As I write this, I am sitting at a campsite 25 kilometers away from our trailhead near Casa Piedra, a Patagonia National Park building. From my seat in my Crazy Creek Chair, I can see four different types of trees I’ve never seen before, two different glacier capped mountains, two mountains with red rock tops, and a small creek. Around me, I hear the low roar of the Rio Avilés (Aviles River), the breeze in the trees, and the rustle of everyone else around me.
This is my second week of expedition, I’ve been taking a little break from the blog (especially because I have no wifi to post with). I’ll run down the last week here, and then post again about this week’s expedition.
Two Sunday’s ago (3/4) at 8am, we left in a big coach bus from our cabanas (cabins) in Coyhaique, Chile and drove about four hours directly south to Puerto Tranquilo, Chile. It is the only rest stop between the city of Coyhaique and the town of Cochrane along the main highway, the Carretera Austral. After our half hour break in Puerto Tranquilo, we continued south another four hours until we were less than 20 kilometers from Cochrane. We pulled over and met two other mini buses. From there, we split up into our three expedition groups (12 students each), and headed off to our individual trail heads and river put ins (starting point on a river trip).
Our river trip started at Balsa Baker, a campsite we named ‘End of Civilization Beach.’ That night, we set up our tents, called Mega Mids, or Mids” for short, packed our 16 foot gear raft, and planned our next six days.
The next morning, we packed up, put on our river gear, and selected boats for the day. The thing that keeps us warm in and on the river is a material called Neoprene. We each have long sleeve shirts, and overalls made of Neoprene, that are possibly the worst things to put on when they are wet and cold in the morning.
Over the next few days on the river, we paddled all day, ate snacks and lunches along the shores, and took in the glacier covered mountains on either side of the river. We also came up with very creative names for our campsites. In order they were: Poop Island, Grassy Hillville (aka Murky Meadows after a rainy night and drenched morning), Rainy Rapid Ridge, Felicity’s Ponyland, and Flower Child Field.
On our third day, we had to portage past a Class 5 insane rapid, a 2 kilometer walk there and back. Together, with multiple trips, we brought 14 kayaks, 54 different bags of personal gear, eight boxes of food and group gear, two sixteen foot raft pontoons, and a really heavy raft gear frame. It was a lot of work. Even though it was rainy and muddy, we still managed to sing, play games, tell stories, and have a blast along the way.
After portage day, we spent one more day paddling, and I, along with two other people, was a Leader of the Day. This meant that it was our responsibility to time breaks and lunch, to find a campsite, to plan the afternoon and the day on the water. I had a great group of ‘co-leaders’ with me and we had a blast working together.
On our last day, we dropped off the raft about halfway to our destination, the ocean! We helped some staff load the raft up onto a truck, and hopped back into our boats to continue. As we got closer and closer to the ocean, the current slowed and paddling go much more difficult. Finally, we reached the fjords and arrived at the ocean-side town of Tortel.
Tortel is probably the coolest town I have seen. It is set in the crest of two hills, and from the water, you can see glacier covered mountains in the background. There are a few boats moored just off the coast of the town, and we kayaked through them to get to our destination, the infamous stairs.
Tortel is a ‘walking-town.’ All the houses are connected by wooden boardwalks and staircases, and there are no cars or roads. The only way to get there is to park on top of the hill, and walk down. We had the pleasure of bringing all of our kayaks and personal gear up the long flight of stairs.
After two trips, about thirty minutes each of up and down, we had completed the daunting task and began eating lunch.
This trip marked my longest number of consecutive nights on the ground, as well as my first kayaking trip. All in all, I would say I had an absolute blast the entire time, despite the tough moments along the way.
From there, it was like Portage Day all over again.