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Honeymoon & Epic Whitewater on the Futaleufu River

Bienvenidos A: “Futaleufu” (Welcome to the Futaleufu)
by Brock Royer

Patagonia is one of the few places on Earth where nature’s most brutal and generous side lie blended into perfection. It’s a spectacular part of the world shared by Chile and Argentina. In the heart of Patagonia lies an amazing river. In Argentina it is known as the ‘Rio Grande’ but as it crosses over into Chile it becomes known as the Rio Futaleufu and contains some of the largest run able white water in the world!!! In fact when translated Futaleufu means ‘Big Water’. This trip to Chile and the Fu is for my honeymoon but it just so happens it turns out to also be my most epic paddling trip!

Getting to this part of the world is no easy task! We had 4 flights and a 3.5 hours drive, which totaled about 26 hours door to door. It was worth every minute too! My wife and I went all out getting the honeymoon cabin called ‘The Condor’s Nest’ which sits right at the foot of the beautiful ‘Tres Monjas’ (which means three nuns) mountain. It was about a 15-minute walk up from the river and is beautifully hand crafted out of the local wood and bamboo. It has it’s own garden, greenhouse, outhouse, shower in a tree and a bronze stove to heat water out the natural spring. We also had a professional gourmet chef, Pedro, who would walk up every evening to fix us the most amazing food! Fresh salmon, pork chops, white fish, lamb and all the fresh veggies we could eat from our own organic garden. It was the sweetest little paradise tucked into what I can only imagine Jackson Hole, WY or Vail, CO to feel like back in the 1920s…….before it was discovered by the mainstream.

I paddled quite a few rivers in the nearby area.The Rio Espolon and Rio Azul were good beautiful warm-ups that even my new wife Katey could join me on! Even the little stream along the walk up to our cabin was swollen enough by the recent snow melt from our amazing weather to be run……possibly for the first time. That was kind of the theme to this trip…..well, other than the whole honeymoon thing……water from snowmelt. Everything was flowing strong, very strong. They had over 200% snow pack from this winter and this sudden 85 degree weather has the river rising daily. We got hooked up with a guy named Fergus Coffey who works for Chris Spelius at Exchile. Fergus has been on the Fu 100’s of times and knows the river well. There has been A LOT of build up for me to get to this point, on this river in my life. This year has been definitely the most interesting yet. I fought/beat cancer, had two hernia surgeries, broke down vans in the middle of nowhere, counseled at First Descents cancer camp, hosted a rodeo, took up paddling for Bliss-Stick kayaks along with other companies, published articles, made a magazine cover, won a few contests, had a boat load of fun with each trip being an epic adventure with my best paddling buds, got/beat typhoid fever, got married and now BAM……here I am snapping my skirt onto a boat I am unfamiliar with pushing out onto a river this size with a guy I only met 2 days ago.

Paddlers are amazing like that though. We all speak the same language and even in this remote part of the world we seem to become instant friends b/c the same force has drawn us to the river. We put on above the bridge to bridge section but below Throne Room. A quick warm-up through the ‘school house’ rapid and cutting our teeth on ‘Asleep at the wheel’ we both know the next rapid that lies downstream. To make ourselves feel better about the size of the water we make comments about the river feeling, flowing and acting like a river at flood stage! Fergus also casually mentions to me that even though he has been on the river a bunch it is his first time this year.

HSo there we are above the infamous ‘Terminator’ rapid section of the Futa. The next few km of river hold extremely large and continuous white water. Class V rapids with no breaks in between…..well at least not at these water levels! Asleep at the wheel took 2 minutes and 35 seconds to run without eddying out once. I am trying to mentally prepare myself for what lies downstream. He gives me the first few moves on verbal. We make our first move which is supposed to be a small wave train next to the rock wall on the left. Instead we get tossed around like rag dolls from the funky reactionary waves coming off the wall and I am bracing on my paddle which my now is only working about as well as a toothpick in this BIG water!!! We eddy out to take a look at the first crux in the rapid. It takes me a few minutes to get from boat to the rock top that gives me a glance of what we have gotten ourselves into. Fergus gets on the rocks next to me and with his British accent casually mentions; “Well that looks bloody big doesn’t it?!?!”. We pick a new line he hasn’t ever tried before and shove off into the water. One thing that is really blowing me away about this river is how continuous and unrelenting it is. I mean when we would eddy out he would give me about 6-8 moves through 4 rapids almost none of which I could tell the difference from the start to the end of. They all just seemed like one continuous rapid!

