Friday, December 23, 2011

Road Tripping in Patagonia Chile

Casey Tango on the first water fall of the Rio Fuy

Rio Llancahue

Pucon was starting to dry out and the team packed the rental truck up to get on the road heading south. It was rather late in the evening when we arrived in the Rio Llancahue valley. After a quick search for camping we decided upon a grassy non-fenced portion of land near the river. The evening stars were magnificent and we were all happy to be out of Pucon.

Casey Tango and Gordon Klco getting dinner ready in a beautiful pasture

The sound of a tractor revving it's engine awoke me. Then I heard curse words, even though they were being yelled in Spanish, the tone was clear and we were definitely camping in the wrong spot. The tractor ran over the corner of Tango's tent, and its driver started beating our rental truck with a switch of bamboo. We packed up quickly but then noticed our truck had a flat tire. We proceeded to change the tire with the farmer glaring and cursing. Then we drove a couple kilometers up the road to get away from the angry local. The rude awakening shook the group a little. It took an hour of drying tents and sipping on tea to get the anxiety back under control.

I had a vague recollection of the put in location, but it still took a few minutes and a couple bee stings to find. The Llancahue's river bed reminds me of Colorado. The rock has a rough texture and there is an overall feeling of mank to the run. That aside, it still has some really fun rapids including a twenty foot water fall and a rowdy mini canyon.

Gordon Klco taking a big stroke into the unknown, Rio Llancahue
The run went real smooth, but we were all still a little agitated from our rude awakening. The group consensus was to continue to move south. We packed the truck back up and headed towards the Rio Fuy, after repairing the flat tire in the town of CoƱaripe.

The Road

Gordon Klco sitting in front of our rental truck with the tire off getting patched again
Living on the road isn't easy in Chile, it likes to poke at your wounds on occasion. As we parked the truck at the put in for the Rio Fuy Casey Tango noticed the distinct sound of air leaking out from yet another tire. We drove around the quaint town of Puerto Fuy looking for a vulcanization shop. Spotting a car jack in a lawn we pulled over to a small house. The young resident hopped in our truck as he gave us directions to the local mechanic. An hour, and six US dollars, later we had another patched tire. It seems as if Chile isn't really out to harm us, but it rather continually humbles us.

Rio Fuy

Gordon Klco popping off the first of the falls on the Rio Fuy
The Rio Fuy is the only place that I have ever put on a true lake, even though I have put in at plenty of dams in my life. Lago Pirehueico is the headwaters of this amazing river. We literally put in at the marina. There is a huge ferry nearby and a few other large commercial boats. I really enjoyed the feeling of paddling out of the lake and into the river as it constricts the flow of water and quickly picks up gradient.

The peaks near Rio Fuy
The largest volume run that we have done so far in Chile is definitely the Rio Fuy, which is about seven thousand cfs. It was really fun for me to get back on big water. The lead-in whitewater is classic big volume, with pushy rapids and a handful of hidden holes looking to give you a thrashing. The upper whitewater is super fun, but what I was looking forward to was the waterfall section. Two years ago I wasn't able to paddle this section because the flow was several times larger.

One of the Frenchies on the first falls of the Rio Fuy 
The waterfall section isn't just waterfalls, it is a layer of bed rock that turns the meandering river into a beast for a half mile. The first and easiest rapid is a clean twenty-plus foot drop. Second is a slope to six foot drop that lands in a boiling eddy. Third is a drop that reminds me of the Zambezi. It has a protected tongue that leads into a boiling eddy-line, wave-hole combo. Fourth, and a little too close for comfort, is the Bird Sucking Hole. The hole has the reputation of being so powerful it actually sucks birds out of the sky and into its depths. I don't know about all of that, but it did look like a body re-circulator. If the previous three drops haven't made you lose your nerve yet, a very thin left line is available over the hole. The finale is a protected twelve foot ledge with a tricky, blind lead in. If all that goes well, the normal take out is just down stream on your right.

