GPT29P - Valle Picacho
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|GPT29P: Valle Picacho||Hiking||Packrafting|
|Group||G: Aysen Norte||Total||-||-||192.4 km||44 h|
|Region||Chile: Aysén (XI)||Trails (TL)||-||-||0.7 km||0.40%|
|Start||Carretera Austral (Camino Picaflor)||Minor Roads (MR)||-||-||24.0 km||12.50%|
|Finish||Puerto Cisnes, Puerto Cisnes||Primary Roads (PR)||-||-||12.7 km||6.60%|
|Status||Published & Verified||Cross-Country (CC)||-||-||3.9 km||2.00%|
|Traversable||Jan - Apr (Maybe: Dec, May)||Bush-Bashing (BB)||-||-||1.3 km||0.70%|
|Connects to||GPT28P, GPT29H, GPT30H, GPT30P, GPT31P||Investigation (I)||-||-||-||-|
|Options||263 km (3 Options & Variants)||Exploration (EXP)||-||-||(39.9 km)||(20.7%)|
|Hiking||Packrafting||Total on Water||149.7 km||77.8%|
|Attraction||-||5 (of 5)||River (RI)||127.2 km||66.1%|
|Difficulty||-||6 (of 5)||Lake (LK)||16.3 km||8.5%|
|Direction||None||Only ↑||Fjord (FJ)||6.1 km||3.2%|
|Comment||Hiking: Hiking not feasible|
|Character||Packrafting: Flip-Flop recommended|
|Challenges||Valdivian Rain Forest, Sea Coast, Farmland, Settlers, Unpeopled Areas, River Packrafting, Lake Packrafting, Fjord Packrafting|
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Elevation Profile of Regular Packrafting Route
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Section Length and Travel Duration
Recommended Travel Direction
Benefits of Hiking and Packrafting
Suitable Section Combinations
Resupply in Puerto Aysen
Resupply on the Route
Access to Route and Return
Regular Hiking Route
Regular Packrafting Route
Investigations and Explorations
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Route Development and Contributors
Alerts, Suggestions and Section Logs of Past Seasons
- GPT29P Valle Picacho Regular Packrafting Route / 2019-Jan-11 / 3.5 days / With Tobias Hellwig W, Ricardo Campos , Jen Ni and Meylin Elisabeth Ubilla González
This packrafting section is a hidden treasure for experienced packrafters that enjoy particularly remote areas and don’t mind to bushwhack through dense forrest. Very few people in this region even heard about these places making this traverse a journey into mystic place.
The hard to predict river and lake water levels and one not fully researched portage mean that this section remains an exploration section.
We highly enjoyed researching and reopening this section with Tobias Hellwig and Ricardo Campos, two Chileans living in Coyhaique and with Jenni, a GPT hiker of the “GPT class 2018/19”. Without them we would have struggled much more and much longer on this particular depopulated section.
The first documented traverse of this route was made by the explorer Augusto Grosse in 1944. Grosse with a couple of man explored this valley all the way to the port town Puerto Cisnes at the Pacific Ocean with a wooden boat.
One or two decades later the first settlers attempted to “hacer patria” along the lakes and rivers of this valley. At both sides of Rio Picacho you still find cattle pastures and a couple of houses but all settlers left Lago Copa and only one settler remains on the more accessible side of Lago Escondido (Don Transito Lopez). A last visible reminder of the settling attempt at Lago Copa are two abandoned fishing lodges; one smashed by landslide and the other one still standing offering some shelter before it will collapse in a couple of years.
The impressive mountains, powerful rivers, pristine lakes and engulfing forests are not welcoming human visitors all year around but someone must choose the timing of a traverse wisely. Snowmelt and rain quickly change the level of the rivers and the shoreline of the lakes reveals water level fluctuations of 3 m or even more.
Decades ago settlers moved up and down the valley using wooden rowing boats in the lakes and a few short trails between the lakes to bypass potential mortal rapids. We found these portage trails completely overgrown and a couple of machetes were as essential as our packrafts to complete this traverse. So someone must arrive prepared to battle his way through the short but overgrown portages as vegetation quickly recaptures the previous well maintained trails.
The traverse from the first put in is nearly completely on water with: 42 km on rivers 18 km on lakes 3 km on a fjord And 1.2 to 2 km demanding bushwhacking (depending on water level and required portages)
Arrival to Trail Head
We went by car to the first river put in. Public transportation gets you the crossing “Picaflor” on the Carratera Austral from where it is a 14 km walk on a dirt road to the Rio Picacho put in.
Resupply on the Trail
There is no resupply all the way to Puerto Cisnes but the high packrafting ratio permits carrying lots of food (and beer and wine?) without a significant weight penalty. Therefore pack plenty of food to have a contingency reserve in this difficult to predict terrain.
Part 1: Rio Picacho
At the first put in the river water level was just sufficient to mostly avoid ground contacts. This was after some rain in the days before our trip. So in a dry period it might be advisable to hike further downstream on the left or right side of the river before starting to packraft. A couple of easy to moderate rapids can either be paddled or portered. This conclusion is based on the moderate river water level when we packrafted Rio Picacho.
