Evening flight from the United States to Santiago, Chile.
Arriving in Santiago this morning, you transfer (in the same airport) to your flight south to Puerto Montt. Reaching Puerto Montt in the late morning/early afternoon you take a 30 min. taxi ride (on your own) to the gorgeous Hotel Cumbres Puerto Varas in the quaint Chilean town of Puerto Varas. With panoramic views of Lago Llanquilhue and snowcapped Mount Fuji like Volcano Osorno rising from it's eastern shore, Puerto Varas is one of the most picturesque towns in all of South America. The Hotel has sweeping views of the lake and volcano from all it's hotel rooms and gathering areas and is a welcome reprieve from the long trip down. There is wonderful shopping in the town for hand-made woolen goods like sweaters and hats. That evening we meet our guide, Maria, in the Hotel lobby for a trip orientation and welcome dinner out on the town.
Important note: For those people who can not commit to taking off the extra day (leaving on Thursday) and are only able to leave Friday evening, there is the option of arriving a day later (Sat.), skipping the Puerto Varas day/hotel and meeting us directly at the Paloma Airport in Puerto Montt at 11:00 AM. Saturday morning. There are a number of international flight that arrive early enough into Santiago to make this itinerary possible.
After breakfast at the hotel this morning, Maria escorts us by van to the commuter flight to Chaiten. The 45 minute flight is spectacular as we follow a rugged coastline of lush deep fiords that connect wild rivers, framed within a verdant rain forest, to the snow line of the jagged Patagonia Andes. Just before landing, we get a bird's eye view of the still smoldering Chaiten Volcanoe which erupted in 2008, burying much of the town of Chaiten in cement like ash. After a brief tour of the town, we board the bus and drive 1 hour past waterfalls, granit walls and hanging glaciers to a trailhead where we do a spectacular 2 hour (R/T) hike to view a glacier meeting a rainforest.* The deep valley is laced by numerous waterfalls and the contrast between the rainforest vegitation and the blue ice is striking. Boarding the bus we drive another 2 hours beneath giant snow-capped peaks, hanging glaciers and past roaring turquoise rivers and deep blue lakes to the Terminador Camp trailhead. The first of Earth River's four stunning private camps on the Futaleufu, the Terminador Camp, has a mile of private river front and sits on a dramatic tree lined bluff over the raging river. A beautiful trail winds through the trees the entire length of the camp offering stunning views of the mile long rapid which churns the water into every imaginable shade of azure, white and turquoise. Hidden in the trees are 14 private, two person, hand-hewn wooden cliff dwellings each with beds and a bird's eye view of the surging flow, which creates dozens of waterfalls as it spills over giant, sculpted white granite boulders. Located near the center of the camp is an 18-person wooden hot tub with a cypress deck The deck is scribed around trees and giant rocks and tucked behind a truck size boulder that acts as both a screen from the river and a natural veranda. Just below the deck at water level is the stone couch. This smooth, mableized chunk of granite seats up to six people and has an unimpeded view down the entire mile long rapid. *NOTE: The glacier hike is weather and time dependent and may not be done on all expeditions.
This morning we hike out of camp and take a 5 minute bus ride down to our raft training put in. After a safety talk and flip drill we run a series of marvelous class 4 rapids including; Mundoca, Wina and Tiburon. Two safety catarafts escort us down the river. In the early afternoon we take out and drive 15 minutes to our inflatable kayak put in on the Rio Azul, a beautiful turquoise tributary of the Futaleufu. After kayak lessons we run the class 2 Azul down to the confluence with the Futaleufu and then kayak the Futaleufu down to the Terminador Camp where we spend the night, Note: In?atable kayaking on the Azul is subject to water levels. If the Azul is too high or too low, we will kayak the Rio Espolon or an easy section of the Futaleufu.
