Two Months in Chile
by Sarah Waddington
I arrived in Chile, meeting other students at Santiago airport where we found that my paddle bag (with most of my clothes) was still in Madrid. We then flew into Temuco, where we loaded all the bags, kayaks and kids into the trailer and car, before heading to Pucón Kayak Hostel and hitting the water! We paddled the Lower Trancura, which although a very easy stretch, has big wave trains and I was very nervous. I was super tired because of jet lag, so after tea I headed straight to bed!
I woke up too early before other people appeared to show me where breakfast was. We then kayaked:- a busy day of learning how things worked around the hostel before we started school. A couple of days later we headed up for our first run of the Upper Trancura, which was both exciting and scary, as it was a new river again. I had a good run, and ran Garganta and Feo first time after scouting. Two weeks later I'd run this run a LOT of times! The Upper Trancura is our training ground - part of our routine. We start the day with a workout, then breakfast. Mostly we have lessons in the morning, and go kayaking after lunch. We’ve also been having salsa dance lessons twice a week. I am taking the video class, Spanish 1 and Graphic Arts, but Graphic Arts and Advanced video classes overlap a lot. We've added the Leacura (which flows into the Lower Trancura) and the Upper Palguin down to above the crack drop which resulted in Will going over a waterfall upside down and making a hole in his lower lip which needed treatment.
Bottom of the 6m drop, Upper Palguin
We set off early on a Friday morning, for a long and fraught journey to Choshuenco in time for lunch at the hostel where we were staying. We then planned to go to paddle the Lower Fuy, but local practice required we disinfect boats and it was already 5 pm before a small group set off for the river. Next morning we were all packed and ready to set off early for the Lower Middle (or the Upper Lower - depends who you ask) Fuy. There was an interesting hike down a very steep path down to the river, but we eventually got on the water for one of the funnest stretches of river I have ever paddled! Incredible blue water, accompanied by warm sunshine, huge waves, and holes all over the river - very continuous. I followed Lorenzo’s line down the river, weaving between one hole and the next, around pourovers and over boofs. There was one rapid which was a slide, which we paddled down the centre avoiding holes on the left and right, to then paddle right, to avoid the next hole! We then reached the bridge where the other two were meeting us, and had a fun run down the bouncy Lower section!
A day off kayaking: we hiked up 2847 vertical metres of Chilean Volcano! This was most definitely the ‘stoutest hike’ (as Carson puts it) I have ever done! Equipped with ice axes (much needed) as well as a tonne of water and sun screen. The first 400 (vertical) metres was on volcanic ashy rocky dirt, which slid so much you took one step down for every three you took up. This was possibly the hardest part of the climb, but, just as I was contemplating giving up, the dirt turned to snow, which made progress easier, so the real climb began! The climb was mostly consistently steep snow, with occasional really steep icy steps, the steepest of which reached the false peak, just to see the real peak towering high above us, and the people already climbing, tiny dots on the volcano side! Park regulations required that we had a guide (between two). Don't share a guide with someone very tall - this resulted in the guide (in-front of me) taking huge steps, and me trying to keep up, so I basically jogged with huge strides up the Volcano. We did eventually make it to the incredible view at the top. We could also see into the crater, although we couldn’t see far enough down to see the lava, we could see the smoke coming out in wispy little clouds.
After some lunch, and taking in different viewpoints we started back down. The first part was a little sketchy, being the steepest part of the mountain. We had to dig our heels in, and take one step at a time down. However, once past the iciest part, and for pretty much the rest of the way down, we could glissade (mostly sitting). This was great fun, and much faster... so we were soon at the bottom, stretched out with our soaking stuff in the sun before driving back for the Chilean asado.
Looking down into the active crater
We made it up to the Maipo valley, where Lorenzo (one of our coaches) grew up, on Monday. Chilean burgers (lunch en route) proved so appetising and massive, with avocado, tomato, lots more vegetables, 2 layers of bacon, about 14 slices of pork, more avocado and then the bread bun enclosing it all that I ate far too much, and felt ill. So when we set up camp… mats on the ground and laying out our sleeping bags, not everyone went kayaking.
