Thursday, December 18, 2008

Day 4 – On which we hike and finally raft.

We left Perros across a moraine, pausing to look at a hanging glacier spitting ice chunks onto an avalanche cone above a gray lake. Steep, 500 foot tall glacial deposits lined the mountain side of the lake, making it look impossible.

We walked through a short section of krumoltz beech into beautiful lenga forest for a few hours. The Rio Perros was too steep and low for rafting. At one point the river dropped into a sieve, then poured forth from a cave in a 20 foot waterfall. Spooky.

The woods were a beautiful, new green, like the east coast of the US in springtime. We made good time, but the distance felt greater than the map suggested.

The trail broke into woodland. Behind us were skyscapes of wind-whipped clouds and rose-tinted granite walls, a thousand meters high. In front of us the Dickson Glacier fed icebergs to Lago Dickson. Lago Dickson was the source of Rip Paine -- the great unknown: could we float it?

An hour later we struggled to keep out of the knee high, pokey calafate brush. We’d left the trail and moved down to the outlet of the lake. Waves broke over boulders and the river dropped faster than I’d anticipated. I hoped Peggy didn’t think it too scary, but I could sense the bit of trepidation born two decades ago in icy Alaskan waters with rain gear and no PFD.

The initial part of the river spilling over an old moraine was filled with river-wide but easy rapids and we managed them with back-paddling through wave trains and ferrying round holes and boulders. Peggy was warm and dry in a dry suit, but I wore rain-gear and struggled to keep rogue waves from soaking me.

A horizon line and blind corner prompted a bankside scout and a suggestion that Peggy walk.

“Can you handle that big boat by yourself?”

“Sure! Do you mind walking?”

These were questions we both already knew answers to but asked as a means of encouragement, if not permission.

I ran the easy Class III while Peggy boulder hopped.
“Oh man! That boulder hopping’s great! How’s the water?”

“Challenging in the open boat! Do you want to video me while I run this next stretch? It looks good with the Torres in the background.”

Back in the boat we cruised down the meandering, braided river, lined with nirre scrub. Snow capped mountains ran with waterfalls, geese whistled and lapwings screeched. We saw the slim little torrent duck, a whitewater watefowl with red beak and handsome black markings. It led us down splashy drops.

The river let up and slowed, still moving at 3-4 mph. It looked like we were nearing Lago Paine.

“Do you want to camp here or paddle across the lake? The weather’s nice now, but that beach looks comfy.”

“Let’s go for it, while we have good weather.”

The lake was long and took us an hour to cross. Every 15 minutes or so we’d stop and rest, letting the wind gently push us.

“This is a lot of work isn’t it?”

On the map it looked like there were plenty of other lakes to paddle along the Paine Circuit, but this experience was enough to put us off on any more of that.

We made camp. It had been a great day of packrafting, just what I’d hoped for: good walking and good boating through a variety of scenic landscapes with fine weather and even wildlife.

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