//los­ing your­self in patag­o­nia

Travers­ing the Car­retera Aus­tral

Adventure - - Contents - Story and Im­ages by Mike Daw­son

traver­sig the Car­retera Aus­tral with Mike Daw­son

Trav­el­ling over 2,000 km from San­ti­ago to the in­cred­i­ble white­wa­ter of Rio Baker, near the town of Cochrane, sounds like a daunt­ing mis­sion, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing it in­volves tak­ing three fer­ries and driv­ing half the length of Chile en­tirely on un­paved roads. Even though the dis­tance is great, the beauty and won­der make this long jour­ney into the heart of Patag­o­nia well worth the ex­pe­ri­ence. Be­fore em­bark­ing on the long­est of three fer­ries from the water­side vil­lage of Hornopiren, the pic­ture be­gins to come into fo­cus. As the ship de­parts the ter­mi­nal and takes you deeper into the un­touched wild of this amaz­ing place. Time stands still and the nearly 9-hours of fer­ries seems to fly by as you be­come en­tranced by the sud­den ap­pear­ance of care-free dol­phins and gi­gan­tic wa­ter­falls pour­ing off the sides of lush, green moun­tains. All the while it be­comes hard to com­pre­hend that this is only the be­gin­ning. Upon reach­ing the end of the ferry trip in Caleta Gon­zalo, a steep earthen road sur­rounded by dense jun­gle and sheer drop-offs gives you the im­pres­sion that you’ve truly en­tered the fron­tier. Be­sides the oc­ca­sional glimpse of a car, cy­clist or group of hitch­hik­ers, the first true signs of civ­i­liza­tion come when you reach the paved roads lead­ing through the port town of Chaiten. What lies ahead once you de­part are some of the most amaz­ing scenery this road has to of­fer. As the road be­gins to climb, views of the glaciers and the snow-capped An­des be­gin to come into fo­cus. With each twist and turn, the val­ley opens up to ex­pose nat­u­ral won­ders of Par­que Na­cional Cor­co­v­ado, Reserva Na­cional Lago Ros­selot, and Par­que Na­cional Queu­lat that line the road. Af­ter reach­ing Puyuhuapi, the road hugs a nar­row path be­tween the tow­er­ing moun­tains and a pris­tine fjord. Count­less switch­backs take us higher to the most spec­tac­u­lar panoramic view imag­in­able of the land­scape which lies ahead. Fur­ther we head into this un­touched land. Camp­ing out at night pro­vides a unique per­spec­tive, an op­por­tu­nity to ad­mire the tran­quil­ity of this place – alone – as it is il­lu­mi­nated by the stars. At first light, the chirp­ing of birds de­scend upon its wa­ters to take from its plen­ti­ful bounty of fish. A few more kilo­me­ters later and the Rio Baker, comes into sight. Backed by glaciers, the wa­ters of the river take on the bright blue color of the snow melt that feeds it. Af­ter days of travel be­hind us our an­tic­i­pa­tion builds for the first sight of

the rapids. At first glimpse, the beau­ti­ful smooth blue wa­ter of the Rio Baker looks calm and invit­ing, al­most tran­quil. But first looks tend to be de­ceiv­ing. Upon closer in­spec­tion, it be­comes clear that the river is flow­ing and flow­ing fast down to­wards the mas­sive gorges be­low. Un­doubt­edly, this flow cou­pled with the gra­di­ent down­stream will trans­late into gar­gan­tuan white­wa­ter, but that is what we have come for, the gi­ant rapids hid­den within the gorges of this re­mote river. Hun­dreds of tons of wa­ter race past per sec­ond as we scout the en­trance to the gorge. At the con­flu­ence of the Rio Baker and Rio Nef is Nef Falls we put on. It's here the river shows its true colour - and the rea­son for its rep­u­ta­tion as one of the most in­tense class five sec­tions on the planet. The wa­ter changes from a beau­ti­ful wel­com­ing blue to an evil milky brown to add to the mys­tery. We are greeted im­me­di­ately by an im­pos­ing two-step drop with the power and fea­tures that would tear the head right off of a kayaker who dares get off line. Safe to say it gets our hearts pump­ing as we drop into the gorge. Fur­ther down­stream we en­counter count­less rapids, big­ger than ei­ther of us have ever seen, ly­ing in wait for any­one ballsie enough to at­tempt to run them. Boils surge into jagged canyon walls, con­tin­u­ously threat­en­ing to throw you off­line and into deadly river fea­tures with­out no­tice. Ver­ti­cal walls box the river in, mean­ing any at­tempt to nav­i­gate the main rapids of the Rio Baker is com­bined with the com­mit­ment of be­ing com­pletely un­able to es­cape. There are no sec­ond chances here. The power and fury of this river is in­tense, as we travel fur­ther into the gorge it in­tim­i­dates us more. With no way out but down we have no op­tion but to con­tinue. Waves tower above us, throt­tling our tiny plas­tic boats and throw­ing us ev­ery­where. Slowly and steadily we fight against the mon­s­tourous rapids, work­ing our way through the puz­zle of the Baker. Kilo­me­tres later the gorge walls be­gin to sub­side, and the road re­turns to the river bank. We're granted a wel­come relief from the fe­ro­cious white­wa­ter. Only then can the in­ten­sity of the mo­ment be trans­formed into adren­a­line from hav­ing run this beau­ti­ful beast of a river, and only then could we truly take in the sur­round­ing tran­quil­lity of the hum­bling space. We’d done it, we’d sur­vived the tur­moil of the Baker.

"Boils surge into jagged canyon walls, con­tin­u­ously threat­en­ing to throw you off­line and into deadly river fea­tures with­out no­tice."

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