Casey Tango sloping off the second drop in the water fall section of the Rio Fuy
Eager for more action? Continue down stream. The river mellows out for a few kilometers and then the gradient picks right back up as it nears Salto Huilo Huilo, a hundred and forty foot monster waterfall. There are a few continuous rapids, and then the river breaks up through a hand full of islands where it becomes obvious that its time to start scouting. Here there is an elaborate rapid with multiple channels. I believe all the water in the left channel disappears into an underground fissure. The middle channel cascades dangerously close to the left line, and goes through an amazing double-tiered rapid. What water is leftover continues to the right through some tight slots and off a marginal twenty-plus footer. Remember to scout ahead, Salto Huilo Huilo is coming up quickly, and there are only a couple safe exit points before the falls.

Taking some time to enjoy the little things
Write up and photos by Chris Baer

Merry Huckmas from the Rios Palguin, Puesco, and Maichin

Casey Tango showing off the beauty of the Rio Palguin


Twenty minutes out of Pucon you come across the Rio Palguin, its attributes are stunning. The crystal clear water cascades down steep gradient that manages to pool up at appropriate places and plunge off of clean waterfalls the rest of the time. Two years ago I celebrated Christmas by trying to paddle as much of the Rio Palguin as I could in a day. This year I tried to step up and run even more, it didn't work...

Christmas morning the group started coming together, and early that afternoon I put on the Rio Palguin with eight friends. To paddle the entire river takes skill, guts, and a bit of luck. Our group of nine was about to test the limits of all of these attributes. The run starts with the very optional Salto Palguin, an 80 foot waterfall with a super tricky entrance. The entire group, and most mortals, start below this impressive Salto. The normal run starts with a busy lead-in rapid that drops into a sticky hole immediately backed up by a rolling eight foot ledge. Next is a fast paced hallway that hangs a tight ninety degree turn and falls off of a twelve foot ledge. The ledge has multiple rock flakes to launch off of at it's lip and one big hole to land in at its base. The third rapid is a super clean twenty foot falls. The twenty footer has an island in the middle, whichever way you pick, right or left, it offers similarly clean lines. Beyond the third falls the run transitions into boulder gardens for a bit.

Approaching the next horizon line is the first exit point out of the canyon, and on your right there is a well beaten trail. The horizon line is a twelve footer referred to as the Crack Drop. There are two islands separating the water into three different cracks. The left and middle cracks are paddle-able, but have a very marginal risk to reward level. The other exit point is just downstream on river left. This exit is exceedingly hard to spot from the water, and a guide is suggested for your first run. It would be very easy to miss the take out and accidently paddle into The Portage.

It's Christmas day and I am standing above The Portage, I'm feeling good and I have watched a handful of my friends paddle into it. Their lines all look very similar. Paddle to the edge of an eight foot crease and fall into the trough. Then they disappear under a rock that your standing on and reappear fifteen feet downstream. I have yet to see anyone in control as they reappear and immediately fall another twenty feet into the hydraulic below. This is the kind of rapid I have a tendency to laugh at and walk around. The risk to reward in my head just doesn't calculate.

Looking towards Casey Tango I giggle and said, "For the past four years I have been doing foolish things for Christmas."
Tango smiles. He says, "You have been doing foolish things your whole life."
That sealed the deal. I was going to borrow Casey's plastic hand paddles and doggy paddle my kayak into the rapid known as The Portage... I was thinking this isn't foolish, this is plain stupid, as I was trying to put the hand paddles on.

Hand paddling in moving current is something I have never done before. Sure I have played around in a heated indoor pool, but never ever tried to go downstream with them. The only reason I was contemplating the hand paddles is that the entrance move is rather easy, and once you fall off the entrance you are simply out of control. It doesn't matter if you have a paddle or not in there. There is absolutely nothing productive that you are going to do in that violent melee of swirling water under a rock. The fact is that a fair amount of people break their paddle, or worse, the paddle breaks them. The hand paddles seem to eliminate some of these variables.

