Pucon Kayaking Hat Trick

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Hunt Jennings, Justin Kelberg, Blair Trotman, Lorenzo Astorga, and Jake Greenbaum on a mission to run Todo Nevados, Puesco and Palguin in one day.


By Hunt Jennings

As one of the premier creeking destinations in the world Pucon offers endless classic white water all in a close proximity. Being such a popular destination makes it hard to accomplish things in kayaking that really stand out.   So our group, having been in Pucon for several days, started thinking about what we could do to go bigger, and experience an epic day in Pucon.

Todo Nevados + Todo Puesco + Todo Palguin … One Day!

Finally, we came to the conclusion that we wanted to knock out three of the most quality runs in the area in one day. Our goals: Todo Nevados, Todo Puesco, and Todo Palguin; starting at the uppermost put ins and taking out at the last take outs.   These three rivers are each a challenge by themselves. Each have challenging rapids and technical drops, and present a wide variety of white water. Our group started with five paddlers, and we began to make plans the night before. The order would be Nevados, Puesco, and Palguin. We found shuttle, a shuttle driver, and some one to take pictures and video for the day all hanging out at Pucon Kayak Hostel. Excitement and a little nervousness kept us all up late thinking about the next day. We had three big tasks in front of us, and two highlight drops that were definitely on everyone’s mind: the infamous Demshitz Drop, and Middle Palguin. The excitement level was high that morning as we loaded the PKH Astro Van, and ready to go by 8 am.  Five put in on the Upper Nevados.

Lorenzo Astorga on Upper Nevado's Cali slide.


“Our goal was to stay smooth and fast, not sprinting, but in the current moving, drifting, and boofing.”

The upper gorge went well, and we started into the middle section with the classic Nevados slide. Smooth lines were had by all, and in what seemed like only a few minutes, we were at the take out to the Upper/Middle Nevados, right above the entrance to Demshitz Drop. Three of us stayed in our boats, knowing we were running Demshitz, and already confident with the line, we decided to just go with out a scout.

Jake Greenbaum firing first on Demshitz, Rio Nevado. 

As we rolled into the Demshitz Drop Jake looked back and said, “Give me 15 seconds! See you at the bottom!”

One after another, the three of us fired off the first big crux of the day, spaced only 15 seconds apart from each other. With solid lines by all, we waited in the pool for our fourth teammate, who also had a super solid line, and then informed us that the fifth member of the group decided not to run Demshitz, and would meet us at the takeout.

Blair Trotman styling Demshitz drop after a quick scout..
Hunt Jennings styling Diablito.

We peeled out, and had a super fun run down the rest of the lower Nevados, and took out with huge smiles and high fives. “One down, two to go,” some one said as we were loading up. And off we were to the next goal.

The stoke is high after run one is done..

The drive from the Nevados to the Puesco took about an hour, and having fueled up with food and water on the way, we got to the put in ready to go. Due to a broken boat on the Nevados, only four of us put on the Puesco.

Boofing big just after Tres Troncos..

The Puesco, has super continuous class IV/V boulder gardens, with a little bit of a break separating the upper and lower sections.

Charging down the Puesco.

We got into a super sick pace on this run, blue angeling, staying close, staying fast, and keeping our bows up! One of us took out before the lower section, and met us at the take out, but three continued to the bottom completing Todo Puesco, and knocking the second river out of the way. Everyone was still super stoked, and charged up for the grand finale: Todo Palguin.

At this point, Jake, Lorenzo, and myself were the only ones to have finished both todo runs, and we were super focused and ready to complete the dream!

Five put in again at the Upper Palguin put in, and cruised through the Upper section. At the end of the upper, two took out again, and Jake, Lorenzo, and myself continued downstream.


Jumping off of Exportage drop.

When we got to Boof to Swim, Jake went first, followed by myself, then Lorenzo, and we all paddled down to the 70 footer together. This was our last crux of the day. After scouting for a few minutes, we all knew we wanted it, and were going to run the drop. I was trying to decide whether to run stout 10 or seal launch. Jake decided that he was for sure going to run stout 10, so I volunteered to go first and hold onto my paddle so Jake and Lorenzo could have safety. This was a pretty cool feeling, knowing I was going first, and that the smoothness, and safety of our runs would depend somewhat on me sticking my line, and staying in my boat. I seal launched in, and had a pretty good line, but took a bigger hit than usual. Nevertheless, I rolled up in my boat fist pumped and waited for the rest.

