White Water Tourists in Chile!
Chile, what a lovely country. Culture, scenery, Senoritas and big rivers to dream of. We were in Chile from late January to late February. This is usually a little late but this year, they had a record snowpack so we weren't exactly short of water. To put it mildly. We were joined by Marc Musgrove and Emma Woods for most of our Chilean adventures. Splendid people.
This was a problem. There is a useful web guidebook at www.awa.org/awa/river_project/Chile/index.html but it's painfully out of date and very vague. A new printed guidebook is coming out right now, too late for us. The best general info came from 'Phoney Planet' and 'Rough Guide'. The Chilean road maps are awful, but the regional hiking/ rafting maps of the Andes are great. 'Lonely Planet Latin American Phrasebook' saved our lives on several occasions.
Rivers We Paddled
* - 'Trip Highlight'. Do it!
Chile's rivers were very varied, from huge volume to small gnarly creeks. Scenery was often nothing short of awesome.
Claro - Grade ?. The Famous 'Seven Teacups' waterfalls. A very enjoyable short paddle, not much skill needed to survive.
*Trancura Alto - Grade 4 (4+, 6). A stunning big water trip near Pucon, backed by amazing volcanoes and with good playspots.
Trancura Bajo - Grade 3+. The continuation of the above trip, a big and bouncy lower section down to Pucon.
Michin - Grade 3/4 (P). A first-rate gorge trip near Pucon, reminiscent of the Spean Gorge in the UK. One of the best 'intermediate' trips we did anywhere.
Palguin - Grade 5 (P). Apparently a great waterfall run near Pucon. Unfortunately it was too high on both occasions we went to paddle it, causing huge towbacks and making it the only river we walked out of in our whole trip!
Liacura - Grade 2. The local beginner's river near Pucon, it has the local 'park-n-play' wave. Nothing to write home about, though.
Fuy - Grade 4, easing to 3. This has a classic waterfall run. However, water levels were huge when we were there. Locals warned us off it and we only ran the big volume lower section.
Chamiza - Grade 2 (3) - We went to this as it was near Puerto Monte where we were waiting for a ferry. It was pretty dire, very few real rapids despite it being in near flood. Miserable weather, and Mark walked the ten mile shuttle.
Azul - Grade 4. This Futaleufu tributary was our warmup to the area. Everything was in flood for the entire time we were down there. The Azul was excellent, amazing views of the surrounding peaks and a playful gorge to finish. Remarkably like an Austrian River, but bloody cold.
*Futaleufu - Grade 4+ (5, 5+). Please beam us back there now! Huge volume, huge holes and waves. The bridge to bridge section was crazy grade 4+ and 5 in flood. Upstream, Inferno Canyon and Terminator were immense and frightening grade 5-5+, but somehow always paddleable (not much choice once you were in the Canyon!). In a class of it's own. Be nice to see it in normal levels!
Espolon - Grade 2+ (6+). This amusing flooded little river passes the town of Futaleufu before entering the Futaleufu above Inferno Canyon. Don't put on the flat river upstream at Lago Espolon...hidden just around the first corner downstream is an astonishing gorge which would have been certain death if we'd done it! We nearly did, too.
Palena - Grade 3+ (4+). Another flooded Patagonian river! We tried to paddle this from it's source in Argentina, unfortunately we couldn't get across the border. The section we did was enjoyable but needed a big walk-in.
Petrohue - Grade 3+. A big blue water surfing experience on our way back north. There were much harder sections further upstream, but a look at the hole convinced us that we needed a break after the Futaleufu!
*San Pedro - Grade 3(3+). A fantastic big water play trip. Perhaps the best grade 3 river of our trip? Blue water and the odd great surf spot, it can't be bettered. Although perhaps they could sort out that first hour of flat water?
Cautin - Grade 4+ (P). A steep creek run on the road to the upper Bio Bio valley. Rather gnarly, it saw Marc Musgrove swimming after a tree encounter.
Naranjo - Grade 1. Oh God please make it end. This is the stream we paddled from Lonquimay (where we'd left our truck) en route to the Bio Bio somewhere downstream. Endless dull hot meandering led us to...
Lonquimay - Grade 1. Another flat ditch, this river took three hours slogging with loaded boats to bring us to the real river we were looking for...
*Bio Bio - Grade 4+/5 (although it was grade 2/3 for two days first). We spent two and a half days descending this lovely river self-support style. We chilled out and met some nice folks along the way in what is truly the rural back of beyond. On day three, we portaged the abominable new dam and ran Malleco Canyon. This took under two hours but is possibly the most beautiful section of river we've ever seen. Huge holes and kicking water to boot. The lower Canyons have already been dammed, this section is going the same way shortly. Simon and Marc sunbathed at the hot springs while Mark and Emma hitched the 470 km, 27 hour, 14 lift shuttle!
*Rio Laja - Grade 5. An amazing fast and frantic steep blast from it's source, a series of gorgeous waterfalls. Absolutely no rest for 30 minutes solid. Great campsite, too.
Rio Tinguririca - Grade 4. Big volume cold glacial silt. A good trip, with plenty of lurking holes to keep the interest up. There is apparently loads of hard paddling further upstream.
Rio Yeso - Grade 5. A super-steep creek near Santiago, Mark bottled as he thought it would be a portagefest...but Simon and Marc went for it and proved him wrong. Well, it looked like fun from the road...
*Rio Maipo - Grade 4+ (5, 5+,6). A big ugly looking river near Santiago. Some great stoppery boating was done by all. Simon and Marc ran most of the heinous looking sections in the upper valley and made it look (relatively) easy...
Simon encounters a big hole on the brown Maipo.
Rio Volcan - Grade 4. A small glacial river going into the Maipo, steep and continuous but with nothing nasty lurking on it. Quite an achievement, given the nearby rivers.
We hired a big pickup truck which at one point carried seven people and boats! It was a nice bit of luxury, and necessary for the roads we encountered...but cost over 50 dollars a day. Aaaarrggh! If you book beforehand (internet?) it should be a bit cheaper. Look for 4WD and air-con, neither of which we got. The PanAm highway is the way to get north and south quickly. Assume that you will be lost within minutes of leaving it.
To get to Patagonia, we took an overnight ferry...again, at huge expense. The only other mode of transport we used was hitching, easy when you have an attractive blonde woman with you. Remember to take one.
Accommodation and Food
Chile is a rather chic country...think Italy or Spain. Camping is easy with good sites. In towns, Hospedaje's are cheapish guesthouses...see Lonely Planet to find the best ones.
Food is great, steak and eggs are the national diet. Chilean sausage is great BBQ-ed. Avoid the bizzarre Curranto stew if you can (fish, mussels, squid, hotdog sausages, dough, other weird stuff...).
Perhaps the big downside of Chile. We had a budget of 20 quid a day which was barely sufficient...and we paid for the hire car and petrol on top of this. More expensive than New Zealand...certainly not the Third World!
A trip to Chile can't be highly enough recommended. Although info is patchy, the new guidebook should sort that out. You really need a bit of time spare as travelling distances are huge (and often monotonous) and rivers far apart. The Futaleufu is a reason in itself to visit the country.
The Himalayas apart, Chile was perhaps the best looking country of our tour. Deserts, rainforests, glaciers, fjords, volvanoes, altiplano, it has it all...not to mention rivers.