GPT28P - Bajo Río Palena
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Season Section Log
- 2020-Jan-24 / Shaun / Regular Packrafting Route
I paddled the regular routes of GPT27P and GPT28P as part of one trip, and my combined comments for both are under section GPT27P.
- GPT28P / Option 1 / Isla Magdalena via Seno Magdalena, Seno Soto, Canal Jacaf and Canal Puyuhuapi / 2020-Jan-17 / 5 days / Meylin Elisabeth Ubilla González and Jan Dudeck
We just completed the 10th packrafting route exploration this season, but this time with excellent weather throughout the entire 5-day trip.
Around 2 years ago, when starting to plan the packrafting sea routes two fjords of Isla Magdalena caught my attention. These two fjords penetrated deep into this island and nearly join each other at both ends deep inside the island. It’s just over 1 km of land that separates these two seawater channels. These two fjords are of interest for packrafting as both fjords provide more wind protection than the wide open channels Jacaf and Puyuhuapi. It appeared therefore favorable to link these two fjords into the packrafting route from Villa Melimoyu to Puerto Cisnes. The big question mark was primarily the roughly 1 km long portage.
To investigate this route we started in Puerto Cisnes as this would facilitate a return in case the portage proved not feasible. We could also speak to various people in Puerto Cisnes before attempting a traverse. One settler that owns large plots of land on Isla Magdalena was the best source of information. He stated that many years ago a basic trail existed between the fjords but that this trail is now completely overgrown. But he was optimistic that with machetes someone may make the traverse in about one day.
Puerto Cisnes to Seno Magdalena:
A challenge might be the crossing of the 5 km wide Canal Puyuhuapi depending on wind and tidal flows. This is best done in the early morning on a calm day. Also tidal flows should be considered. During falling tide the tidal flow in Canal Puyuhuapi between Puerto Cisnes and Canal Jacaf seams northbound; during rising tide southbound.
In the 17 km long Seno Magdalena the predominant wind is eastbound what favors the generally recommended travel direction from Villa Melimoyu to Puerto Cisnes. A couple of salmon farms are currently located in this fjord. One larger building on the southern shore of this fjord seams to house the employees.
Towards the western terminus of Seno Magdalena we spotted 3 buildings from settlers, with possibly one of them abandoned. A other two homes or puestos appear occasionally used. Especially the terminus of Seno Magdalena is well sheltered and particular scenic.
Portage from Seno Magdalena to Seno Soto:
We pitched our tend around 2 m above the high tide sea level in the forest after cleaning a flat patch with our machetes. This became our base for two nights as we needed one full day to smash a new provisional trail into the forest.
The Valdivian Rainforest in this traverse turned out to be reasonable open (high trees generate in good parts sufficient shade to limit growth on the ground). The traverse is also free of rocky terrain and swamps could be circumvented. Only few shorter steep ascends and descends were required. Also the ground was normally not covered by multiple layers of fallen trees so we could walk mostly on the ground without balancing over fallen trunks. Therefore we could smash a decent 1 km long trail in one day into the forest till a small lake (9 h going, 2 h returning, 2 persons with one machete each). The next day we walked with our heavy backpacks in 2 hours to this small lake, crossed the lake by packraft and cleaned in 2 hours the final 130 m to the shore of Seno Soto. This provisional trail will soon become overgrown if not maintained by an occasional packrafter with a machete.
This scenic and well sheltered 19 km long fjord was a packrafting delight. This fjord appeared free of human intervention (no salmon farms or boat traffic). Here the wind direction will depend on weather (northbound and southbound wind not uncommon). We spotted some penguins, numerous dolphins and plenty of sea lions.
In Canal Jacaf boat traffic is frequent. During this and our last trip I estimated that every 15 to 30 Minutes a boat was passing by. In the eastern section of Canal Jacaf the tidal flow during falling tide was westbound and reached even next to the shore 3 km/h. Sea maps indicate up to 3 kn tidal flow (nearly 6 km/h).
When entering Canal Puyuhuapi a decision must be taken to continue either to Puyuhuapi or Puerto Cisnes. Both towns are in 25 km distance and hot springs are on the way along shore in each direction. On the way to Puerto Cisnes two free hot springs are on the eastern shore of Isla Magdalena. On the way to Puyuhuapi two commercialized thermal springs are located.
- GPT28P / Villa Melimoyu to Puerto Cisnes
(Part of Option 1: Seno Gala, Canal Jacaf, Canal Puyuhuapi) / 2019-Nov-20 / 3 days / Meylin Ubilla & Jan Dudeck
3 or 4 years ago - after packrafting the Rio Palena - we took the ferry from Raul Marin Balmaceda to Puerto Cisnes that passes 170 km along the Patagonian fjords. It was a calm sunny day, I spend most of the ferry ride on the deck and I was obviously thinking if these fjords can be packrafted.
