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After fall break this year, I packed up and headed down to finish out the semester in Chile with New River Academy. One of my main goals for this year has been to get better at running waterfalls, and controlling myself in free-fall, so that I would be able to move on to bigger drops. While the south east has a ton of great waterfalls, I knew that Chile had more accessible, clean water falls that run off of snow melt and are not dependent on rain. So, I made my way down to South America after the Green Race, and arrived in Chile, thankful that all of my gear, including my brand new Villain S, had made it on the plane. My waterfall training started right away! After a long drive south to Pucon, the first day of paddling that we had was a park and huck twenty footer. Over the next few weeks we ran tons of waterfalls. We did laps on the Rio Palguin, and the Rio Nevado, and it seemed like we were running several fifteen to thirty foot drops everyday. After a few weeks in Pucon, the school headed north to spend ten days at the Rio Claro. The Rio Claro is possibly one of the world’s best waterfall playgrounds. It is a pool-drop, low volume style river, and around every bend, there is another incredibly clean drop. This is one of my favorite rivers in Chile, and we were able to finish up the semester having run every runnable section of the Claro.
After six weeks of running waterfalls everyday, I ended the semester feeling pretty confident in my ability to run twenty to thirty foot drops. One of my goals coming down to Chile was to leave feeling confident enough to run some bigger drops. I knew that Chile would be the place to step it up, so I changed my plane ticket, and decided to stay an extra week on my own in Chile. Ideally, I would have liked to run a twenty footer, then a thirty footer, then a forty, fifty, sixty, and so on. But unfortunately, it’s hard to find that many clean drops, to catch them at good levels, and have the right crew together. I began to realize that if I wanted to run bigger drops while I was on my own in Chile, I would have to take a BIG step up. So far the biggest vertical drop that I had run was thirty feet.
Two days after school was out, a couple of my friends and teachers packed up and headed south in search of big waterfalls. The first drop we came to was called Salto del Nilahue. I was terrified the second I saw it. It was at least twice as big as anything I had run, and due to a recent volcanic eruption, the water was contaminated with ash. There was pumice (a.k.a floating rocks) in the pool at the bottom, and there was a super undercut wall on river left at the bottom that all the water pushed into if you popped up left of the boil. Despite how nervous I was, I knew this was a drop that I wanted to run. I watched some of my friends go first. Out of three runs, there were two swims. Feeling slightly more nervous now, I geared up for my turn. I seal launched in about twenty feet above the lip, and I was committed. I held a big right stroke about halfway down, and then tucked up. It was a really soft hit, and I had a pretty good line, popping up to the right of the boil, so that I didn’t even have to worry about the undercut.
After this, we made a stop by the Rio Fuy, where we had the first descents of a thirty-five footer, then we headed back North to Pucon. My week was almost up, and when the last day came around, everyone knew my last goal before I left. All quarter, we had been talking about the infamous Middle Palguin, a perfect 70 foot waterfall. So, we rallied that morning, and went to the put in. After walking across a sketchy swinging bridge, we were ready. I put my boat on the edge of the seal launch, and slid in, committing my self to 70 feet of free-fall. I took a little bit to big of a stoke at the lip, and flattened out, so I stomped my bow down as hard as I could, and landed with a good angle. I rolled up at the bottom, and gave a huge fist pump. This was an awesome way to end my trip to Chile , and I was super pumped that I was able to meet my goals.

Check out these pictures and video of some of the drops we were running in Chile.

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-Hunt Jennings