Estero Lechoso is an intense, class V+ committing run of great beauty. Directly below the put-in lies a majestic, runnable slot canyon with a navigable cataract at the bottom. The river then meanders for a couple of hundred meters until the walls constrict again. At this point, the gradient increases dramatically as the Lechoso topples through a 3 m-high, 2 m-wide slot into a corridor.
Negotiating the bottom section requires forethought, creativity, and agile maneuvering. Be on the lookout, giving yourself plenty of time and space to inspect or retreat, if necessary. Constant “heads up” kayaking is mandatory due its major league gradient, extreme tightness, and deadly obstacles. Fallen rocks, horrible undercuts, and wall-to-wall cataracts force you to climb the walls or thrash through nasty thorns during your portages. You will be in constant view of Chile’s emerald jewel, Lago General Carrera, shimmering in the distance as you tumble southward.
On our first descent in December 1997, Gordon Banks and John Foss climbed out shortly after the slot canyon due to the lack of water, while I doggedly continued on solo. Cautious, I portaged five more times during my bump and grind descent on maybe 3 cms of water. Around 7 cms would be optimal.
From Puerto Ibañez, 164 km south of Coihaique, drive north on the switchbacks heading out of town. Continue a few more kilometers upstream, then look for a convenient place to climb into the canyon. Elevation at put-in is 400 meters. To find the take-out, drive back into Puerto Ibañez past the Carabinero station. Cross Puente Lechoso, then obtain permission to enter the estancia. Continue upstream on river left. At a T intersection, turn left and follow the base of the escarpment to the mouth of the canyon elevation 260 meters.
Expect 5 portages on this 2.5 km stretch and a flow of 150-250 CFS in the spring months. Average gradient is 300 FPM or 60 mpk
Topo map titles are Chile Chico • Puerto Ingeniero Ibañez