Now we did it except the first 33 km that traverse the exposed Golfo de Corcovado (see my last post to GPT28P).
We did the traverse with different packrafting gear than we used 4 years ago. We now have a two-seater MRS Barracuda with an integrated spreydeck and two kayak paddles. We waited twice a day for a suitable weather window and enjoyed this demanding but rewarding packrafting route at the fullest.
Attempting any traverse of significant length with an open packraft in the Patagonian fjords is not a sign of bravery but stupidity. Wind and waves can suddenly increase, fill the packraft with water and without any exit location nearby you are helplessly exposed to the currents with little control of where you are going. Only few selected fjord routes with plenty of beaches and exit locations can be safely packrafted with on open packraft (i.e. GPT22 or GPT76).
The general strategy in these fjords is: “Wait, run and hide!”. 1. Wait near the start while following the weather forecast closely with everything ready to go (gear, food). 2. If a suitable weather window opens, leave early and “run“ with a minimum of breaks and leisure stops until either the wind or the evening stops you. 3. Hide in a sheltered location high enough the high-tide water line. Be prepared with sufficient food to possibly stay for days in your hiding location.
Dolphins, sea-lions and penguins room the se fjords.
At the exit of Seno Gala is the small fishing settlement Isla Gala but predominant wind makes it often difficult to access this tiny village. At the eastern shore of Canal Puyuhuapi are various settlements with easy access from the sea and perfect camp sites. Within Canal Jacaf are no further settlements but a number of permanently maned salmon farms. The entire route is frequently used by boats with the majority of the traffic created by the salmon farms and fishing but asking to be evacuated by one of these boats should be a last resort and not part of the travel plan.
We we’re fortunate and enjoyed 3 exceptional calm days with moderate wind and waves (about 1 m) in only two shorter open sections. Wind in these channels can be firce making navigating by packraft in these waters impossible.
Currents and tidal flows:
According to sea maps the water speed in the canal Jacaf can reach 5 kn (9 km/h) but we experienced this part rather static. But we struggled after leaving canal Jacaf in the canal Puyuhuapi going southbound. During 6 hours with a falling tide we paddled against a consistent northbound flow of around 1 to 1.5 kn (1.5 to 2.5 km/h). My impression was that this is not a reversing tidal flow but a general current.
The generally steep cost results in only few suitable landing beaches. And the forrest reaches right down to the high-tide line. The track files contain several decent beaches where camping seams more comfortable if hiding in the trees behind the open beach.
- GPT28P / Packrafting from Santo Domingo to Villa Melimoyu (Part of Option 1) / 2019-Nov-18 / 1 day / Southbound / Meylin Ubilla & Jan Dudeck
We now verified the suggested packrafting route from Santo Domingo to Villa Melimoyu that I first considered packrafting when taking this route by ferry after floating down Rio Palena.
This is an very attractive but exposed fjord route. Dolphins, sea lions, penguins and lots of birds habitat this area.
Waiting for suitable weather (especially calm wind) and a close eye on the weather forecast is essential.
For this traverse a packraft with a spreydeck and should not be attempted with an classic open packraft. A sail is very beneficial and makes this traverse safer as you can reach a sheltered location faster in case of increasing wind.
The Isla Refugio provides a reasonable good wind protection on a good part of this route but the last 6 km are rather open and wind and waves can make this stretch a nightmare.
The about one dozen islands just before the the final open stretch provide some emergency shelter and you can pick your private island to sit out unsuitable weather before reaching Villa Melimoyu. But don't expect sandy beaches and palme trees on these island. To make an emergency shelter you need to carry sufficient sweat water, a machete to open a small spot and probably a hammock to stay above the high tide water level.
The tiny settlements on both ends of this route are worthwhile visiting especially when able to converse with the settlers. Both locations are suitable to sit out days of unsuitable weather.
Southbound seams the preferable direction due to typical wind direction and tidal flows according to locals. It worked perfectly for us. Only in case of less frequent “viento sur” a northbound traverse becomes feasible.
The Naviera Austral ferry route “Ruta Cordillera” connects twice per week southbound (and twice per week nothbound) Raul Marin Balmaceda with Santo Domingo and continues to from Santo Domingo to Villa Melimoyu, Isla Gala, Puerto Cisnes and Puerto Chacabuco. The ferry requires about 1:30 h for the short ride from Raul Marin Balmaceda to Santo Domingo.
