Chile - Patagonia - Jorge Montt Glacier - 2008/02/03

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Starting our sea kayak trip requires a 400 km drive over the Carretera Austral from Coyhaique to Caleta Tortel. This scenic drive over two days gets us to a launch on the Rio Baker delta.

Day 4 Sunday

The next morning we were picked up at 10:00 A.M. and taken to Graham's place. There we loaded the boats onto the strongest kayak trailer I had ever seen. The wheels and tires were the same as the large ones on the Land Rover that was to pull the trailer. So the spare served for both the vehicle and the trailer. The hitch was the size of the ones you see on dump trucks with a shock absorber mounted to dampen trailer surge. The clearance was huge. The racks were of heavy gauge tube construction with ratchet tiedowns. The kayaks were covered in plastic condoms to protect them from the stones of the 900 KM round tip, all except 150 on dirt road. It looked like it would prove to be quite an adventure just getting there.

While the van was shuttling other clients we got to meet Ben Gorlick the owner of Extremely Patagonia. With an infectious and easy style, I took an immediate liking to him, although we met only briefly. We talked a little about the trip he was leading onto the northern ice field, the one that George was going on.

Graham made us all sandwiches for lunch as we waited on the porch looking out over the valley north of Coyhaique. Julio soped the ibis and lapwings strutting across the grass in the side yard. At one o'clock we piled into the van and headed into town to pick up our driver for the trip. Alejandro was a professional as he was the driver for the trucks in the local fire company. Finally we were ready to get on the road. We headed out of town retracing half of our journey fromthe airport before turning off to the southwest and climbing into the Cerro Castillo, the first mountains range we would cross on the trip. The van followed the Land Rover and kayaks on the short stretch of paved road.

Once over the mountain spine, the road snaked down the west side of the range. To the north around the shoulder of the rounded mountains we were travelling down, waws revealed the jagged peaks of the uplifted Cerro Castillo. Glaciers lay in the cirques of the hard towers tht they had carved. On this gorgeously clear and dry day, we could see for a great distance to the far peaks of the next range to the west and all the way around to the south we could see the rnage where we were heaaded.

Cerro Castillo from Route 7

We crossed a bridge over a swiftly flowing river. The straight deep cut did not look natural to me. It was named Puente Salto, appropriately enough.

Map: Coyhaique to Caleta Tortel

At Villa Cerro Castillo, the road turned to dirt for the duration. It was about one and a half lanes as one quarter of the road on both sides was made up of very loose soft sand and gravel, making travel on that portion an adventure. The rest of the road was washboarded, heavily in some spot and just badly in others. The road reminded me of the Alaskan highwyay, only a third of the width. There was not much in the way of potholes or puddles so it was possible to maintain a speed great enough to allow the suspension to glide over the washboard ruts made by vehicles going 70 kph or less. But to do that you had to go 80 to 100 kph. And that is what we did. Alejandro did a masterful job, attentively watching the curves ahead for oncoming traffic, guiding the dancing van over to the side of the road to let oncoming traffic pass. His concentration never waivered for the entire 6+ hours it took to drive to Cochrane, truly an impressive thing for such a mentally and physically difficult drive. We drove in a cloud of dust kicked up by the Land Rover and trailered kayaks ahead of us. On occasion we would get into the lead, but then we would lose it again when we stopped for a picture. A cloud of dust still hangs in the air on some of the pictures. We needed to keep a lot of distance between the vehicles or we would choke on the dust. We kept in contact by VHF in order to maintain a safe and comfortable distance but still be able to assist each other in case of breakdown.

The road climbed up along a ridge over a glacial valley. In the bottom a languid river of grey glacial melt ran in multiple channels on the flat valley floor. The road would follow the glacial U shaped valley for a long distance, sometimes right along the edge and sometimes high on the sides of the valley It was the Rio Ibanez, the tributary of the Rio Baker (Ree O Bock ur) that we would launch on some 300 km further along. All along the road were native flora. Particularly fascinating was a plant with celery like stems, heavily defended by large thorns, sporting tremndous leaves a meter or more across. The first time I ever saw this plant was in Tofino Vancouver where someone had planted one in their front yard. They said it was from South America, Venesuela they thought. Now we were seeing it in its natural habitat.

