-by Knox Hammack
For the first time since 2017, Notorious Media Tent and Torryd were able to meet up. I am extremely lucky to have been able to undertake my 5th trip to Chile in October of 2022. Every trip brings about new experiences with old friends and reliving old rivers with new friends. Trent McCrerey and I flew from Seattle to Santiago Chile where we met up with Santiago and Domingo Sandoval, Andrew Oxley, Ian Salvat, David Cortes, and Gonzalo Robert. We were shown an immense amount of hospitality by the Sandoval Garcia family who gave us a place to sleep and organize our gear for the trip. After we all gathered our gear into two cars, we set off to our first destination, the Rio Claro. As we drove, I contemplated my 2016 trip to Chile.
I had broken my ankle on the Palguin three days into paddling that trip. I spent the rest of the time filming, scouting, and planning for the return trip where I would hopefully get to run everything I couldn’t at that time. For the last six years, my mind has been on Tomatita, Tres Saltos, and Newen. I spent the months leading up to the 2022 trip studying for the Law School Admissions Test so I was as “off the couch” as I ever had been for a kayaking trip. This led me to sit out on a lot of the sections that our crew paddled. I did not run the Claro, Todo Palguin, Newen, or the Tres Troncos section of the Puesco. It has taken me years to be comfortable with my inner compass that dictates how I judge risk vs. reward when it comes to deciding what to paddle.
(A delicious home cooked meal.)
Once we arrived at the Claro, I decided that the river level at the Claro and the possibility of getting hurt physically or getting into a sketchy beat down scenario would drastically affect my confidence for the remainder of the ten day trip so I decided to film instead of paddle. That decision led to my getting to spend great time hiking and filming with Gonzalo Robert who I had just met. I quickly learned how passionate he is about the projects he takes on, and I knew he was going to be a pleasure to be on a trip with. We hiked to Caracol and watched our homies rip off of it filming from an angle that I had not seen a ton of footage from. It’s a crazy feeling watching six of your friends kayak down such a technical waterfall. From the Claro we headed to Tomatita and the Blanco Sur.
I filmed Santi and Ian Garcia on Tomatita in 2016 when my ankle was broken. Now, six years later, I put on with Santi and the homies for my first lap. I had not kayaked off a waterfall in close to a year, but I was greeted with the nerves I always feel above waterfalls. These nerves feel a lot different to me than the ones I get before kayaking rapids. Good lines were had by all and I felt really lucky to have had a couple of clean lines down one of the most picturesque waterfalls in the world.
(Knox styling Tomatita.)
We headed to the Blanco Sur, where I never have had the line I wanted. However, I got to watch an epic huckfest culminating in Ian doing a thirty foot misty with Domingo back-freewheeling the waterfall at the same time. Afterwards, we packed up and headed to Pucon.
(Ian's misty flip and Domingo's back freewheel. Shot by Gonzalo.)
I decided not to paddle the Tres Troncos section of the Puesco after seeing the water level and having an understanding of the boulder garden style of the Puesco. A highlight from the trip was watching Ian and Andrew put on together blue angeling straight through to the bottom of Tres Troncos. I was ecstatic to use Gonzalo’s FS700 while he was flying his drone. The opening shot of the edit is probably the best drone shot I have seen of such a long rapid with two paddlers. I put on for the lower section of the Upper Puesco with Ian, Andrew, Mauro Jorquera. I had previously paddled this section with LJ Groth in December of 2013 with his Escape program. Somehow I neglected to realize that the summer flows I had with LJ were drastically different than the spring flows we had in October. The river turned out to be a lot more full-on than Santiago led me to believe but I knew he wouldn’t tell me to paddle something I wasn’t capable of doing. Only Mauro and Ian knew the lines, so we spent some time translating river beta from spanish to english for me and Andrew. After a little over an hour we made it to the takeout. While we were getting changed LJ actually drove by and we got the chance to reminisce about our lap down eight years previously. The next waterfall we got to paddle was back in Pucon where it had been raining hard for three straight days.