This morning we hike 1/2 hour out of camp and drive an hour to the put-in on the upper river. Soon we enter the wild, sheer- walled Class 5 Infierno Canyon. A beautiful trailI follows the river above Infierno Canyon for those people who would rather hike. Racing between imposing walls, hundreds of feet high, the pulsing river boasts a number of impressive rapids including; Infierno Purgatorio and Escala de Jacobo. Each rapid in Infierno Canyon is separated by a swift pool which allows leaves time for rescue and recovery if necessary. In the early afternoon we exit the canyon and raft down to Cave Camp. Centered around Zeta Rapid, the 1,000 acre Earth River Cave Camp is the most exotic and diverse river camp in the world. The camp got it's name from a massive overhanging white granite slab that rests on two boulders. There is a sand floor, two large, natural skylights and giant centrally located fireplace in the rear wall that draws smoke through a crack. With an interior space of over 1,600 square feet, it is large enough to ride a horse inside and can keep an entire group warm and dry under any conditions. Meals are served here only during times of inclement weather. In front of the main stone shelter is a beautiful spring-fed pond/lake called Laguito Azul (Little Blue Lake). Set within a bowl of massive granite towers as high as 300 feet and surrounded by lush vegetation, Laguito Azul resembles a giant Japanese garden. Its brilliant blue water is so pure you can drink it and so clear you can see giant German brown trout and salmon of up to 25 pounds swimming 30 feet down. Kayaks are available and gliding over the transparent water feels almost surreal. A few hundred feet beyond Laguito Azul rages the most spectacular rapid on the river, Zeta, a Class 5-6, Z-shaped flume cut into solid granite. Just downstream of Zeta, carved into the granite by the river in higher flows, is a heart-shaped, three-foot deep water-filled pothole, which we heat to 105°. With smooth, 45° sloping walls to lean against and fresh water every day, this chemical-free stone hot tub comfortably fits twelve people. The smooth granite ledges around the tub are ideal for relaxing and slope gently into the calm aerated blue pool below Zeta making transition from hot to cold water extremely easy. Soaking at night with the brilliant stars of the granite slot is something you'll never forget. In the vicinity of the cliff dwellings is a large cliffside dining area, a second hot tub made of wood. The cliff dwellings, hot tub and dining area are all well hidden from the Futaleufu, yet through the trees they command the river's most impressive camp view. A series of dramatic hand-hewn log sky bridges, 30 feet off the ground, link the Zeta dining/sleeping area to the main stone shelter so that in times of inclement weather the transition between the two areas is effortless. Downstream from Zeta Rapid is Lost Beach . This private beach is so tucked away that people float right by it on the main river without ever knowing it is there. The camp also has flush toilets and hot showers.
"The Earth River Cave Camp is a natural adult-size playground. Like a grown up version of a tree fort, it's the type of never-never land that would make Peter Pan and the Lost Boys jealous." -American Way Magazine (American Airlines) (view here)
This morning we set up a dramatic Tyrolean traverse across the river. Wearing a climbing harness attached to a pulley, participants pull themselves across a rope stretched between sheer granite walls over the heart of Zeta rapid. Although not risky or particularly strenuous, hanging and then crossing over the class 6 rapid is extremely exhilarating. Upon reaching the other side, we begin climbing out of the inner canyon. The moderately strenu stenuous 1,500 vertical foot hike takes us past a beautiful 100 foot tributary waterfall and breathtaking views of the river and Cave Camp with dramatic peaks rising above it. After two hours we crest the top of the inner c canyon and enter a wonderful old growth hardwood forest. Tucked away in the center of this enchanted, moss-draped land of giants is a 10 acre, 50 foot deep Lake Lake of the Frogs Cut out by the glacier, the lake drops straight off the edge like a giant, bottomless swimming pool. Surrounded by native old growth forest on three sides, with dramatic mountain views on the fourth, this intimate body of water offers wonderful swimming and ca and canoeing (there are two canoes.) A natural wood deck and a hand made 16 person hot tub sits on the edge of the lake. Hidden back in the trees is a hand-hewn log gazebo structure with a fireplace in case of inclement weather. Just beyond the gazebo, 35 feet up in a majestic closely-knit stand of old growth giants are 8 wonderful, hexagon shaped tree houses. They are connected like the spokes of a wheel from one central tree and a circular staircase. These amazing architectural gems are each unique and were hand crafted by a Chilean master carpenter. Each tree house was designed to be self-supported and not a single nail was placed into the trees. In the afternoon there is the option of swimming and relaxing in the hot tub or taking a short hike to the breathtaking Tree House Camp Canyon Overlook. Engulfed by snow-capped mountains on all sides, this wonderful spot affords us 360 degree views including two gorgeous lakes and seven miles of the turquoise Futaleufu River canyon stretching as far as the eye can see. Condors are frequently seen soaring in the updrafts. We spend the evening above the lower canopy with stunning views of the lake, surrounding forest and mountains.
