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Rio Claro - Basalt Wonderland

We were driven from the tent early, as the eager desert sun crested a low ridge and rocked the tent like a fiery hammer. Warm air wafted through as we crawled out into desert dirt and staggered into the shade of some nearby trees. Our first shelter was a tree that looked similar to but slightly different from a Juniper. There were other trees around, all strangely unfamiliar but similar to thing we had seen before. The low walls of ridges crept up to border the valley on both sides, their shapes hinting at the image of the massive downhill flows of smoking lava which had formed them eons ago. We could see the river clearly now, it's crystal blue waters revealing a multihued array of cobbled granite and basalt boulders lining bottom of the riverbed before turning to white where the banks pinched down to deepen the river and hurl it into a tumultuous crack in the earth. It called to us softly as we sat on the parched ground above, its siren song promising delights of cool gradient in the mysterious canyon below.

After figuring out how to make coffee, we unloaded everything from the Gypsy Wagon and spent a few hours trying to impose some order on the resultant mound of gear which seemed larger than the truck we were trying to fit it into.

Hiding in the shade to sort out the mess.

That afternoon we decided to head to the fabled Siete Tazas (Seven Teacups) section downstream for a little light warm-up before trying some of the other sections of river. There were two other groups of paddlers there when we ariived - a large group of Germans, and a couple of guys from Humboldt Co., California named John and Chris, who were also paddling with a German named Julian. We paid our small fee to enter the national park, and walked to the overlook to check out the bottom two drops. Walkways through thicker woods lead us to a stariway that dropped us into a land of wonder below. The roaring river seemed to emerge upstream from a tunnel of blocky black textured basalt, like a glowing gout of crystal blue fire belched from the throat of a long dead primordial dragon. Sunlight lanced down from the summer sun directly overhead, lighting the water into shimmering blues accented by streaks of white where it slithered over drops of 15-20 feet on its way down into an even deeper canyon just downstream. We hurried back to get the boats.

We joined forces with John, Chris, and Julian, and all went searching for the put-in. The Germans were just ahead; but they had disappeared into the bushes, so we were left to sort things out on our own. Despite the fact that this is one of the most reknowned sections of river in the world, there is no clear path to the put-in. We finally found a gully leading to a ridge that might work, and I discovered the Germans hidden in the bushes below, lowering their boats with ropes into committing gorge. We waited for a bit to let them clear off the descent trail, and were surprised by the first creature of this strange land that we encountered, as it hurriedly scurried for cover to hide from the kayak carrying invaders to its domain.

The first of many tarantulas that we saw in the Claro area.

Our turn finally came, and we struggled down the steep slope through bamboo and brush, lowering the boats one by one to the river's edge before scrambling down to join them. We were rewarded with a view of the first drop - a seal launch into a 20 footer that would drop us into the vertical walled sanctum of the Siete Tazas. After resting and watering, Chris took the plunge first and then I followed him into the depths.

Jeff got this shot of my third paddle stroke in Chile, first drop of the Siete Tazas.

We boofed, we plugged, we giggled and splashed down the freezing cold waters of the Claro. All of the worries and trials of our travels washed away in a speedy but surreal azure on white passage over the Tazas, then we clambered out onto the basalt base and traversed to the overlook with smiles all around.

Julian and Chris going for the double on the last drop of the Teacups.

The next day we did some scouting, trying to gather info on the put-ins and take-outs for the other runs. We also went to town for a resupply, since our frantic first day shopping mission had yielded little in the way of culinary variety.

The lower falls on the Claro, exiting the gorge below the 7 teacups. It's maybe 50-60 feet and has not been run.

A giant beetle stalks a herd of stinging caterpillars, all brown and one Mardi Gras caterpillar on top (they were purple, green, and gold and were falling out of the trees everywhere.

A relative of the rhododendron in bloom.

The biggestt tree we've seen in Chile - this one is a monster!

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