Clutching the hand paddles in my teeth and sliding into the kayak my smile started to grow. I was doing something way outside of my comfort zone. The hand paddles were adjusted and slipped over my fingers, again my smile widened. Pushing away from the eddy I got the first feel of the moving current on my new means of propulsion. A couple strokes later and I eyed up my target. One last big push and the water engulfed me. I felt the immense power of the entire river landing on my shoulders. Then the chaos started, and I was flipping over. I expected the rapid to be violent and chaotic, I knew I was going to roll at least once. What I didn't expect was the next blow. My shoulder felt a sharp stab. All of my body weight, and most of the river's power slammed my shoulder into a rock. There was a fair amount of pain but the ride wasn't over. I felt my boat start to resurface and gave my wrists and hips a good flick. An eternity passed as I went cart-wheeling backwards off the twenty foot ledge. The impact at the base of the falls was rather unimpressive compared to the beating I had taken above. A few moments and thirty some odd feet below I snapped my hips and hands one more time and was sitting upright. I slowly hand paddled over to the edge of the eddy. My paddling companions with cameras and smiles on there faces awaited me.

"Sorry guys, my Christmas is over."

The throbbing in my shoulder was starting and I was concerned that I had done legitimate damage to it. The hike out of the canyon was by myself. I pondered what I had done in the last year to piss Santa off so much. Coal for Christmas was starting to sound good compared to the beating I just received.

The rest of the group continued downstream, minds set on a Merry Huckmas. A little boogie water and there is a mini canyon that has a tendency to acquire wood. After the mini canyon is another ominously named rapid, Boof to Swim. It is a twenty foot curler that comes off  the right wall and lands in a pocket hole. Depending on flows this rapid can be fun, or a guaranteed swim.

Josh Oberleas ditching his paddle on the Medio Palguin
The big one, Medio Palguin, is up next. This rapid has more video, stills, and write-ups then any other in Chile. It is a spectacular seventy foot falls that consistently gives paddlers the big waterfall taste they are looking for.

Gordon Klco peering over the lip of Medio Palguin
From Medio down the run tames a bit. There is one more suggested portage around Brennan's, a tight mini canyon that leads into a deadly undercut room. The take out is a few kilometers downstream at a well traveled bridge.


The Puesco is the best kayaking I have done in years. The tallest drop is under six feet and there is a good eddy every couple hundred yards. Rio Puesco is all about kayaking, there are no stunts, no portages, and the photos look bland. I have been referring to it as Chile's North Fork of the Payette. Heads up kayaking at it's finest for kilometer after kilometer.


Casey Tango paddling into another beautiful canyon on the Rio Maichin
Beautiful is the first word that comes to mind when describing the Maichin. The river passes through a handful of gorgeous moss covered canyons. The overall class of the run is 3+ with fun boulder gardens and multiple channels. There are two rapids of note, the first one is early into the run and easily scoutable from river left. It is a multi-tiered drop that lands in a blasting hole, the downside to the rapid is that both walls are severely undercut. The other rapid of note is towards the end of the run, you can scout and or portage river right.

Casey Tango boofing the "hard" rapid on the Rio Maichin
Story and photos by Chris Baer

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Casey Tango putting down the landing gear at the Crack drop.
Another day in paradise... the Rio Nevado just out side the town of Pucon, Chile is an absolute gem. 

The doomsicle getting chopped up, to help weld Casey's boat.
Before we could paddle the Nevado, it was time to fix Casey's boat. The twelve inch crack was getting bigger by the day. We found a donor boat at Dave Hughes's Pucon Kayak Hostel. Oddly enough the donor boat was previously owned by two of my friends. Casey fired up the chain saw and we went into repair mode. An hour later Casey's boat was looking good and it was time to go kayaking.

Gordon Klco flying through the Crack drop.
This year Pucon is dealing with rather low water. I feel lucky that Casey Tango, Gordon Klco and I were able to catch a good water level on our run of this amazing creek.

Gordon Klco getting his nose down at Dulce Amor.
The Nevado might be one of the best, and most well rounded creeks I have ever gotten the chance to paddle. The rock is extremely polished granite covered in slick green moss, the water is crystal clear, there is a fun slide with a rowdy step-up jump in the middle of it, and three different twenty foot drops!

