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Fuy & Futaleufu Safari

By Chris Shackleton

A quick look at a map shows that Chile is very long and thin. Less obvious is
that the bay below Puerto Montt goes right up to the Andes in places, forming
a natural barrier between Northern and Southern Chile and denying direct road
access between the two. While all the roads we traveled were in amazingly good
condition, they're almost all gravel. In general, the locals have little or no
English. These factors all combine to make for potentially interesting logistics.

Traveling with Expediciones Chile, though, makes all this dead easy. Chris
Spelius, who owns and runs it, goes to enormous lengths to ensure everything
runs smoothly. You might say he's detail oriented to the point of obsession.
In any event, our trip, the so-called Fuy Futa Safari, went off without a hitch.
While the trip boasts thirteen days in Chile, three are spent traveling and we
had one down day, so we had just nine paddling days. This season brought a
drought to Chile so all the rivers were much lower than normal, but in general
we still had a great time.

The guides - Rob Kelly, Charlie Munsey and Jay Kincaid - are very professional
and capable, and also awesome paddlers. Safety was their number one priority.
They perform interesting tricks while boofing and in holes. They probably
wished they could say similarly nice things about us - but alas our bunch was
low in the technical skills department. There were nine of us, I was lucky
enough not to swim at all and another of our number swam just once. The
remaining seven managed to rack up 24 swims between them - an Expediciones Chile record that Spe hopes will stand for the rest of time!

We spent the first four days in hotels in the Lake District. The accommodations
were a little rustic, but comfortable. On the first day of paddling, we warmed
up on the Lower Fuy, easy Class III water. This also gave our guides a chance
to discover the kind of mixed bag they had here. The next two days we spent on
the Upper and Waterfalls sections of the Fuy. The river was so low that the
Upper Fuy was super technical, and only just runnable, although I expect it's a
total delight at normal flows. However, the Waterfalls section was a blast. It
starts with a 30' waterfall (Los Leones) that normally offers a very soft
landing and automatic escape from its clutches. Not so at our flow (400 cfs??),
when the base of the falls forms a well-defined hole. The best way to run it
was clearly not in the center, but naturally this is where almost everyone went
- our group racked up its first seven swims in less than an hour. Our poor
guides went into shock (actually I did too). We repeated the performance the
next day and racked up four more swims! By the way, I followed Jay in running
the falls hard right to left; this worked out well both times. The remaining
waterfalls are less impressive, but just as interesting and fun.

Our last day of the paddling in the Lake District was on the San Pedro, a boring
Class III at our flow. They say it's got some fun play spots at higher flows.
The next day and a half were spent traveling (by bus and plane for us, by bus
and ferry for less fortunate souls) to Spe's camp at the confluence of the Azul
and Futalefu rivers. He owns the land on all three sides. He has his house in
one parcel, his camp in another - and access to both via the third! To get from
one to the other you just hop in an open canoe and paddle.

The camp is really nice. It's rustic but has everything you need. We slept in
tents but ate in a permanent dining room. There are two showers, a laundry area
and a sauna. The food was close to gourmet, high quality, wholesome and there
was plenty of it. The camp has no phone, no radio, no TV, no Internet access -
the only power comes from solar panels, which drive (via battery) a single light
in the dining area, and Spe's computer.

Being a low-water year, the flow on the Futa was "only" 7000 cfs or so. Whew,
this river must be quite something at the normal flow of 15,000. This is sort
of like the Colorado in Grand Canyon, except the river is much narrower, and the
consequences of error can be much more severe. Most of us were limited to
Sections II and III (big-water Class IV), these being the first two sections
below camp. The next one (Section IV) is no harder but has more consequences,
so most of our group were effectively discouraged from running it. Spe spends
most of his time running his Expediciones Chile, but joined us for a couple days
on the Futa. He doesn't do the tricks our guides delight in, but he's a very
powerful paddler, has a wealth of experience and knows this river backwards.
His absolute number one priority is safety, at least when in the company of
paying guests ...

On the last day Spe took me down Section I. Highlights are the Inferno Gorge,
Zeta and the Throne Room. Inferno has several rapids in it, the last of which
ends in a massive hole. This is backed up 30 feet downstream by a huge flat
rock, which reflects all the water right back into the hole. Extreme danger!
Pulses racing and adrenaline pumping we missing the hole with several feet to
spare - Zeta has a killer Room of Doom in it, with water surging into it every
now and then, so walking it was an easy decision. The Throne Room looks huge
and nasty from the scouting place 100ft above it (imagine what it's like down
there), so we wimped out and walked that too. Or, more accurately, I wimped out
and Spe joined me. Part of me wishes we'd decided to run it anyway - think of
the songs they would have sung if we'd aced it (on the other hand, think of the
dirges if we hadn't). As Paul Redd likes to say: "The rapid will still be here
next year - will you?" and here I still am, so I guess we made the right
decision.

No-one got sick on the trip. Injuries were trivial. Everyone had fun. Even at
this low water the paddling was great; at normal flows I imagine it comes close
to the brochure's claim of "The Greatest Whitewater on Earth". Will I go back
again? You bet!

 

 


Expediciones Chile specializes in adventure travel vacations in Patagonia Chile. Rafting in Chile on the Futaleufu River. Torres del Paine, Cerro FitzRoy trekking in Patagonia. Off season skiing in Chile and Argentina. Equestrian vacations and mountain biking holidays in the Futaleufu Valley. Whitewater kayaking in Chile. Whitewater rafting outdoor guide school. Fly fishing in Patagonia Chile and Argentina. Learn to roll a kayak at the Expediciones Chile kayak school. Eco tours and yoga vacations. Information on the climate of Patagonia, traveling in Patagonia and regional maps.

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