GPT27P - Alto Río Palena
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Season Section Log
- 2020-Jan-22 / Shaun / Regular Packrafting route
I combined this section with GPT28P. These two sections are spectacular, varied, fun and challenging. I barely saw another person the entire time, and there’s something very satisfying about following a single river all the way out to the ocean. Very enjoyable and memorable.
I found the wiki comments of Kara Davis (below) and the Facebook comments of Jen Ni (Jan 5 2019) and Gerald Klamer (March 27, 2018) to be very helpful. Jen’s categorization of 27P and 28P into five sub-sections is very good. My impressions were similar to all of theirs and I don’t have much to add.
Not having much whitewater experience, I started 27P around km23, just west of the cable ferry and a series of early rapids. However, I was fine with the many rapids after that, so with hindsight I would have started from Palena. 27P and 28P each took me about a day and a half for a total of just over three days for the two combined. Apparently, the river was at a normal level for this time of year. It ran around 5-8kph for most of 27P and until about km40 of 28P, then maybe at 2-3kph thereafter. There were countless tree and rock hazards throughout, plus a number of whirlpools (often at sharp turns) - but these were all avoidable. As the river widened in 28P, I encountered fierce headwinds in several places, and a noticeable incoming tide toward the end.
At Raúl Marin Balmaceda, I took the 11 hour ferry to Puerto Cisnes (departs Thursdays and Sundays) which technically completed the section, in its current form. The views were stunning.
|GPT27P: Alto Río Palena||Hiking||Packrafting|
|Group||F: Sector Palena||Total||-||-||103.5 km||21 h|
|Region||Chile: Los Lagos (X) & Aysén (XI)||Trails (TL)||-||-||-||-|
|Start||Palena||Minor Roads (MR)||-||-||-||-|
|Finish||Río Palena (La Junta)||Primary Roads (PR)||-||-||2.3 km||2.2%|
|Status||Published & Verified||Cross-Country (CC)||-||-||-||-|
|Traversable||Jan - May (Maybe: Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec)||Bush-Bashing (BB)||-||-||-||-|
|Connects to||GPT26, GPT27H, GPT28P, GPT30P, GPT72||Investigation (I)||-||-||-||-|
|Options||124 km (Variants Only)||Exploration (EXP)||-||-||-||-|
|Hiking||Packrafting||Total on Water||101.3 km||97.8%|
|Attraction||-||5 (of 5)||River (RI)||101.3 km||97.8%|
|Difficulty||-||4 (of 5)||Lake (LK)||-||-|
|Direction||None||Only ↓||Fjord (FJ)||-||-|
|Comment||Hiking: Hiking not feasible|
|Character||Valdivian Rain Forest, Farmland, Settlers, River Packrafting|
Satellite Image Map
Elevation Profile of Regular Packrafting Route
Section Planning Status
Recommended Travel Period
The section is best paddled between January and May. The primary danger would be a high and fast river, typically most common early in the season, or after heavy rain.
Benefits of Hiking and Packrafting
Recommended Travel Direction
The river can only be paddled westwards.
Section Length and Travel Duration
Section 27P is 103.5km and takes 2-2.5 days to complete. Together with Section 28P, the two sections are a total of 180km and take around 4 days.
Suitable Section Combinations
The section is stunning, interesting, unpopulated and fun. Although, in reality, much of 27P is not too far from a road or occasional buildings, these are rarely visible and the river feels remote. Even more so for the continuation onto Section 28P. Alto Río Palena passes through farmland with a mountainous backdrop. It is very scenic. The many rapids and constantly changing features of the river make it stimulating. Combined with 28P, paddling on one river from the mountains to the Pacific is a wonderful experience. A very attractive section.
Río Palena may not be suitable for beginners. There are many rapids, countless tree and rock obstacles, and occasional strong currents and whirlpools. At times of high river levels, the river will not only be faster, but there will be fewer places to get out or scout. There are many more rapids than indicated in the track file. That said, the rapids are generally not above Class 2, and some of the earliest and most challenging ones, can be portered around. Plus, the many obstacles in the river are avoidable.
Town: La Junta In La Junta, there are plenty of lodging options, from hotels and cabañas to camping, as well as a couple medium sized grocery stores adequate for resupply. There is a tourist information center located at the edge of the main plaza.
Services: ATM and Money Exchange
Accommodation: Hostals and Hotels
Franco, the owner of Los Rosadita hotel in Palena, can share expert knowledge of Rio Palena. The hotel is also a nice play to stay and makes good pizzas.
