WWGP Stage 3: Rio Nevados Sprint

The Rio Nevados was Leif's favorite run from Chile and the easiest race of the Grand Prix.

The idea of the Whitewater Grand Prix Chile is that it is an event that selects the best all around class V+ paddler. To do this, the athletes race down different types of courses with each course highlighting different skillsets. The paddlers who do the best perform well at all the races. So far we'd raced a pool drop run with big drops (see WWGP Stage1: Gol Gol Enduro), and a nonstop tight technical and steep boulder garden sprint (see WWGP Stage 2: Puesco Boulder Dash). If you were following the Grand Prix from the beginning you would know that Stage 3 was supposed to be a Slalom Event on the Mariman rapid on the Rio Trancura. This was one event that I was really looking forward to as a challenge. A giant slalom race (zig zagging through a short section of whitewater making it through preset gates) tests a whole different set of skills than racing down as fast as you can. Unfortunately it had been raining so hard the past week that the slalom course, which had been preset, was too high to run, let alone race. At high water the entire bottom of the Mariman rapid turns into one giant recirculating death hole. We had to make a quick decision of what to do next as the rain continued to pour down. There was talk of an alternate slalom course on the Truful Truful, but Chile veterans were concerned that if it kept raining that would be too high as well. So, do to logistics, high water, continuing rain and a tight schedule (Emily Merideth, who was our on ground coordinator, confirmed our trip to the Futaleufu leaving the morning after the next race), the slalom event was nixed. Instead we raced a very short, 1 minute sprint down the top two drops of a Pucon region classic, The Rio Nevados.

The Rio Nevados is a low volume, boxed in, pool drop run with lots of waterfalls. It is home of the famous DemShitz drop (which was too high to run the entire time Leif and I were there. It came in just two days after we left). There is an upper gorge of small pretty drops followed by the section we raced which consisted basically two drops, a slide and a 20 foot boof into a narrow canyon. After the race section finish line, the river necked down yet again into another tight gorge with some medium sized drops that ended in an even tighter gorge above Demshitz. After Demshitz I am told that there was another really neat tight gorge. While we were there this lower gorge was too high. Speaking of too high, when we came back to Pucon after the WWGP, Leif ran the middle tight gorge at pretty stompy flows (I was sick that day and I'm not sure I would've done it anyway) with a couple grand prix paddlers and his skirt blew on one of the drops and he ended up swimming. There was mini epic including a lost paddle and a boat - you should ask him about it sometime. The next day two other people swam out of the same spot and their group ended up finding Leif's boat along with theirs behind the curtain a few drops down, at Dulce Amor. Big thanks to Eric Bartle for the boat and paddle recovery!
Leif's out-of-boat experience

Anyway, I've diverged from my focus, which isn't supposed to highlight Leif's mishaps, but my victories (or not).

The Race:

As I said, the race was basically just two drops long. The upper slide and a 20 foot ledge waterfall. Once you run the waterfall there is no way to hike out and you have to run the rest of the run. Thus, each race lap consisted of racing the top section, then running the rest of the run in groups of three. At the end of the run we hiked out and got a ride to the top of the race course for another go. I only had about a 1 minute rest at the top before it was my turn again! There had been talk about including some of the drops below, but it was too tight of a canyon. It would have been very difficult time wise, and a little too dangerous to try to set the media and safety teams in that gorge.

The Slide
Momo on the 20' wall drop
I felt that I could do very well at a short sprint down a steep narrow creek, since this is the type of boating I often do. I was determined to redeem myself from the Puesco race and to not make the mistake of not scouting the little stuff well enough. During the practice day I made sure that I knew where the finish line was and I thoroughly scouted the little stuff. It was sunny for the first time in a week, and I felt confident. Pre-race I got quite a few runs down the slide and section in between the two drops. I didn't run the 20 footer because I knew that I could nail that. I didn't want to run the 20 footer because I didn't want to run the rest of the run and be tired for my races. This was a mistake. While all the athletes were grouping up right before the race I started hearing people talk about this log in the lower section of the race (which I hadn't run that day) that was now exposed due to the water dropping quite a bit overnight. Did I mention that it was sunny and not raining on the race day!!! However, I wasn't concerned because everyone was saying that it was on the side and if you are in the main flow you'll miss it. Well my first race came through and I had a super super fast line through the upper section and the 20 footer. I remember thinking to myself, you've nailed it, now all you have to do is avoid that log and send through two smaller boofs. Well I was in the main current, but on the right edge of it. I didn't see the log until too late, it was just barely submerged and it rail-slided me into an inescapable eddy against the right bank. I watched a few other racers go by as I got out and hiked my boat out of the little eddy. I got back up to the start with just a few racers before me for my second lap. Now I knew where the log was, and I just had to do what I knew to do. Well, all I gotta say is that the pressure of being my second lap and the added pressure I put on myself for thinking that I had to do extremely well in this race and that this was my last chance got to me. I ran the upper part fairly fast, then botched and the 20 footer (not sure how I did this, I felt that this drop was very easy) and watched myself pin ball with mistake after mistake from there. I'm not sure I could go as slow as I did on that lap if I tried.
Looking back up at the 20 footer.  Photo by Wes Schrecongost

After this race, I felt crushed. Two of my goals for the Whitewater Grand Prix were to be calm and race a race without major mistakes, and to keep a positive attitude and have fun with the other athletes. After this race was over I was so disappointed in myself for not reaching my first goal that I was having a hard time getting a good score report from Leif on my second goal. Given a little distance and time, I now see that there was no reason for me to be so hard on myself at this point in the competition. I had been paddling some great whitewater really well and whether I performed by best during the races wasn't the whole picture. When you are in the moment, racing with the best kayakers and not really connected to the broader world, it is easy to loose perspective and be too hard on oneself. I remember while playing volleyball my sophomore year in high school I was too hard on myself and didn't end up having fun or improving as much as I wanted to. I completely changed my attitude my Junior and Senior years when I realized that I just loved being on the court playing. Having fun during the match was more important than the outcome. Because I was less fixated on the outcome during the games, I was more focused, having more fun, and ended up doing very well. For my next kayaking race or competition, I am going to strive to find that place inside me where I am just loving kayaking at that moment. I know it is there, because I have experienced it before and I know that I can find it again.

Leif and I finishing a portage in the upper gorge.  Photo by Momo Castillo.

Dulce Amor
Check back in a few days to read about the Big Water portion of the Grand Prix at the Futaleufu. And in case you missed them, here are the links to my previous posts in this series:
Back from the Grand Prix
Stage 1: Gol Gol
Stage 2: Puesco
We don't have many photos from the race, but we paddled the Nevados quite a few times while we were in Chile and one of those times it was sunny so we did a Nevados Photo shoot. Enjoy!


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