This morning we hike an hour and a half back down to the river. From the trail we can see aerial views of the river, surrounding canyon and the majestic Tower of the Winds which we will be climbing and rappelling down later in the day. The trail ends at a 250 foot zip line. Like a giant "fun ride" we hold a loop handle attached to a pulley over our heads and leap off a 25 foot cliff, shooting 250 feet down an angled rope letting go into the pool below Zeta Rapid. A soak in the nearby 105° natural stone hot tub is the perfect transition from the 60° river.On the cliff just above the hot tub there is a 10 to 42 foot high cliff jump into the aerated blue pool below Zeta Rapid. The aerate aerated water cushions the impact by nearly half. Lunch that day is served near the stone hot tub on the smooth ledges at Zeta. After lunch we receive a climbing safety briefing and put on our climbing harnesses for the Tower climb. For those people not wishing to make the climb, options include; swimming at Lost beach, kayaking on the Blue Lake, trout fishing or relaxing in the stone hot tub. The tower climb involves a dynamic three-part rock climb r rock the backside of the 320 foot granite Torre de los Vientos (Tower of the Winds). No previous climbing experience is necessary, and people from 5 to 78 years old have made the climb. Once on top, we venture out on the dramatic Knife's Edge, crossing its narrow natural bridge, with sheer 300 foot drop offs on either side. The views of Zeta Rapid, Laguito Azul and the surrounding canyon from the Knife's Edge are exquisite and among the most impressive found on the river. To descend from the tower we do a dramatic, 320 foot, two-stage rappel (self lowering by rope) off the Tower's sheer north wall. For most people switching ropes at the mi a mid-station is as exhilarating as any of the river's class 5 rapids*. Once reaching the bottom of the tower, a short trail leads to the Huck Finn lake crossing which saves a mile hike around Lago Azul to get back to the clif the dwellings, hot tubs and dining area. We spend the night at the cave camp. *Note: An optional, less demanding, 100 ft. rappel off the back side of the tower is also available.
"First Ascent Of The Tower Of The Winds" (story, click here)
A short float this morning takes us to unrunnable Throne Room Rapid where the boats are pushed through empty (ghost boated). The next couple of hours are spent running a series of long, exciting class 4+ rapids, down to lunch on a beach at the confluence of the Futaleufu and turquoise Rio Azul River. After lunch we paddle some more exciting class 4+ rapids down to the Earth River
Mapu Leufu Camp. Situated on a secluded bluff, 120 feet over the river with dramatic 360° views, this 300-acre camp has over two miles of private riverfront. Hand-hewn wooden cliff dwellings offer breathtaking views of granite towers rising from the turquoise river. Dramatically perched on the cliff is an 18-person wooden hot tub. Meals are served outdoors at the cliff-side dining area with stunning views of granite spires rising from the turquoise river in one direction and glacier-capped, Alp-like peaks in the other. There is also a tributary stream with waterfalls and deep pools and a deep, spring-fed pond for kayak lessons for anyone interested. The camp also has flush toilets, hot showers, a hand-hewn gazebo-like shelter and a covered dining area if it rains. In the afternoon, we have the option of horseback riding or mountain biking on beautiful trails on the other side of the river accessed by a manual cable car or canyoneering through the 400 foot deep Rio Blanco slot canyon. Wearing wetsuits and river shoes, we hike, climb, and swim through this incredible natural labyrinth of white boulders, clear azure pools and waterfalls. Those people not wishing to partake in the Rio Blanco canyoning, can relax at camp.
Today is one the most impressive commercial rafting days in the world. * Within minutes of pushing off we enter class 5+ Terminador Rapid, the most demanding rapid on the river. Immediately downstream of Terminador are the 15 foot waves of the Himalayas. In this stretch the rapids flow together making nearly a mile and a half of non-stop Class 5 action. (Class 4 clients can hike around the most exposed sections on a beautiful trail and run the rest). After the Himalayas there is a series of giant Class 4+ rapids (some nearly a mile long) and two Class 5 rapids: Cojin (the cushion) and Mundaca . After another long stretch of Class 4+water, we have lunch. In the afternoon we run two of the most difficult Class 5 rapids on the river; Mas o Menos and Casa De Piedra. After the last rapid, the canyon boasts some of its most impressive scenery with grand vistas of towering mountains and glaciers. In the early afternoon we take out and drive a few minutes to the Mapu Leufu trailhead and hike 1/2 hour on a beautiful trail into Mapu where we spend the night. Our farewell dinner that evening is a traditional Chilean Asado (roasted sheep over a fire) prepared by our neighbor and friend, Sugundo Zapata.
*Option: Class 4 participants have the option of hiking on a trail around short sections of the bigger rapids. Often people who chose to walk around Inferno Canyon earlier in the trip feel more comfortable and run many of the large rapids today. This decision, however, is always left up to the guides.
This morning we board the bus for the three hour drive to the small airport in Chaiten. We board the commuter plane for the spectacular 45 minute flight back to Puerto Montt. Upon landing in Puerto Montt, we are met by the Earth River guide who helps us get on our domestic flight to Santiago. That evening we board the flight to the United States.
This morning we arrive in the United States and transfer to our connecting flights.