Day 12 - Infierno Canyon
February 11, 2008

Submitted by Pat

Picture Gallery

We were up early for coffee and to pack our gear for the move to our next camp. We packed our gear in dry bags and piled them where Don Ignacio and his oxen could pick them up and haul them to the bus. After breakfast we hiked to the bus and drove to the put in. I was pretty jazzed up. Today we were going to run Infierno (Inferno) Canyon, a class 5.5+ rapid, plus Purgatorio (Purgatory - Class 5), Danza de los Angeles (Dance of the Angels - Class 4) and Escala de Jacobo (Jacob's Ladder - Class 5). Nancy and I were scheduled to be in the front of the boat again since Aaron did not want to change before Infierno Canyon. The river's water level was very low, which made some of these rapids much more technically challenging than they would be during higher water. More rocks, sucking holes and hydraulics to contend with in low water. And every rapid was different depending on the water level. There was no room for complacency.

Today we were joined by Rayno, a South African who was a guide in Sweden during the summer months and worked in Chile for Earth River, videotaping the Futaleufu trips during the winter. He ran the rapids in a kayak, one of those small quick boats that can run anything. He would blast down the rapid and find a great vantage point so he could film the Cats and the raft as we came down.

When Aaron, our raft guide, pulled the raft over into an eddy prior to running the first Class 5+ rapid, he crossed his oars in front of his chest and sort of lean forward and say something like, "Ok, so on this rapid, the goal is to stay in the boat. There's a nasty hydraulic suck hole half way through on the right - if you fall into that, hold your breath, relax, and wait until you pop up. Then swim to the right where the Cats (catamarans) will be." His words would put my brain on overload - Ok, don't want to fall in to the hole and if I do, gotta relax and when I come up, I have to swim to the right…or is it to the left. Then he would describe the rapid - big rocks, deep holes, hydraulics - and outline the strokes he would be calling out - "Hard forward", then a "right turn", maybe a "Get Down" or an "Over left", depending on our line, followed by a quick "Back" and hopefully we will miss the huge rock that could flip us.

Lots of hoping. Lots of let's try and stay in the boat. Ok, so let's get going. I was in the front paddling on the right and Nancy was in the front paddling on the left. Behind her were Kate and Frank. Behind me were Don, Laura and Barry. In front of us taking the lead, as always, was Peter in one catamaran and Chula in the other. As part of Earth River's interest in our safety, they designed these "Cats" that were incredibly maneuverable and buoyant. You really have to work at it to tip one over. Their role was to scout routes down each of the rapids, make the Cats available for rescue if any of us fell out of the raft, carry gear, and to have a ball. On this day, both Cats were loaded with our dry bags.

We had to portage the raft through one rapid, a man-made creation that was the result of blasting that had been done to widen a road. The blasts had dropped tons of rocks and dirt into the river, creating a hidden menace of a rapid that just wasn't safe to run in a raft. The Cats ran it with our gear, but even Peter and Chula didn't hot dog on this one. We had to scramble on rocks - slipper, big rocks - to get around the rapid and back into the raft.

As we prepared to enter a rapid, Aaron would maneuver the raft into the line he wanted and then call for the first stroke. I could feel my heart pounding against my life jacket that was on so tight I could hardly breathe. It's really important to have them on tight, because if I did fall in, the way out is to have a teammate grab me by the life jacket at the shoulders and pull. If it's loose, the life jacket would come off and I would be left behind. Not a good idea. So all our jackets were tight. And I could feel my heart pounding as we turned into the rapid.

When Aaron called the first stroke, sometimes just a single "Forward" and then an immediate "Stop" to get us on the exact line he wanted, Nancy and I would go into a quiet focused place. First we would look at each other, briefly, to start the rhythm of our stroke so we were paddling in tandem. Sometimes we shared a feral smile, sometimes not, and then we would look ahead and concentrate on following Aaron's shouted instructions over the sounds and violent thrashing of the rapid. Sometimes we would be positioned to go over a five or six foot drop off - those always made my heart leap - and we always dropped into it, water crashing over us, doing its best to pull us out of the boat. When that happened, the best answer was to put weight over my legs and lean into the boat slightly and always, always keep paddling when we were told. Even if I paddled air - paddle air and keep the rhythm. One of the best experiences Nancy and I had as front paddlers was on a rapid Aaron called a wave train. This was a rapid that wasn't very technical, not a lot of right or left movement, just straight up the gut and into each wave - bam, bam, bam, bam. Nancy and I would dig our paddles deep into the wave and stroke and as we prepared to dig into the water again we timed it so we were digging right into the next wave, wave after wave of perfect mirrored paddling, hard and tight. It was incredible!

On this day, we only had one close call, and Aaron called an "over left" and our combined weight on the left side of the raft was enough to pull us off the rock that wanted to flip us and let us continue down the river unharmed. Whoops and whoo hoos could be heard and we all did a paddle high five. Yeah!

We arrived at the Cave Camp put in just above the Zeta Rapid (Class 6), basically unrunnable. Peter's Cat and the raft were lined through the rapid (shaped like a Z, hence the name Zeta, Spanish for Z) although Chula in the second Cat ran the thing. Amazing. Aaron led us to a transition area where we changed out of our wet suits and paddle jackets and he took us on a tour of Cave Camp (Casa Campo de Piedra). An amazing series of paths through bamboo jungle to the kitchen, the massage tent, showers, toilets, cliff dwellings, hot tub, dining area for good weather and a dining area located under a huge boulder that created a natural cave.

But first he took us out to Lost Beach - a beautiful pristine calm bay of water that was part of the Fu but protected by rock. The color of the water was indescribable and we all walked around and oohed and aahed. The afternoon was hot and it looked so inviting that Aaron suggested Nancy and I dive in to cool off. We thought sure, why not - it looks great, so we stood on a rock and dove in side by side. OH MY GOD - the water was frigid, much colder than the actual river water (which was in the low 60's), and we screamed bloody murder when we came up for air. We both got out immediately and everyone laughed, especially Aaron. He couldn't believe we were so trusting and gullible that we would dive in without even touching a toe to the water. Oh, well - it's one of the best parts of the trip video so I wouldn't change it.

After our dip we finished the tour and he assigned us our new homes. Mine was overlooking the Zeta rapid and the constant sound of water was mesmerizing. The only negative was mosquitoes. Too much standing water, I guess. At least the horse flies had been left behind. After settling in I made a reservation for a half hour massage to get the kinks worked out of my shoulders from all the paddling. It felt great and so did a shower. A half an hour in the hot tub with appetizers served tub side was followed by dinner served on a huge rock outcropping that gave us a view of the canyon and Zeta rapid. Absolutely amazing. The night was perfect for sleeping and for once I didn't get too hot or too cold. I used the mosquito netting provided since I actually had enough energy to read for the first time since I had started on this adventure. Tomorrow was going to offer new and challenging physical opportunities as we had a non-rafting day - crossing the river via a Tyrolean traverse, a 3 hours hike with 1,200 feet of elevation gain, and a new camp - Tree House Camp. Whoo Hooo!

Day 13 - Tree House Camp
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