Río Los Maitenes

22 Oct

The Río Los Maitenes is only recommended for that paddler who loves the commitment of a slot canyon, is willing to climb on crumbly rock, and thrash through thick, inpenetrable thorn bushes. At medium-to-high flows, you will have to endure these hazards during a mandatory portage that requires you to climb out of the canyon, and then haul your boat up with ropes. To resume your journey, you must cling to the same obnoxious shrubs that impeded your progress on the way up the crumbly, metamorphosed, canyon walls.

Sound sketchy? Well, it is. The upper portion of the canyon consists of silver-flecked schistose walls that enclose class III rapids. Shortly below the confluence of the Río Las Horquetas, the canyon constricts considerably and changes to a ochre-russet stained metamorphic rock. At this point, a log clogs the entire channel, creating a deathtrap. At low flows, you can squeeze under this log. Portage left out of the canyon using two 20 m ropes. Once on top of the rim, you’ll have to search for a route back to the river, paying close attention to the topography.

The crux of the run, Josh’s Jump, features a tight 2 m-high waterfall that explodes into a turbulent, corkscrew-shaped hydraulic pulsating off an overhung wall. In the landing zone, a short, circular pool leads into a 1.5 m-wide slot. It is a scary move that Josh Lowry, Clay Wright, and I did not see even after scouting for six hours from both rims prior to our first descent in December 1994. From a 6 m-high perch above the water on the right wall, you can see the hydraulic, but not the slot below. The climb out on the right intimidates owing to the rotten rock. If you bail out here, you have essentially abandoned the rest of the canyon, because you can’t climb back in anywhere below.

A tight, boulder-strewn drop marks the entrance to the grand finale. It is impossible to peer into its shadowy depths downstream without a thorough scout of the gorge from both sides of the river prior to your trip. Park your car at the take-out bridge, and hike 2 km upstream on river right along the rim. To see if the passage is clear, you must climb down to an ibis perch overlooking the slot. I used a log jammed into the canyon walls 4 m above the river as a marker. While scouting on the river left side of the canyon, Josh and I belayed each other by the ankles while hanging over the rim to see into the depths below! Potential new rockfall and the ever-present threat of log jams from the Nothofagus trees that drape the inner canyon walls invite caution.

Panoramic 360° vistas surround you while walking along the canyon rims. Superb salt-and pepper-granite, carved into monolithic spires by grinding rivers of ice, are a compelling sight. Undoubtedly one of the most picturesque ranges in Patagonia, these classic sin nombre spires soar skyward around Lago General Carrera. The motor tour along the south side of the lake is one of the finest in Chile. This watershed deserves wild and scenic river protection.

From Lago Bertrand, drive east on CH 265 along the south shore of Lago General Carrera to Puerto Guadal, continuing on approximately 15 km to Puente Río Los Maitenes. Alternatively drive west from Chile Chico 60 km to the same bridge. Continue 4.3 km east of the bridge, then turn south on an obscure dirt road cutting through the shrubsteppe. Creep along upstream for 6 km until the road fizzles out into a well-worn trail. From this trailhead, walk 20 minutes down to the river. To elevation 350 meters. Take out shortly downstream from Puente Río Los Maitenes on a road that descends 500 m to a flat, grassy camping area adjacent to the river elevation 225 meters.

To scout on river left, drive ~1.5 km west to a road that accesses the rim. Walk to edge of the abyss from a nearby farm house.

This mostly class III to class V- run has one V+ rapid and at least one portage. It is 10 km in length and averages 12 mpk with 400-600 CFS flow. Best run in spring and early summer. Expect to take 5-6 hours

Topo maps titled Chile Chico • San José, Puerto Sánchez

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