Hunt Jennings firing first on Middle Palguin.

Jake went next, absolutely styling stout 10, floating smoothly to the lip, and had a sick line, rolling up stoked at the bottom.

Jake, charged up on this day, fires up Stout 10..
Sick line on Stout 10 followed by a sick line on Middle Palguin.

Lorenzo went next and also had a super sick line, with a snappy hand roll to fist pump at the bottom!

Lorenzo Astorga styling Middle Palguin and the day is almost complete.

All super stoked and relieved, we had a super fun paddle through the lower Palguin, and made it to the take out to meet the rest of the group. Everyone was incredibly stoked, and a feeling of accomplishment and completion came over the whole group. These are the days that we live for. Commitment, team work, and support from the whole group made this possible, and nothing feels better at the end of the day than knowing you set out with a goal and came back having accomplished it exactly the way you planned, sticking one drop at a time.

Thanks to Pucon Kayak Hostel for providing transportation for the mission, and to everyone else that made this possible! Super stoked to be able to do this with my buddies Jake Greenbaum, and Lorenzo Astorga!

Mission accomplished!!!!!

By Hunt Jennings

Directions to Pucon Chile.

You are invited to the warm hospitality of Pucon Kayak Hostel.

Best Selling Programs:

Buying Your Dream Kayak Vehicle in Chile

Directions to Pucon Chile.

You are invited to the warm hospitality of Pucon Kayak Hostel.

Best Selling Programs:

Buying Your Dream Kayak Vehicle in Chile

One of the most often questions asked is, “how hard is it to buy a vehicle?” This article is designed to offer trip saving tips, a step by step how to buy guide, what to do and not do, and horror stories of past kayak nomads.

The Achibueno has a rugged Andes shuttle known for killing vehicles.

So your crew has decided to do the extended kayak tour of Chile this year. Your biggest challenge becomes transportation. “Oh… we’ll just buy a beater vehicle and it’ll be awesome!” Your vehicle will ultimately make or break your kayak adventure.

Below is a Facebook thread that arrived Nov 30, 2011 after Colorado crew Chris Baer, Casey Tango and Gordon Klco spent their first week buying a van, breaking down 3 times, returning the van to the dealer at a loss of over $US3,000, renting another vehicle, and losing a week of their trip.

  • Gordon Klco
  • hey david,
    we have had a brutal start to this trip. the van we bought is a piece of shit and we have been broken down for the last week. monday we are headed to santiago again for the 3rd time to get rid of the van and start over with a rental. we should be coming back to the claro after that….hopefully mid week. Also, i was wondering if it was possible to stay at your place for some of the time we are down south. We would just want to tent camp and use the bathroom/kitchen/maybe one boat locker if possible. do you think that is an option? let me know what your thoughts are. looking forward to seeing you!

November 27, 2011

David Hughes

  • Gordon… bummer to hear about your start. Welcome to Chile… hope you have a couple of good stories. Yeah… I’ll do what I can to get you guys up and running and ask of you guys to post some blogs for the hostel.
    Good luck.

November 27, 2011

Gordon Klco

  • Awesome! We can defintely get you some content. I have some good stories to tell…and great lessons learned. I will see you soon!

The Colorado crew ended up renting a 4 door pickup truck for about $US60/day. That is super cheap and hard to find.

Read Gordon Kclo’s, “Chilean Misadventure Part I.” 

Step 1-  Research vehicles online and get a sense of what you want.

Pucon Kayak Hostel offers a shuttle service that gets kayakers on the water at an economical price. Rack stack was staged. 

Google:  Chile autos, rental cars Chile…  Use a Spanish translator to get more results.

Check out ChileAutos.cl for online classified autos.

