GPT91P - Istmo de Ofqui
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- GPT91P / Option 1 / 2019-Dec-13 / 5 days / Meylin Ubilla & Jan Dudeck
Rio Exploradores - Bahia Exploradores - Fjordo Cuplauquen - Golfo Elefantes - Caleta Gualas - Rio Gualas (upstream) - Lago & Glacier Gualas - Lago & Glacier Reichert - Lago Sur - Rio Sur
This is a true wilderness packrafting route with practically no signs of human intervention and the defining landscape elements of the Aysen region in a nutshell: Fjords, rivers, lakes and glacier surrounded by steep mountains and plenty of water from above that nurtures a dense and permanently wet vegetation. From entering Caleta Gualas till reaching the end of Rio Sur we did not see any traces of humans having been there.
Highlights: Two big glaciers of the Northern Patagonian Icefield terminte in two lakes along the route (Gualas & Reichert). You will be packrafting in between blocks of floating ice.
Challenges: Weather, bushwhacking and remoteness are the major challenges of this route.
Weather: To enjoy this route wait for a suitable weather window. On the fjords you need two reasonable calm days and for the remaining part 2 to 3 days with some sun or at least not the typical permanent rain. A series of blue sky days in this area are about as frequent as heavy rain in the desert so waiting for the perfect weather window might mean not starting at all.
Bushwhacking: There are no trails at all so portages over land means searching and following the gaps in the vegetation or where unavoidable: pushing yourself with brute force through the underwood. In the most open parts we advanced with 1.5 km per hour, in the densest parts with just 300 m per hour. When bushwhacking every kilogram of backpack weight matters, so evaluate well what you really need.
Remoteness: From the mouth of Rio Gualas till the end of Rio Sur access is very difficult and slow therefore you rely completely on yourself and your gear in this area. Any rescue attempt would take several days to arrange. In case of an accident a search will probably be organized by police after some days of debate to try to recover the body but urgent help is not available.
Packraft: A closed packraft with spreydeck is ideal on fjords but attempting it with an classic open packraft seams not insane to me if (1) waiting for the right weather window and (2) carrying enough sweat water and food to sit out unsuitable strong wind.
Permit: This circuit crosses the National Park “Laguna San Rafael” therefore a permit from Conaf is required (”Reglamento especial de zonas remotas en las areas silvestres protegidas de la region de Aysen”). A “Plan de busqueda y rescate”, a “programa de la expedición” and the “Ficha de Registro / Registration Form” must issued and submitted to Conaf for review and approval. All paperwork should to be done in Spanish. Solo travelers will probably not be given a permit (2 people minimum).
Bahia Exploradores to Bahia Gualas: The roughly 50 km fjord paddling distance may be covered in one day if wind is favorable but planning 2 to 3 days is advisable. At “Paso Quesahuen” tidal flows are exceptionally strong and turbulent (7 kn or 13 km/h) so powerful eddies, countercurrents and waves are common. Therefore pass or porter a “Punta Celtic”. Distance between suitable camp spots are up to 10 km apart so in case of sudden weather changes exit points can be rather far away.
Rio Gualas to Lago Gualas: The 7 km from the river mouth to Lago Gualas require some upstream paddling and bush bashing in mostly rather open terrain. We walked and paddled a good part in the most northern arm of Rio Gualas but could have left the water earlier to walk on the only slightly overgrown banks between the river arms of Rio Gualas.
Lago Gualas: If weather is favorable paddle to glaciers Gualas but keep a sufficient safety distance to the glacier as falling blocks of ice can generate tsunami waves and flying fragments of ice.
Lago Gualas to Lago Reichert: Walk either on the shoreline or through the vegetation to Lago Reichert. We walked through the vegetation to avoid the steep and potentially dangerous shoreline but two stretches of about 300 m were covered by very dense vegetation which a lot of time and energy to cross (about 1 hour each 300 m section).
Lago Reichert: Halfway on the lake a lake arms opens to the east where the glacier Reichert comes down. Take your time to enjoy the scenery but keep agrian the required safety distance.
Lago Reichert to Lago Sur: Try to follow the old river bed all the way to Lago Sur. It took us only 3 hours wading in the partly water filled old river bed to reach Lago Sur.
Lago Sur and Rio Sur: The 3 km long lake and the first 1.5 km of river are easygoing and calm. When you reach the first rapid leave on the left side the river and porter 300 m through the forest. This took us roughly 1 hour due to the difficult terrain (countless fallen threes). The following 4 km of river contain about half a dozen of moderate rapids. We portered most of them over the gravel and boulders on the river shore. Be carful, watch out for the countless trees in the river and avoid taking unnecessary risks! The lower Rio Sur is mostly easygoing and calm. When reaching the end of the Rio Sur cross Rio Exploradores to return to the tiny port and road to Puerto Tranquilo.
Light version: If you don’t feel confident to paddle 50 km of fjords and cross the point of no return by entering Rio Sur than you can visit the highlights of the route (Lago Gualas and Lago Reichert with the glaciers) in a more controlled manner. Book a tour to Glacier San Rafael with www.destinopatagonia.cl and ask Daniel Torres if the can drop you in Bahia Gualas with you packraft on the way to Glacier San Rafael (he will only do this if you have the Conaf permit). You can then get up to Lago Gualas and maybe also to Lago Reichert. When you are done after one or a few days send an InReach message to Daniel Torres to coordinate your pickup at Bahia Gualas. To return from Lago Gualas you can packraft the Rio Gualas all the way from Lago Gualas into Bahia Gualas. These boat tours are run nearly daily but suspended occasionally if wind makes the boat ride unsafe so carry sufficient food.
|GPT91P: Istmo de Ofqui||Hiking||Packrafting|
|Group||P: Fiordos Sur||Total||-||-||311.1 km||93 h|
|Region||Chile: Aysén (XI)||Trails (TL)||-||-||-||-|
|Start||Bahia Exploradores||Minor Roads (MR)||-||-||-||-|
|Finish||Caleta Tortel||Primary Roads (PR)||-||-||-||-|
|Status||To be Verified & Recorded by GPS||Cross-Country (CC)||-||-||35.3 km||11.4%|
|Traversable||(Maybe: Sep - May)||Bush-Bashing (BB)||-||-||11.4 km||3.7%|
|Connects to||GPT36P, GPT80P, GPT90P, GPT92P||Investigation (I)||-||-||(18.9 km)||(6.1%)|
|Options||146 km (2 Options & Variants)||Exploration (EXP)||-||-||(311.1 km)||(100.0%)|
|Hiking||Packrafting||Total on Water||264.3 km||85.0%|
|Attraction||-||5 (of 5)||River (RI)||48.2 km||15.5%|
|Difficulty||-||6 (of 5)||Lake (LK)||8.8 km||2.8%|
|Direction||None||Only ↓||Fjord (FJ)||207.4 km||66.7%|
|Comment||Hiking: Hiking not feasible|
|Character||Valdivian Rain Forest, Sea Coast, Glaciers, Unpeopled Areas, Lake Packrafting, Fjord Packrafting|
|Challenges||Demanding River Fords, Bush Bashing, Demanding Navigation, Resupply Distance, Possibly Impassable, Exploration Required|