Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Rio "Blanco"

High water line on the "Cali" drop,
The epitome of nervous anticipation, kayak an illegal canyon, with a very committing gorge, at high flows.

The weather in Futaleufu had turned rainy and the rivers were rising, after a great high water paddle of Inferno canyon I received a call from Matias Nunez. He said that the flows on the "Blanco" were starting to come up. I needed to catch a bus out of Futaleufu immediately. Walking out of the town of Futaleufu I bumped into Clay Wright and friends, and caught a ride across the Chilean Argentine border to the town of Esquel. The next day I caught a bus to a speck on the map and waited on the side of the road hoping that Matias would show up.

Manuel Carignan, dangerously close to anther undercut wall
An hour later Matias's pickup truck came into view and I was greeted with Yerba Mate and a warning that the river was a little higher then Matias had previously though, he said,"I might walk a couple things, but you have to run it all." I was already nervous from previous rumors of, walled in canyons, big drops, and the fact that if you are not from Argentina it was technically illegal to paddle. The entire river is on private property and the American owner doesn't want any one on his property. Luckily for the locals, there is a lake on the property and Argentine law says you must provide access to water ways, for Argentinians.

The "Blanco" valley
The laws are simple, If you are Argentine you can access the water ways, if you are from anywhere else it's a no go. I was not supposed to be on the property, but that hasn't slowed me down much in the past. I like to think that almost all kayakers break laws on a regular basis. We are constantly blurring trespassing laws and changing in and out of wet gear in public.

Chris Baer, poping off another 10 footer
Stomping that nose down
The level was ten inches on the bridge gauge, and it looked bank full to me. The high flow made a couple of the bigger rapids super fun and also turned a couple rapids into a jungle portages. Over the next week I was blessed with the opportunity to sneak pass the gate keeper two more times and paddle with Matias Nunez, Facha Morron, and Manuel Carignan. We paddled at a variety of flows from 10 to 2 inches. The locals talk about these flows as "damn that is high", all the way down to, "most people still call this high".

Manuel Carignan, tucked deep down in the "Blanco" canyon
The river is simply amazing, bright blue glacial water, tucked between polished granite, in a 200 ft deep canyon. The river features are as beautiful as the scenery. From the top you get a tricky double drop, boof to slides to vert, boof to stumpy walled in hole, 10 footer to off angle 20+ footer, slide into a nasty wall, 8 footer that kicks like a mule into a mandatory 40 footer, 10 foot almost vertical slide into a super committing canyon, 200+ foot tall walled in boogie, and a nasty multi tiered rapid to get you out of the canyon, and into the two mile class 4+ paddle out.

The "Blanco" is the epitome of class 5 creek boating.

another adventure by Chris Baer

Thursday, March 8, 2012


Crushing waves on the Rio Futaleufu
After finishing an amazing day on the Rio Manso I got a phone call. "Chris, it's Nate. Can you be in Esquel tomorrow? We need you to take photos for some clients that are coming in."

The night sky in Futaleufu
The next morning I woke up super early, and went to the bus station in Bariloche.  My plan was to catch the first bus out of town at 7 AM. There were already two kayakers waiting at the end of an overly packed bus who were trying to squish their kayaks into the cargo area. I immediately walked into the terminal and swapped my ticket to the next available bus. An hour and a half later I was packing my kayak into the back of the bus and trying to get comfortable for the six hour bus ride south to Esquel. Once there, I was picked up by Adriana Radwanski, the manager of H2O Patagonia. She gave me the low down about what was going on. H2O Patagonia had two clients coming to the Futaleufu for a week who were interested in a photo package. I was there to create that photo package. We hopped in Adriana's truck and headed for the Argentina border. When we arrived the skies started to let loose.  The rain was coming down hard, and then harder. By the time we made it to the front of the Argentine border checkpoint line it was a torrential downpour outside. My kayak gear looked interesting to the border patrol, and they asked to thoroughly search my baggage. By the time they got done looking through all of my gear most of it was sopping wet. Adrian and I finally got our passport stamps and were on our way to do the same song and dance on the Chilean side.

Wild flowers cover the valley floor
A couple hundred yards further down the road at the Chilean border my gear was under questioning again. "Have you gotten your equipment washed?" The Chilean border control was trying to say that there had been a recent influx of Didymo algae in the Futaleufu valley, and they wanted all of my gear disinfected. Didymo is an invasive slime that attaches itself to the bottom of rivers, eating away and stifling all the naturally growing plants. The Chilean government is now taking steps to help slow down the spread of Didymo by washing all incoming water equipment, including boats, waders, fishing poles, and my mostly dry union suit. The Didymo can easily be killed off by completely drying your gear for 48 hours, or washing it with regular dish soap. So my mostly wet gear, from being searched in Argentina, got completely drenched with soapy water as I entered Chile.

Double click on the photo and check out the pollen on the bee
Arriving at H2O's base camp I was blown away by the amazing view of huge rugged mountains, bright blue skies above, and wildflowers below. The guides took me to the back porch, where a wood-fired hot tub was placed above the river.  The sun was setting and lighting up the sky with a bright orange blaze that was reflecting off the glacial blue river. The Rio Futaleufu was showing off. My day of bumpy roads and wet gear was definitely worth that view alone.

Gorgeous views after a solid hike
H20's guides Pedro Fernandez Cid, Tomas Binimelischatted, and Nate Mac brought me up to speed on the week's itinerary. The trip was going to show off the surreal beauty of Patagonia.

An average eddy on the Futaleufu
Paddling duckies on the the Rio Espolon
Pillow rock on the Rio Futaleufu
Steer wrangling competition at Media Luna
Impromptu steer wrangling via bicycle
Canyoneering in Cajon Jelves
Fabio putting the finishing touches on a amazing desert
By the time we returned to base camp everyday we were starving and tired. Chef Fabio Roman de Luca was also tired. He had been in the kitchen all day creating another amazing meal. Turning out great meals in the remote Futaleufu valley is not a talent, but an art.

Small blue Kingfisher
An abandon building with a gorgeous garden
People place so much hype on paddling the Rio Futaleufu, but that's because it's worth it. The river really wants to be paddled. The water is relatively warm, the features are friendly, and the beautiful blue water with amazing mountain scenery creates a jaw dropping experience.

Futalefu hawk
After paddling both world renowned big water classics of the Futaleufu and the Zambezi within a short period of time, it's hard to say which I like better. The Zam is definitely more out of control. You just paddle into huge features and get annihilated. You can't do that as much on the Futa, it is a little more technical, and there are definitely a couple features that you don't want to paddle into. They are both gems, and both should be high on your list for amazing adventures.

Rafters in front of the Tres Monjas
Stay tuned for the next write up from an illegal river in Argentina that is slated for dam construction.
Another tale by Chris Baer