Futaleufu Region, Chile, South America
By Deb Scisco
When I got on the plane for a last minute trip to the Futaleufu Region of Patagonia, Chile, little did I know 7 days later I would be paddling a class V+ river rapid. Below is my diary of this fearsome yet inspiring adventure.
Day 1â€“ Flying to the southern end of South America is a daunting task; especially if you don’t bring your sleeping pills. This day consisted of 23 hours in coach class trying to ignore the misery of the flight. The price you pay to reach paradise!
Day 2 – Flying into Puerto Montt, Chile was brilliant. The different colors of green blending with the blue of the rivers were everything I imagined Patagonia to be. We were met at the airport by our hosts and off we went to our hotel in Puerto Varas, Chile for a much deserved rest and a gourmet meal at one of the town’s best restaurants. Here I was introduced to the Pisco Sour, the traditional drink of Chile. Good thing the next day was a day of rest!
Day 3 â€“ Today we hopped onto small charter planes and flew into Chaiten where we started our 3 hour journey to Futaleufu. The scenery was spectacular. Everywhere I looked there were huge mountains with blue glaciers seeping from their summits. My first peek of the Futaleufu River gave me quite a shock. I couldn’t believe the color! It was like seeing a tributary of the Indian Ocean running through the Andes Mountains. Utterly breathtaking!
Our lodge (called the Quincha in Chile) captured the essence of the region. Built on a 175 acre organic farm on the banks of the Futaleufu, with an open bar, gourmet chef, riverside hot tub and massage therapy, we were sure to be spoiled during our week-long trip.
Day 4 â€“ I woke on my feather bed to the sound of the Futaleufu River. Rising up from underneath my down comforter, which kept me comfy and warm inside my riverside cabana, was a tough task. I walked up the hill to the Quincha just in time to grab a warm cup of coffee and perform some moves with the yoga instructor. After enjoying a gourmet breakfast of traditional Chilean cooking, we headed out for the river to paddle some class IV rapids on the Bridge to Bridge Run. We were working our way up to the class V.
Paddling through rapids called Magic Carpet, Pillow (where we had to high-side), Mundaca, Puma and more, we made it through without any mishaps. Not to say it wasn’t action packed â€“ I think I had a permanent smile all day!
Day 5 â€“ I woke this morning with the worst sinus infection I have ever experienced. Therefore, I begged off the planned activities for the day and instead relaxed inside the Quincha. I can’t imagine a more peaceful place. Meanwhile, the rest of the crew was experiencing their first class V rapid on the Futaleufu. I can’t believe I missed out!
|Pretending To Smile Before the Terminator Rapid!|
Day 6 â€“ Today I woke still suffering from the sinus infection but I wasn’t going to let it stop me from enjoying the river. We grabbed some inflatable kayaks and paddled a class III tributary. It was relaxing and fun, some of my fellow paddlers had a spill, but nothing serious.
Day 7 â€“ Today we had the choice of horseback riding with the Huasos (Chilean Cowboys) or taking our inflatable kayaks down the class IV Azul River. After much debate, I opted for the kayaking. I just couldn’t stay away from the river!
Our first challenging rapid came right after lunch. We had the choice of walking our boats around or running it. I decided to go for it. I was the second person to paddle it, not because I had No Fear, but because I just wanted to get it over with! I started out okay but somehow ended up turning myself around so that I was paddling through the rapid backwards! I almost made it but a wave at the bottom hit me from an angle and flipped my boat. The water was so cold it was shocking but one of the safety kayakers picked me up right away and I was safely towed to the raft.
My second swim of the day happened while paddling another class IV rapid. I hit a rock sideways and tried to lean into it, but in the end the river was stronger and flipped me over. When I popped up from underneath the water, my safety kayaker was right there to save me. He paddled me to the canyon wall where I used my climbing skills to maneuver my way over to the paddle raft and safety. One of the guides holding my kayak looked at me and said, “Deb, you have to jump right back in and start paddling”. I agreed and hopped back into my kayak, facing my fears, which at this point were almost overwhelming.
My last swim was almost comical. I hit another big wave sideways and was turned over immediately. Once again, the safety kayaker was there to catch me before I was swept away down the canyon. He pulled me to the canyon wall where I hung on with three of my fellow kayakers until the paddle raft came by to pick us up. The guides at this point were so busy grabbing empty kayaks, paddles and swimmers that we stayed safely in the paddle raft until the take-out. What an adventure! I will never forget this day, I was challenged and I faced my fears head-on. What a rush!
Day 8 â€“ Our last day consisted of paddling (in paddle rafts) through the class V+ Terminator Rapid, aptly named for the huge hole in the middle of the rapid, which once kept a boat inside for 6 days. We were told by our guides that we were not allowed to swim in this rapid (as if we had a choice if the boat flipped!) My guide was a strong South African with a great smile and the ability to hit every line of every rapid with perfection.
|Lunch Pit Stop|
When we reached the top of Terminator, we stopped to allow the guides to scout. Once they had their plan, we very carefully (and very skillfully I must say) made our way to the river bank on the other side located half-way through the rapid. I couldn’t believe the size of the holes in this rapid; they towered over us like giants. On the riverbank we spent more time scouting the bottom half of Terminator. With our plan intact, we hopped back in the boat ready to paddle our way through the most dangerous portion.
However, our plan was foiled. Our guide’s oar got stuck in the loop holding the dry bags, making us miss our left turn to safety. Instead, we were swept right into the middle of the rapid and got sucked into the largest hole I have ever seen. Our guide yelled for us to get down and we did immediately, spending the next few minutes cowering inside the boat while he maneuvered us out of the hole with one oar. Once we were released from the hole, the rest of the rapid was a blur. A series of high-sides, get downs, paddle right, back paddle, etc. left me dizzy. All I could hear were the commands from our guide and the roar of the river around us. However, it was amazing how clear my head was and how I could feel the rhythm of the team working together.
We made it through Terminator and all the rapids below it safely, which I attribute to our guides. Without them, I never would have challenged my inner fears and paddled a class V+ rapid. To all the guides and staff of this amazing trip, I would like to say thank you. You gave us the experience and adventure of a lifetime. As for myself, I am inspired to try more class V whitewater adventures in my travels around the world.
Deb Scisco is the owner of Outdoor Beyond, a provider of Adventure and Expedition Travel for Women. Her trips range from walking tours of Italy to climbing expeditions in Nepal. You can reach her by phone: 888-217-4287 or on the web at: www.outdoorbeyond.com