Packrafting the 20 km from Rio Palena (next to Raul Marin Balmaceda) to Santo Domingo might be feasible on a perfect day if starting with the first light in the morning but this water route is a serious packrafting challenge as this water route traverse the unprotected Golfo de Corcovado. There are probably not more than a dozen such perfect days per season so either be very patient or take the next ferry. One of the bays along this unprotected route is named “Bahia Mala” (Bad Bay) and this seams no randomly chosen name. But when entering the “Canal Refugio“ (another well descriptive name) the wind and waves get suddenly a lot calmer. At the mouth of this more sheltered channel is the tiny settlement Santo Domingo that was founded some decades ago. Arriving here by ferry seams the rational choice if not willing to wait days or weeks for a suitable weather window.
- GPT28P / Exploration Fjord Pitipalena (Part of Option 2) / 2019-11-14 / 3 days / Meylin Ubilla & Jan Dudeck
We packrafted in the last 3 days the Fjord Pitipalena from Raul Marin Balmaceda (Puerto Marin or RMB) to the northern terminus of Brazo Pillan (Point B of attached map) and returned in two days back to Puerto Marin.
In the fjord sightings of penguins, sea lions and dolphins are frequent.
Tidal flows can reach in some parts 4 km/h but typically do not exceed 1 km/h.
As in all open waters wind and waves can be fierce but calm days are not uncommon due to the protection of the surrounding mountains. Be prepared to sit out days of bad weather in one of the few sheltered areas on the coast. We spend one night hanging in the trees with torrential rain and heavy gusty wind. On the last km back we were fighting heavy gusts of wind to return back to the village.
Meeting Rodrigo Parra was one highlight of this tour. He is the last settlers outside of Puerto Marin in this fjord. Location see image.
Decades ago this fjord was well populated with hundreds of settlers living at various shores of this fjord to harvest algae and some settlers attempted to grow cattle. All but one settler retreated and nature wiped out virtually all traces of these settlements.
We also investigated the area between the northern terminus of Brazo Pillan and Rio TicToc. Decades ago an well established trail crossed this 1.3 km land connection but this trail disappeared in most parts and is overgrown by dense but not impassable forest. I covered about 450 m in 1.5 hours noticing parts of an old trail or simply the machete battle field of packrafters or kayakers in this dense forest. This route to Rio TicToc is still occasionally taken by highly experienced sea kajakers or packrafters to access Parque Corcovado.
The exploration route from Rio TioTic to Chaiten follows the very exposed coast of the Golfo Corcovado. To cover the approximately 80 km from the mouth of Rio TicToc to Chaiten it needs plenty of sea-traveling experience, lots of patience and plenty of food to spend most of the time waiting for the occasional good-weather-window. I’m not sure if I better remove this route from the GPT network as a packraft traverse seams currently pretty fooled to me. I at least, have currently no desire to explore this route in the next years.
|GPT28P: Bajo Río Palena||Hiking||Packrafting|
|Group||F: Sector Palena||Total||-||-||78.7 km||17 h|
|Region||Chile: Aysén (XI)||Trails (TL)||-||-||-||-|
|Start||Río Palena (La Junta)||Minor Roads (MR)||-||-||1.2 km||1.5%|
|Finish||Puerto Cisnes||Primary Roads (PR)||-||-||-||-|
|Status||Published & Verified||Cross-Country (CC)||-||-||-||-|
|Traversable||Jan - May (Maybe: Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec)||Bush-Bashing (BB)||-||-||-||-|
|Packraft||Required||Ferry (FY)||-||-||(169.7 km)||(68.3%)|
|Connects to||GPT27P, GPT29P, GPT30P, GPT31P||Investigation (I)||-||-||-||-|
|Options||780 km (5 Options & Variants)||Exploration (EXP)||-||-||-||-|
|Hiking||Packrafting||Total on Water||77.5 km||98.5%|
|Attraction||-||5 (of 5)||River (RI)||67.7 km||86.0%|
|Difficulty||-||3 (of 5)||Lake (LK)||-||-|
|Direction||None||Only ↓||Fjord (FJ)||9.9 km||12.6%|
|Comment||Hiking: Hiking not feasible|
|Character||Valdivian Rain Forest, Sea Coast, Hot Springs, Farmland, Settlers, River Packrafting, Fjord 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, 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
The paddling portion of this section on Rio Palena is 78km and takes about 1.5-2 days to complete. Together with GPT27P, the two sections are 180km in total and take around 4 days. The ferry journey from Raul Marin Balmaceda takes an additional eleven hours, but only runs twice a week (Thursdays and Sundays).
