Rio Claro – Chile.
A small group of us arrived at the Claro early in the season, and I had paddled the rio Claro a few years previously, so was happy with going in again as the only person in the group to have been before.
It was early in the season for the 22 teacups/entres salto section, we were the first group that year, and I remembered the hike in being pretty hard work, and taking a while, so we set off and went for a bit.
It turns out that either I’m a lot fitter than I was last time, or I mis-remembered how long it took as we went way too far up, and eventually ended up with the river pretty much at the top where the path and river meet on the same level, which was definitely not the normal put-in.
We put on anyway as we’d walked all that way, and were still not quite sure how far up we had actually gone.
What we found was some pretty spectacular gorges like the rest of the river, and some pretty horrible rapids (and a few good ones). One blind horizon line in a tight bit led to a little problem, I was sure a boof down the middle was fine (which it was), but did lead to one of the group having a bit of a bad time and swimming. We eventually got him out and up the canyon, with his boat stuck in a sketchy eddy/cave thing on a little drop.
I’d also forgotten my drytop, which was fine in the sun, but the tight canyon did make things a bit shady and cold.
I managed to eddy out next to the boat and thanks to some good ropework we hoisted the thing out, and the guy walked out. The rest of us carried on, but decided to get out before the start of the next mini-gorge as it looked even more sketchy, which turned out to be a good idea as it didn’t go at all.
We figured out that we were just above the start of the hard gorge just above the usual 22 section, so we left the boats to come back the day after.
Running the 22 section several times we had a swimmer in the same place several times, but it was never too bad, until we took another few people down and one guy swam in the same place, but had the worst time of his life.
It was a small drop into a small room with a tight exit at the side, and very boily. He swam and went down, hit the wall after the drop and got smeared around back into the base of the drop, and went round again. He got on the back of a boat a couple of times to try and get pulled out but the boil was too big to get him over, and he graciously let go before the paddler got sucked back into the drop too). Just round the corner it was flat and calm, with the rest of the group waiting not knowing what was going on, and no one could get out to do anything as it was in a crazy gorge. Eventually I got a line to him whilst still in my boat and I think it ended up wrapped round his leg a I dragged him out while trying not to fall in myself.
The river being in a crazy & mostly un-escapable gorge provided a few interesting moments. The first time down the Entres Saltos section it was high, and really fun, the caracol ‘plughole’ waterfall was pushing straight into the wall at the bottom with no eddy to wait, and one guy had his paddle ripped out of his hands but luckily we were close enough together I could grab them before it went down the next drop. At the end of the canyon we thought we were about out, when the last drop there was a tree across just at the wrong height in a place where escape looked very difficult.
We sat and thought for a while, and decided to go for the micro eddy above the tree and try to sneak round, which ended up being surprisingly easy, which was a relief.
After a few little epics, some lessons to take away were:
Un-escapable gorges with unknown rivers are pretty scary sometimes.
Don’t get too complacent, if something goes wrong but works out fine a few times, doesn’t mean it always will.
Having a throwbag between your legs so you can get to whilst in your boat, as opposed to in the back. It’s helped me save a few people before, and probably will again.
Check you have all your kit before starting a long hike.
Just because you think a blind horizon line looks fine doesn’t mean everybody else does.
Realise that this is too many things to remember and end up doing similar things again.