beginner and intermediate paddlers we are constantly
enticed by incredible class V rivers and rapids.
One of the most reverently spoken of is the Futaleufu
river in Chile. Recently Lora Cox went to Chris
Spelius' camp in Chile to see what everyone is
two middle-aged kayakers who took up the sport
a few years ago, first became aware of the gorgeous
Chilean whitewater from watching the Canoe and
Kayak shows on the Outdoor Life Network last summer.
There were several segments featuring the raging
sparkling blue-green water, the beautiful countryside,
and the simple agrarian life of the natives. Of
course, the shows emphasized the thrilling Class
IV and V runs. But there was something about the
undeniable beauty of the water that just kept
calling to us, like the mythological Sirens who
tempted Odysseus. After making a few phone inquiries,
we were assured that, although the area is renown
for The Greatest Whitewater on Earth, the outfitter
was prepared to accommodate us with some advanced
we'll likely never be Class V paddlers, we do
love rivers and paddling just as much as the young
testosterone-laden hair boaters and the seasoned
experts. We didn't want to miss out on being there,
just in case the Chilean government decides to
dam it up (like they did the Bio Bio). The final
factor in our decision was a desire to escape
a bit of the New England winter, since the seasons
are reversed in the Southern hemisphere. The outfitter
has one week trips as the standard, but we signed
up for two weeks. Final plans were made last October.
We signed up for a trip in March when the water
would be lower, when they would have staff ready
for our abilities, and when there would even be
other people there with similar skills to ours,
in addition to the hair boaters. March finally
arrived and we were off.
trying to describe the experience, it is difficult
to find superlatives that adequately express how
great the trip was. The outfitter came through
with the promise to accommodate our skill levels.
The trick to getting the outfitter's resources
matched with our skill levels was that we were
brutally honest in our self-assessment. There's
some serious water in Chile; an overly generous
self-assessment of one's skill level is self-defeating.
Chilean Class II seemed more demanding than New
England Class II. We paddled a total of 11 days
on three local rivers: the Rio Espolon, the Rio
Palena, and the bottom section of the Rio Futaleufu.
Most of our time was on the Espolon. There were
no crowds. A couple of outfitters in the area
run raft trips on the Futaleufu, so it is possible
that the hair boaters had to briefly share the
river with a couple of rafts. On our Class II
sections, however, we never encountered any other
this region is home of The Greatest Whitewater
on Earth, there's no shortage of qualified guides.
For five days, we were fortunate enough to have
Mike Hipsher as our guide/teacher. For the other
six days, the guy who owns the company, Chris
Spelius, decided to take up the challenge of helping
us improve our skills. Another guide, Rob Kelly,
a rodeo champion, was there but only paddled with
the Class IV-V group. Mike and Chris have many
years of experience paddling and teaching, and
have each earned worldwide recognition for their
superior skills. It was a honor to have both of
them paddling with us and to learn from them.
a way, it was surprising that Chris paddled with
us. He certainly could have pulled rank and gone
for the gusto on the big water with the hot paddlers.
After overcoming my initial surprise, and apprehension,
about paddling with him I came to recognize the
sincere appreciation he has for all aspects of
the sport and of the region. He has an intense,
and pure, love for paddling which allows him to
enjoy dinky Class II stuff. Each day we were with
him he had something appreciative to say about
the character of the clean blue-green water or
the beautiful scenery. He loved "being there"
as much as we did.
in the trip, I watched him teach an off-side roll
to Peter, a guy who usually sea kayaks but who
came to Chile with his whitewater hair boating
buddies. Peter learned the roll in 20 minutes,
and a big grin took up residence on his face.
I wanted that grin, and later asked Chris if he
would help me to try and learn the roll. It took
him a little longer to teach me, but I got the
roll. And the grin.
tested both Mike's and Chris' rescue skills; they
passed with flying colors. A couple of times we
attempted the bottom section of the Futaleufu,
which they maintain is a Class II. That's debatable.
It's big and pushy, but without serious consequence
(or so they say). During my "combat swim"
after flipping when two big, fast-moving, currents
converged, I was almost to shore when the force
of the rebound current pushed me back into the
main flow of the river. This necessitated Chris
doubling up his efforts of rescuing someone else
and then coming for me. We did not paddle the
Futaleufu; it paddled us. So we went back to our
old friend the Espolon and worked on improving
stroke technique and putting more "umph"
into our paddling.
is deceptive watching a good paddler; the strength
behind the strokes is not immediately apparent.
Those guys made it look like they weren't even
exerting themselves. I was determined to learn
the one-stroke stern draw ferry and was getting
it pretty good, on Class II water, just about
the time we had to leave. Other people might have
been disappointed about not becoming proficient
enough to paddle the famous Futaleufu, but we
were grateful to make the progress we did, to
learn from the teachers we had, and to be in such
a gorgeous warm environment in March.
day we skipped paddling in order to hike up to
the Throne Room rapid and watch the hair boaters
tackle it. Two of them normally paddle the Falls
of the Potomac; not surprisingly, they had impressive
runs with no major problems. Imagine our amazement
a few minutes later when we saw them running it
again, after carrying back to the top, this time
nailing their lines to the wall. Their runs were
beautiful. They got special recognition from Chris
that night at dinner.
from the energy level and conversations around
the table during breakfasts and dinners, the higher
skilled paddlers had as much fun on their runs
as we did on ours. It was great listening to tales
of their adventures, and learning a little bit
was a videographer/paddler at camp for the entire
season who would, for a price, shoot a video of
each paddler's runs. Because he mostly spent his
time with people on the Class IV-V stuff, I asked
him if he would include in my video runs of paddlers
on the difficult sections, as well as get shots
of camp and include the native Chilean support
staff who work hard so that we can play hard.
