The Nuble river valley is situated in Region VIII of Chile. Often overlooked by kayakers visiting Chile in search of waterfall the laden runs Chile is known for. The Nuble itself sometimes has the feel of the "Numbers" of the Arkansas River in Colorado and sometimes the Gauley River in West Virginia, but all of the time it is graced with stunning Andean scenery. For those in search of unknown whitewater the Nuble river valley delivers, in the two weeks we where there we did the first descent of the Estero Las Damas, and the second descent of the Las Truchas.
The Las Truchas, a tributary of the Nuble was first run in 2007 by my friend Jon and two other friends after Jon had been combing over Google Earth trying to figure out what lie in the upper reaches of the river valley. The one problem was after the town of San Fabian road access is sketchy and very remote. The only way to make it to the top of the run would be by horse. After sorting out the logistics and finding some cowboys who were wiling to make the trip the first descent was completed, Jon spoke highly of the run but as most first descents go there was not a lot of time for documenting the run as your never quite sure of what lie ahead. Maybe you will encounter an un-runnable gorge, maybe you will have to make epic portages, on first descents it's always difficult to prepare for the "what if". It turned out that all was runnable for the most part and the run was completed with only a hand full of portages. The second descent is when you can return and really enjoy the place for what it is, a super remote river with outstanding whitewater.
Waiting for the Bus
After arriving in Santiago Jon, our friend Jeremy and myself made an obligatory stop at the Rio Claro for a run down the viente dos saltos and the siete tazas which is an amazing place, it was hard to resist staying longer at the Rio Claro, but Jon had already made arrangements with the cowboys who would transport our boats and gear to the top of the Las Truchas. So after a day of waterfall running we loaded up in Jon's truck and headed further south to the town of San Fabian. The next morning we would spend a few hours shopping and packing for our trip. The plan was to paddle the Los Sauces river, the largest tributary to the Nuble, then camp on the beach at the confluence where we would meet the cowboys to load our gear and boats on horses then hike seven hours to the put-in. We needed to be prepared for four nights of camping, three days of paddling and one full day of hiking. The one hitch in the plan was our shopping day turned out to be a Chilean holiday, which meant all the supermarkets were closed so we were forced to purchase all of our food from a "tienda", which has a selection of food slightly better than a well stocked US gas station.
Food for the trip
After piecing together our food and packing our gear we loaded the truck and headed up river toward the Sauces. The weather could not have cooperated any better as we had perfect Andean spring weather, warm and sunny the snow was definitely melting. As we headed upstream the excitement grew as we got our first glimpses of the Nuble full of water. As we passed the Estero Las Damas, Jon noted he had never seen that much water flowing out of it, for a minute he almost talked us into doing the first descent of it that day. After considering the fact that we had a seven hour hike the next day we decided against shouldering our boats to carry up to run it, we would return four days later to do that very thing. We pushed on over the terrifying, steep boulder exposed road to the put-in for the Los Sauces. We got our first good look at the Sauces from about one thousand feet above the river from up there it looked a little on the high side and pretty scary, we stopped many times scouting rapids from far above hoping once we got to river level they would look a lot better. As the road descended the mountain and got closer to the river the rapids looked much the same. Of course we put-in anyway and the portage fest ensued. After passing the crux gorge we joined our friend Pablo back near the road to get our overnight gear out of the truck and head downstream to the beach where we would camp for the night. As the sun set we relaxed by the fire eating fresh trout we had caught Pablo said "this is living".
On the road to the Los Sauces
First nights camp
The Next morning woke up early and quickly packed our gear into our dry bags so they cowboys would not be waiting on us when they arrived. Just like planned they showed up with two pack horses and they two horses they would ride. Jon had told us of many epic failures loading gear on to horses, obviously the horses are somewhat startled by the bright colored kayaks and it is hard to bet the load perfectly balanced on their backs for the seven hour trek. It was clear though that these guys were professionals and in no time they had the horses loaded one with a kayak on either side, the other with all the gear and one boat. Loaded and ready to go we said good-bye to Pablo and started the hike. The first part of the walk was like walking back in time as we passed homestead after homestead of people living a stones throw away from civilization with no modern amenities. When the Nuble is low it is possible to drive across it with a truck but in the spring when it has good water it is not passable. On one side of the river in San Fabian people live a life with cellular telephones, satellite t.v., and wireless Internet. On the other side people don't have electricity, they still use horses for their primary transportation, they live this life not by circumstance but by choice. The irony is that there are two dams purposed for the Nuble River, one of which is already under construction. Chile has sold of its water rights to other countries who will build the dams and sell the power back to the Chilean people for profits. These people who have scratched out a simple existence will be forced out of their homes and into a life they know nothing about and do not seem to want. It's hard to see the fairness of that situation.
