Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The waterfall mission

Autumn is approaching here in Coyhaique. Red and orange is starting to creep into some of the trees up in the hills. The mornings are becoming crisper. So when the sun came out in force on a day off it was something to get excited about, and the boys had the perfect mission planned to get the best out of the day.

We set off at around 9.30 in the morning on our way to Rio Balboa – the river we cross daily to get to work and which has a fairly spectacular waterfall a couple of km upstream. I am pretty keen on said waterfall and tend to stop by briefly each day on the way to work to take a peek (and to catch my breath, if we’re being honest). Even after a couple of weeks I still find the sight of that much water tumbling into a good-sized gorge to be pretty impressive. So I was pretty excited about the planned adventure – to head up the canyon and get to the bottom of the waterfall.

The gorge, scenic
Five of the boys decided they were keen on the outing. The start was fairly good as the water was only ankle-deep thanks to the river widening at that point. It was, however, numbingly cold and no one was looking forward to having to dip the meat and two veg later in the piece. We soon got a taste of things to come as we took to the rocks on the side of the river and I quickly learned that the much worn trainers I had borrowed from the laundry did not have a good relationship with the slick wet rocks we had to scramble over.

The baby waterfall, a wee taster.
It wasn’t long before we were in the gorge proper, with large rock walls on either side of the river. The views both up and down the river were pretty mind-blowing. There was a great view of a small waterfall tumbling into the gorge with the sun behind it and this got me pretty amped for the main event a bit further on. The whole place was pretty pristine. We should have bought fishing rods as well because in one pool we saw around fifteen trout. It was unbelievable.

As we moved up the gorge it became harder and harder to keep dry above the goodies, and the water was cold enough to take puberty back a couple of steps. There was no option but to take the hit and it truly wasn’t pleasant. The suffering became more meaningful as we came out into a wide sunny point which was close enough to our goal that we could see it. Unfortunately, in the way was a narrow and very deep channel which was clearly going to involve a legitimate upriver swim to get to our destination.

Sunny warm goodness before the bad bit
We spent a bit of time in the sun looking for possible climbing options, whimpering quietly and praying for the miraculous appearance of some sort of boat to spare us the misery of what was about to come. There was no option but to bite the bullet so one by one (and I’m not ashamed to say with me last) we swam through the last 20 or so metres to our objective.

It was easily the worst swim of my life, and by a huge margin. It beats any early morning river swim I’ve ever been on. The cold stole the air from my lungs. Reputable sources (a couple of the boys speculating) put the water temperature at 5 degrees or less. Whatever the temperature in degrees, in effect the water was approximately half a degree above unbearable. The current wasn’t strong but it was enough to drag the whole ordeal out just that much longer. Breaking through to the other side was glorious – getting out of that water was just brilliant.

Under the falls. Photo by Ben Marklew,
I didn't have the skills to swim it with my
camera in my mouth.
But even better was the view we had just discovered. We could get pretty close to the waterfall as there was a waist high ring of water around where the falls landed. The force of that much water dropping is remarkable; there were waves being formed and you could feel the air being pushed out and onto your face. But really there’s no way to describe. It’s possibly the coolest thing I’ve done to date.

All too soon we were on the home mission as the cold was relentless. The swim out was far easier than going the other way as we had the help of the current. We spent some time in the sun to try and warm up but for me at least it was pretty ineffective, as I spent my whole time shivering violently. The mission out was fairly uneventful and we were all pretty pleased to get back to the lodge for a hot lunch.

The afternoon saw us with beers at the lake and then with scotch on the lake in a rowboat. The beers continued into the evening and we set up a bonfire as well. My night ended with me passed out on my bunk with the lights on and the door open. I may have overdone it a tad and paid horribly the next day.

It was fairly universally agreed that it was the best day we’ve had here so far. With rain and snow likely to be heavy features of life around here from anytime soon it was great to get out and catch some vitamin D with our shirts off, even if it was just for one day.

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