Kayaking in Patagonia

 

 

Chile has some of the most pristine and intimidating whitewater on the planet. Having grown up in Tennessee, it is an unique experience to paddle a crystal clear river from one lake to the next without having to walk around a dam or wait for TVA to turn the water on. In December of 1996, I had the great fortune to explore parts of central and southern Chile in preparation for a future Walkabout kayaking trip. My main focus was on the Rio Futaleufu in northern Patagonia. The volume, scale, and beauty of this river are far beyond my ability to describe. I knew this trip would require a year of planning and preparation, but most importantly, it would demand a group of students with a rare mixture of maturity, composure, and paddling skill.


The actual difficulty of the Rio Futaleufu is less than many of the rivers and creeks that this group regularly paddles in the Chattanooga area (Baylor fortunately is located in one of the best whitewater towns in the country). The perceived danger and difficulty of the Futaleufu can be overwhelming. Ten foot crashing waves are enough to make the most experienced paddler's heart skip a beat. While paddling this river, one senses that the river is truly alive. Calm pools spontaneously become deep whirlpools. Glassy waves gradually build in intensity until they explode in every direction. Fortunately, the same power and volume that make the Futaleufu so chaotic also make it relatively safe. Due to its incredible volume of water, the Futaleufu is constantly changing and pulsing. Whatever ugly whirlpool or hydraulic that may have swallowed you and your boat will only last for a few seconds before it tosses you back into the main flow of the river. All of this chaos and fun takes place in a remote rain forest environment with snow capped mountains in the background, a true paddler's paradise.

When I was returning from my first trip to Chile in 1996, I knew the only way to make this trip better was to bring a group of students along the following year. Paddling and traveling in Chile with this group of students was a privilege and a guide's dream.

by Tim Williams, History Teacher and Walkabout Director



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