On January 14, 2017, Hala Athletes and Ambassadors Paul Clark, Joey Saputo, Eduardo Hernandez, Andy O’Brien, and I ran the upper commercial section of the Petrohué River, and it was pretty crazy fun! The stretch itself is very commercialized and the rapids are relatively mellow compared to some other stretches in Patagonia. The river had just gone down to a manageable level after it flooded streets and farms the previous week, but it was still considered very high water.
Paul, Andy, and I decided to start in a section upstream, which included more whitewater and a technical class III+ rapid. We knew that we had to be very careful with the conditions and watch out for debris in the river from the floods. We figured it wasn’t such an outrageous idea for us to paddle it since the commercial companies were already back at it. I had some butterflies, but I went to Chile to find some challenging, bigger whitewater and felt confident this stretch was within my abilities.
We put in where a creek fed into the Petrohué. It was shallow but it reminded me of Boulder Creek back in Colorado, which is a super fun boogy-water stretch with a few drops. We paddled on the creek for a few hundred feet before entering into the Petrohué River. The Petrohué was pumping, surging, and there were big wave trains EVERYWHERE! It was amazing! The wind was also ripping, which I came to learn is common at that time of year.
Paul Clark was the only one that had paddled that stretch before, but he paddled it before the water levels went up. Andy and I tended to float down a bit faster than Paul, so we often found ourselves ahead of our leader.
Within the first half mile, I was stoked on the waves and charged right for the meat until I realized I accidentally charged right into a hidden hole and immediately got launched in the water. Once I was swimming, it took a bit of concentration to time my breaths with the wave trains while lining up my board so I could flip it back over without having to fight the 15 mph head-wind that kept forcing it back. By the time I got back on my board, I had probably floated down close to a quarter mile. Despite being exhausted, I had to paddle as hard as I could to charge into an eddie to figure out where everyone was.
Long story short, swimming wasn’t that bad, so don’t get scared. The waves on the Petrohué were pretty phenomenal and I had a blast! However, I did use that initial swimming experience to assess that for the rest of the trip I needed to be conservative because it was hard for all of us to paddle together and potentially perform a rescue in case something were to happen, or if someone got separated from their board. Even communication was extremely impaired because the roaring of the river choked out all sound.
Because Chile does not have CFS gauges, it was hard for us to truly know what the water level was. It was very evident that it was high enough that eddies were more difficult to punch and if you swam, you swam for quite a distance before you could recover.
We completed this stretch in 15 minutes, then joined up with Eduardo and Joey on the bottom section while Paul filmed us on the drone. The bottom section was still challenging water at that level, but it was definitely not as crazy big as it was on the top section. We ended up lapping the bottom section a few times because it was so much fun.
Check out this video Paul made from the lower stretch!