Casey Tango looking for the auto boof.
The day was going super smooth. Casey's boat floated. All of us had fun lines on the big drops until... The second to the last drop. I gave Gordon some horrible Chilean-style beta, and he tried his best to follow my verbal directions over a dry, two foot tall rock. Gordon fell off of the back of the rock and into the hole. He did an amazing stern pirouette and then landed on his head. The right wall denied his first roll attempt and he started washing down stream. Next, a well placed branch slipped between Gordon and his paddle. The fight was on. A couple more unsuccessful roll attempts  and an undercut rock sealed the deal. Gordon jumped out of his boat and was quickly swept into the next sieve pile of a rapid. Which happens to be the only ugly rapid on the entire section. To my amazement, only seconds later, Gordon was able to scramble on top of a rock in the middle of the junky rapid. The clean up went well, except for Gordon's missing paddle, and we were all excited to see the first booty beer of the trip get consumed. Two days later on our next trip down the Rio Nevado, his paddle reemerged just feet away from the swim location.

Photo and write up by Chris Baer

Sunday, December 4, 2011

International travel with a kayak and buying a lemon vehicle in Santiago

International travel with a kayak and buying a lemon vehicle in Santiago

Gordon Klco making the Garganta look beautiful, photo by Chris Baer
Asheville North Carolina to Santiago Chile with a kayak

I am always apprehensive before flying with my kayak.  This trip to Chile was no different. I actually was adding to the gamble by driving from North Carolina to Georgia the night before the flight. Once arriving in Georgia in the early morning I had a couple errands to do. I picked up a roll of Gorilla tape, a new pair of Dickies, mailed out a check and paddle, and the biggest errand, find a storage place in Georgia to leave my truck. (the new nineteen eighty-four  F150 still doesn't have a name, if you have a good name leave it in the comments below) I managed to get all of the errands done just in time for the rain to start coming down. That meant that I got to arrange the storage location and do the final pack in a down pour.

My "Grandma, or wave ski, or kayak" whatever it needs to be called to get on the plane, photo by Chris Baer
I called for a mini van taxi four and a half hours before my plane was scheduled to depart. After a funny conversation with the cab driver about my "grandma" in the big black bag in the back of his mini van, he dropped me off at the terminal. The check in process is always risky with a kayak, the boat simply does not fit into any of the specified sizes. Some kind words,  use of the always persuasive "don't worry I do this all the time", and checking in with all of her associates, the baggage person finally gave my "wave-ski" a baggage ticket. My apprehension vanished, my boat was checked, it is all under mycontrol from here...

The Posse in a cab to the used car lot, Photo by Chris Baer
Finding and buying a used car in Santiago

Day 1
Arrive in Santiago and find out that Casey Tango and Gordon Klco have had their flight delayed 3 hours, worse Gordon was not able to get his boat on his flight out of Denver. I make my self comfortable in the Santiago airport and await there arrival. Four hours later I bump into Raul.  Raul is Gordon's contact in Santiago and I had bumped into him in CO a few years previous. As Raul and I start to chat Casey and Gordon made there way out of customs. The base of the team was together and all the gear was there minus Gordon's boat. We loaded Raul's car down with gear, and headed to Casa Roja, the hostel that we would base out of while in Santiago. Upon our arrival to the hostel a head popped out of one of the windows, it was Wes, our fourth. I felt like we were ahead of the ball having all of the people and almost all the gear in one spot. Raul was willing to up the ante one more notch as we piled into his car and took off to check out a couple used car lots before it got too late. We pulled to the back of the used car lot, and parked fifty feet away from our dream rig, a Mitsubishi Delica. The price was right, and it ran better then any 1990 Mitsubishi van from South America could be expected. We left the car lot with dreams of rallying the van all over South America.

Shelling out the cash for the Mitsubishi Delica, photo by Chris Baer
Day 2
Raul was busy in the morning, and we had a couple unanswered questions about the van. So we caught a taxi over to the car lot and checked out the Delica one more time... it looked good. That evening Raul meet us at the car lot and we bought the Delica... Raul bought the Delica. In Chile you need a RUT# (a social security number) to buy any expensive items. Raul was lending us his RUT # and technically became the actual owner of the Delica. We turn over a $1000 U.S. a piece for a 1990 mini van in... OK shape. We hop in our new whip and took off back to the Hostel. We all needed a good nights sleep, we were going to go kayaking on day three.