Things to Research

  • Gas or diesel? At 900 pesos/liter that’s about $US7/gal. Diesel is cheaper and will be an easier to sell vehicle. But costs more to buy the auto.
  • Buy common models. Finding parts for rare vehicles is costly and timely. Some common brands are Nissan, Toyota, Mitsubishi, Kia, and Hyundai.
  • Racks- Use to you would bring rain gutter rack mounts/straps. Now rain gutters are rare. You may have to pay a shop to build a rack.
  • Remember straps. Or you can buy ropes.

Step 2-  Get a RUT number first thing.

A Chilean RUT number is a temporary social security number you must have before purchasing a vehicle. It’s an easy process that costs about $US20 and a couple of hours time. You should do this on the day you arrive to Chile.

Link to “How to get your Chilean RUT Number.” 

Step 3- Have a reliable mechanic check your vehicle.

In 2005 I found the perfect diesel 12 seat van to buy for Huge Experiences group. At $12,000 I opted to pay a Chilean friend’s mechanic to check it out. Alex discovered that the motor was bad and would break down in no time. Alex told the mechanic and the mechanic offered Alex $1,000 to, “help me sell to this gringo.” The small mechanic investment saved thousands of dollars and weeks of stress.

Breaking down gets old and expensive quick. Hire a reliable mechanic before you buy.

If you plan on riding ripio (gravel) roads best to make sure you have off road treads and do not head out with bald tires. Also make sure you have a jack and good spare, as you will use them on a long trip. If you do get a flat most towns have a Vulcanizadora (tire repair). Number one things that fail on Chilean vehicles are terminales and rotulas (tie rods and ball joints) so check them well when buying used.  In old days four wheel drive was needed for lots of runs but today most runs are accessible without 4 wheel. – Kurt Casey

Step 4- Revisiones Tecnicas and Permiso de Circulacion

Annually, vehicles need a Permiso de Circulacion from the Revisiones Tecnicas stating its road worthy, passes emissions test… Check that your vehicle is up to date. If your auto does not then you’ll have to spend a half-day getting it checked at the Registro Civil and they may give you a list of expensive checkpoints.  Revisiones Tecnicas… you’ll also need to go by this office to get another stamp.

 Step 5- Tax and Santiago Toll Checks

Is your vehicle clear of taxes and Santiago toll fees? Toll fees can accumulate in Santiago and like taxes they follow the vehicle. This is an easy to check process for any Chilean. It’d bum you out if you went to sell your vehicle and found out it owed over $1,000 in tolls and taxes.

Step 6- Paying and Getting Your Padron (owner’s card) Registration at Registro Civil

This is the paying and transferring of title and registration to your name. Go with the owner to a Notario (notary’s are in most towns) to legally sign and process the trade. Padron and Registration papers will be applied for with intent of transfer to your name and address.

Leaving the Country:  You cannot leave the country without title or notarized permission from the owner. Since, titles can take months to arrive in the mail it is a good forethought to get the notarized permission at point of sale.

Experts Note

If buying and selling to or from foreigners you can make your deal in foreign currency and even do payments outside of country. It is not mandatory to pay in Chilean pesos as long as buyer and seller agree. This is important because it can be very long and slow process to open a bank account in country so wiring in foreign currency and switching into pesos can be a problem. -Kurt Casey

Step 7- Buy Auto Insurance

As soon as you purchase the vehicle go purchase insurance. Insurance is cheaper than in the US. Make sure and get a tow policy, which could save you hundreds if you break down. Pucon Kayak Hostel uses Falabella. Falabella is a large department store usually in malls. You can drive your vehicle with papers to Falabella and purchase on the spot. You can also buy insurance on-line.

More Helpful Tips

  • “Theft! There is petty crime in Chile so think about that when buying a vehicle. Do not leave stuff in back of trucks unattended. Also many a window has been broken and cameras, computers, money, etc stolen.” –Kurt Casey
  • Consider renting. Due to challenges and time involved in finding and buying a vehicle it might be best to rent. The big companies are expensive but options exist for renting from private boaters (like Robbie Dastin), Pucon Kayak Hostel, or even hiring a vehicle with a driver. Then you never have to walk, hitch or bike a shuttle. –Kurt Casey
  • Hire a Chilean to help you through the process. Pucon Kayak Hostel annually upgrades autos and always hires out to help with the paperwork and mechanical checkpoints. PKH pays $US100/day for the service.
  • Consider a shuttle service. Pucon Kayak Hostel began offering shuttles to guests due to the demand for kayaker transportation.


