From February 15th to March 1st 1998, nine friends met in southern Chile for two weeks of class IV and V kayaking on some of Chile's most famous rivers.
Ahhhh, finally - the 'Fu'.
Day one on the Futaléufu
Lower run put in at Azul, cross the footbridge at the end of the turn off. This was a great run in the sun, with many fun, large rapids before we scouted Terminator. Was nice to see boulders in it this time, as last year the river was in full flood. Jeff and Ralph ran the centre, punching the large hole went rather well considering just how deep it looked. Rest of us ran the sneak route on river left, dodging boulders and running chutes. After a few more unnamed rapids, we came to the Himalayas, three massive waves that are usually green and glassy, inviting kayakers to surf for minutes at a time. Unfortunately, as the river level was dropping, today they were violent crashing wave-holes. Only those of us with rodeo boats were able to make the wave, even then the longest surf was no more than 20 seconds.
We had lunch at the swinging bridge at Zapata, taking about an hour to bake in the sun and recount the section just completed. For half the group it was the first introduction to the infamous Fu. Below this point, the river began to get steeper, the water picking up speed, and crashing wave after wave slapping our boats off our intended lines. The only scouting was from the crests of each wave, with line of sight extending to merely the next wave or two, and then only for a second at most.
We came upon Casa de Piedra (house of rocks), a rapid known for its house sized boulders scattered throughout the rapid. Scouting from the left, it also looked much easier than last year, as the water was a little slower and there was better definition of the holes and eddy lines. Two main lines were ran, far left and right of centre. There are two chutes exiting the rapid, far left and right, through which the whole river ran through. The right chute had a good-sized flushing hole at this water level.
Take out was 100 meters downstream of a yellow house on the road, where the river starts to flatten out. In previous years, we used to take out right at the yellow house, and give the children yogurt and chocolate when they ran down to meet us, but this year the owner demanded $20 each day for us to take out there.
Futa, day 2
We decided the night before to run the lower section again today, but changed our minds (or our minds were changed for us ) in the morning to run the more difficult upper run. As we were camping at Camping del Vega, just across the bridge from Futaléufu Village, we put into the Espolon river right at camp. After 25 minutes of beautiful scenery but flat water, we came to the basalt vertical walls marking the entrance to the canyon Inferno.
Inferno consists of four individual, yet close together rapids. Portaging is not an option. The first rapid is right at the beginning of the canyon, scouting from the left. This one looked rather intimidating, with a huge pourover and wide, boily eddy on the right and the main flow creating crashing waves going straight into the left canyon wall. Half of us were blown off our line by these surging waves, flipped and were heading into the wall. The pillow off the wall coaxed our boats into the flatwater below, where we were quite relieved to roll up and see the whole rapid upstream.
Rounding a corner , we came to part deux of Inferno, the easiest section. Consisting of standing waves, it was a fun run straight down the middle.
I cant recall the third section, maybe it was another set of waves (fellow paddlers help me out here ) but the fourth was memorable. We scouted from river right upon some boulders that were great for scouting but near impossible for a portage.
The line was clear enough, far left then cut right to avoid a pourover (but not too far right, into a nasty hole) eddy out left and continue left to the bottom. Few of us managed to complete this line. Again, about half of us (never exactly the same half, though) were forced to the right after the pourover. The power of the waves and holes cant be explained it must be felt. Once going right, there was no turning back, having to navigate around a crashing hole right above a partially submerged rock and run a chute on the far right, with of course, another hole at the bottom.
Most of us were quite elated to have made it through the one rapid that had no option of a portage. We entered the flatwater of Las Escalas Valley, which was beautiful, but we weren't running the upper Fu for the view. The upper run has much more flatwater than the lower, and we were confronted with a headwind it was slow going to the next rapid, Zeta.
Zeta is aptly named as the river has carved itself a deep channel in the granite in the shape of a Z. The line to run was quite obvious, the only difficulty being the speed and power of the river pushing to river left. Right, hard right was the only successful line through, if you ended up left, odds were that you would end up in the Room of Doom a violent eddy behind a large rock that has smashed kayakers to pieces. Two years ago a boater died as a result of checking into this room; you could also say he checked out too.
Only Jeff and Ralph had the balls to run this one, as the rest of us watched on and took a few pictures. Thankfully, both ran it perfectly. There was a little surprise in store for them both, however, as there was a deep hole directly below where our scouting vantage, so it was hidden to us. We didnt even see them hit this and cartwheel out too bad as it would have been a great picture.
The portage was on the right, followed by a three-four meter seal dive. We ate lunch on river left, right below the rapid, on smooth carved rock. The formations here looked alien, almost like giant vertebrae. A couple of crevasses were only half a meter wide yet seven meters deep. Some industrious sole went to the effort of installing a wood fired stove into a medium sized pool, creating a natural hot tub.
More agonizing wind strained to negate our efforts on the next section of flatwater, but finally we reached the last serious rapid, the Throne Room, a relatively short rapid; however river wide. Two of us had one look and immediately headed for the portage on river left. Unfortunately this well used portage route took us away from the sight of the river and we missed seeing Jeff get worked.
Throne Room has a house sized rock at the bottom, slightly right of centre, with a nasty hydraulic created between it and the right canyon wall. This hole is so renowned that it has a name unto itself the Toaster, duly named as if you are unfortunate enough to drop in there, you will surely get toasted, and not on the light setting either.
As the two of us finished the portage, we saw Jeff sitting in the eddy waiting for us, a big, albeit shaky smile on his face. He had lined up to ride the boil against the river right wall of Throne (the rock) but it surged him back up stream into a violent eddy. He flipped when he tried to run the slot again and got his ass kicked. He managed a half roll to get some air before successfully rolling a few seconds later. At this point he was committed to running through Toaster where it kept him busy to escape it. Eventually, the hole surged enough to flush Jeff out.
After seeing the trashing dealt to Jeff, everyone else opted for the portage.
That was the last rapid we had to scout as the remaining drops could all be scouted from eddies. From here to the take out at Azul, is a section called The Wild Ride. These drops were more enjoyable and we spent quite a while playing in the holes and waves.
At the end of a short canyon, we came to the footbridge where the put-in for the lower run was. As we had already spent most of the day in our boats, we took out here to head back to camp and enjoy a relaxing evening around the campfire doing our best to mix the best Pisco sour.
Day three and four we opted to run the more play-oriented lower Futaléufu. The river level was dropping ever so slightly, however the effect on the waves and holes became obvious. For instance, the Himalayas became even more difficult to surf while other waves became easier, and on day one and three there was a sticky hole at the bottom right channel of Case de Piedra, which vanished on day four.
A few of us took one of these two days off from paddling to recharge, as the Fu was taking its toll on muscles and endurance. We finished our trip with a salmon and chicken dinner in town, with a few Pisco sours and cervesas to wash it down.
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