He did all that and put some nice Chilean music
to the 30 minute unnarrated video. I watch it
at least twice a month, sometimes more if I can
nab an unsuspecting friend and pop the tape into
the VCR. There are even a few, brief, shots of
us in the video. In one, I rolled up on the bottom
section of the Futaleufu after falling victim
to the power of a strong eddy fence. Thankful
to have rolled up and that the roll was caught
on tape; regretted flipping over without more
awareness of the hydrology in the first place.
part of Chile is remote, unpolluted, and sparsely
populated. People live simple lives there. The
water is without equal; it is breath-taking in
its splendor. I've got some pretty good color
pictures that don't begin to capture how beautiful
the water is. Usually glacial melt is a gray milk
color because of all the silt in it. This water,
however, melts from the glaciers and flows into
gigantic lakes where the silt settles out of it,
the sun warms it up a bit, and then it continues
into the rivers. The result is a sparkling blue-green
masterpiece of color that rivals the Caribbean.
When the water is splashing up in turbulence,
its brilliance puts the finest crystal chandelier
our experience, we can make a few recommendations
to anyone considering this trip. The outfitter
now has beginner trips and can accommodate people
who've never even been in a kayak before. Following
are brief notes to help anyone else who might
be thinking about planning a kayak trip to Campo
Plan well. Read all the info the outfitter has
carefully compiled, from years of experience,
in order for the trip to go as smoothly as possible.
Be brutally honest about your paddling abilities
so that you can go on a trip where you'll likely
have the most fun. If you end up paddling better
there than you had initially assessed yourself,
they'll happily take you on tougher sections.
There's no shortage of tough water or guides eager
to run it.
Put two trips together if you can. We went for
two weeks, as did another couple during the time
we were there; all four of us agreed that it was
the best for us. The woman in the other couple
wasn't serious about paddling and spent a lot
of her time riding horses, hiking, or hanging
out in camp reading by the shore of the Futaleufu.
She had a good time for two weeks while her boyfriend
adrenalized himself. Of course, by the end of
the second week I regretted not signing up for
Be prepared for a loooong trip, somewhere on the
order of 30 to 36 hours each way, depending on
where you begin. This doesn't include mechanical
or weather problems that may impose a longer travel
time. The Miami to Santiago leg alone is an 8
and 1/2 hour overnight flight. It's brutal. If
you can, stay at least one night in Puerto Montt
going each way. Once you get to kayak camp, you're
in a remote area without electricity or stores
nearby. Plan accordingly, and give yourself lots
of time to pack prior to leaving so that you can
think of the little things you might want to have
with you when you're there.
Be prepared to experience "camping"
as you've probably never enjoyed it before. Although
I could write an entire article about how great
camp was in its design and organization, here
are some brief remarks to tempt and tantalize.
Water from an underground spring has always tested
negative for bugs; so there's no hassling with
filtering or sterilizing water. Two outdoor hot
water showers; hot water obtained from wood fired
stoves. One stove is in the kitchen part of the
dining hall; one stove heats the sauna (yes, sauna).
Massage (yes, massage) services available most
evenings; cost isn't included in trip fee, however.
"Rack Room" area to hang wet clothes
and gear when you get back each afternoon. Solar
panel on dining hall building provides enough
electricity for dinner lighting. Food is excellent,
3 squares a day, prepared by a Chilean cooking
magician. A different freshly baked bread each
day. Some of the dinner entrees: spaghetti, pizza,
World's Best Marinated Salmon (Chile has a booming
salmon industry), Argentinian-style beef, lentil
stew. They can accommodate special nutritional
needs. Sleeping in a tent was about the closest
we came to "camping" during our time
at kayak camp.
The guides are isolated from most of civilization
during the entire season, from January through
March, and are therefore desperate for current
news. If you go on a trip and want to get in their
good graces from the beginning, take a few newspapers
with you. Mike was especially starved for the
NY Times. If he's there when I go back, I want
to find the Spanish edition of the NY Times to
give him. Then I'll wait a few days before giving
him the English version. After that, I'll hope
he's not the kind of guy to carry a grudge.
Come with a sense of adventure and remember the
area is isolated. It is remote to most modern
aspects of civilization and sometimes equipment
breaks down. This happened while we were there,
toward the end of the trip, to the workhorse shuttle
bus. Never missing a beat, Chris rallied his Chilean
contacts and quickly resolved the problem, finding
a substitute for the ailing bus. In such a remote
area with few alternate resources available, and
even fewer mechanics and buses, that was an amazing
feat. And all without imposing on our river time.
the summary of our Chilean kayaking adventure.
It appears that people of all paddling skills
can have a great time at kayak camp, named Tres
Monjas, in Chile. If you are interested in taking
a trip yourself, contact Expediciones Chile, at
www.kayakchile.com on the web, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org,
or call (888) 488-9082 to find out more. We highly
recommend the experience, and are trying to figure
out how soon we can go back. The outfitter really
does a great job. Anyone who's paddled for a while
will appreciate all the behind-the-scenes effort
and organization that goes into the trips.