The first hour or so of the hike was in the comfortable shaded low part of the valley, we crossed a few small streams before the valley opened up at we arrived at the confluence of the Truchas and the Nuble. Here the Truchas was wide and flat and there was plenty of water. We held our breath as we waded nearly waist deep in the icy cold water our feet completely numb by the time we reached the other side. On the other side the well traveled road led us to the community of Robles, as we walked down the main road of the town it was like a scene of an old western movie, holding pens for livestock on both sides of the road and ranch hands stopping work for a few minutes to have a good laugh at the ridiculously dressed gringos walking down the road. Our cowboys had stopped here briefly as well I sure to tell the people in the town about the three guys that were making the death march to the top of the Truchas, our lifestyle is as foreign to them as theirs to us. At the end of the town we arrived at a gate at the base of a steep rocky, exposed slope. The cowboys asked if it would be OK if they rode ahead so they could get back home before dark we paid them their wages and thanked them. The plan was for them to tie a White burlap sack on a tree near the put-in where they stashed our boats. Now the real hike began with the sun beating down we pushed on over scree slopes, rocky outcrops, and steep mountain sides. At times I expected to see our boats and gear in a jumbled pile at the base of a slope, I was amazed the horses could be so sure footed on such difficult terrain.
After six hours of hiking we got our first good look at the river we would paddle the next day there was defiantly water and it was white! We stopped several times to admire the amazing scenery from the top of one mountain we saw the cowboys traversing the slope on the far side of the river. The horses were boat free which meant that we were close. Eventually the steepness gave way and we were in an open alpine valley probably no more than five miles from the Argentina border. From about a mile away we could see my yellow kayak leaning against a tree, we were finally there after an exhausting seven hours of hiking. We spent the rest of the afternoon fishing, and napping in anticipation of the next few days of kayaking ahead.
View of the put-in
Camp at the put-in for the Truchas
We woke the next morning well rested ready for the day. We casually loaded our gear waiting for the sun to get high in the sky to push away the cold. We slid our boats into the water and began to work our way through the boulders. It did not take long for the river to gain momentum as we paddled downstream the gradient quickly increasing. We were able to boat scout most the rapids in the first few miles. Jon had remembered one rapid that had a fairly good sized waterfall which they had portaged on the first descent. We hoped to make it through the steepest parts of the run before the water got too much higher, snow melt runs always get higher as the day goes on, and with several days worth of food and gear in our boats we already had our hands full. We arrived at a noticeably steeper rapid which turned out to be our first portage of the day. We walked the rapid on river left and put-in right above one of the best boofs in the world. Shortly after we arrived at the waterfall for the top there was no mistaking there was a big drop downstream. We got out of our boats to scout the beast. The waterfall itself was not all that tall but it had a complicated lead with an intimidating hole, then the waterfall with sieves on both sides at the bottom then another big rapid. It was fairly easy to see why they portaged it on the first descent. After scouting it out Jon and I decided we would run it, I can probably count on one hand the times I have been that nervous in my kayak. We have both run bigger rapids but if something goes wrong out there, your really out there and help is a long way away. All you can do in that situation is push the doubt out of your head and go, so that's what we did. The feeling you get after having run a rapid like that is worth every but of mental anguish. After the waterfall we stopped and ate some lunch and relaxed for a few minuets while we were eating we were watching the water rise and decided we had better keep moving. As the day wore one it became harder and harder to make the moves as our forearms were so fatigued it was hard to keep a grip on the paddle. The river was not letting up either, we wanted to make it to the Nuble before stopping for the day. But the rapids kept coming and we started to entertain the idea of stopping but with a lack of good flat ground we kept on. Finally after eight straight hours of kayaking the rivers started to ease and the gorge opened up. We made our way into the Nuble and found a nice sandy beach to camp on. That night as we sat around the fire exhausted from the day we all conceded we had just had one of the best days of kayaking of our lives.
After the portage
More gorge scenery
If your planning on visiting Chile add this one to your short list even it is just to see the Nuble river before it is gone.
For Information and lodging in the Nuble river valley Contact: Pablo Jimenez at firstname.lastname@example.org