Friday, February 18, 2005

Rio Los Sauces - Chile

Michelle Basso paddles past Cerro Maravilla on the Rio Los Sauces, Chile - November 2003. Posted by Hello

The Rio Los Sauces is a primary tributary to the more frequently paddled and equally beautiful Rio Ñuble, which crosses the Panamericana Highway about 400 km south of Santiago. Flowing West from where the last of the high Andean Cordillera parallels Chile and the Andacollo region of Argentina, the (III-IV) Ñuble and (IV-V) Los Sauces are certainly worth a paddle if you are in Chile early in the season. Both these drainages receive far less precipitation than the rivers and creeks of Pucon, therefore it is best to explore these runs during the Spring (November through December), when snow is melting.

The Los Sauces valley was discovered by kayakers a few years back when a new road appeared at the put-in for the usual Rio Ñuble run. At this grassy field where the road ended, a hanging bridge crosses the Los Sauces and you were previously only able to peer into the tight gorge upstream and wonder.

In November of 2003, Michelle and I were back in Pucon enjoying heavy rains and good surfing on the local runs. While we were there I met up with Nathan Sullivan, a Coloradan who spends half of the year paddling and living in Chile. I made a plan to meet up with him in a couple of days in the town of San Fabian de Alico on the Rio Ñuble, when he would be returning from Santiago with a friend who had just flown in. San Fabian is reached by turning East off the Panamericana in the town of San Carlos and driving 45km, only which of half is paved. Here you can purchase the very basic foods before once again needing to drive another 30 km on rough road that heads up the Ñuble valley. The road comes to an end at the hanging bridge on the Rio Los Sauces and just before, there are some friendly Chilean families who have lived in this valley for generations tending sheep. When we came back from a rainy day kayaking on the Ñuble, a farmer welcomed us in from the rainy night for some shelter and a friendly chat. The next morning the sun was back out and we all packed boats onto Nathan's van and headed up the recently made road. It took off steeply up the valley and above the gorge that we checked out the day before.

Looking down at the Rio Los Sauces from the van. Posted by Hello

After a few kilometers the road begins to decend back down to the open valley from which you can begin to see technical boulder gardens and generally easy lines flowing with crystal blue water. There is a good chance for some new exploration on the upper reaches of the Los Sauces, but Nathan and our crew put in during a flat stretch soon after the road gets very close to the river.

A quick S-turn rapid into a meaty hole also required some hard strokes to avoid the undercut river left wall. One of the numerous rapids scoutable from the road along the river right shore. Posted by Hello

Once the final canyon closed in around us we were forced to begin scouting and portaging a few rapids that were very ugly. At higher flows the canyon would become even more menacing. At the end of the canyon you will see the hanging bridge and a sandy beach take-out on river right. Here the Los Sauces opens up and flattens out until it joins the Ñuble 1.5km further downstream. The following day after Nathan and friends headed on South, Michelle and I could not help but stay an extra day kayaking and enjoying life up in this magnaficent valley.