To film Valhalla, the cinemaniacs at Teton Gravity research went to great lengthsof rope, that is
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LONG A FAVORITE DESTINATION among canyoneers, the French colony of Réunion, east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, is nicked with dozens of tumbling whitewater slots that run from 10,069-foot Piton des Neiges, the island’s highest point, to the coast. But until Brad Ludden, fellow pro paddlers Ben Selznick and Seth Warren, and a crew from extreme-sport film producer Teton Gravity Research showed up, apparently no one had yet thought to bring along a kayak. For the Réunion sequence of Valhalla, TGR’s second kayaking film—which will tour the United States in April—the trio of twentysomething boaters spent three weeks last December clambering over huge, slick boulders and rappelling 500 feet down into fissures such as Takamaka Canyon to scout and reach long, cascading water slides and waterfalls.
“A lot of the time we were totally focused on kayaking, so we didn’t think about the height,” says Ludden, who would ordinarily have no trouble pointing his boat over a 30-foot waterfall. “But sometimes we were so scared that we didn’t think about kayaking.”
To put in to Réunion’s Class VI rivers, Teton’s production crew coached Ludden, Selznick, and Warren—none of whom were expert climbers—down sheer cliffs to narrow ledges. They carabinered kayaks to their harnesses on the way down to the water; once there, they gingerly stepped into their boats and sealed their skirts before unclipping from the ropes and shoving off. Landings were trickiest in Bras Rouge Canyon, on the west side of the island, where pools below the falls turned out to be just five feet deep. After one Hail Mary off of a 40-foot-high cataract, recalls Selznick, “I landed OK, but then looked behind me and saw all this sediment rising up from the river bottom. I was like, ‘Whoa. That was close.'”