Suitable Section Combinations
The section is stunning, interesting, unpopulated and fun. This section feels even more remote than 27P, although the river here becomes calmer. The mountains and farmland of 27P give way to hills and woodland. It is quite easy to not see another person until within a few kms of the section’s end. Combined with 27P, paddling one river down from the mountains out to the Pacific is a wonderful experience. A very attractive section.
The ferry ride from Raul Marin Balmaceda to Puerto Cisnes is spectacular. It threads along the coastline passing mountains, islands and fiords. Very beautiful indeed, and an opportunity to scout out future packrafting options.
Although Section 28P is easier than 27P, Bajo Río Palena may not be suitable for beginners. There are a number of 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, plus, the many obstacles in the river are avoidable.
As the river widens and calms, the challenges become occasional strong head winds and potentially adverse tides. These can slow progress significantly.
Raul Marin Balmaceda has a few food shops, lodging options and bus services.
Services: ATM and Money Exchange
Accommodation: Hostals and Hotels
Transport: Ground Transport
A bus runs several times a week to La Junta from where connections to elsewhere can easily be made.
A scenic ferry runs south twice a week (Thursdays and Sundays) to Puerto Cisnes (11 hours) and onto Puerto Chacabuco. There is also a service northwards to Quellon. Tickets can be bought online or at a grocery store in town.
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 on 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.
Channel between Río Palena and fjord: We explored the first channel but turned around after 200m because it is overgrown by trees and too narrow to safely pass. We then followed the regular route and paddled through the second channel, which is much wider and still has 1-2kph current (possibly due to falling tide?), into the fjord.
Fjord: Due to the breathtaking scenery and the remoteness of the fjord it is definitely worth paddling to the town instead of taking the road if possible. We also saw several dolphins and many birds here. The tides are very relevant here and cause currents of several kph. Make sure to not paddle this during rising tide (or very strong winds).
A few infos about Raul Marin Balmaceda: - There is a bus to La Junta on Sun 12:00 and Tue, Wed, Fri 8:00 and to Coyhaique on Sun 8:00 - There is only Entel cell phone service and no ATM - There are several small supermarkets as well as lodging options and 2 restaurants - Ferry tickets can be bought online or directly at the Naviera Austral office in town
- Route description by Kara Davis after Season 2017/18:
Río Palena continues to steadily grow as it makes its way towards the ocean. This section has noticeably fewer rapids, and mostly consists of calm, slow moving water. Camping is abundant and easy to find. There are many rocky beaches that lead to flat grassy or sandy land. Within 20 km or so from the ocean, tidal effects on the river current are noticeable. Check a tidal timetable before embarking to get an idea of good times to paddle. If the wind or tides makes paddling impracticable, it is possible to reach Ruta X-12, a dirt road which follows the river and leads to Puerto Raúl Marín Balmaceda.
Notes for Travel to Puerto Chacabuco (Beginning of GPT29P): There are two options for transportation to Puerto Chacabuco:
Book your tickets on the ferry from Puerto R.M. Balmaceda to Puerto Chacabuco in advance here: http://www.navieraustral.cl/itinerarios-y-tarifas
The ferry is a popular travel option and only runs a couple days during the week. It is also possible to purchase tickets at the local grocery store, but be prepared to wait for several days if you decide to do this.
2. Three Buses and a Taxi
There is also an option to take a series of shuttles to Puerto Chacabuco. This is a cheaper but certainly less enjoyable and more time consuming option. The series of shuttles required to get from Puerto R.M. Balmaceda to Puerto Chacabuco are as follows:
a. There is a van that runs from Puerto R.M. Balmaceda to La Junta twice a day which leaves from the ferry port (trip time ~3 hours). The tourist information station in Puerto R.M. Balmaceda can give you times and details about tickets.
b. From La Junta, there's a bus to Coyhaique that usually only runs once a day (trip time ~5 hours). Tickets may be bought before hand at the local depot (ask the tourist information center for directions). One company that offers transportation by bus from La Junta to Coyhaique is Aguilas Patagónicas. See their website here: http://www.aguilaspatagonicas.cl.
c. From Coyhaique, catch one of the many buses traveling to Puerto Aysen.
d. The final step is to hire a taxi (about 500 CLP) to Puerto Chacabuco. There is a pickup/dropoff location along highway 240 just outside of the Unimart.
Town: Puerto Raúl Marín (R.M.) Balmaceda
Puerto R.M. Balmaceda has a few lodging options and lots of open ground for camping. There are a couple of expensive markets that could meet resupply needs, but Coyhaique or Puerto Aysen definitely have better options.