By Shaun Tolson
The Futaleufu River’s Terminador Rapid can be heard surging from a quarter of a mile away. The class 5 stretch of whitewater cascades over and around imposing granite boulders for eight-tenths of a mile, and it lives up to its name. The river which runs more than 120 miles through Chile, drops 3,000 feet from beginning to end, and through its most challenging section of rapids the Futaleufu drops 45 feet per mile --33 feet more per mile than the Colorado River when it passes through the Grand Canyon. In Patagonia, which emerged as a world-class whitewater destination a little less than three decades ago, the Futaleufu is the crown Jewel.
A group of kayakers first negotiated the Futaleufu’s rapids in 1986, and the following year a commercial rafting company from the United States attempted to duplicate the effort. Prior to that attempt, The Terminador and other rapids along the river were unnamed, but that was about to change. Outfitted with large, traditional heavy rafts full of gear and rafters without paddles, the American company successfully traversed a handful of class 5 rapids before reaching the stretch of whitewater that--based on the impending result-- would come to be named Terminador. The rapid offers no margin of error, and the raft, weighed down by gear and without the help of passenger's paddling, drifted from the necessary line down the left side of the river. Instead, it was pulled down the center of the rapid, where it was trapped (and subsequently destroyed) in a large, violent hole--the section of a rapid below a submerged boulder where the resulting waterfall creates a backward--falling wave of equal strength. All of the rafters survived, but news of the event quickly circulated throughout the international rafting community and for years the Futaleufu was deemed unraftable. It wasn’t until 1991 that Eric Hertz and his company, Earth River Expeditions, decided to explore the possibilities.
No self-respecting whitewater aficionado would contest that the Futaleufú is among the greatest stretches of whitewater on the planet. For about 50 miles, this shifting thread of turquoise winds through an impossibly grand theater of scenery. Rafters take in skyscraping peaks, sheer granite cliffs, and thickets of hardwood forest as they tumble down 36 Class IV and V rapids. Despite its brawn, however, the river is gravely endangered.
A Spanish power company, Endesa, has the rights to build three dams that would destroy long-standing shepherd communities and wipe out whitewater recreation forever. Earth River Expeditions, the whitewater-rafting company that pioneered the first raft descent of the river in 1991, has and continues to put up a massive fight. They bought a large amount of land that Endesa would have to purchase in order to build the dams and fought the construction of unsustainable development. In 2012, with the profits from their raft trips, they also founded a conservation organization, the Futaleufú Riverkeeper, to work on litigation, community outreach, and other conservation efforts full time.
The first thing travelers can do to support river conservation is experience the Fu. After cruising the river each day, rafters retire to camps etched into cliffs and perched in trees. Extracurricular activities include hot-tubbing in natural springs, rock climbing, rappelling, mountain biking, and, naturally, blissing out on a private beach. All profits from the trip go toward protecting the river. Want to do more? Donate directly to the Futaleufú Riverkeeper.
By David Rakoff
GLEN CLOSE AND I ARE HEAD OVER HEELS. Ass over teakettle we tumble from our raft into the spin cycle of the Rio Futaleufu. It is the perfect day; the sun is shining and the river is beautiful - a shimmering, effervescent foam that glits like a shower of sapphires as it closes over my head. suddenly I'm hit with a preconscious instinct, my own reverse Elephant Man moment. I am not a man, I am an animal: Follow the bubbles to the surface!
The froth is disorienting, churning in every direction, with no clear way up. But flotation being what it is, the combination of our life jackets and the powerful arms of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (Bobby for short; president of the Waterkeeper Alliance, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council) does the trick. Glenn and I are hoisted, dripping, back into the boat, our ordeal all of five seconds from the start to finish.
By Paul Goldsmith
American Airlines Magazine
Time may be running out for adventurers who want to tackle Chile's Futaleufu River - A 100-mile cerulean stripe that roars out of the Andes across the top of Patagonia to the Pacific. The Caribbean blue water, lush old-growth forests, Andean glaciers, and breathtaking mountain vistas belie the world's premier white water. Here's what it's like to fight the Fu.
A giant gray-green wave bears down on the boat, The bow of our 18-foot canary yellow inflatable raft dips as the wave crashes over us, and I feel the icy water run down my arms and chest inside my waterproof jacket. (I forgot to close the neck again - damn!) The water roars like a thousand TVs with the cable out. I shiver and shake my head to clear my eyes. Next to me Roger, is doing the same. Behind me in the boat I can hear John shouting encouragement to the other five people in the boat, but another wave is staring down at us. The bow dips in its now familiar pattern, and I'm already ducking my head. For seconds, I see only white froth before the boat explodes out over the wave, and then all I can see is sunlight.
Fed by lakes high in the Andes of Argentina, the Rio Futaleufú crosses the Andes—and into Patagonia, Chile—before it finally empties into Yelcho Lake. Along its journey, it creates some of the most breathtaking scenery and whitewater experience to be found in the world. Unfortunately at the same time it is a potential resource for hydroelectric power that governments and power companies find completely irresistible.
