PHOTO ESSAY: A Whitewater Journey through Chile Aaron Schmidt June 4, 2015
I reached out to Tait Trautman after seeing his amazing selection of images from a month-and-a-half-long, 2,500-mile journey from Santiago, Chile, down to Futaleufu and back, descending almost every classic river in the area, and offering a rare glimpse at the Chilean government’s hydro-electric designs for most of the rivers in the country, including the Rio Puesco and the Futaleufu. The collage provides a vivid picture of travel through an incredible, lush corner of the paddling world as five world-class paddlers from the U.S., Peru, and Spain make the journey in a weathered 1988 Toyota Hilux.
Photographs and captions by . Tait Trautman
At left, Eric Parker drops into “Caricol,” appreciating everything Chile’s Rio Claro has to offer … namely its surreal, crystal-clear water and dream-like teacup pool-drops in a gorge seemingly carved from the earth by the single scoop of a massive ladle.
After two days on the Claro, we headed farther south to Pucon, a small town nestled in the Lakes Region of Chile and sandwiched in between Volcan Villarrica and Lago Villarrica. Due to the location of the town, Pucon makes for incredibly easy access to a handful of classics such as the Rio Palguin, Rio Nevados, Rio Trancura, and the Rio Puesco. Here, Fred Norquist rallies down “Tres Trancos” on the Rio Puesco.
“Where the F*$K are we?! Is this Narnia?” Well, yes! Outside Pucon lies the quaint Mapuche town of Curreahue. The town sits at the mouth of the Rio Puesco Valley, which parallels the Chile-Argentina boarder. Here the crew appreciates the natural beauty and the crystal waters of the Rio Puesco.
The late Juan “Juanito” Antonio de Ugarte and Evan Garcia getting hassled by the Puesco locals after a lap on “Tres Trancos.”
Volcan Villarrica sits just to the west of Pucon and towers over the valley floor at 9,380 feet. The volcano acts as a main source of water for many of the rivers in the area. This shot was taken from the Nevados Valley looking back toward Pucon.
From Pucon, we loaded up Gypsy Wagon to the brim and pushed farther south to the Rio Golgol. Juanito shows us how its done on Salto Princessa. I have never met such a kind, loving soul who had a thirst for life and adventure. The fire burned so bright in Juanito. He had a contagious smile and personality that just made you want to always be around him. He treated every day as if it was a gift. His fire is and always will a huge inspiration to live every day to its fullest.
The sensi at home in his dojo: Aniol Serrasolses, Nilahue Chile.
Chris Morelli and Eric Parker soaking up the simple on the way to the put-in of the Puesco.
Sam Ricketts amongst the beauty of the Puesco River Valley.
“Oye MATE! Want some mate? Evan Garcia sipping on that yerba buena down in Puescotown.
Last November, L.J. Groth and Fede Medina, with the help of the local community of Curraeahue, hosted the first annual Puesco Fest. The three-day festival in the Puesco River Valley featured local Mapuche people speaking about their cultural and spiritual connection to the land, spreading awareness about the government’s damming plans for almost every river in surrounding area, and its detrimental impact on their community and way of life. With these hydro projects in the works, the Chilean government is selling off power shares to foreign investors, and the Maipo and Futaleufu rivers are now the region’s most endangered. Experiencing the Chilean government’s attitude about conservation was eye-opening — I saw a country with abundant natural resources and almost no regulation. Paddling in Chile will change unless people, local and international, stand up and show their support for these beautiful and threatened rivers.
Evan Garcia sails off one of the countless boofs in “Tres Trancos.” Garcia took first place in the race, earning his name carved into the annual trophy, right under the Champ himself: Juanito.
“Demshitz … its whats for breakfast.” Eric Parker starting off a mellow “Down Day” on the Rio Nevados..
From Pucon, we crammed back into Gypsy Wagon and headed out of the Puesco River Valley into Argentina for a once in a lifetime opportunity to get on the infamous and illusive Rio Blanco. Matis Nunez with Evan and Nate Garcia, scouting the lip of California Drop on the Rio Blanco.
Somewhere, at the end of every rainbow, there is a church boof. Nate Garcia finding his on the Rio Blanco.
Eric Parker, born again off “Brennan’s drop” in the surreal waters of the Rio Blanco.
Nestled into the Argentine Andes, just north of Patagonia, lies the Rio Blanco. A freakishly crystal-clear route of water that cuts through the mountains, consisting of countless clean boofs, beautiful teacup stouts and incredible gorges. The crew here boogies though the deepest gorge on the Blanco.
Nate Garcia blissed out on one of the many picture-perfect boofs of the Rio Blanco.
“Load’um, strap’um down and move’um out!” Garcia and Parker load up after a lap on Inferno Canyon during our first day on the Rio Futa.
Nested in the mountains of northern Patagonia, four miles from the Argentine border, lies the village of Futaleuful on the banks of one of the most beautiful and iconic big water rivers of Chile, the Futa. Evan Garcia takes flight off the curler, sending into Inferno Canyon.
“Wakey wakey, eggs and gypsys.” Eric Parker prepares to join another beautiful day in our Patagonian Shangri-La. During our stay in Futa, our good friend Nate Mac, owner of Las Natalias Hostel, and supporter of dirtbag kayakers, was kind enough to let us set up camp in the front yard of his hostel.
After a real simple week living on the Futa, the crew rallied back north through Argentina to knock off another gem, the Rio Monso. Nate Garcia sends off the curler on Allercese, before falling into the committing Mason Gorge.
After the haul from the Manso back north to Pucon, we stopped off to check out the Rio Fuy. Tired, beat down and broken, we pulled off the road and asked a farmer if we could sleep in his field. He asked that we drive down the cattle road to the end of his property, which sits on the shore of one of the many huge lakes of the region. We arrived at sunset to a crackling fire and a stack of wood. Not too shabby for pasture living…
Evan Garcia looks into the death hole of what was the lip of the Middle Palguin. Due to the unsteady volcanic landscape of the area, some of the bedrock sits on layers of loose ash and mud, that when compromised by water and pressure, can fail like this.
The Rio Trancura in Pucon offers a practically “in town” lap, that differs from the other rivers in the area due to its increased volume and “big-water” feel. EG catches the late Sunday sermon at Mariman.
The lakes region of Chile is overflowing with towering volcanoes, prehistoric forests, and surreal rivers. The volcano pictured here is Volcan Jima, which gives birth to the Rio Trufultruful, a sick day-run about three hours to the north of Pucon. Sam Rickettes, Evan Garcia, Eric Parker, Chris Morrelli and myself climbed and skied the Jima the day before. (You have to take any chance you can to knock off a ski-to-stout.)
The crew rallies down the scenic blue waters of the Rio Trufultruful.