I initially scouted Tres Saltos in 2016 with Santiago. It was too low to run then, nevertheless, I had felt the burning sensation in my body that accompanies waterfalls I want to paddle, but will have to wait years to experience. Rolling up to it six years later with the perfect crew and level brought a contentment that I’ve only encountered through kayaking. We decided that groups of 2-3 people would paddle while the others set safety and filmed. By the end of the day there were six descents with two swims. I remember watching Dashboard Empanada during all of the Riversport Kayaking camps I went to growing up. It was here I saw the footage of Evan Garcia having the cleanest Tres Saltos line in the OG Dagger Nomad. Subconsciously I must have thought about his line before I paddled Tres Saltos because before I threw my paddle on the way down I “gorilla armed” for a couple of milliseconds similar to how EG used to.
I got super lucky and didn’t tap the shelves on the way down and was able to extend my arms underwater to keep myself upright in the boil. Andrew went after me, putting down a great line avoiding the shelves before throwing his paddle. He hit his first hand roll before flipping back over and swimming. Ian had an insane line penciling straight in before looking like he launched a kickflip out of the boil. Domingo was running everything in his Exo Zion. He aired out the first half of Tres Saltos before his shorter stern tapped the right shelf on the way down. He imploded out of his kayak getting pushed to the river right while his paddle got pushed river left into a small outcropping of rocks. The accompanying waves that held it in place for thirty minutes before we were able to recover it. Killian, who ran it after Santiago (Santi had went first and showed us all how it’s done), ended up running it again at the very end of our afternoon there. After Tres Saltos, we headed to our final destination.
Newen was another drop I scouted in 2016 when I was injured. We ended up saving it for the last destination on the 2022 trip. I was feeling good about Newen the seven days prior to us arriving. My confidence grew a lot after Tomatita and Tres Saltos. I was comfortable with the height, the lead in, the pool, and what our safety plan would be.
When we got there, I saw the level was substantially higher than it had been when I saw it six years previously. An inkling of doubt started in my brain. Once we reached the entrance gorge to scout, the doubt in my head started to reach the rest of my body. I glimpsed the gorge rapids and saw that it contained numerous boofs and holes at high water. People who have paddled with me know that boofs and holes at high water shake my confidence more than anything (except big water and holes at high water). The doubt I was feeling turned into nerves unlike the aforementioned ones I got above Tomatita. The Newen nerves were the same I feel scouting the North Fork of the Payette, high water Robe Canyon, and other similar rivers. I’ve learned the hard way that even when I push through those nerves, the feeling I would get at the bottom of whatever was making me feel that nervous, was not one of happiness or contentment. I think back to 2019 when I put on the Upper section of the NF of the Payette feeling the same way. That day I felt as though I was paddling as well as I could have but after getting absolutely stomped in a hole in the Lower Bouncer rapid, I took out at Jacob’s Ladder. I didn’t feel any sense of accomplishment and I realized I had not had fun while I was paddling even prior to the beatdown. I thought about that experience a lot at Newen.
We all scouted from the viewing platform downstream. At that point I didn’t know for sure about what I was going to do so I offered to set safety first with Santiago. We watched as Domingo came down first, having a perfect line staying in his boat. Andrew followed shortly after and ended up swimming to the river left bank. Watching the footage of Andrew’s line, you can actually see a rock break off from the lip as it catches in his paddle.
(Check out the rock breaking off the lip from Andrew's paddle. Minute mark - 9'06" to 9'13")
Finally, Ian came down last putting down another flawless line the rest of us had gotten used to seeing him do throughout the trip. After the descents I sat on the rocks looking up at Newen. Even though the gorge culminated in one of the most beautiful waters I have ever seen, one that I have been wanting to run since the year it was discovered and I watched footage of Shredward styling it as his first big waterfall since breaking his back, I felt as though my body was trying to communicate with me through the nerves I was feeling and I decided not to do it. Whether or not I made the right decision that day, I realized hiking my boat out that the burning desire I used to have to run big waterfalls, that had eluded me since the months after running Ram Falls in 2022 had come back. I cannot wait to go back to Chile again.
(Knox running Rams Falls.)
I want to give a huge thanks to Immersion Research, Dagger Kayaks, and Rivers, Lakes and Oceans for their support. Lastly, a huge thanks to the Sandoval Garcia family for their hospitality and amazing steaks.