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Rio Azul, an Adventurous Escape from Futaleufu, Dec. 28-31,

PostPosted: Sun Jan 14, 2018 9:40 pm
by Tony Crocker
On our last scheduled day with Earth River we rafted the Rio Azul tributary. Normally this takes a couple of hours kayaking, but with the high river flows (view from bridge over Rio Azul here) it was an hour or so rafting.

Liz thought this sign was apt for the Futaleufu region.

Birds drying their wings after overnight rain:

Soon we are on the river, but pulled over here while guides scout a rapid.

We portaged Cheese Grater, so named because the Rio Azul flows over sharp volcanic rock.

This rapid is in the III-IV range but the rock could damage some rafts.

However, a daytrip company with a larger raft took its chances with the lower section.


Normally on this day you continue into the Futaleufu, then stop at another tributary Rio Blanco for canyoneering. Obviously canyoneering was out of the question with the high water. We had lunch at the Rio Azul takeout, then went for a short walk above the Futaleufu. Chaos Rapid:

End of the Wild Mile:

On the last day we would normally drive an hour and a half to the Yelcho Lodge on the northwest side of Lago Yelcho, about an hour's drive from the Chaiten airport.

But of course the road was still blocked by the Santa Lucia landslide. There was supposed to be a ferry across Lago Yelcho, but it was too windy and another storm was brewing. Therefore the incoming group took our rooms at Yelcho Lodge while we took theirs back at Espolon Lodge. Returning to Espolon Lodge was not ideal logistics with the 45 minute ferry across its lake. It poured rain all night and all morning of Dec. 29 too. So we were on the Espolon Ferry again at 7:15AM, then on a van hoping to make the Yelcho ferry.

The weather once again had other plans. When we crossed the Rio Azul bridge it was even higher and brown from sediment. When we crossed the Futaleufu, guide Pauli said he had never seen it higher. A section of road near Lago Yelcho was being eroded so our guides thought we might need a 4WD to cross. We went into a local farmhouse for a break and some tea while our guides made some calls. The Yelcho ferry was not running. The road to the Palena airport where we had arrived was washed out. So the Yelcho Lodge sent two small motorboats to pick us up at the far southern tip of Lago Yelcho. We still needed to transfer to a 4WD to get to the landing.

Lee Ann and Colo in the other boat:

Alexa and Bob are behind them.

Thankfully it stopped raining just as we got in the boats. The boat driver knew his lake very well, skirting islands to stay mostly in smooth water and maintaining good speed.

It still took nearly two hours to reach the Yelcho Lodge.

The two boats were only occasionally close to each other.


Scenery was impressive on the glacier cut lake with numerous ribbon waterfalls and thick forests on the steep slopes.


I had first seen tree avalanche paths on Milford Sound in New Zealand, but this was the largest one I've seen.

Rainbow over Lago Yelcho:

Weather had held up the morning flight out of Chaiten, so we went into town briefly to see if the flight would go out later.

Liz with some privileged Chilean dogs in Chaiten:

The town was damaged and mostly evacuated during a 2008 volcano eruption. Dead trees left over from that:

Patrick will remember this too, as the ash plume drifted southeast over Argentina, but fortunately farther south than his most remote 2008 destination in Esquel. Futaleufu did accumulate several inches of ash though.

When we got to the airport at 4:30PM the plane was almost fully booked. Alexa got on the plane as she was headed home from Puerto Montt at 7:30, while the other 4 of us were going to be in Chile longer. We spent the night at Yelcho Lodge and flew to Puerto Montt on the morning flight on Dec. 30.

The Futaleufu River is to whitewater rafting what Las Lenas is to skiing, some of the most exciting in the world but highly vulnerable to weather shutdowns, which we had for the whole trip. The trip prior to ours also did not get on the Futaleufu, and the ensuing trip probably didn't either given the record high flows on Dec. 29. We also learned that 3 trips in January 2017 didn't get on either due to high water.

There are no gauges measuring flow rate of the Futaleufu. Earth River likes to run it around 7,000 cfs and our guides thought it was about 25,000 cfs by the end of our trip. Government regulation of the river is determined by a simple gauge placed at a typical height of the river. The Class IV midsection can be run at 100, Terminator at 30, but Class V Inferno Canyon at no more than zero. Our guide Pauli said there are also trips where they can do the Class IV but not the Class V.

Another unpredictable factor is that water is released into the Futaleufu from an upstream dam in Argentina. And unlike in California the dam releases are not announced with more notice than a day or two. Dam releases tend to be high following a big winter, which there was this far south in 2017. Dam releases can also be high when Buenos Aires has maximum power demand during summer heat waves. Maximum dam releases will raise the Futaleufu beyond the rafting limits regardless of local weather. But in our case it was mostly due to the local weather. You can see from our pictures that a lot of water was flowing into the Futaleufu from the Espolon and Azul tributaries.

Re: Rio Azul, an Adventurous Escape from Futaleufu, Dec. 28-

PostPosted: Tue Jun 12, 2018 12:13 pm
by jamesdeluxe
Missed this. Nice pix!