Transport: Ground Transport
Transport: Shipping Services
Resupply on the Trail
Location, Names, Available Items and Services
Access to Route and Return
Access to Start
Return from Finish
Permits, Entry Fees and Right-of-Way Issues
Regular Hiking Route
Regular Packrafting Route
Comments posted on Facebook by Jen Ni January 5 2019
GPT27P and 28P (Alto and Bajo Rio Palena) Packrafting Westbound (😉): Palena to Raul Marin Balmaceda 2019-Jan-01 to 2019-Jan-04
Our impression was that the river can be separated into 5 subsections, each with different character. All parts are attractive and felt quite remote. For camping you generally have the choice between sandy/rocky river banks and farm land.
1. (0-25km) Small river, many rapids: In this subsection the river is still relatively small and often shallow, ground contact can be a serious issue. At least every kilometer there's a small rapid (usually WW-1, sometimes class 2). There are many more rapids than mapped and those are not necessarily the most difficult. Usually the rapids are only deep enough to be run in a narrow part where the main current is. We only had problems with one rapid at Lat -43.62009 Lon -71.86343 where a tree blocked the main current making it impossible to run safely. The most difficult two rapids (class 2+) are at 22km (2km after the ferry) where many large rocks in the middle of the river make scouting and very precise maneuvering necessary. Depending on water levels they may not be runnable at all. Both rapids can be viewed and portaged (individually or together) by taking out on the beach on the left side. The river flowed with ~5kph.
2. (25-65km) Small river, few rapids, many trees: By now the river has grown a bit and ground contact becomes less of an issue. There are noticably fewer rapids and the largest challenge becomes maneuvering between the many trees lying in the water. The average velocity of the current was actually a bit higher than before.
3. (65-105km) Fast and medium-sized river with few obstacles: After Río Frío has joined the river at the 180° turn the river grows significantly and ground contact is almost no more issue. In this subsection, the river flows fastest (8kph) and we had a lot of fun with the relatively easy and broad rapids here. There are fewer trees in the water that can be easily avoided in the broad river. We found a lovely campsite on grass that did not seem to be used for grazing at Lat -43.89160 Lon -72.37914.
4. (105-155km) Big river, fast current: Close to La Junta, the river is joined by Río Rosselot and becomes huge and mostly calm. We were surprised to see that it still flows with high velocity (5-8kph) and still has a noticable gradient that makes progress fast. The few trees can be easily avoided but may be difficult to spot sometimes. The main challenge that may arise here are strong head winds that make maneuvering quite difficult.
5. (155km-sea) Big and slow river, tidal effects: Starting at the large 270° loop, the massive river becomes noticably slower (2-3kph) and wind and tidal effects determine the speed of your progress. We found that the tides are approx. 30min after the times shown for Pto. Montt by the Android app (by 7th gear). Paddling here feels more like being on a lake and waves build up due to the wind.
- Route description by Kara Davis after Season 2017/18:
Notes to consider before beginning: Be aware that the Chilean border control outside of Carrenleufú requires you to declare items in your possession, so keep this in mind when resupplying. They will confiscate certain foods, including produce and honey brought from Argentina.
This is the first time during this hike where the Regular Hiking and Regular Packrafting Routes begin to significantly differ. The two tracks do not rejoin until GPT32.
Beginning from Palena, walk north down the paved road, 235-CH and cross Puente Palena to the put-in on the western bank of Río Palena. The river is swift and has several Class I and Class II rapids. There are also many places where the river splits and becomes very shallow. I would recommend scouting any rapid that makes you uncomfortable. Also be wary of obstructions, such as logs and branches, that occasionally block parts of the river. Camping along the edge during this stretch of the Río Palena is difficult due to the thick foliage and steep rocky beaches. Flat and clear spots are a rare find.
The river widens out approximately 12 km from the Palena put-in. There are still several class I and class II rapids, but with longer stretches of flat water in between. The banks on both sides are littered with rocky beaches, and nice camping is still hard to come by. There is also a notable increase in the density of homes and other structures lining the river.
The banks of the Río Palena flatten out and provide better camping after the ferry at El Tranquilo, approximately 20 km from put-in. This car/passenger ferry draws itself across the river along thick metal cables which can be easily passed on a packraft. A lot of the surrounding land is used for grazing and traces of livestock are everywhere. A sign advertising a refugio, “Predio El Refugio,” was located at La Mula, approximately 12.5 km past the ferry crossing. As several smaller streams join the Río Palena, the river swells and the frequency of rapids decreases.
The river continues winding through farmland all the way to the La Junta take-out. There is a small beach here with a trail that leads up to Highway 7. La Junta is located about 2 km south of the take-out.