The Rio Claro

Day 3
Wes, Tango, Gordon and I wake up early, and head into the automotive district to put a kayak rack on the van. An hour later our van was looking pretty good, kayaks and paddles strapped to the roof rack, and everything four dudes need to survive in Chile for two months packed inside. It was actually happening... we were heading south on Rute 5 toward the Rio Claro. As we came to the town of Molina, the fuel tank only had a quarter tank of gas for the 50 km drive into the mountains. We had a quick conversation about whether we ought to stop for gas. The group agreed that we ought to stop, but our Chilean comrades were leading the caravan and had no intentions of slowing down. We finally stopped 20 kilometers out of town for beer. There were no more gas stations on our route into the mountains, and our drive to go kayaking got the better of us.

We continued up the mountain and as we neared the put in for the Veinte Dos Saltos the road got bad. Everyone got out of the van to spot the line, clear rocks, and to lighten the load on our poor Delica. The "four wheel drive" section went rather smoothly and the hopes and dreams of the Delica were coming true. We parked the van and began a short hike to the famous water fall run Veinte Dos Saltos, (twenty two) that's right 22 drops in only a few miles.

Casey Tango's boat after his first run in Chile, photo by Chris Baer
Our group is rather big, starting with the Chilean contingency of Raul his brother Nico and their friend Jose, and continuing with the gringo contingency of Wes, Tango, Gordon and I. Our large posse started into the Veinte Dos, Raul and Nico where giving us a little verbal beta, and we were boofing off of blind water fall after blind water fall. Quickly we entered into a very committing basalt canyon. Half way through the canyon Tango reached forward and got a huge boof off a 10 foot drop and cracked his boat. Tango  started sinking quickly, in what he claims to be his most committing canyon he has ever paddled. Tango's attitude stays positive as he dumps gallons of water out of his boat every chance he gets. As we reach the take out of the run I look around to see huge smiles on everyone's faces.  I was personally really pleased, the Veinte Dos section was my missing section to running all of the Rio Claro.

Raul and I hiked back up to get the vehicles at the put in, and all we could talk about was what was to come. Our state side boating group was about to do a lot of Chilean boating. Once at the van I jumped in and took a good look at the fuel gauge, it was low... really low. The Mitsubishi Delica was definitely not running shuttle the next day, but I thought it ought to get us back to town. We camped for the night, both Chilean and Gringo groups.

Fill up the fuel tank, and the beginning of the end

Day 4
The Chileans put there priorities in order over the evening and realized they needed to head back to Santiago to get ready for the following day. That left the Gringos at the camp site to tear down. We also had to get to Santiago to finish the paper work on the van. We were most of the way out of the mountains when the van ran out of gas. Tango and I grabbed one of the large gallon water jugs and began hiking and hitchhiking towards town. We walked about five kilometers when a truck stopped and we hoped in the back of it. The driver of the truck was Chilean and new the roads well, we were in for a terrifying hundred KPH ride, whipping pass cows, kids, and passing cars.

Once we safely arrived in town we went to the grocery store. We had hitch hiked in with a empty gallon of water that was to be our impromptu fuel tank and bought another gallon jug of water that would double our capacity. Upon arriving at the gas satiation the attendant refused to fill the jugs, he said the police would catch him. Tango and I walked directly to the other gas station in town and had no problems filling the containers. Next order of business was catching a cab the 30 km back to the van, after a little persuading we found a driver. Once we reached the van we fueled back up and the van fired back to life. We were on the road again, as we approached Santiago the van started getting warm the thermostat was rising but stayed within a reasonable temperature. We pulled into Casa Roja, and got a room for the evening.

Day 5
Woke up and decided to split our resources, Casey and Wes went to take the van to a local mechanic to get checked out. The mechanic told them he had a couple things to fix, and it is going to take a couple days. While this is going on Gordon, Raul, and I went to get the rest of the paper work for the van finished.

Day 6
Check in with mechanic and have a couple drinks.

Casey Tango hitting the wall at Casa Roja, or maybe he is about to get locked in a locker, photo Chris Baer
Day 7
More drinks and talking with mechanic. Santiago was draining us, no one in our group is a city person and we all simply wanted to go kayaking.

The Delica obviously overheating, photo by Chris Baer
It's a lemon, how to get a tow in Chile

Day 8
The van got finished and the bill was very reasonable. We picked up the van in the evening, and started the drive back south to the Rio Claro. We kept it fueled up this time, but it started to heat up as we started into the hills. This time the warming of the van was accompanied with noise, we shut it down promptly and pulled over. We quickly diagnosed the problem in the dark and realized nothing was going to get fixed till the morning, we slept in a tree farm on the side of the road.

