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Kaiak Crew Heads South for Legendary Patagonian Whitewater on the Futa and Baker
Posted on June 5, 2015

Pedro Oliva paddles in Rio Baker watercolors. P: Stookesberry

Last week we ran our first report back from Eddie Bauer kayakers Ben Stookesberry and Chris Korbulic from a mission that traveled more than 5,000 miles through South America to film and document a landmark whitewater kayaking expedition for ten episodes of Kaiak, the world’s only syndicated whitewater kayaking show. The first report was on the legendary waterfalls and dam politics of Southern Brazil, but the second installment in the series is a lookback at the legendary Patagonian whitewater they found further south at the Rio Diamante, the Futeleufú and the Rio Baker on their long road trip south. The images they brought back are stunning and this is their report. —LYA Editor

Rio Baker car camping P: Pedro Oliva

Words by Ben Stookesberry, Images by Chris Korbulic, Ben Stookesberry and Pedro Oliva

With reasonable gas prices, a relatively stable political climate, and improved road conditions, a road trip from the tropics to the subarctic tip of South America is as easy today as it has ever been. And with our kayaks on the roof, there are tens of thousands of rivers to consider, from the rain-fed monsoons in Brazil to the melting snow and ice of Patagonia.

Of course, that’s an idealized picture painted with a broad brush. In real time, this is one of the driest and hottest years on record through parts of Brazil and most of the Andes, which has both limited and expanded our options at the same time. In San Rafael, Argentina, we arrived at the Rio Diamante only to find a river nearly dried up, with the dam shut off due to diminished water storage. In Bariloche, Argentina, a forest fire erupted where we had planned to enter a remote river.


We were finally back in the water on the legendary Futeleufú, albeit at the lowest water levels that anyone can remember for this time of the year. Now even further south on the Rio Baker that drains the Northern Patagonian Ice Field, there is no shortage of water but the river is low compared to its usual depth. Now the Rio Baker is turquoise blue, with about four times the volume of water that flows through the Grand Canyon. This is probably why banks and businessmen are lining up to get permission to put a mega-dam on this one-of-a-kind river and to build 2,000 miles of power lines north into Chile to supply the national grid. Luckily for us and the people who live in this region, the current government of Chile has rejected this proposal, staving off the destruction of the river and its fishery for a few more years.


Now Chris, Pedro, and I are in the right place at the right time to explore a river that in a normal year would be too high and out of the question—for that reason, and the fact that there is no access to it, it has never been kayaked before. El Rio Año Nuevo is a big tributary to the Bravo, which comes out of remote mountains and glaciers between the big Rio Baker and Rio Bravo in Capitán Prat Province, Chile.

We will take our experience from our Torngat mission in Canada and try to apply it to Patagonia. The idea is to establish a “canoe route” up into the headwaters of the Rio Año Nuevo and then kayak out to the Bravo and the Pacific Ocean. Wish us luck.

Ben and Chris waiting for the Patagonian sunset P: Pedro Oliva


Author: - Friday, June 5th, 2015

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