We make through Terminator, Son of Terminator, Kyber Pass, and have a blast in Himalayas when Fergus got stuck at the top of a breaking 13 foot wave. As he was side surfing down to the trough I had caught up to him and had ZERO time to move. I tucked hard on my deck and some how we got lucky enough to where his hull seemed to just skip off my back as punched through the wave underneath him.

At days end he unrolls his bedroll which again consists of the ever-present goatskins. The next morning before daylight he is out rounding up horses that have been free range grazing all night. The morning fire was warm and welcoming. The rain continued but we were well dressed and the scenery, challenges and adventure were waiting!

The next several days consist of more varied terrain that you could possibly ever dream of. We had glacier-topped mountains, waterfalls to climb and cross on horse back, open fields with a small farm here and there. As we were riding through a beautiful open pasture that had been cleared by the "slash & burn" method we observed a horse & rider coming our way. This scene was South America's version of The Sound of Music. A young native Chilean girl came galloping over the hillside with her toddler brother sitting in front of her riding atop the layers of sheep skins! No words were exchanged but the sparkle in the children's eyes told you they were happy just to see us! Our guide exchanged some greetings and we sent off the waves and smiles of these two lovely children.

Finally we met up with a rafting crew at the first bridge only to find out that nobody is on the water. In fact, all commercial rafting has been shut down due to the high water. There is a gauge upstream just above the Terminator section I believe at Earth River’s camp grounds. I guess normal cutoff for rafting the terminator section is at 40 (I am not sure if this is a measurement of…..I am guessing inches) and they have never cutoff rafting at the bridge to bridge section. We come to find out the river is at 150 and this is amongst the highest levels it has been paddled at! Damn!!!!! No wonder it felt like a river at flood!

We continued downstream to run the bridge to bridge section. We also picked up another paddler named Bernardo. I come to find out he know both Tenzen and Stacey from Wausau, WI and the Bear Paw area pretty well. He is from Mexico City and paddled the last two years in Costa Rica with them. Sure is a small world! It is about 5m of solid IV with about 3 class V rapids and a swim would have meant probably swimming the entirety. Since the river is at flood stage we can also expect few eddies and one hell of a wild ride! The run took us only 34 minutes! Yup…..15 rapids in approximately 5 miles. That means we were moved at an average speed of around 9 mph! That is quite a push in a kayak and man was I whooped!

The run was highlighted by the rapids of Pillow, Moondaca, Maso Menos, and Casa de Pierda. Mundaca was so unbelievably out of control that I remember hitting the crest of a wave at the exact same point as Fergus only for him to be sent 15 feet straight right while pushing me about 10 feet left. It was amazing that in the tic of one second the river could separate us by 30 plus feet! We pulled off the river and exhausted the three of us just sat down and stared at the river with big smiles on our faces. We are all replaying different lines and moves in our minds along with finally being able to realize the number of man eating holes, reactionary waves and full on fun we just had. Unfortunately we were moving so quickly I didn’t have much time to get footage! The run will forever be burned into my head to be played over and over again though! The emerald waters of the Futaleufu are definitely amazing and enchanting.

This area is sure to make any visitor fall in love with its beauty, culture and soul. If you are thinking about making the trip, take the step and get down there to experience the magic before it changes! I plan on trying to make an annual trip down there myself. For now here are just a few limited pictures and movies to enjoy.

~Peace and Love~
Brock

www.trucurrent.com

 


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