On a section of the road that ran next to the river, we saw several hundred acres of dead trees, drowned by the changing course of the river I suppose. As this river likely flows at much greater volumes in certain parts of the year, it is not surprising that its course over the flat valley botom can be fluid. What was surprising was that the road was constructed so close to the edge of such an unpredictable and potentially destructive river.
The road continued to run upstream along the Rio Ibanez until it was blocked by the imposing range holding the northern ice fileds. There it turned from its westerly course and headed south. Climbing high over an intervening mountain ridge, it now started down fo follow the Rio Baker high above its jade colored waters. The road sometimes twisted through heavy forest, sometimes ran along the valley floor surrounded by gorgeous mountains, but always it came back to cross the river over many named bridges that served as mileage markers along the road.

The hills gradually became smaller and we entered into an open valley. The higher mountains had receeded, the foreground replaced by rolling hills that once again reminded me of Wyoming or parts of Utah. Finally we caught a glimpse of Lago General Carrera, the very large lake that lies part in Chile part in Argentina.

The waters of the lake are an impossibly blue color that outshone the sky even on this bright day. White puffy clouds drifted up the slope of the mountains to the east. on the other side was Argentina. We continued down the smallest arm of the lake to the little town of Puerto tranquillo. There we stopped for fuel and to take a longer stretch. I had a short talk with "un perro" on the beach, but apparently he didn't speak English and my Spanish was not sufficient at even this level! Several people were enjoying the water, which was quite a bit warmer over the shallow dark sandy bottom than I expeced. But I didn't see anybody swimming, only wading.

Lago General Carrera

On the shore of the lake just south of town are some fascinating rock forms and caves. Ground and polished by the abrasive glacier silt in the waters of the lake, this outcrop of mable is a unique and interesting tourist feaature. There were signs posted all over town advertising boat rides out to the marble caves. We didn't have time to explore them either by motor boat or kayak. Soon we were back on the road headed for the southwestern end of the lake.

There the huge lake pours through a narrow passage. The road builders took advantage of this a placed a very sturdy if narrow one lane bridge across this very large lake. Even though we had not been long in the van since leaving Puerto Tranquillo, we hopped out to walk down the bridge, snap pictures and admire the lake.

On the other side of the bridge and over the next ridge, we were once again traveling alongside an impossibly blue lake, Lago Bertrand, which could easily have been considered an extension of the huge General Carrera lake. With the afternoon sun glinting silver across the lake, we drove down the east shore still headed south, accompanied by the blue ribbon of the Rio Baker. Swollen by the large volume of water from the lake, the river was getting to be quite formidable.

Further down the road we stopped at a large falls lying down below the road. This section of the Rio Baker is under survey for a proposed hydroelectric dam. The dam will provide power for the more populated north. Power would be routed from this dam and another over the longest power transmission ines in the world. Many peope in the local region are upset because they see it as an invasion of theor area for the benefit of others far away. A movement to suppress the building of the dam has the backing of the large land owners who do not want to see development in the area which might threaten their holdings. There are sign everywhere exhorting "Aisen sin repressa!". There was a political action office on the main street in Coyhaique, closed on the weekend when we were there. Back in the states I remmbered an advertisement about an engineering company that was bragging on their invovement with the planning and engineering for this project with an overtly eco-friendly style and feel.
Unfortunately, the dams will flood a small portion of the river through a canyon that has some very difficult rapids that have been run only a few times. On the return trip we would run into a group that had come down to run and film the rapids before they disappeared. For now we simply enjoyed the magnificent sight.

We continued on down the valley of the river which now was looking more like a normal erosion valley than the U shaped glacial valley earlier in the day. The road ran along the foothills in a drier and more sparse land as we ran the last miles into the little town of Cochran where we would spend the night in a bed & breakfast. Humid near Cochrane – the temperature here was about the same as in Coyaihique but felt coniderably more muggy. The neighboring town , Chacabuco, had an interesting history in it's decline and use as a concentration camp during the Pinoche era.

On to the launch.........

Back to the start of the trip...................

Bird Report Day 4
Southern Lapwing
Black-faced Ibis
Chimango Caracara
Large Cormorant—with white necks- Likely Imperial




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