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.
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.
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!
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
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
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.
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 ...
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
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!