Friday, February 3, 2012

Rio Cochamo

The Cochamo valley at it's finnest.
Preface: Christmas day I kayaked the Portage rapid on the Rio Palguin and crashed. It gave me a serious beating against a rock. A week later and we are trying to paddle the Rio Cochamo, and I am dealing with rather severe pain in my left shoulder.

Our alarm clock.


The beta we were collecting on the Rio Cochamo was spot on Chilean. Loose. None of the stories add up, and there was a constant downplay on the size of drops, not to mention the lack of directions to and from the river. The stories of paddling the river over the past 15 years were as varied as they come. "Sieves on top of sieves with logs, super clean, it's the Chilean Yosemite, big rapids, smooth granite, slides, hike in, use horses, complicated, don't use horses, multi-day, one day." The beta on this run was almost comically bad. The only consistent beta was that in a very remote part of southern Chile there was a river and it was worth paddling.

Boats precariously balanced in one of the beautiful inlets of the Pacific Ocean.
Our group was quickly forming, and the addition of another rental car sealed the deal for our trip. Casey Tango, Godon Klco, Anna Bruno, Matt Smink, Seth Dow, and I packed the rigs and set our sights south. A full day of driving later and we were nearing Puerto Varas. The scenery was incredible as we passed by Lago Llanquihue and multiple volcanoes. Small inlets from the Pacific Ocean came into sight and my jaw dropped. We were passing through some of the most beautiful parts of Patagonia.
Our poor rental truck, slightly overloaded.
Lago Llanquihue and one of the countless volcanos.
After another hour of incredible scenery we arrived in the town of Cochamo. The town was bigger then I had pictured in my imagination, and the river was wide and flat. The water level looked acceptably low, more than a few inches below the buttress in the middle of the bridge. That evening was spent arranging horses and packing the necessities for our mission the next day. We had decided to hike the boats in and have the horses carry the food, camping equipment, and the rest of the kayaking gear. We would camp overnight at La Junta and paddle downstream the day after, New Year's Eve.

Our cowboy for the trip.
For more info on using horses see how to travel internationally with a kayak. 

That evening I was on the fence about whether I was physically able to paddle or not. After another spike of pain my mind was set. It was not worth risking the team's safety for my desire to paddle. This was an exceedingly hard decision to make. I have suffered plenty of injuries over the years, but this one was really hurting me mentally. I was going through my nightmare scenario, flying back to the states, having surgery, getting a "real job," and not being able to kayak.

The next morning we drove the vehicles along the river to the end of the road. Some place along the drive the rental car received it's first flat tire. Get the wrench, loosen lug nuts, raise car, take tire off, spare on, lower car, and tighten nuts. At this point in the trip I was feeling like a NASCAR mechanic. Next we talked to the cowboy that was going to wrangle the two rented horses to the top of the river. Casey, Gordon, and Seth shouldered their kayaks and started up the 10 kilometer hike. Anna, Matt and I followed behind carrying cameras and water. The aging access trail consists of braided trenches stamped into the earth by millions of hooves.

Gordon Klco hiking through the trenches.
After a full morning of hiking and multiple creek crossings we reached the kayaker's put-in location. Looking further into the valley the granite walls grew tall and polished. We pushed forward another hour or so and reached camp. The entire team immediately collapsed and devoured our hodge podge lunch. You really haven't had anything like a manjar, aji pebre, mustard, avocado, cheese, and tuna fish sandwich on squished bread.

The view looking up from the bridge in Cochamo.
The group slowly began to motivate, setting up camp and going on other hikes. After years of kayaking my brain always has rivers in the subconscious. After spotting a sign reading Cascade Trail, I laced my shoes back up and went for a look. The scenery was unreal. There were massive mountains made from one single piece of polished granite. The granite was covered in snow and ice, and it was slowly melting and quickly cascading back down to camp.

Next generation.
The next morning the kayakers woke up early and hiked back down the trail to their put-in location. That left Anna, Matt, and I to do some other side hikes and enjoy a rowdy, natural slip-in-slide. 

New Year's Eve
Star trails for New Years.
The group re-met at the vehicles. Stories were shared about a broken boat, sieve laden rapids, and a hike out just shy of completing the run. The beta on this run stays confusing, and once again all I know is that it is worth it. The new year was celebrated with tired bodies and great memories in a beautiful valley.

Celebrating New Years with some wine and a beautiful view.

Write up and photos by Chris Baer

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