Surrounded by mountains, and baked in sunshine, the Maipo river flows high with brown water which was the grittiest water I have ever paddled in. The Lower Maipo is an easier run than the Lower Middle Fuy, however, the thickness of the dirt in the water makes the river feel much more intimidating, and feels as though it is harder to read. Luckily we could follow Hunt’s lines down, whilst he was coaching us and giving us tips on our paddling.
Later that night we were invited to Lorenzo’s cousin’s Barbecue, over the footbridge. Lorenzo’s family own the whole area, including the mountains, with about 40 living in their family compound, in a number of houses. There are no vehicles on that side of the river, they are incredibly eco-friendly and ensure that everything is self-sustaining. It seems to me, as though Lorenzo grew up in a fairy tale, or the Chilean version of Jungle book! With the mountains and river to explore as he was growing up, it certainly explains why he is such an incredible kayaker.
After two days the Maipo our plan was to drive to the Claro for two days, but the unreliable van delayed us and we instead went direct to the Nuble fest, in time to paddle before dinner. The section turned out to be very low, and so we had a very relaxed run down some shallow grade 2, before heading to the hostel to pitch tents and eat dinner. Lowri also arrived, and so, several hours later, did her stuff which got stuck on one of her flights!
The Saturday of the Nuble fest consisted of lots of races. We all competed in as many as we could. Lowri, MaryKatherine and I were the only girls racing, and so we all claimed medals for the top three places… definitely made me feel better about coming last when I still got a medal (and a bottle of wine!). We also had two teams in the raft races, mine came third (Lorenzo's raft was always going to win). Tired and ready for dinner, we then had to go to the awards ceremony to get our medals and wine. Then in camp for a while, until we managed to get directions to the discoteca from where we made it back to our tents at around 4.30 in the morning.
We arrived in the town of Molina where we spent the day in a restaurant, until two shuttle trips got us to the hostel where we were staying for our trip to the Rio Claro. Next day we headed up to the Siete Tazas, the ‘seven teacups’ with a short hike in, but a very steep path down to into the canyon, meaning we had to lower the boats in. Once we were down we got in our boats and headed down the first 15 footer, which I managed to land flat but sideways. The next drop was a short slide drop, and the one after had a tree in it and so we portaged round. The next two drops were also small and we didn’t realise (until we ran out sooner than expected) that they were part of the 7. The 6th and 7th teacups were both 20 feet, we boofed (kind of) the first, which had an interesting curve round the left side making things difficult. The second we plugged, although I managed to go a little oververt, and face planted… :( ouch. There is also an eighth drop which apparently only runs when it is low, and so after scouting the interesting climb up a vertical(ish) cliff out, we ran this also. The 8th drop curves to the left, with a wall in front as you go down, you hit a right boof and land in a huge cave around the corner. The guys also ran the Veinte Dos, 22 saltos. The next day we headed back down to the Teacups for my round two. This time round was much more successful, and I hit every boof! Unfortunately I went even more oververt on the 20 footer though, ouch ouch!!
"The airline will lose your gear", seems to be an invariable rule (particularly if Heathrow is involved), and this time it took three days for the paddle bag to reappear (late on Christmas Eve). As this article is going to press, my kayak (with a lot of gear inside) is still missing well over three weeks after return - looks like I'm off to New Zealand without all that kit :-(
This article is very much abridged from a series of posts on Sarah's Blog. After the trips described above, the students were involved in the Whitewater Grand Prix, taking place for two weeks in Chile. As well as watching many of the world's top kayakers, they had the opportunity to video interviews with several of them, and even run a reccy trip to the Rio Truful Truful in preparation for the event, although in the end, they didn't use that section of river for a race.
Article and photographs copyright © Sarah Waddington 2012