"Tour del Tremendous": waterfall adventures Chilean jungle
What started as an vague idea thrown around at the adidas Sickline in October, became reality in early December this year when Bren Orton (GB, 22), Dane Jackson (USA, 23), Kalob Grady (CAN, 22) and myself (GER, 21) teamed up to go explore and run some of the biggest whitewater in Chile.
Flying in from all over the world we met in Pucon, known as the "Gateway to Patagonia" to base ourselves in this little touristy town also known as the Mecca of big drops in Chile.
"Tour del Tremendous" started with the Rio Palguin Race where I managed to sneak away with a win in the Slalom while Bren came in 2nd in the Boatercross on our first day in the country after long travels - the tone for the trip was set.
After a night of heavy rainfalls we decided not to waste any time and headed to the infamous "Demshitz Drop" on the Rio Nevados just outside of Pucon. Four successful runs later the stoke was high and we were eager for more.
The next morning we got woken up by the sunshine and the smell of Mate - the south American equivalent to coffee. A sporadic breakfast later we found ourselves in our rental car again, this time with some local beta about two rivers which possibly could carry enough water to make it possible for us to run the waterfalls on them.
The first cascade we got to is named "Tomatita", based on the fact that its bigger brother is a waterfall located in Tlapacoyan, Mexico, which is look alike but a couple feet taller called "Tomata". Having paddled the Tomata Falls in Mexico before myself it felt like Mother Nature copied & pasted the drop to Chile, interesting stuff.
We all decided to go for the waterfall and everybody got good lines in so we decided to keep on pushing and headed for our second stop of the day: Salto Newen.
Salto Newen got discovered and first descended by Aniol Serrasolses (ESP) last spring. Since I first saw pictures of the drop, all I wanted to do was to fly off this particular waterfall.
Salto Newen itself is a freak of mother nature, a perfect 30m waterfall cascading into one of the most beautiful canyons I've ever seen.
Once we arrived at the falls it was already afternoon and a descent of something that substantial needs time to plan out logistics and study the line over and over again, also in case things would go wrong you don't want to run out of daylight, so we decided to return to the waterfall the very next morning with a big safety and media crew, make a plan and then run the beast.
The rest of the day everybody was sunk into his own thoughts - anticipating the following day and our upcoming descent of Salto Newen.
I do see that it can be pretty hard to understand why we travel the world chasing waterfalls, putting in all our effort, time and money for just a few seconds of free fall sometimes even resulting in pain and injury if things don't go according to plan.
But the moment you arrive at the lip of the drop, the point of no return, stare down the drop and spot your landing zone, when the mind goes blank and everything feels like slow motion, feeling every single nerve in your entire body more intense than ever before, start free falling, set your angle, get ready for impact, hit the water, resurface, roll up and look back to the waterfall you just ran: that moment you realize it's all worth it, no matter how big the efforts were to get to this point. For me the feeling after running a hard rapid and especially a big waterfall is pure clarity and freedom. Everything makes total sense and I'm absolutely one with myself, a state of mind which definitely is addicting to the ones who seek the adventure.
Waking up with sunrise the next morning we all felt good and ready to send Salto Newen. What felt like a ten minute drive instead of a two hour journey we arrived to the same place we left the day before: the lip of Salto Newen.
After one final scout and setting up the media and safety game plan it was time to go. Now it was upon us and nobody else. What felt like a surreal dream, we all found ourselves at the base of the falls - four successful descents with the lines and outcome we had hoped for. Easy to imagine that the stoke was higher then ever. We knew we were supposed to be here and everything seemed just right that time.
Still floating on the stoke from our day at Newen we headed down south to take part at the invitational only Rio Fuy competition. Three days full of river events and great people were ahead of us. Our squad managed to do pretty well at the competitions with Bren winning the Slalom event, me winning the downriver freestyle closely followed by Dane in second and Bren in third. Dane also managed to finish second in the Boatercross, unfortunately Kalob took a hit to the ribs and couldn't compete after finals in the boatercross event.
After a couple of great days on the Fuy we decided to head back towards Pucon where the forecast was predicting heavy rainfall- and that's exactly what we needed to score more big waterfalls in the area. Unfortunately the rain wasn't delivering as expected so the drainages we were hoping for didn't carry enough water which meant we had to look for a plan B.
Scoping out new rivers and waterfalls in the volcanic belt north of our home base on Google Earth, we loaded up the truck and hit the road - this time hoping to first descent new rivers and explore unknown areas to kayakers. Trying to first descent a river is hard work so we ended up hiking and bush scrambling around a lot, looking for rivers which possibly could be runnable in a kayak. We found two promising looking rivers, one very narrow and deep gorge and a super steep open river just over the next valley. The narrow gorge we named "Virgin Canyon" delivered and ended up being a fun and good run. Unfortunately we had to abort our mission on the second river, it was just to steep and nearly none of the rapids or waterfalls were runnable so we climbed out of the gorge back to our car.
But I guess that's the game of exploration: sometimes you win some, sometimes you lose some.
Back at the Kayak Hostel in Pucon which kindly offered us a place to stay we were making plans once more and got ready to hit Argentina to paddle the classic Rio Manso Gorge. On the morning of departure we woke up early to heavy rainfall - that much that we just couldn't resist to go and check the waterfalls we got skunked on just a couple days earlier. And this time we got lucky!
Tres Saltos was the name of our next goal, a about twenty meter tall waterfall which is pretty good to go, especially since our team was now that played in we had a smooth exectued mission with desirable outcome.
Still on the post-free fall glow we jumped into the truck and got back to the original plan driving to Argentina. Despite some issues at the borders we managed to get into the country with a small delay. Arriving at the Rio Manso we had to learn about a new law that basically forbid us to paddle the first waterfall on the Manso we were hoping for most. Being a little bit bummed we still had a fun time on the section downstream but not being able to paddle the top drop definitely damped our stay in Argentina.
Leaving Argentina and getting back into Chile we could score some more quality kayaking until it was time to check out our last and biggest waterfall of the trip: the Salto Puma on the Rio Fuy. We all were pretty keen to paddle the waterfall which is a very tall and super technical drop with serious consequences if things go wrong. We felt ready but the river shut us down. The Rio Fuy carried way to much water to allow a descent in control so we had to abandon our plans of running the Salto Puma - but one day we return, no doubt.
Finishing off our three weeks of "Tour del Tremendous" with quality kayaking on the Middle Fuy section we had a blast and are already making new plans for the upcoming season: the crew is all I could ask for and the fire is burning stronger than ever. Stay tuned for some very interesting adventures next spring!