Follow Aniol Serrasolses and Nouria Newman as they become the first to ever accomplish the descent of the enigmatic Río Blanco from source to sea.
The adventure starts in the Unexplored Valley, a mysterious and remote area within the Temperate Rain forests of the Austral Andes, were they will explore one of the most pristine National Parks of wild Patagonia.
After 30 kilometers of challenging rapids with no exit routes, they plan to complete arguably one of the greatest expeditions in whitewater kayaking.
I first heard about the rio Blanco 10 years ago. The legend of an incredible river hidden deep inside the cordillera of the Austral Andes. I’ve studied maps for years, gathered videos and talked with many people who had hiked around the area... Everyone had the same opinion. The wildest & most beautiful place they had ever seen, but to their eyes, impossible to actually run any of the whitewater or even get there with kayaks.
It takes hikers 8 days to get up to the valley, there’s no trail and you must hike through some very thick forests. The difficult access has kept us away from trying for many years... This season I decided it was finally time to put a team together and attempt the first descent of the Blanco.
I made some calls and I quickly put together a team of international paddlers.
Nouria Newman from France. (She’s one of the best paddlers in the world and just came out of some incredibly hard days of expedition kayaking in Ecuador, she has a lot of experience with ropes and is super solid in the river).
David Sodomka from Czech Republic, one of the best photographers in the kayaking world, very used to paddling a heavy boat and being out in serious expeditions.
Jaime Sandoval, born and raised in Futaleufu, one the most humble, talented and positive paddler from Chile.
Pedro Astorga from Cajón del Maipo, the Astorgas have been some of the first paddlers in Chile.
Hornopirén National Park is part of the Biosphere Reserve rainforests of Southern Andes, is located 120 kms south of Puerto Montt, comuna de Hualaihue in the first sections of the Southern Highway near the town of the same name.
The area is of extraordinary scenic beauty and steep high snowy peaks meet the sea giving rise to beautiful fjords.
Among the highlights of the park is the Volcan Yates, Hornopiren Volcano, the Falls of Rio Blanco, high mountain lakes and more than 22,000 ha of glaciers. The highest mountains are located in the Rio Blanco basin and in the Cordillera del Cerro Inexplorado.
We all gathered in Hornopiren early December of 2021... Quickly packed some food in our boats and went over the maps one more time… we all had that feeling that we were in for a bad ass mission.
Next morning, we got picked up by my pilot friend Carles.
He was born right next to my home In Catalonia and decided to make chile his home just like me. He was eager to help us as soon as he heard about the mission. The flight took no more than 15 min. and we managed to scout the run on our way up. Getting to see the Unexplored valley for the first time was mind blowing…
I’ve been studying this river for years, gathering footage from many places and spending time looking at google earth. Truth is I wasn’t ready to actually see it with my own eyes. It is the most beautiful place in the world. Huge waterfalls, stacked sections of boulder gardens, crystal water, pristine lakes and snowy peaks anywhere you look .
We landed below Lago Largo, the deepest blue lagoon I’d ever seen. The water was so clear that we could see the reflex of the snowy mountain peaks..
We got all the team together and started paddling up the lake to get to the real source.
Over the last 30 years there’s been a crazy fast receding of the glaciers. So we were basically standing where the glacier used to be. You can only wonder how much time left is there for these places…
We spent the morning exploring the source and taking the place in.
The start of the river was extremely shallow and the water was so clean that you can see the bottom at all times. The landscape was stunning and I couldn’t stop contemplating in awe the incredible views.
We paddled down to Lago Inexplorado and made camp in a perfect sandy beach. We spent the afternoon scouting the first gorge. Epic set of waterfalls stacked one after another. Truly one of the steepest sections of whitewater I’ve ever seen. We got back to camp unsure that we would be able to run anything next day but happy to see that everything was walkable.
We spent the first night eating good food and carving spoons made out of Alerce wood next to the fire.
We finally got in the mood of running rapids and making progress downstream. We got to run a bit of the first rapids and portaged through the steepest section of impossible waterfalls. The steepness on that stretch is insane, over a 100m gradient in less than 300m.
One of the prettiest portages ever, surrounded by millenary Alerce trees, an insanely rare tree to see these days as they’ve been cut down for building purposes. They are the best wood there is for construction in the southern climate, the cypress of the south. They make great roofs, ships, high end furniture… it’s hard to see one these days, but to see entire forests was so unique!!!
At the end of the portage, we found a pretty runnable 40-foot drop, the only issue was a rock sticking out in the left side of the landing.
The lip was a bit scrapy so it was difficult to get hard enough right.
I decided to give it a try and paddled as hard as possible to get far right. I missed a bit of speed and got rejected back towards the left. The side of my kayak landed/touched the rock followed by my arm wich almost broke in two. I found myself stunned and confused at the bottom, touching myself and unsure if I was injured. The elbow pad saved me from breaking a bone but I was extremely sore for the rest of the trip... A good wake up call for me and the rest of the group, the Blanco was not to be fucked around with. The rest of the team portaged and we kept moving downstream. We paddled across the third lake for some of the last flatwater of the trip and enjoyed the calm sections before we got into the real stuff.
After that, the river drops out of the face of the earth. An 80 foot kicker waterfall marks the start of the second waterfall section.
We found a beautiful 50 foot drop that Pedro, Nouria and myself got to run. Pedro sent an insane boof and Nouria’s boat exploded at the bottom after having a great line. We were stoked and happily moving downstream.
