haven't been doing any paddling lately as I am 6 months pregnant! Brendan
and I are very excited to say the least and are already scheming about
trying to spend a year in Chile once we get settled into parenthood...
" Here are my thoughts: When people ask me about my favorite memories during our year of traveling, my time at Campo Tres Monjas always comes to mind right away. I found that landscape to be incredibly beautiful, and the camp to be such a peaceful place to enjoy it. There was something about the quality of the light there - I could sit by the river for hours and watch the light change on the mountains. I loved the pace of life too, especially at camp. For me it was just the right amount of civilization - sleeping in our little tent yet being able to anticipate a warm kitchen and hot sopapillas. Don't even get me started on the food! It was unparalleled and kept us reminiscing through the rest of our time in South America!
I'll admit that I was a little apprehensive about taking a beginning kayak lesson in Chile, but it turned out to be a wonderful, safe, and empowering experience. Mike was a fantastic instructor for a beginner, made it fun and easy to learn. I'll never forget the exhilaration of finally "getting"my roll at the gorgeous bend in the river where we were practicing. It was also a lot of fun to come back to camp every day and find out what the advanced paddlers had done that day. I can't think of a nicer place to learn kayaking or to spend a week!
Dreaming of Southern-hemisphere sun from rain-weary Seattle”
Collette MacLean Seattle, WA.
Absolutely! We 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 that featured 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, a couple of middle aged Class II's who took up kayaking a few years ago. Although 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 also didn't want to miss out on being there, just in case the Chilean government decides to dam it up (like they did with 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. The trip is a haul and we could afford to take the extra time this year. Final plans were made last October. OK, we were ready and signed up for a trip in March when the water would be lower during the end of their summer, when they would have staff ready for our abilities, and when there would even be other people there with similar skills in addition to the hot shots. 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; self-aggrandizing about one's skill level is
self-defeating. What they called Class II seemed much more serious
than the Class II here in New England. We paddled a total of 11 days,
on the Río Espolón, the Río Palena, and the bottom
section of the Río Futaleufú.
Since 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. In 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's got an intense, and pure, love for paddling which allows him to have fun on dinky Class II stuff. Aside from being a very good teacher and communicator for us to learn, 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" every second as much as we did. Early in the trip, I watched him teach Peter, a guy who usually sea kayaks but who came to Chile with his whitewater hair boating buddies, an off-side roll. Peter learned the roll in 20 minutes, and I watched with envy as 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.
I tested both Mike's and Chris' rescue skills; they passed with flying colors. A couple of times we attempted the bottom section of the Futaleufú, which they maintain is a Class II. It's nothing like any of the Class II's around here. It's big and pushy, but without serious consequence (or so they say). During my "big 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 Espolón and worked on proper stroke technique and putting more "umph" into our paddling. It is so 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. My biggest lesson from that trip is to paddle with more "umph." I was determined to learn the one-stroke stern draw ferry and was getting it pretty good, on the 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 Futaleufú, 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.
One day we opted to skip paddling in order to hike up to the Throne Room rapid from camp. We wanted to watch the big boys tackle it. Two of the guys on the trip regularly paddle the Falls of the Potomac; not surprisingly, they had a good run. 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. What a treat to see. They got special recognition from Chris that night at dinner.
Judging 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 from them too.
There was a videographer/paddler at camp for the entire season this year 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 the 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 un-narrated video. I confess to watching 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. Glad that I rolled up and that the roll was caught on tape; sad that I flipped over and wasn't more aware in the first place. The incredible thing about the videographer when he was with the hot paddlers is that he paddled down each of those runs alone to get set up to shoot everyone else, including the guides, as they came down.
That 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 chocolate brown because of all the silt in it. This water, however, melts from the glaciers and then flows to gigantic lakes where the silt settles out of it, the sun warms it up a bit, and then it flows 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 to shame. Some beaches along the river's edge have fine off-white sand to complete the sensation of an unusual tropical ocean beach.
It appears that people of all paddling skills can have a great time at kayak camp, named Tres Monjas, in Chile. From 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 Tres Monjas.
1. Plan well. Read all the info the outfitter has carefully compiled, from years of experience, in order to make your trip go smoothly. 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 your skills, they'll happily take you on tougher sections. There's no shortage of tough water or guides eager to run it.
2. 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 three.
3. Be prepared for a loooong trip there and back, 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. Miami to Santiago is an 8 and 1/2 hour overnight flight. It's brutal. If you can, stay at least one night in Puerto Montt going eachway. 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 prior to leaving to think of the little things you might want to have with you when you're there.
4. Be prepared to enjoy "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 always tests negative for bugs; so there's no hassling with filtering or sterilizing water. Two discreet, 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, the sauna). Masseuse (yes, masseuse) 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 evening. Solar panel on dining hall building provides enough electricity for dinner lighting as well as for minimal computer usage for the guides' record keeping. 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), 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
That's a brief summary of our Chilean kayaking adventure. If you want to find out more about what's involved, or if you have any specific questions on this article, contact me. 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 Expediciones Chile, and are trying to figure out how soon we can go back. It was tough writing this article without making it seem like a blatant advertisement for the outfitter, but they really do a great job. Anyone who's paddled for a while will appreciate all the behind-the-scenes effort and organization that goes into their trips.
Thu, 27 Jan 2000 11:34:54 EST
"The only thing that equaled the natural beauty of Chile is the quality of the service and accommodations provided by you. I still speak of the retreat you built on the Futa. The showers, the sauna, the food quality, the variety of boats all of which were superb. Swiss Family Robinson could have learned a lot from Chris Spelius. A combination of Fantasy island and Gilligans island.
As for the boating, can you say "The Edge". With my limited 2 years of experience the river did test my abilities beyond the edge, however the guide crew made the experience happen. They cared for my well being, provided excellent instruction, and were always there when I needed them.
The potential extreme boating still blows my mind. If someone is looking for the best paddling in the world, the Chris Spelius Chile Adventure is the one.
Chris, I do plan to return someday. My paddling however needs a lot of refinement so that I can take advantage of what Chile has to offer. As for my friends, I still talk of my trip and encourage all who paddle to go to Chile.
I can ever help you in any way, please let me know."
Chile trips aren't just for fearless indestructible 18 year olds who are bored with the wimpy class V rivers in their area. The crew at Expediciones Chile were able to keep a group of us class IV boaters fully entertained and challenged for two weeks of non-stop boating, all within easy reach of Campo Tres Monjas. The scenery was as spectacular as the boating. I'll be back.
Hope to see you next year,
copyright 2003, Expediciones Chile
North America Toll Free: 1-888-488-9082
Europe Phone/fax: 44.20.8181.6266
of Patagonia Guidebook
Rental in Chile
Rafting en el Río Futaleufú en Español