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Feb
13

Inferno Canyon

I'm scared

There is a bottomless pit in my stomach and it's churning away

I am shaking pretty much all over as the adrenalin courses through my veins 

And this is 30 minutes after completing Inferno Canyon

Inferno Canyon is a 3-kilometre stretch of the Futaleufu in the heart of Patagonia, Chile 

We have arrived to find that a new rapid has been formed over the winter season due to a landslide, our guide Fergus was the first to paddle it earlier on in the season, he noticed that some features had changed then a horizon line where previously none existed, with high water and sheer canyon walls there is no possibility of a portage, he paddles it inspecting from river level, effectively blind. 

Dynamite as it is now known is horrendous, with the rapid formed as the canyon turns right, the full force of the river hits the wall bouncing back to form whirls and boils that are going to cause even the best boaters serious problem if they end up there. 

Fergus isn't sure if we can go into Inferno given the nature of Dynamite and the potential dangers it causes.Swimming in Inferno is not an option, better to take your beating in a boat and deal with the consequences. 

An encounter with another boater earlier on in the week reveals a portage route has opened up river right due to the drop in levels this late in the season, sooooo. 

This is our last day of our trip, our 23rd section of river in 11 days boating.We warm up for 15 minutes on the Espolon, float down to the confluence with the Futa, another five minutes sees us arrive at the Gates, the entry to Inferno. 

We pass through the Gates and eddy out river left, jump out of the boats and inspect Entrada

I'm scared. 

I climb into my boat and tighten up the ratchets, snap my deck on and put my nose clip in place, a quick look over the Fergus and a nod, we're off, no signal from Andrew on camera, we wait, we wait, a hand signal, a nod and we ferry out, turn and the butterflies are very much in evidence, we skirt the hole river left turn and head right past the next and behind it, a wobble, a brace, my nerves are being transmitted through my body into the boat, I settle and hit the first wave head on.

I wonder if I can pull my deck at this point and just climb straight out of the gorge, leaving my boat to tackle what lies ahead and meet it at the bottom, the others will see me climbing so no need to do that complicated hand signal that means I have had enough, I'm off matey. 

I move to left of centre paddle forward, missing the hole occupying the whole of river right, angle the boat right and hit the first massive wave, I'm through, down into the trough, staring up at a monstrous breaking wave that wants to push me left against the wall and into boils and swirls, it breaks as I reach its crest and surfs me, it's holding me, preventing my down river progress, I reach out and place a left blade over the pile, still angled right looking directly at Ferg sat in the eddy, I catch the green and I shoot forward, unbalanced I take a roll, I'm up first time and the water cascades from my helmet blurring my vision, I'm heading right, into the eddy, I tap my helmet to let Ferg know I am ok and pull my deck to get out and take pictures. 

On the rock I make sure my boat and blades are safe, this is not the place to be careless and let a piece of equipment slip and disappear. 

I'm shaking uncontrollably as I stumble over the rocks to a vantage point, I am breathing way harder than I would normally and my heart is thumping against the restraints of my buoyancy aid. 

I see H on the entry move, she gets the line and PK drops into the eddy behind her. 

Back at my boat I get back on the water as we wait for Andrew 

'I'm scared', says H 

'Me too' I reply 

Ferg breaks in as Andrew drops through the last of the rapid. 

We eddy out for Wall Shot, there is no inspection, just instructions from Ferg, 'Big waves, what happens to me may not necessarily happen to you, right of centre driving hard right, if you do end up on river left the eddy is heinous, boily, swirly and will be hard to exit, requiring a tough ferry against the main flow of the river'. 

We run as group and soon the five of us are sat at the bottom grinning through relief rather than satisfaction 

'You guys are getting good lines' comments Andrew, which is reassuring 

Next up is Purgatory a straight forward boogie (you have to paddle with Ferg to get his terminology) 

Then Dynamite, we eddy out river left and Ferg drops down to find the exit eddy, he signals, can we be sure what though, he is 250 metres downriver in the shadows. 

Andrew drops down and tells us he will blow on his whistle when they are ready, we get the signal and drop down, exiting our boats for an inspection it is very soon apparent that we are to walk this one. 

We start lifting, pushing, pulling, carrying the boats, this is grade 5 portaging. 

We drop into the eddy river right and are faced with another tough ferry into the flow to get downstream, too much speed and we could end up hard against the wall, not enough and we swirl around into the backwash of the eddy. 

Ferg and Andrew run the rapid, hard right, lots of speed, breaking the right diagonal and into the eddy. 

Out into the flow and into more eddies, I wash out of the back of mine and H tells Ferg I am off, I am searching for another eddy, paddling hard as Ferg catches and passes me, I haven't heard the instruction too clearly for the next rapid but know the line is left.

 We enter Salida down the centre, through he first gigantic wave, Ferg angles left, I try and fail to make the move and am spun right, as I crest the second wave I am pointing right and am way off line, I see Ferg in my peripheral vision over the other side of the river, downstream a huge hole awaits, I manage to turn to hit it head on, I swear out loud as I tuck and duck, my blades across my deck and my shoulders and elbows held tight against my body, I'm through, unbalanced I find myself in yet another surging boiling mass of white water being pushed against the wall. 

Andrew joins me, whether by choice or by accident, I don't care, I am relieved to have someone with me, he nods and we paddle hard to the top of the eddy trying to keep away from the wall and the boilier water that wants to unsettle and unbalance us, progress is slow as the recirculating water does its best to have its way with us, we break the eddy line and are into the flow, a brace and very soon we are in calmer water, I am breathing hard, there is still another rapid to go. 

Everyone seems to have mellowed out, and smiles greet me as I look around, 'was that it, was that the last rapid' I ask, 'yes that was Salida – exit rapid' 

My head drops and my shoulders sag and I start shaking all over again……………..