We then arrived to a very large waterfall (200 ft) “ Cascada Lahuán “ The views from the top of the falls are incredible, you can see the entire valley of the Blanco and you really feel as if you’re on top of the world. We took some time to appreciate the place and started thinking how we were going to walk around it.
The portage was complex and required some rope work to lower the kayaks and a huge rappel.
Slowly but surely, we kept moving downstream. On our way down David’s kayak flew down the cliff, over 100 feet drop all the way to the water. We ran down and luckily for us the kayak stayed in the eddy, it was intact and nothing got lost. Close call !!
Got back in the river after the long portage straight into class V.
Stacked sections with sharp rock, technical boating, tons of siphons, and a few big waterfalls followed.
It was late in the day; everyone was feeling tired and in one of the tricky rapids Jaime didn’t make the corner and got properly stucked sideways.
His head was out of the water but no chance of moving anywhere...
Pedro ran to the rescue and managed to jump on top of his boat and pull him out. They both fell in the water and had to swim as fast as possible to reach the eddy.
Absolutely cold and tired they ………. In relieve.
That was the moment to call it a day. We found a rocky spot to camp, cook dinner and see the stars.
Early breakfast and time to hit the river. On day 3 we wanted to do a big push and get out of the waterfall section and move down to the big water / boulder garden gorges.
We started the day portaging some hard sections full of siphons.
Another surprise, perfect double drop. I went first followed by everyone, we all had good lines and kept mobbing down.
We arrived to the confluence with the other side of the Blanco. The water color changed radically to a beautiful turquoise. The water level also doubled up in size.
The valley opened up and the style of the river went from steep technical creeking to big water creeking through huge boulders.
Luckily for us, the weather was all time throughout the week, Super high temps and long spring days with plenty of hours of light. The snowmelt was on full force wich got the river pumping with high flows.
We were forced to stop and scout pretty much every rapid, we moved slowly but we were getting somewhere. The quality of the kayaking itself was something else. Every rapid had a line, some of them where too risky, but at all times we could see an option. Endless possibilities to go big and take chances.
The river never stopped, every rapid was quickly followed by another one with no rest in between.
At all times we were locked in, so the fear of screwing up a line and ending up swimming and losing all your gear was real. We spent over 8 hours in the river that day.
The rapids where just getting gnarlier and more committing, so we picked the first camp option we could find and called it a day.
We spent the afternoon scouting the next rapid, drinking mate, chatting about the river, our goals for the next day… We where so excited to be in the Blanco, we were the luckiest kayakers in the world, knowing that we were experiencing one of the best first descents of the last 10 years.
DAY 4 – FINAL DAY
Early morning start under grey skies. Straight off to class V.
Hard and committing rapids, the gorge was getting substantially deeper with less exit routes and more complex portages.
We arrived to a canyon wich we could not see the end. From far away it looked impossible to walk, we didn’t want to get locked, so we flew the drone. Everything looked white and quite stout. We decided to start walking. The problem is that hiking around the forests of Hornopiren is not an easy task. We gave it our best effort and pushed forwards. One person in front opening up a trail with a machete and the rest of the team pushing the kayaks. Fighting for every meter. It was a huge effort. 2 hrs. after we started, we realized that this was no sense, we barely covered 200 m. I headed down to the cliff and started scouting the river. I found a way to run the upcoming rapid. We set up a rappel and lowered all our gear down to the river. Once we were back at river level we realized that after all the great effort we were still above the rapid we were trying to portage in the first place…
We ended up running it and everything was fine, but we just wasted huge amounts of time and energy.
We kept moving downstream, rapids where world class and we were enjoying the process. Running what we could, portaging what we felt was too risky. One simple goal in our mind, keep making distance downstream.
The fear of pushing too far and being locked in an un-runable gorge was always there.
The day was passing by quick, and the river showed no signs of slowing down. We got to a place where we could see no exit routes, no walking options and no way of seeing a line to run the rapid.
I decided to move downstream and scout from the last eddy, if it looked good then I would tell the team to come down. If I found no line then I would ask for help to get back up.
The rapid required to make an insanely hard ferry to get to the other side of the river and portage the next rapid. If you missed the move you were falling into what we thought was dead. Expedition kayaking puts you on the edge. You are forced to do the best you can with the options you have. Sometimes you don’t have a great set of cards, but you still have to go and try your luck.
We all barely made it and where happy to be on the other side of the river.
From there the river opened up a bit, big water rapids followed.
By that time I was in awe with the Blanco. I knew that this was the hardest best first descent I’d ever been part of.
Nouria’s boat was exploding and we had to do a quick stop to repair on the go. Knife and fire can fix anything. We had a nice lunch and recovered energies for our last push.
We arrived to a very deep gorge but instead of worrying I smiled in relieve. That was the waterfall gorge, the classic Put-in for the lower section. I’d been there before and I knew we were going to be fine. We rallied into it. Big waves crushing on us. Yelling of joy, the relieve to know that we made it, we were going to survive this place, we just paddled through some of the most amazing whitewater in the wildest less known river canyon in Chile.
The classic section was pure joy , big water fun with no consequences. We paddled the remaining 10 km and got to the confluence with the sea.
4 days later we completed the source to sea descent of the rio Blanco. The feeling of accomplishment was huge. The unexplored valley has been a dream of mine for many years.
I had high expectations but I could have never imagined how good it was going to be. The scenery is surreal but the whitewater is world class, hard, committing, long and fun. It’s crazy that one same river can have so many styles of boating...
I feel blessed for the opportunity to share this place with an amazing group of people and can’t wait to come back someday.