The knot of Chile, the double overhand, it even works to tow vans, on dirt roads up hills and down highways,  photo by Chris Baer
Day 9
Wake up early and try to start the van, we crank the engine and get nothing. We turned it over some more, nothing, more cranking nothing , more nothing, finally the battery ran out of juice. There was almost no traffic on the road that early in the morning and we decided to try push starting the van. The van would pop, stutter, and idle while in gear on the down hills but as soon as the hill flattened the van died. Once the van stopped puttering down the hill, we would get out and push it to the next hill. After a few miles of pushing the van a local fruit vendor offered to tow us into town. We attached the van to his truck with a ten foot piece of nylon cord. Amazingly enough the fruit vendors overhand knots held and 30 minutes later we arrive at the mechanic in Molina. The mechanic diagnosed a couple of problems, first was an adjustment with the distributor cap, secondly there was a noise in the front of the engine. The noise in the front of the engine had been diagnosed by the mechanic in Santiago earlier in the week and we decided to get back on the road. As we drove back into mountains the van was missing a bit of power, and upon going down the first big hill the temperature shot up. We limped the van up a couple hills and it became very apparent there was still a major engine problem. Once again we slept on the side of the road.

Getting towed down the highway getting passed by a double decker bus, photo by Chris Baer
Day 10
Again we can't start the van, we push it and try jump starting it. We eventually get a tow to a steep hill and drop the clutch on the hill, the van starts back up but it is running real rough. We make it two kilometers and can't get the van up a big hill. Again we wait for a tow up the hill, once at the top we push start the van again. The van fires up and we make our last go at it. Another 4k and the van stops running for it's final time. We wait for another hour or so and catch a tow by a couple exceedingly nice men, Pancho and his father Jose. The Chileans offered up a tow to there house in Curico. We quickly accepted there offer, and arrive in Curico. Pancho's mother greets us at their door and makes us a great local lunch and treats us like family.

Street art in Curico, photo by Chris Baer
Day 11
The groups threshold is being pulled at from every imaginable angle. It looks like the van was the first one to give up. Wes was the next one to leave the group, he awoke and caught a bus to Pucon. Tango and Gordon are feeling the financial crunch, and I am wondering how I was able to pull off so many adventures with out this kind of epic failure happening. We crash at Pancho's house for a second night waiting out the weekend, and get a local Spanish lesson.

Hitting the reset button

The Delica getting loaded onto the flat bed tow truck for it's final adventure, back to Santiago, photo by Chris Baer
Day 12
Monday morning we loaded the van on a tow truck and make the three hour drive back up to Santiago. The tow truck driver drops the van back off in front of the dealer that we bought it from a week and a half previous. The auto dealer was quizzical on our return, Raul had spoken to him on Saturday, but I don't think the dealer really expected the van to get dropped back off. Raul showed up a little while later and spoke harshly with the dealer. A resolution was worked out, and we might be seeing some cash back for the van... I am currently writing it up as a very expensive life lesson.

Raul then packed us in his car and we took off looking to find a more functional vehicle... a rental truck. After a little internet shopping and a dozen phone calls we managed to find a two wheel drive pick up. The rental fee got reduced to an  amazingly low price of $44 dollars a day, not bad compared to the listed $65 dollars.

Pancho, Jose, and Erika sending us off in our rental truck, photo by Chris Baer 
Day 13
Wake up at Casa Roja, and have our rental truck delivered to the parking lot adjacent to the hostel. We pack the truck to the brim and take off once again to the Rio Claro. Five hours later were in our boats and paddling the beautiful Veinte Dos Saltos section.

Casey Tango sliding through Garganta del Diablo, photo by Chris Baer
Gordon Klco boofing through the upper Entres section, photo by Chris Baer

The next few days are filled with paddling the Claro, sleeping in the dirt, eating great self cooked meals, drinking cheap beer, and finally being on vacation.

Gordon Klco, happily sleeping in the dirt, photo by Chris Baer
Photos and words by
Chris Baer