Dave fishes too.

By David Hughes


Directions to Pucon Chile.

You are invited to the warm hospitality of Pucon Kayak Hostel.

Best Selling Programs:

47 Year Old Kurt Casey Notches 15 First Descents in One Year

Directions to Pucon Chile.

You are invited to the warm hospitality of Pucon Kayak Hostel.

Best Selling Programs:

November House Rent Rates for Class V Boaters $100/week

Advanced Intermediate Tour de Pucon

Reserve Now.

 47 Year Old Kurt Casey Notches 15 First Descents in One Year

The goal of this interview is to pick the brain of one of the world’s foremost experts on the subject of first descents.

Kurt Casey has mastered the art of finding, researching and notching first descents.

If you are a serious whitewater seeker in Chile or Peru there are few names more knowledgable when you need expert advice on the regions, first descents, put-in directions, and river knowledge. At the top of that list is 47-year old whitewater life-styler Kurt Casey. It’s widely known throughout South American whitewater that Kurt Casey “knows his shit” when it comes to researching, planning and executing first descents.  Remarkably at 47 Kurt notched 15 first D’s in one year with 6 of those being within an impressive four-day stretch.

Kurt is father of two kayakers Pablo age 11 and Luna age 9 and husband of Eva Luna, a whitewater legend of her own right. As I began leading commercial trips and purchased land for Pucon Kayak Hostel I kept hearing, “Do you know Kurt?” Or you might hear, “Kurt went up there a few years ago,” or “Ask Kurt… he’s done it.”

Seven year old Pablo Casey runs his first cascade on Pucon Chile's Rio Desague. Pucon still offers annual first descents and exploration.

Pizza Cala, a Pucon regular kayaker’s watering hole, has a soccer game on the plasma screen, a warm wood fed giant oven and Pablo is hopping around outside on the street whilst Kurt and I share a beer.  Kurt explains the art of first descents in between watching the soccer game and explaining why Argentina’s President recently screwed the national economy.

Kurt begins, “OK. Why explore rivers and first descents?”

“First it’s a challenge to just find one, a challenge to know when to go, where to get in, where to get out, and who to go with.” That’s a stacked sentence illustrating Kurt’s experience but he continues. “ If all the other aforementioned stuff works out then the actual getting down the river part can be easy. You know there’s information out there. As long as there’s not an epic, which there can be.”

What constitutes an epic?

Epics happen! Above a boat is pinned in a hard to reach place on Chile's remote Rio Polcura.

Oh… there are a lot of possibilities. Wrong water levels, rockslides, trees, dam sites… hmm dam sites that’s kind of a new one. It’s not generally an issue but there could be unfriendly landowners more like in the old days with some rivers up north (referring to Chile). You plan everything, drive into a road, and there’s a locked gate… that sucks. Ughh, the Lontue was always tough to get through.

Where do you start?

How do you find a river? Next, you have to ask how do you know it’s a first descent? I hear people say, ‘I think I got a first descent.’ And I answer, ‘in ’87 that was done like 15 times.’ First you might catch a glimpse of a river or a valley when you’re paddling something. You see a tributary and think where did that come from? In the old days you’d spot something from the window of a plane.

Now, Google Earth has changed everything. Cause you can have a satellite view of Earth. Historical images from other months plus hydrological data can give you an idea of flows: rising, falling, high/low times of year. You can use G.E. to find your put-ins and take-outs, measure distances, and if you have to go up and over a mountain you get an idea of the elevation change. Then, if it’s available, go get a topo map with a usable scale 1:50,000 scale or better. That signifies each topo line with an interval of 50 m. Anything beyond that is not really useful.

Depending what country you are in… in Chile, for example you can visit Instituto Geografica Military in Santiago to see the maps, or view small images online, purchase them, provide a shipping address and you will have them within 2 days. I have even had success having them mailed to overseas address.

On the RiversofChile(.com) and PeruWhitewater(.com) websites there is a page with the history of the first descents.  That idea came from Lars Holbeck who kept that info for his California guidebooks.  He was one of the pioneer explorers that opened up a lot of runs in Chile and other countries.

