Seeing the true beauty of Chile

Trip Start Dec 07, 2005
Trip End Apr 10, 2007

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Thursday, February 9, 2006

Futa part 2

After resting for an hour, we started up the steepest mountian trail we would tackle. Much of the trail was comprised of steps that people have somehow carved into the trail, and at points we climbed wooden ladders that had been nailed to surrounding trees. The trail was winding and demanding, and we stopped to rest pretty often. After 50 minutes of hard work, we made it to the end of the trail, and when we looked from the mountain top we could see almost the entirety of the ground we´d covered so far. Cathy pointed out the distant mountains that towered over the base camp where we began, and traced our route across the lago de las rosas then across lago espalon, then around the perimeter of the lake and up to where we were standing. there was a nice spike of accomplishment that came along with the vista.

After taking pictures, we completed a 15 minute hike on nice, flat ground and walked into the ¨casa de los arboles¨, or tree house camp. This is one of the camps built for the rafting and trekking expeditions, and is a camp of large, handmade tree houses (each house can sleep 4 people) that reside 3 stories up in the old growth trees. the camp is also replete with a kitchen, a large gazebo with its own fireplace, and a handmade, wood stove-fired 16 person hot tub on the edge of a small mountain lake. Normally, earthriver staff have the hot tub and food ready for the trekkers when they arrive, but we were solo so we did everything on our own. We had a great time and some laughs while we split up into two teams to make dinner and get the hot tub hot (which turned out to take longer than we had planned).
But we eventually got things going and climbed in to the tub, watching the sun set behind the mountains.

Our itinerary was to spend two nights at casa de arboles to relax and enjoy the camp. Cathy scheduled our stops so that we would hit each camp when the rafting trip would be at a different camp. so we had the place to ourselves. our ¨day off¨ was the only overcast day that we saw for the duration of our trip, and daniela got up before everyone else to try to get
the hot tub warm. we spent the day relaxing at camp, and mark and miguel made a few rounds of the lagito (small lake) with the inflatable canoes that are at the camp. even on an overcast day, futa is beautiful...there were clouds that seemed glued to the mountains beyond the camp and the views from the treehouses and the deck at the lake were stunning.

After another night´s sleep in the treehouses, we packed up and left the casa de los arboles. Our descent was via the other, significantly less steep
side of the mountain, and as we came down the mighty futaleufu river came into view. it was still overcast, and the river´s carribean-blue water was
mesmerizing as it snaked through the moutains. We could also see the more rocky side of the mountains on the other side of the river.

The most surreal part of the scenery that surrounded us was a large number of burnt tree trunks. Everywhere we hiked, we saw swaths of hollow trunks, some black, some grey, and many bone white. When we were talking to Christian and Fabian´s family and drinking maté our first night, their father told us that there had been a huge fire in the area about 50 years ago. the fire burnt through large chunks of forest, and actually jumped across the mountain sides and through the valleys, so that there were sections of dead trunks in between sections of untouched forest.

From our position on the trail, we could see a large amount of burnt out trunks on the face of the moutain just across the river. The comparative brightness of the grey and white shells stand out in a surreal way against the greenery of the surrounding forest.

Shortly, the trail dumped us out on a series of boulders right on the river. We sat on the rocks just about 10 meters from the most powerful (and
unnavigable) rapid on the river, called the ¨Zeta¨. We broke out some granola bars while we waited for pablo, the staffer in charge of the casa de piedras (house of stones) camp to pick us up in the inflatable catamaran.

After our first crossing of the futa, we spent the afternoon learning the lay of the huge casa de piedras camp. We took advantage of the one person kayaks in the lagito azul, a small lake that sits below towering boulders (some 300 feet high) in the middle of the camp. While paddling around the crystal clear lake, we all saw a few gigantic (at least 1 meter long) german brown trout. The lake is about 30 feet deep, and we could easily see the bottom. We also fished in the lake and later on the river, but the fish had more luck (or skills) than we did.

