WWGP Stage 2: Puesco Boulder Dash

I felt that this was, by far, the riskiest race that we ran.

Stage 2 was originally going to occur on the Upper Rio Fuy.  A classic waterfall section with very photogenic drops.  It was to be a short sprint down four stacked mid-sized waterfalls.  However,  due to the presence of didymo (an invasive algae) in the river, the officials from that region decided that it would be best not to have the competition at that location for fear that our boats and gear would spread the algae to other Chilean rivers.  Didymo is a huge ecologic concern around the world including creeks and rivers in Europe, New Zealand, Chile the United States and Canada.  Didymo proliferates in low nutrient clear mountain streams, forming slimy mats that smothers fish eggs and severely effecting the ecosystem of the stream (Science Daily).  Didymo is native to northern regions of Europe, Asia and parts of North America  Its spread to Chilean Rivers in the Los Lagos Region (where most kayakers go) can most likely be attributed to travelling river enthusiasts and kayakers.  From my experience, most kayakers are not aware of Didymo and their role in spreading the algae.  One drop of water transported from an infected river can infect a new river.   Here is a fact sheet about what you can do to make sure that Didymo is not spread to other rivers.  At the very least, it would be good practice to drain your kayak completely before leaving each river.  When Leif and I went to the Rio Fuy later in the trip, we paid $2.00 each to have our boats and gear disinfected by the river inspector.  Although a bit too long, this powerful video diary of Didymo in the Gunpowder River by Jason Du Pont is worth watching.

Didymo: A Video Diary from Jason du Pont on Vimeo.

It started raining on the first day that the WWGP athletes met up and continued almost every day throughout the entire event.  The month before the event, levels for the Chilean runs were very low, for there had been a few months of no rain.  Due to the rain, waterlevels were coming up and by the time we left a month later they were raging.  Leif and I went back to the Gol Gol near the end of our trip and it was raging so large that there was no way we would put on. All of the rocks and islands were covered at Princessa; it was one raging pourover (see pictures of Princessa from Stage 1: Gol Gol Enduro)

The Race Line
Because it had been raining we were able to do the Rio Puesco instead of the Rio Fuy.  The Rio Puesco is not what comes to my mind when I think of a Chilean river.  There are no waterfalls, just fast paced, bouldery, steep goodness.  As Leif put it: It's like the Homestake race at Vail- on steroids.  The race was held on one longish rapid (it is hard to really pick out where one rapid stopped and the next started) at the beginning of the run, known as Tres Troncos (three logs).  Basically, the steepest section that was accessible from the road.  The race section could also be compared to Gettin' Busy on the Little White Salmon, but steeper.  The race was about 2 minutes in length and was nonstop action.  This style of creeking has you on your toes!  Usually when you run a section like this you stop at as many micro eddies as you can then make your next move.  During the race you had to blast by all the eddies and somehow try to remember where you are so that you make sure that you don't go into the "no go" pin locations.  Leif scouted one of these "no go" spots on a practice lap when we didn't know all the lines yet.   Usually when you boat with a group, the leader makes sure that everyone knows all the lines.  Boating in a group of 30 some odd people down a small steep creek with not a lot of eddies means that if you are at the end of the group a lot of information is lost - kinda like playing that whisper telephone game.  By the time Leif and I were coming down (we were just a tad slow getting ready), let's just say that something got lost in translation.   Leif followed the current into a slot and had a pin that he described as "moderately intense", which is like his code for scary.   On race day, he was part of the safety team and he made a beeline to set up safety right at that same slot.   Mike Dawson couldn't make it for the practice day and he mistakenly went into this exact same spot on his race run and ended up swimming.  Due to some previous injuries which were exacerbated by this episode, he pulled himself out of the rest of the event.  So if you were wondering what happened to Mike Dawson (who won the first event), now you know.

To give you a feel for the race here are some video links
Stage 2: Boulder Dash, Rio Puesco
Stage 2: Athlete Experience (GoPro Vid)
Stage 2: from Kayak Session TV

Gearing up for an exciting day in the rain.  Photo by Leif.
Wide eyed and ready.  Photo by Leif.
The steep section on one of my training laps.  I'm the middle paddler.  Photo by Eric Boomer.

Coming through the crux.  Photo by Leif.
Getting busy.  Photo by Leif
Geoff Calhoun takes the center rock boof.  Photo by Leif

Bad ass back ender.  Photo by Leif.

My race experience
I felt that this run was by far the most dangerous and risky race that we did.  That being said, after about five practice laps, I felt pretty good on the run and was able to recognize the 'no go' locations and avoid them while paddling nonstop down the run.   By the time the finish line was finalized, I had already done a number of practice laps.  The finish ended up being a bit lower down than I had been practicing, with more "flatter water".  I didn't want to tire myself out before the race so I decided to not do one last practice.   I looked at the finish and the scouted the flatter section upstream, thinking to myself, oh that is the flat easy section, just stay right.  This came back to bite me.  Coming into this race I felt that I had a really good chance of doing really well.  I felt that my training on Colorado runs would pay off.  And they did, for the steep section.  My first lap I goofed up some of the top section due to nerves and I also goofed the bottom section that I hadn't run before, perching myself on a rock.  My second lap was great, I was fast and smooth through the top steep technical section, until .. the bottom flatter section, again.   I still hadn't scouted that section well enough.  As I came through the bottom of the top section, I was thinking to myself, whew! that was great, now all you have to do is relax and style this easy stuff.  Which I didn't.  I discovered that when I race, my vision narrows down and I am not nearly as good seeing the whole picture and I ended up going through some shallow very, very slow sections of water. I ended up in 6th and couldn't keep myself from wondering where I would've ended up had I run the easy stuff smoothly.  I was so disappointed. That was going to be my race!  I came out of that race thinking to myself, well that didn't turn out how I wanted it to, but I'll use it as a learning experience and next time I'll make sure to know where exactly where the finish is and to scout thoroughly the small stuff.  The next race is also going to be a short sprint, so I'll redeem myself there.

Looking good on one of my race laps.  Downstream of this boof is the lower flatter section that I kept goofing up.    Photo by Eric Parker.

Stay tuned for my write up on the Rio Nevados in a few days and check out my previous posts on this event if you haven't already.  Why I'm going to the WWGP,  Back from the WWGP, and WWGP Stage 1: Gol Gol Enduro.


  1. Nice write ups Natalie!
    Stoked you put some info on Didymo in there!!!! Shit is nasty. Is a shame there is not more education and less ignorance by the kayaking community!. PEace Blair


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