RiversofChile(.com) site kind of picked up on all the work that John Foss did before his untimely death.  “What happened?”  He died on a trip I was doing with him and Franz Helfenstein. It was on an incredible first descent of the Huallabamba in Peru in 1998 that in an instant turned into a nightmare.  He was doing a lot of first descents in Chile at the time and was in process of writing a guidebook.

 Tell us more about getting to and from the river.

Many Chilean runs like the Upper Palguin are clean and safe for those wanting to try their first cascades.

It can be as simple as driving to it.  More likely these days one has to shoulder the boat and hike in, use animals, or perhaps even a motorboat, plane to a lake start or even heli support for the sponsored paddlers who have resources. Then it’s water levels.  It seems to always be easier to work with a river that flows due to snowmelt as fluctuations are more consistent over time.  Rain fed rivers can give you a sustained period of storms that result in excessive flows or to the contrary be bone dry when you arrive. Both possibilities make finding ideal flow a hard target to plan or accomplish.

Then you have to find the right people that can and want to go:

A.  Do they have the time? And B.  More importantly they don’t mind the potential of not having a successful trip.

Usually when you go boating on a known run someone in your group knows or has at least read about the put-in, takeout, gradient, water levels, rapids, etc…  But when you don’t have any of that shit you might spend a few days and not get on the water or put-on, get your ass kicked and crawl out of there.

Kurt on Topo Maps

Topo maps are good because you can get the average gradients.  If you know the average gradients and you have some idea of the flow you can usually make a solid guess to what you’re going to find.

A rule of thumb we still use is that if you get into a river that is over 20m/km avg. gradient and over 1,000 CFS you are probably looking at class V.  We, as a general rule, learned through experience that

“We’ll avg. no more than 1 KM/hr down the river at those conditions.¨

Those are just generalizations but you have to go in there with something as a basis for planning the time of your trip.  Remember that many rivers are not day trips. Some of the big Canyons in Peru can be 10-day stretches without resupply or good chances to bail out.

What about hazards?

In 2010 Steve Fisher is the first to descend Salto Palguin. Ever since the 85 footer is ran annually by a handful of the world's best kayakers. One of every six stay in their boat.

Hazards as part of the river… it depends a lot on where you are.  Could be poison ivy in one place, other places could be insects or snakes.  In Chile it’s impenetrable bamboo called Colihue or just slippery rocks in the canyon and steep cliffs.  Other cases could be just super cold, rapidly transitioning water levels.  (Example Rio Volcan in Chile, which is a dam release.)

It seems like if you do hit a new river in a certain area, you kind of start looking around that area and you often find more runs.  For some reason it’s regional… some regions just get overlooked.  And some surprise you like here in Pucon, one of the world’s epicenters of kayaking for November to March.  If you just get here a month or two earlier the first D’s are still there within a 100 km radius.

There are so many rivers.  Some might be short, but there’s still runs like the Polcura that are 25 KM hike in with 27 KM of good volume river that had simply been overlooked until Nov 2011.

For example this past January we found a pretty high volume river with road access… Rio Hueinahue.  Unbelievable no one ever explored it is close by to Nilahue, Curringue, Florin and several other popular runs.

Tell us more about the people you paddle with.

Everyone is different, some people their goal is to run every single drop.  That probably works if you’re a really good kayaker and you’ve got a lot of time. Sometimes, what we do on these first exploratory river descents… is you kind of do what you can to get to the end safely.  Then you plan maybe a different type of crew to return and attempt to clean some of the portages and other marginal drops.

People tend to focus on exploring a region whether it was California in the old days, today Columbia is a big one, while Nepal, New Zealand are traditional favorites. Since many people boat there, kayakers heading to those zones usually have a sense of what’s going on. Today with Internet access you can usually figure it out through blogs, chat rooms, search engines, GE, etc if someone has done a particular river and find some Beta.

Great example of that is our backyard run on the Nevado.  Myself and a group consisting of Daniel DeLavergn, Nate Elliot, Polk Deters, and Riley Cartwright did not first descend it until 2004.  Local Pucon ex pat legend Robby Dastin found it and helped figure out how to scout it, as back then there were no trails into the canyon.  But the now infamous Demshitz drop didn’t get run until years later.