We spent the night in open air, two person cabins that look out directly on the zeta rapid, and assembled our gear at the dining area the next morning, which is a natural room formed by a massive overhanging white granite slab that rests on two boulders. We were back on the trail by 11, headed to the next camp, mapaleufu.

After another morning of stunning scenery punctuated by perfect weather, we arrived at a bridge that would take us across the futa once again. Before we got to the bridge, though, we had to dodge a family or two of
cows with calves. We made a nice wide berth of them as huge bulls stared us down from a distance. Miguel and Mark didn´t seem to have too much regard for the bulls, but whenever we saw any yellow jackets, they began to freak out like disco dancers.

Anyway, we crossed the rickety bridge, which was about 35 meters above the water, and followed the trail for another 45 minutes, at which point we crossed paths with the meandering river again. This time, though, there was no bridge to cross and we were still about 35 meters above the water. in lieu of building a bridge across the 100+ meter span where we were, there
was a manual gondola system consisting of a steel, two to four person basket suspended above the river on 1/2 inch thick braided steel cable. The cable was secured to rerod in 5´ by 5´ slabs of concrete that sat on
each shore.
Daniela and i were the first of our party to jump into the basket, fasten our bags around our ankles, and get a push out over the river.

Gravity was our friend until we were a little bit past the halfway point, and we enjoyed the amazing view of the river below and the mountains on all sides. As we began to slow down, i had to crank us the rest of the
way across with a elbow grease. There is a custom-welded tool in the basket that fits onto the cable, which we used to haul ourselves--one heave at a time--to the opposing shore. When we got there, there was a small group of locals waiting to cross to where we had come from to get home (they had gone to the town of futaleufu to stock up on essentials like
cooking oil and a propane tank).

Once we were all across, we hiked up to the mapaleufu camp, which is a 300 acre camp that sits about 100 meters above the river and is surrounded by incredible views of jagged, snow capped mountians. We spent the night and woke up right as the sun streamed into our cabin (and as flocks of birds squawked outside the thin bamboo walls) to see the river shimmering in the bright morning sun.

This was technically the end of our journey, as we were only a 10 minute walk from the base camp where we originally assembled and got our stuff together. But after we walked over to the base camp, showered, and
relaxed for a few hours, we headed 15 minutes away to the newest camp that earthriver operates. We decided to spend the night there because we would be among the first people to stay in the new camp. We trekked over with just our pajamas and some cards to keep us entertained, and soon wished that we had brought more substantial clothing.

As the sun went behind the mountains for the night, the temperature plummeted and we stayed warm in the kitchen--which was open but at least blocked the wind--playing cards by candlelight. When we decided
to go to bed, we hustled to the cabins along the river and all 5 of us crammed into a two person cabin (one person on each elevated bed, one person under each bed, and one person on the floor in the middle). all
of the cabins were small, bamboo structures with large open windows to afford great views of the river. This design is great for sightseeing, but made for cold sleeping for us.

We hunkered down in our bags, though, and stayed pretty warm. We woke up at 545 am to make it back to the base camp, and ultimately to the border of chile and argentina by 10 am, when we could catch a bus to esquel. As we trekked across the pasture that separated us from the base camp, the tall, wet grass whipped at mine and daniela´s flip-flop clad feet and the cold air made my feet numb within a couple of minutes. Luckily it wasn´t too long of a walk. We hustled past the cows that were just waking up and past the flock of sheep that was largely still asleep, crested a small hill, and followed a dirt road for a couple hundred meters to the camp. There we had a warm breakfast, put on socks and sneakers, grabbed our
gear, and got on an earthriver van to get to the border.

We arrived at the border an hour or so later, and got our departing stamps from chile then hiked 200 meters to the argentinian customs building to get our argentinian stamps. Then we caught a bus to esquel, where we would catch some R&R after our mind-blowing trip.
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