Project Impossible- Patagonia edition

Last year I spent the majority of my 3 months stay in Chile in Patagonia, and a considerable amount of that south of the Futaleufu. This river is for most regarded as “south”, and we do not see a lot of the hucksters of the north making the trip. And if so, the Futaleufu is normally just the training ground for groups taking on the famous Rio Baker, another day or two of driving on the Carretera Austral.


The drive down to Villa O´higgins is spectacular, with the northen Icefield descending into view as on the other side of the now meandering rio Baker. Upon arriving to Puerto Yungay, the ferry crossing of Fiordo Mitchell signals the return of the wilderness. In this area, one does not see kayakers. Since last year, when we used Villa O´higgins as a base for two weeks, only one more group of kayakers came down to run the Rio Bravo. And the rivers are endless, but they require a lot more work. As good as park and hucks are, to me, the exploration of wild rivers is where the essence of kayaking lies.


The idea of 2012 was to cross Lago Christie and Lago Allegre, from a newly built road into the first. This would put us back at the first descent put-in of 2006, and allow for 5 days on the water, and a possibility to hike up to the headwaters to check out the remains of the gradient. It requires a paddle of about 25-30 kilometers, and a short hike in between the lakes. To our dismay, we were one day too late. Ahead of us by one day, a crew had successfully crossed the lake and found their personal heaven in the deep canyons of the Bravo. Upon arriving at Lago Christie, we were facing a wind that had turned to headwind, and was blowing up to 40 kms/hour steadily, with ghasts up to 80 km/hour. It did not turn or back down for the next week.


Defeated by the “Escoba del Dios”, the “Broom of God”, which sweeps away all sins and sorrows according to the Patagonians, we were looking for another option. The rivers were low, lower than last year, but not quite low enough it would turn out.

Ron Fischer (SUI) has been peering onto maps of a border area to the south of Lago Christie for the past year, tracing a blue line flowing from Lago Nansen in Argentina. In a flurry of first descents one year ago, we also tried to hike in to scout the Rio Carrera, but got turned around by unfriendly border patrollers that allowed nobody into the area due to two recent deaths. A car had tried to cross the river, with fatal consequences, and the last thing the red-haired capitan wanted was gringos out on an adventure.



Late in the afternoon, after our failed visit to Lago Christie, we arrived without much hope for passage, at the same border station. To our surprise the patrollers were friendly and helpful, even allowing our motorcycle friend, soon to be “Sherpa Nata”, to enter the no-man land between the borders without a passport. Some hours later we returned to Villa O´higgins, with some glimpses of the river, and an agreement with the local farmer to rent horses for next day. What we had been able to see from the brim of the canyon, was swift flowing current without many eddies, but with a mesmerizing turquoise color surrounded by flashes of autumn yellow and red. Stunning. The river drops 350 meters in 14 kilometers from Lago Nansen, flowing through three box canyons and in general being tucked away in a deep, v-shaped river valley. Simply wanting it, I ignored Ron´s worried looks as he was trying to obtain some secret information about the box canyons by staring at the maps that evening with local hostal owner Jorge. Surely we would be able to see more of the river on our way up to the lake, allowing us to turn around if deemed to steep. I was wrong.



The following day we started hiking without horses. The campesino claimed he could not find them on his 200 hectar big backyard, and without much hesitation we rigged our kayaks onto our backs. The first major mistake of the trip came when we decided to try for a shortcut over the hills, instead of following the river. The second mistake came when we assumed we could still get down to the river to scout from this alternative hiking route. And of course, I should have known better after having battled the Patagonia bush before. Two days later we had still not reached the lake, and an unexpected deep sidecreek had forced us down to river level, only 2 kilometers short of Lago Nansen. The hike had been tough, with rugged terrain and at times, dense bush. Other times we found ourselves hiking through a dreamlike forest lit on fire by the fall colors, and fresh snow was capping the peaks all around us. After looking at our limited food supply, we decided to put-on.

Our friend, Nathaniel Thorpe, had decided to join us for a hike. Being “Sherpa Nata”, we had been spared the weight of sleeping bags and tent on the hike, now it all got placed into our Watershed drybags and good byes were being said. He would backtrack out to civilization while we were on the river. Except that we only made it about 500 meters before the door slammed shut in our faces. The first box canyon was wild. To big ledges led into a Baker-style rapid with no way of escape or even scouting the coming blind corner. It was quite simple, there was too much water in the river. Defeated, we tied the kayaks to a tree, marked the GPS location and shouldered our bags. From the riverbed, the climb back out to our previous hiking route would take days with the kayaks in the steep, bushy terrain.

It took us one day to hike out without the kayaks, and we arrived at the border control somewhat defeated. I expected trouble upon entering back into Chile, seeing that we had not entered Argentina, due to the location of their border station. However, the chilenos

only took a look at our rugged appearance and wondered if we had had a good hiking trip, and welcomes us back for next year, as they stamped our arrival stamps back to Chile in our passports. With two kayaks tied to a tree in the middle of the nowhere, I guess we no choice. The river carries the least water in may, and provides the only chance it seems to get through its canyons. At least, we do not have to hike our kayaks back in there the next time…

Thanx to Teva, Sweet, Kober Paddles, NR

S, Five Ten and Vertikal AS for supporting our adventures!