Part 2: Lago Copa
Lago Copa changes the water level quickly and substantially. We have seen wood washed on shore about 3 m above the water level compared to the level when we packrafted the lake. During the night we spend on the lake the water level was rising an estimated 30 cm after a day with moderate rain.
Lago Copa is divided by 3 significant rapids into 4 sub-lakes before it flows in a last long rapid into Lago Escondido. All rapids can portered and most should be portered.
First Rapid: The first rapid was safe to packraft and also a portage would have been reasonable easy. The portage requires opening a passage of about 50 m through not particular dense forrest on the left side of the rapid.
Second Rapid: A particular challenge is the second of the three rapids that is located halfway in a 300 m long gorge. We could porter this rapid right on the right edge in the gorge but with a slightly higher water this would not have been possible. This rapid can also not safely be scouted as the “point of no return” is right on the entrance of the gorge. The safest option to bypass this second rapid is therefore opening an old completely overgrown 700 to 800 m long portage trail through dense forrest. This will take about one full day. The old trail starts on an collapsed settlers home on the left side just before the entrance into the gorge and leads counterclockwise around the rather round hill that forms the left side of the gorge.
Third Rapid: The third rapid appeared as unsafe to paddle as the second rapid so we searched a portage. We found about 100 m to the right of the rapid a wooden boat tight to a tree and there a still visible trail started. We opened this 100 m long trail by machete and ported the packrafts without deflating them.
Part 3: Lago Copa to Lago Escondido
We investigated this portage a year ago in January 2018 from Lago Escondido going upstream starting in Puerto Cisnes. We found signs of a trail and partially cleaned and recorded this trail but very dense vegetation and deteriorating weather stopped us halfway before reaching Lago Copa. This partial GPS record was a very useful hint where to search this portage from the opposite end in Lago Copa. A old pice of rope hanging down from a tree was the vital sign that pointed us directly to the trail head when researching the lake shore for the start of the portage from Lago Copa to Lago Escondido.
This roughly 1 km long portage trail was in parts still visible but completely overgrown. In order to reopen this route for future packrafters we made the effort to search and thoroughly clean this portage trail. With 5 people and 4 machetes we were working our way to Lago Escondido in about 5 to 6 hours leaving a now well visible and open route through the dense forrest. But the rapidly growing vegetation makes it necessary that any packrafter carries a machete to keep the passage open and visible.
Part 4: Lago Escondido
Paddling this pristine mountain lake on the evening of the 3rd day was our premium after nearly one day of bushwhacking.
Part 5: Rio Cisnes and Puerto Cisnes
There is a moderate rapid in the outlet of Lago Escondido just before it joins Rio Cisnes. We packrafted the rapid but a portage is also possible. The rapid is less powerful during high tide as this lower part if Rio Cisnes is affected by tides.
The paddle on Rio Cisnes and through the fjord to Puerto Cisnes is easy as long not facing heavy head wind.
- Alternative route going from North to South, from the crossing “Picaflor” on the Carratera Austral down to Puerto Aysen.
From the crossing “Picaflor” on the Carratera Austral, follow the dirt road and Rio Picaflor for roughly 11km until you meet Rio Mañihuales.
I wanted to put in further upstream on Rio Picaflor, which is a pretty-looking small river, but there are too many fallen trees accross the water and it didn't seem to be worth the effort. The Upper Mañihuales, then, is a narrow, shallow, slow-moving river. Some parts are already so shallow in January that you'll touch bottom regardless of your skills at reading rivers. It's a nice little stroll for about 10km. While the scenery is not impressive at the start it improves dramatically as you progress. After paddling for about 12km, you hit a first, fun rapid. Quickly, a second rapid that you should scout first (impressive drop). Then quickly a third, scary-looking one. It might not be very technical but it sure looks like the kind of rapid you don't wanna go into solo. It marks the start of a long, Class-IV section. Fortunately, you can easily take out and reach the Carretera Austral nearby. You have about 6km left to reach Villa Mañihuales. I would strongly advise against going solo from there on. This first section takes about 3 hours.
You can of course easily resupply and camp in Villa Mañihuales, which is a pretty little town.
You can then get back into Rio Mañihuales from Puente Mañihuales II, roughly 22km south of Villa Mañihuales on the Carretera Austral. The road from Villa Mañihuales to the bridge is stunning and so is the Rio, with crystal clear water. Experienced paddlers should not have any problems. Others should proceed with caution in the first few rapids (one that you should scouted first, I think it was the third one). Quite a few dead trees and branches are stuck in the rapids. Again, proceed with caution.
No hazard once you've paddled accross the first couple km.
On the day of that trip, head winds were getting quite strong while approaching the valley where Puerto Aysen lies. Taking out at Puente Mañihuales I, I covered the 20km in roughly 3,5 hours.