For the moment—and hopefully well into the future—the river is being preserved through the efforts of whitewater experts Eric Hertz and Robert Currie, who have created a Land Trust and have facilitated the private purchases of key properties along the river that provide solid political resistance to its damming and any other adverse development. Through their company Earth River Expeditions, some of these purchases have also allowed Hertz and Currie to create a totally unique experience for visitors from all over the world.
By Rob Mcfarland
White water ride to Chile
Starting in Argentina, winding through the Andes to Chile, join Rob McFarland on the Futaleufu River for a dream rafting trip.
"PAY attention," shouts Pedro from the back of the raft. Six panting heads snap around in unison. We've failed to make it to the exit on the left side of the rapid so after some furious back-paddling we're now in an eddy on the more dangerous right side. It's time for Plan B. In front of us the river roars between two hulking granite boulders and there's just enough space for our raft.
"Ready?" asks Pedro. We nod. Forward paddle. We launch back into the main flow and are catapulted towards the right boulder. Commands come in quick succession: Left back ... right back ... all forward and we dig our paddles into the bracing, teal-coloured water. The boulders whiz by in a blur of grey and we're spat out into the calmer waters below. Exhausted, I turn around to see Pedro grinning. "Good job," he says, his deep, infectious laugh echoing off the sheer rock walls.
by Eric Hertz
Late one April after the rafting season, I was at Cave Camp building a trail around Laguito Azul to Lost Beach with the caretaker of the camp, Checho Berrera. The camp got its name from the massive rock shelter on the property. At one time the Puehenche Indians lived in this natural stone house which had a natural fireplace and was large enough to ride a horse inside.
My company, Earth River Expeditions, had been using the Camp for three seasons and yet the top of a 300 foot granite monolith that rose straight out of Laguito Azul and could be seen from everywhere in the camp remained a mystery.
By Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
Last spring my wife, Mary, our nine-year-old daughter, Kyra, and I assembled with thirty-three friends who had arrived at Chile’s Santiago Airport following overnight flights from various places. Our group included tennis star John McEnroe and his wife, rock singer Patty Smyth; comedian-writer Dan Aykroyd and his wife, actress Donna Dixon; and Seinfeld star Julia Louis-Dreyfus and her husband, Saturday Night Live comic; Brad Hall, all with children in tow. All together, there were sixteen kids and twenty adults determined to tackle the Futaleufu – one of the world’s finest and yet least known white-water rivers- with American outfitter Earth River Expeditions. But our ten-day trip involved more then just adventure. Earlier in the year, Chile’s largest hydropower company, Endesa, had announced its intent to dam the Fu in 2013. Part of our groups mission was to bring the publics attention to this wilderness gem so that the Chilean people would be less inclined to tolerate its destruction.
By David Noland (book chapter)
One day in 1989, as Eric Hertz's rented Toyota van bucked along a dirt road through the remote mountains of southern Chile, he looked down from a bridge and was what appeared to be a narrow tongue of the Caribbean Sea, a ribbon on bright aquamarine blue foaming with whitecaps.
Hertz, the owner of a small whitewater rafting company called Earth River Expeditions, had paddled down wild and scenic rivers all over the world, but he'd never seen anything like this. He stopped the van, walked over to the railing, and stared down at the rushing water. “I knew in an instant that this was the most beautiful river I'd ever seen.” Hertz recalls. “No other river has ever affected me like that. Not the Colorado, not even the Bio Bio. It was like God had designed the perfect whitewater river and laid it at my feet.”
By Peter May
FUTALEUFU, Chile—So, my neighbor said, you really should come along. It's summer down there in February and this river is supposed to be beautiful.Chile? Yeah, right. That'll happen. Rafting? On a real river whose name I can't pronounce which has sharp rocks and big rapids? I don't think so. But, of course, it did happen. I'm here to report that I survived my first white-water rafting adventure—thanks to my swimming ability. I'm also here to report that if I can do it, just about anyone else can, and that I'd do it again. My neighbor had predicted this reaction. You'll come back a convert, he assured me. You'll be looking for the next big river now that you're a Class 5 guy.
by Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
The white-water outfitter Eric Hertz spent a lifetime searching for the perfect river. In 1990, he finally found it, in Patagonia. Intrepid kayakers who had ventured into southern Chile the previous year said that the Futaleufú River could not be rafted. But Hertz and his partner, Roberto Currie, made an expeditionary first descent in 1991 and figured out how to safely navigate what today is the most intensive stretch of commercially rafted white-water rapids in the world. They began buying the shoreline, including the river's most desirable campsites and hiking spots, and have turned the Fu into an outstanding adventure destination for rafters and kayakers.
By Barclay Satterfield
We all put a drop of water on the back of our necks, for luck. Beth, one of the river guides, shouted “Remen a delante!” (Spanish for “paddle forward”), and we launched our raft into the rapids of the wild and phosphorescent green waters of Chile's Futaleufu (also called the Fu).
I had traveled from Smyrna, Delaware, last spring to spend seven days with five classmates hiking, rock climbing, riding horses, and, of course, white-water rafting, all before the spectacular backdrop of the Andean rainforest. Accompanying us once we arrived were Suj ey and Katia, two girls from the nearby town of Futaleufu, Chile. It was one of the most incredible trips of my life. And certainly the most disturbing.