. Well, I guess I was expecting that. Let’s do this. I’m pretty sure I was thinking something like that at the time. But then I was standing on the shores of the beast. It was real, and I was real scared. I’d never show it, and I knew I could do it, but more than anything these days I want to make it home to my family, priority one.

When the waves started crashing and the whirlpools opened up and the chaos tried to swallow me, instead of being scared I felt complete focus. Paddling hard, adapting, reacting, and just plain old staying in the flow was the name of the game, and beyond that I can’t really put the experience into words. When you’re in there, you are there and nowhere else. The elders talk in hushed tones about the Stikine, calling it the Truth, and I’m pretty sure I tasted a piece of it down there on the Rio Baker.

Jaime and a Small Town with Real Needs

This was a special day for a number of reasons but maybe none greater than the participation by one of our honorary team members, Jaime Lancaster. Jaime is an almost 17-year-old from Cochrane. He was one of the first kids in the Los Escualos kayak club, is one hell of a dedicated paddler, and his skills show it. This would be his first day paddling in one of the mighty canyons of his home river, the Baker. Not only that, he would be the first local from the region to tackle these colossal rapids. He was more than up to the task and performed nearly flawlessly in some of the toughest whitewater on the planet. It was simply awesome and inspiring to watch.

Jaime and the rest of the kayak club represent the opportunities that the free flowing rivers around Cochrane can offer to the people who live there. The Hidro-Aysen project however, also represents an opportunity as well for some people. Over the next few days, as we dove into interviewing some of the business owners in town, we began to understand the challenges and needs that the town of Cochrane is facing and how the Hidro-Aysen project has legitimate ways of addressing them.

Next up, we had a day in the rural areas that would be flooded out by one of the dams and we scheduled a meeting with Hidro-Aysen so that they could speak for themselves and help us sort out the truth to their promises we’d been hearing about .Things were about to get much more interesting in our investigation and even more complex than they already were.

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