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January 28, 2011

Isthmo de Ofqui Portage

Day 39

Portage from Laguna San Rafael to Rio Negro

(Here you go Marcus!)

What would a kayak trip be without a portage?  Indeed, one of the remarkable things about kayaks, besides being able to tuck into tiny nooks to camp for the night, is portability.  The Isthmo de Ofqui is a route that was used for centuries by the Patagonian Indios to avoid paddling their canoes through the rough, exposed waters around the Peninsula de Taito.  It has since been used by explorers and fishermen, and an attempt to build a canal was made back in the mid-1900s. 

When we first began the permitting process with the Navy they thought we were planning to paddle the outside waters around the Peninsula and infamous Cabo Raper. 
Here's what the Port Captain (in understated maritime terms) had to say about conditions on this open coast:  "The open sea near Raper Lighthouse is normaly very bad with waves among 4 and 7 meters and winds between 25 to 45 knots." 

No thank you.  We'll take the portage.

Landing at the north side of the portage.

A vertical scar in the treeline of the southwestern coast of Laguna San Rafael clearly marks the beginning of the abandoned canal.  The route through is comprised of sections of wet boggy ground alternating with bits of the old canal.  In the dry places, old skid logs are still in place and allowed us to drag our empty boats without too much trouble.  Eventually the old trail intersects the narrow, tannic waters of the upper Rio Negro.  The land crossing is about 1.2 miles and took us 6 hours.  We carried gear in two loads followed by the boats.  So, in all, we hiked about 6 miles.  Once in the rio, we followed the tiniest hint of current downstream where the river deepens and widens.  From there it is all downstream through a tranquil riverine wilderness to the estuary where the Rio San Tadeo enters the Pacific.  All the while the glaciers of the Patagonian Icecap loom in the background, wetland birds flit here and there, and snag trees stand like skeletons on the water's edge.  Remote, wild, beautiful.

We completely enjoyed this peaceful paddling well aware that the next stage of the trip was likely to be the most strenuous, most technical, most difficult of the trip.  Now poised on the shore of the Golfo de Penas, we're set for a week or more of coastal paddling fully exposed to the 3 to 4 meter swell of the open Pacific.
Camping on the 30km long Playa San Esteban is nothing short of sublime, surreal, awesome and the apprehensive knot in our stomachs only intensifies the experience. 

Wish us luck!!

January 27, 2011

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Nice hike towards the face of the San Rafael Glacier.

Beck paddling past one of the smaller bergy bits in the laguna.

Consulting with the Park Rangers at the CONAF dock.

January 23, 2011

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Nick patching his thrashed neoprene gloves.  Warm hands tomorrow!

January 22, 2011

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Did we mention it has been raining.   That´s RAINING.  Yep.

January 11, 2011

Resupply, rest, and a few good feeds in Puerto Cisnes

Greetings from Puerto Cisnes!

After consulting with the locals, Beck and I found a wonderful little hospedaje with great home cooking and a corner room with a view of the sea.  We're in town gathering 30 days of food for the next leg of the trip to Tortel.  The last 20 days or so have been filled with varied and challenging paddling along with a few days of just cruising along under the sun and mountains.  Our weather has been nothing short of miraculous, only 7 days of rain in the last 20!  Whoever is donating their good karma to our cause, thank you!

Our route from Achao has taken us across the Gulf of Corcovado through a chain is islands called the Deserter`s Group.  We then headed south along the coast and spent a few weather-bound days in Caleta Santa Barbara on a beautiful black sand beach which we shared with the local vacas (cows).  Christmas Day found us itching to be on our way and we launched through surf at the first sign of the wind decreasing.  This turned into only a lull and we found ourselves in "big conditions" (our definition) and following seas while rounding a point into the town Chaiten.  We were right on the edge of our comfort zone, but had the safety of a relatively friendly lee shore, thus giving us a bailout if needed.  (We also provided some entertainment for the local Carabineros who stopped their truck on shore to watch us battle around the corner and out of sight.  I can only imagine their conversation, " los gringos locos!")  We made a poor choice to launch that day, but Patagonia gave us the lesson for free as a Christmas gift.

Camp at Caleta Santa Barbara

A wrecked section of Chaiten

Volcan Chaiten smoking in background left
The town of Chaiten is a modern day ghost town.  Briefly, in 2008 the Chaiten Volcano erupted and buried a good deal of the town in ash.  The city of 4,000 people (the regional capital at the time) was in the midst of rebuilding when the volcano erupted again and trashed the place a second time.  The government declared the townsite unsafe and began a relocation effort while suspending all services in the city.  Now Chaiten is home to about 200 souls who live by their own means, they are truly urban homesteaders relying on generators for power and wood and propane for cooking and heating in homes along paved streets lined with lamp posts.  Truly a surreal place.  We were lucky and surprised to find, on Christmas Day, a restaurant open and serving wonderful fish, salad, and cerveca to wandering sea kayakers.   ¡VIVE CHAITEN!

