Maipo River (Sat., 3/14/09) – The Torrents of the Maipo

Rafting the Maipo.

Ready to raft the cold water of the Maipo River
Ready to raft the cold water of the Maipo River

The grey, sediment-filled torrents of the Maipo River pour through the narrow canyon walls, past the metamorphic scree, over the cobble of basalt. The silty waters scour the canyon, chased by volcanoes and towered over by dry ridgelines. We dig our paddles into the froth. The salty spray stings our eyes, whets our lips, fill our mouths with crunchy mud. Looking ahead, another wave crashes over us as Lorenzo barks orders. We pass through a deep hole and paddle hard to miss the whirpool known as “washing machine rapids.” We shake the water from our faces, wipe our eyes and look ahead with anticipation.

This river, the Maipo, is unlike western rivers in the United States: the Alsek, the Tatshenshini, these rivers of the Yukon come close in speed, but their clear glacial waters only run as fast and cold. The Colorado has its dense, brown cast and mucky waters, but is dirty, not clean like the Maipo. The Middle Fork of the Salmon runs busy like the Maipo, but has waterfalls and drops that run for almost a hundred miles.

Chile is known for its whitewater: the Maipo, the Bio-Bio, the Futelafu. But they are short runs. Hydro projects cut them into pieces, flood them back up into their pristine reaches. In the United States, we can run a western river like the Colorado through the Grand Canyon, the Main fork of the Salmon or the Alsek, and raft for weeks without stopping. Our Wild and Scenic Rivers are unique. Perhaps Chile will save theirs before they are flooded and dammed like the rivers of the southeast and California.