Another example is, perhaps the most run creek in South America, the Palguin.  John Foss ran it in ‘89 but only ran three drops.  We went back in ‘91 and started regularly running the Upper section and portaging the falls in the Middle section but for some unexplained reason never ventured onto the lower section mistakenly thinking there was nothing worthwhile.  Then a few years later they started running not only the Lower Palguin but also all drops on the Middle including, Stout Ten, the 26-meter falls affectionately called the MP, Boof to Swim, and La Portage.  Four years ago Steve Fisher showed up and ran Salto Palguin so now everything has been run.

In recent years Pucon's Rio Nevado has become the local favorite run with two sections ranging from creeker to stout creeker. The Cali slide begins the Upper Canyon.

Focusing on one particular rapid shows how things change over time. “Boof to Swim.” In the old days that’s what it did… you thought you had a good boof but you’d get beat down and swim.  Now with modern creek boats designs most people style the drop plus it’s no longer this crazy ass wilderness run.  Now, local kayaker Ben May’s house is there, you park at the takeout.  Used to be you bashed through the woods. And had a hard time scouting. Now there are trails to and from every drop.

A lot has changed in Chile, Peru and elsewhere in the world of kayaking but the fact remains that you can still find as yet un-run rivers. It might take quite a bit of research, complicated logistics to get to and from the river, and an  element of luck (as in being in the right place during the perfect storm), but for the persistent adventurer the rewards of finding a new chunk of paradise make all efforts worthwhile.

By David Hughes

Owner Pucon Kayak Hostel

Founder/Director New River Academy

Director Patagonia Study Abroad

Directions to Pucon Chile.

You are invited to the warm hospitality of Pucon Kayak Hostel.

Best Selling Programs:

November House Rent Rates for Class V Boaters $100/week

Advanced Intermediate Tour de Pucon

Reserve Now.

Upper Nevado Log Extraction

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At low water Miguel Ruiz Covarrubias aka “Zorro” rappels, swims, slides and jumps adventurists down the Rio Nevado Canyon. The log blocking Pinch-20 aka Ecstasy is detrimental to Zorro’s livelihood business.

Chile’s Rio Nevado has become the Pucon favorite creek run. The Upper Nevado section boasts over thirty clean 6’ boofs, three clean twenty-footers, and a Cali style slide all just a short drive from Pucon.  The Lower Nevado ups the anti of skill beginning with either portaging or running the infamous Demshitzler Cascade, named by D-Pooplar founder and first-descendlar Jared Seiler. The lower falls drop off the Earth into a deep green canyon. You can feel the depths of mother earth as you enter the stair cased cascade canyon. Six quick drops and you’ve experienced a deep-canyon cascade run.

“There’s Wood in There.” -Words Kayakers Dread

Kayaking on an April after rain special Upper Nevado day Ian (Garcia) told me (David Hughes), “Zorro said there’s wood in the twenty-footer on the left wall.” Upon first inspection there was a 40’ tree bridging over the lip of the cascade to the above steep banks, “ahh… we can get around that.” Ian observed. I peered over the edge of a boulder, “Ahh shitt! Ian there’s a log in the bottom too.”

Low water eddy view: Study a log you’ll slide over committing into a funnel to the left 3' wide pinch. It's a rare crack horizon. Tuck paddle. Lock body. Wait. Righty stroke and stomp.

The log underwater was vertically pinned in the middle-landing zone, limbs sticking out as flags. The word portage need not be uttered. We studied the straight up walls. Neither of us wanting to hike, climb, and drag kayaks up a slick, dirty embankment to the road. Ian announced, “You want to throw boats or swim and catch?”  I replied, “You’ve probably got a better arm than me. I’ll go first and catch.” Then chimnied to the lowest point of a crack, jumped the remaining 15’, swam to a rock and waited on kayaks and paddles to drift to me. The perch/catching rock was immediately above a 6’ cascade followed by the known “Auto-boof” 10 footer. We understood that the log would be a problem for next season’s peak-flows and hordes of kayakers.