Christmas Dinner
South of Chaiten came the open coast of the Gulf of Corcovado.  This section proved to be cruxy due to the rocky and steep coast combined with ocean swell and surf.  We spent a good five days launching and landing in breaking waves.  Our weather was excellent, sunny, but with howling southerlies that tended to crank every afternoon, but sometimes by 9 am.  We began waking at 4 am in order to get our paddling done by noon.

"Bigger than it looks." Scoping the surf.

Mt. Corcovado.  Some days have been a honeymoon!

One reward for getting through was peaceful Bahia Tictoc with its sheltered black sand beaches and tranquil shores.  After a week of camping with the roar of surf in our ears it was wonderful to camp next to quiet lapping waves next to a sea pretending to be a lake. Ahh!
Tictoc Sunrise
Bahia Tictoc

Entering Canal Refugio

Not long from Tictoc we entered Canal Refugio and experienced our first real "inside" paddling, finally experiencing the fjords for which Patagonia is so famous.  We were surprised at Puerto Domingo to run into a family of four in two double kayaks.  Rachel is the new branch director for NOLS Patagonia and has just relocated to Coyhaique with her husband and two sons.  Thanks guys for letting us share the last evening of your vacation!  
Pto Santo Domingo.  (Thanks for the photo Rachel!)

A couple of days north of Cicnes we took a day to detour north of our route to visit the Termas de Puyuhuapi, Chile`s "premier 5-star hot springs resort."  We dropped $85 US on a soak and lunch for two and it was worth every single penny!  The architecture of the place is truly amazing and the lodge emerges from the back of a small cove like something out of Tolkien.  Spectacular.

We`ve budgeted a little more than 30 days for the next section of the trip.  We'll paddle south to Laguna San Rafeal where we will portage 1.5 miles (UGH!) into the upper Rio San Todeo which leads to the Golfo de Penas, our most open section of coast.  Thence around the corner into Canal Baker and east to Tortel.  How hard could it be?  Ha!  My journal entry from 12/26 likely predicts the future.  Written after a particularly strenuous day, it reads, "Patagonia.  The ass kicking that just keeps on kicking ass."

Of course, that is partly what we came for. 

Thanks for all your comments, well-wishes, and positive energy.  Depending on battery power, we`ll likely post a few times via sat phone on this next section, so stay tuned!

-Nick and Becky  

January 10, 2011

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January 3, 2011

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Sir Francis Beaufort Declares a Weather Day

Day 25
January 3, 2010
Ubaldo Islands
Mileage: Zero

Awoke this morning to a gray sky, racing clouds and whitecaps out in Canal Moraleda.  We cooked brekkie as usual, but left the tent up just in case.  Our camp is set on a tiny islet with a narrow white sand beach topped by a shell midden just above high tide and just below the tangle of native scrub.  Our tent and MegaMid just fit on the flat patch of shells.  We're on the south side of the island where the vegetation is tallish, over on the north side the scrub is bent into tortured shapes forming a thick carpet of flagged vegetation.  The wind that formed these arbores banderas is rising quickly and it doesn´t take long for us to decide to wait and see what Patagonia is going to do today.

This is what it looked like before it got windy!
  Gradually the wind fills in and by noon it is truly howling through the trees above our tent.  After a morning of hot drinks, reading, crosswords, and BonIver on the iPod I decide to circumambulate our little haven in the storm.  Here's a short video shot from the north side of the island.

You can be the judge, but here is what the Beaufort Scale has to say:

Moderate waves of pronounced long form. Many white horses, some spray. CHECK.  That's force 5.

Some large waves, extensive white foam crests, some spray.  CHECK.  That`s force 6.

Sea heaped up, white foam from breaking waves blowing in streaks with the wind. CHECK.  Force 7.

Crests break into spin drift, blowing foam in well marked streaks.  CHECK.  Force 8.

Okay, so what we have here is Beaufort Force 8, quaintly referred to as a Gale with wind speeds around 34-40 knots (aka 39-46 mph).

In our world this is otherwise known as a sleep-in, a rest day, a weather day, or a Honeymoon!  Today we`ll go nowhere and enjoy the protection of our snug camp.

Love to everyone at home.  Thinking of you all during the holidays!  Thanks for the comments, encouragement and well-wishes!