Whitewater

Carretera Austral, the Road to the Baker [Video]

by Valentin Gutierrez
Friday, April 24, 2020
   Whitewater
Friday, April 24, 2020
Earlier this year during the summer of the Southern Hemisphere together with my brother Martin and my father Mario we embarked on a kayak trip to the Chilean Patagonia.

After spending a solid week of paddling with friends in the Futaleufu valley and getting used to big water we started to head down south through the Carretera Austral to the infamous Baker river.

The Carretera Austral connects the Chilean Patagonia from Puerto Montt to Villa O’ Higgins and it is known for being one of the wildest, most isolated and scenic roads in the world. Along the way there is an uncountable number of rivers, streams, and huge hanging glaciers draining through waterfalls, it’s just a first-hand experience of nature in its purest state.

Driving through Queulat National Park. Photo: Martin Gutierrez
Driving through Queulat National Park. Photo: Martin Gutierrez

So after getting lost couple of times and stopping along the way to contemplate the beauty of the road we arrived to Coyhaique, the main city of the Aysen region where the Berrocal family kindly hosted us for a few days, while the locals showed us some of the epic runs like the Pangal river.

Jaime Lancaster paddling through the sky on the Pangal river. Photo: Valentin Gutierrez
Jaime Lancaster paddling through the sky on the Pangal river. Photo: Valentin Gutierrez

We continued our travel south to the mighty Baker with some astonishing views along the way.

Driving through Cerro Castillo. Photo: Martin Gutierrez
Driving through Cerro Castillo. Photo: Martin Gutierrez

I have always liked a lot the philosophy that lies behind “the joy is in the journey “, but when it comes about travelling through the Carretera Austral this phrase is not something abstract anymore.

Sunset in the Carretera Austral. Photo: Martin Gutierrez
Sunset in the Carretera Austral. Photo: Martin Gutierrez

One of the first things that comes to mind when you see a river of 850m3/s (average flow) is where does all this water come from? In the headwaters of the Baker lies the Northern Patagonian Ice fields with an area spreading 4.200 km2 - This ice sheet then drains into the Lake General Carrera/Buenos Aires which is the second biggest of South America.

General Carrera lake with the big ice sheets behind. Photo: Martin Gutierrez
General Carrera lake with the big ice sheets behind. Photo: Martin Gutierrez

The drainage of this massive lake is what gives birth to the infamous Rio Baker. Crystal clear turquoise water takes you to “La Confluencia” where the glacial waters of the Rio Neff joins and changes the colour to a milky blue. This marks the beginning of the classic whitewater section.

Neff river joining the Baker at “La Confluencia”. Photo: Valentin Gutierrez
Neff river joining the Baker at “La Confluencia”. Photo: Valentin Gutierrez

On our first day at the Baker we meet up with the other group of paddlers that had arrived a day before us and were ready to hit the water. Manu Van Vink show us down this magic run, we were lucky to share this experience with a very nice group of paddlers and human beings which made our time down there, way more fun.

Manu Van Vink (left side) looking tiny on the First Canyon.
Manu Van Vink (left side) looking tiny on the First Canyon.

Right after the Confluencia the first and hardest canyon kicks off containing three gigantic rapids. The first and the second one are super close to each other, which makes them way more committing. Last but definitely not least, the third rapid starts with a big left lateral wave where all the river goes to the right wall at the bottom, you just have to wait for the right time and paddle towards the left away from the right wall. Luckily we all had a safe passage through this epic canyon.

Valentin and Martin Gutierrez on the third rapid of the first canyon. Photo: Travis Winn
Valentin and Martin Gutierrez on the third rapid of the first canyon. Photo: Travis Winn

The second canyon its mostly flatwater with huge whirlpools and big eddy lines. Constantly changing whitewater is the name of the game in this river.

We happily took The “portage” at the beginning of the third canyon. Which then follows with rapids almost as big as the first canyon but tend to have a lot more space between them. Definitely one of the most fun and amazing stretches of whitewater I’ve ever paddled.

“Portage” of the third canyon. Photo: Valentin Gutierrez
“Portage” of the third canyon. Photo: Valentin Gutierrez

Surely one of the wildest places on earth I’ve stumbled across, which makes you truly realize how savage nature is, the constant changing weather conditions, the wildlife, big distances…Patagonia is simply amazing. All of these aspects makes the Road to Baker an experience of a lifetime and without a doubt one of the best places that kayaking has taken me.

Classic Patagonian views. Photo: Valentin Gutierrez
Classic Patagonian views. Photo: Valentin Gutierrez

Special thanks to my father Mario for all the logistics and making the trip a reality, to Diego Valsecchi & Bio-Bio crew, Berrocal family and all the friends we got to share along the way.

 
Patagonia is simply amazing. - Velentine

PHOTO CAPTION
Photos by Martin Gutierrez
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