Portaging Would Miss Six Quality Cascades

The location is in the heart of the cascades of the Upper Nevado at what is called Ecstasy or Pinch-20. Pinch-20 cause the river pinches to 3’ wide and drops twenty feet off a horizon edge.
  • Pinch-20 or Ecstacy
  • 6-footer
  • “Autoboof” 10-footer
  • 4-footer lead into a 6-foot slide
  • 12-foot boof
  • The walls are steep enough to cause a serious portage to the road and reentrance below a series of the 6 quality drops on the Upper Nevado. Yikes!

Extracting the Log

“Zorro do you want to try and get the log out next week?” –David

“Yea Hueon (pronounced way-on meaning dude). We need to get that shit out of there.” –Zorro

“Cool Robby (Dastin) said he’s in and Ian wants to help too.” –David

Two days later Zorro would go in alone, lose two axes, break two small winches, and bust his knee on a rock during the hike out.

Three days later we returned together.

Gear: Ax, dry suits + normal river gear, harnesses, rappel gear, camera, water. Gear we should’ve brought: More fresh arms, ax file to re-sharpen.

Zorro set ropes and began rappelling. He chopped for a long time, taking breaks; fresh I was semi-eager to take my turn.

I’ve run big and difficult drops, hopped and climbed in every situation, have a strong sense of what I can and cannot do, and don’t scare easily. Let’s just say that being attached to a security line walking down a slippery cascade rock to a protruding log with ax in hand was slow moving. HELL YES! My nerves were spiked! We were 15’ high in the middle of a waterfall whacking with an ax at a giant log under water. The water was cold too. But the aerobic workout kept us warm… except our feet.

Chopping was off-balance and exhausting

The inside chopping angle proved ineffective. After chopping I’d climb up the waterfall, which too was tiring. Rest on a perch watching Zorro hacking away. He rested while standing in the middle of a waterfall. Every now and again he’d yell, “AAGGGHHH!”

I began taking 20 strong hacks. Rest. Drink water from the cascade. Rest. Take 20 strong hacks. The water would push the blade downstream like a paddle. By the end the twentieth hack I could barely lift the ax. Then we’d change.

Eventually, we realized we needed more people, more energy, more rest. Another day.

Maybe 75% of the way through a 2’ wide log the easiest angles were gone. Even trading turns we were exhausted, feet frozen. We climbed the wall, gathered gear, and began hiking, wading and busting ass up the creek bed to where we’d previously climbed down the canyon

Cutting a log out of a whitewater cascade.
One foot on a slick rock wall and the second positioned lower on a branch actually was pretty stable leaning back on the harness. You could get a good angle on the 2’ wide trunk’s side.

banks. Zorro said, “I think the floods will break it and wash it down stream.” I replied, “It’s still 6 maybe 8 inches deep and at least a foot wide. Think how strong a board that size would be. I think we have to come back and finish it.” Both of us knew that finishing the job is always more likely than organizing a return mission. Now, the log is nearing its most dangerous state with a hard to hack underside approaching its breaking point.

About Running the Cascade

Seventeen year old Hayley Stuart times the stroke riding the left wall at normal flows.

You peer past a log that you’ll have to slide your kayak over and then drop into a slope funneling to the left wall. It’s a rapid like no other… the funnel is so tight you have to tuck your paddle and ride a rudder. The left wall and giant boulder form the gap/horizon line.  Then as you fly along the left wall time a subtle right stroke and land in the pool. The effect is a small gap forming a large horizon line drop… IT’S AWESOME!

As a leader of rivers one of my favorite things to offer is, “You want to try it blind?” It might be once in a lifetime that a kayaker can run a cascade blind.

   By David Hughes

Owner Pucon Kayak Hostel

Founder/Director New River Academy

Director Patagonia Gap Year

You are invited to the warm hospitality of Pucon Kayak Hostel.

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Why are Chile Cascades So Perfect and Blue?

From north to south, Chile extends 4,270 kilometers, and yet it only averages 177 kilometers east to west.

You are warmly invited to the hospitality of Pucon Kayak Hostel.

