Kayaking in Patagonia: is it worth it?

October 6, 2017

 

 

Gentlemen I salute you!

 

Today I have a bit of a special topic. Within the range of possible outdoor activities one can jump into, kayaking was always something I considered to be fun but highly impractical. I mean, think about it, you need this huge piece of gear (the kayak) which you have to mount on a car because you cannot really transport it by yourself, etc.

 

Yet I always wanted to organise some kayak adventure. I guess is just one of those “bucket list” material kind of thing and I wasn’t really going to rest until I could pull it off.

 

However, the whole logistics of the kayak was enough to keep me from doing so, until.... Enter the foldable kayak!

 

Now, is not fair to say that this solves all the logistic issues but, boy, it does bring it to a bearable level. With this in my mind, was time to just start thinking where to go and how could I make an interesting experience out of it.

 

With the motivation in place I started thinking about cool places to go and play and, Patagonia came instantly to my mind. I mean, it’s far, its exotic and, obviously beautiful.

 

Now it was about giving the whole story a cool twist I could use to reach out to a brand so they would send me some Kayaks :)

 

After a few phone calls and a bunch of emails ( and some other tricks ;) I managed to convince the people from a Oru Kayaks to send me a couple of units.

 

The hook? I told them I was going to prove that the kayaks are so portable, that not only you can drag them half across the world but also 2000 meters (elevation gain) up a mountain in order to paddle on a beautiful glacial lagoon!

 

With the kayak situation already solved, it was time to start devising the whole setup to get down there and actually put the story together so, just in case you guys want to repeat such a feat, here’s what happened.

 

 

The best time of the year to go down there is probably in the very end of february when the season is already coming to an end and the prices drop and also the amount of people.

 

I had my sights fix on Cerro Castillo that features an insanely beautiful lagoon with more or less 1.700 vert. Until you reach it.

 

I Booked tickets from Munich to Chile and paid around 800eu (which is pretty good). From Santiago de Chile, I rented a car and drove down with a friend, because we wanted to check the landscape on our way down.

 

Take this option only if you have tons of time, because is a pretty F…! Long drive until you reach Cerro Castillo Village. But, oh well, who cares anyway :)

 

We reached Cerro Castillo Village very late at night and –obviously- we took a couple of wrong turns in between that led us all the way to the border with Argentina, trying to find the campsite.

 

A bit of food and excitement would close the day and the promise of a perfect sunny day was taking over. It was time to bring those kayaks up and be the first ones to paddle this lagoon and, of course, bring some images back.

 

The day started early and we got things ready as fast as possible, grabbing an apple a couple liters of water and of we go.

 

The trek to the lagoon is only 7 km in length (which is honestly not that much) but after some 500m of gain on -almost- flat terrain, there are another 1200 elevation-meters in a tiny stretch!

 

The terrain is not very aggressive but the angle is steep and sustained, with few places to rest. Oh, and carrying about 27kg on our backs.

 

Now here are a couple of cons when it comes to this whole thing. I know I got myself into this pickle by saying I was going to prove its portability to the extreme but the kayak backpack is not the most comfortable and it is not really meant to carry many things other than the paddles and boots.

 

Even storing the dry suit and life vest (oh yeah it’s glacial water, you need a drysuit) proved to be quite a challenge.

 

 

Anyways, what I forgot to mention before is that paddling on glacial waters means you can’t just jump in wearing your classy Hawaiian-beach bathing suit.

 

It means going in water at 3 degrees and that, is serious business. Even in the most conservative scenario for the activity, it is as simple as to be a couple of hundred meters away from the shore and, if you capsize, is not good news.

 

Luckily, I’ve learned from a previous expedition to Antarctica that getting into that kind of water is a horrible idea with proper protection, thus, we brought the dry suits and all possible security gear we could.

 

We also had all necessary things to spend the night, including: tent, sleeping bags, food, etc. To that, you should add: camera bodies, 4 different lenses including a 600mm, batteries, tripod, bla bla. All in all, heavy! The ascent wasn’t going to be fun.

 

The route starts with paying the entrance fee (once to Conaf and once to the land owner with access to the trail.

 

Welcome to Chile and then goes a couple of K’s through a very beautiful forest and near a river which, later opens to reveal the view of the Castillo range and its magnificent glaciers and valleys. We were psyched and bluebird conditions make this day –absolutely- perfect.  

 

 

But things could not be that easy, right? I mean, it wouldn’t be an adventure otherwise. That’s why the mountains had another surprise for us and the alarm on my watch’s barometer and the alarm on my GPS barometer started going off warning of a possible storm rolling in. Damn!

 

This meant two things: on the first place, our plans of spending the night up there were shattered and we just carried a bunch of gear just for the "fun of it". The second aspect wasn’t to think the storm was going to caught us unprepared but, it was certainly going to cover the view from the lagoon and ruin the shooting I had in mind! And that, I was not comfortable with, at all.

 

 

We began pushing up harder, without resting too much. We could see our objective very far but, we were committed. After a bit of suffering, we reached the top of the moraine and finally saw our objective. Man, what a view!

 

 

We assembled the kayak (finally) and wasted no time to get into the water. The kayak works perfectly, the suit is protecting us from the cold and the presence of the mountain with its glacier is just majestic. We felt small, humbled.

 

After a successful mission, we took some time just to relax the shoulders and try not to think that we need to haul the weight all the way back to the camp. Trying to avoid thinking of this moment is went by very fast and we had to start thinking of our next move but, for a few minutes, the magic of Cerro Castillo is means everything.

 

 

If you would like to follow such an adventure, here are some pointers:

 

  • Easiest way of getting there is to take a plane to Santiago de Chile and then from Santiago, right to Coyhaique. It’s about 2 hours and normally not very expensive, depending on the season.

 

  • From Coyhaique you can rent a car or take a bus directly to villa Cerro Castillo which is about 1.5 hours south from the city.

 

  • Cerro Castillo is very small and doesn’t really have much services or anything other than the usual very small, very local shop that will allow you to get the most basic stuff (food and cleaning products). So, it would be a good idea to look at your stock while still in Coyhaique.

 

  • You will have to consider the Campsite fee which is about 9 EUR per person, per night and then you have the Conaf fee (another 3 EUR) and then the private fee another 9 EUR.

 

  • The Refugio next to the camp has somewhat a Wi-Fi connection (which will be completely useless due to the amount of people and the remoteness) and has a couple of electric outlets which will be collapsed by the climbers trying to charge their own devices. We brought gear from GZ so energy was never really a problem. If you’re looking for a sweet setup, consider the Venture 30 and Nomad 7 Plus from their line. It just works.

 

  • There is another beautiful trek (if the weather allows) that takes about 4 days (depending on your speed) where you can have a deeper look into the valley and its greatness. It is worth the while.

 

I hope this was useful and If you have anything to add, make sure you leave a comment :)

 

 

A.

 

 

 

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