Chile Geography and Geology Working Together

To the east are the Andes mountains and to the west lies the Pacific Ocean.  The cordillera of the Andes is the central part congested with rivers, lakes, glaciers and volcanoes.  Peaks Aconcagua and Nevado del Salado are the Americas two tallest peaks at 6,959 and 6,880 meters.  All meaning an extended high altitude ridge carries water to sea in a short distance. About 80 percent of the land in Chile is made up of mountains of some form or other.  The majestically snowcapped Andes and their elevations combined with heavy winter snows and spring rains (November) offer kayakers some of the cleanest waterfall runs in the world.

Andes Spine + Abundance of Water + Bedrock often in Granite or Basalt = Whitewater Geological Phenomenon

Chilean Blue Water Colors, How?

Clean pure water emits short-wave length blue rays that are reflected making spectacular shots for kayakers.

**Excerpt taken from “Colors of Water at Earth’s Surface- Lakes, Rivers, Glaciers” Did you know water molecules absorb long wavelength red light and scatter short wavelength blue light.  This is why clear bodies of water appear blue.  Clean bodies of water appear deep blue.  The water is virtually pure as water molecules scatter blue light efficiently.  Lakes will be a duller colour after rain or in cloudy conditions. 

What about the clear blue colors of Chilean rivers? 

Often rivers in Chile overflow out of a lake after several runnable gem tributaries flow into that same lake.  This is the case with Pucon’s Rios Trancura and Tolten drainages.  The Trancura is a catchment for many of Pucon’s best cascade runs including classics Palguin, Puesco, Liucura, Nevado, Coilaco, Desague, Turbio, Maichin and Carhuelo.  Short lived the continuous Trancura rapids flow into the volcanic formed Lake Villarrica.  After being solar heated those same waters become the clear blue Rio Tolten (a beginner kayaker and SUP boarder’s warm water delight).

Water color is a matter of bedrock or sediment on many rivers.

Trancura tribuataries are often clear and blue too?  Let’s examine the Rio Turbio which flows direct off the snow pack and rains of Pucon’s Volcan Villarrica.  The lower main highway stretch of the Turbio after rains runs brown.  Yet, higher up on a class V+ cascade stretch dropping off the volcano’s horizon are dazzling blue drops on those same lower section brown days.

The Palguin exhibits the blue nature of Chile’s pure water runs. This water’s source is from a glacier on Volcan Villarrica.

The Turbio’s black basaltic bedrock in it’s steeper reaches might be imagined as the more famous Seven Teacups runs a couple of million years ago prior to being carved, milled and polished to perfection.  You can walk next to every drop just beginning to cut it’s way into the Turbio’s more jagged versus slick polished basaltic bedrock of the Teacups.  High on the volcano the water was snow just the night prior (unless due to rain) and the basalt bedrock holds little sediment.  As the run exits the lava field granite boulders and sediment become apparent.  And hence the lower reaches of the run exhibit the color brown.

What does clear or blue water color mean for kayakers?

It means Chilean rivers are pure and clean as they emit those fore-mentioned shortwave blue rays.  For us kayakers it’s simply spectacular to boof blue water drops and to peer deep into pools.  Based on the geography there are lots of rivers often in close proximity to one another.  Yes. There are plenty of days when the water is brown.  Meaning a recent rain or higher than normal flows.

Are there still first descents to be discovered in Chile? 

Kurt Casey may have notched more First Descents than anyone in Chile. Whether you come to Chile to explore First D’s or experience why so kayakers return annually you’ll love Chile’s blue waters.

Top kayak explorers are still notching annual first descents.  In 2011 Kurt Casey notched 6 first descents in 4 days.  Researching a drainage away from explored areas and finding the right levels plus access ultimately means Chile has lots of first descents available.  Maybe you’ll be the one to discover the next Rio Nevado.

Pucon’s favorite run, los Nevados for it’s two sections, was discovered only in recent years. The slide is walkable for those wanting to lap it.

Cool Ways to Explore Chile’s Rivers:

Patagonia Gap Year is New River Academy’s favorite choice for high school grads and university students.

You are warmly invited to the hospitality of Pucon Kayak Hostel. 

Links to rivers related to this article:

Palguin River– Class IV

Rio Turbio– Class V+

Rio Trancura Class III and IV stretches

Rio Desague  Class V

Rio Puesco  Class V