For years Silvio Gallo talked to me about this new river near San Rafael, the Diamante.
Twice I went to run it, but each time the dam had shut off the water flow.
The river was dry.
Finally, on this last attempt, the river was flowing and off we went.
“Dos maquinas plus” was Gallo’s big-eyed comment when he saw the river.
He never had run it this high.
The Diamante is a 40-kilometre wilderness trip; once you enter there is no way out except downstream.
We stopped to look at Picassa, a river-wide hole.
From the portage trail it was obvious that portaging was not an option. The huge hole was V-shaped, so it would flush if you hit the middle.
Next was El Largo, the long one.
We stopped to look at it, but Gallo stayed in his boat.
“Roberto, it is el Largo,” he said. “Too long to scout, it is two kilometres long.”
I asked where is the line and he said: “No sè (I don’t know); everybody flips, once, twice, maybe more.”
Next we stopped above eddy Loco (crazy eddy).
We asked how to avoid it.
“No puedes (you can’t),” answered Gallo. “Everybody goes through.”
Then he took off downstream.
This year, I got another call from Gallo.
“Robertoooo, I have a new river for you,” he crooned.
The middle Atuel starts at the Devil’s Throat.
Gallo said the put-in is a little “sketchy.”
How does a Spanish guy learn the word sketchy?
En route to the put-in more information came out, like “rock slides,” “you don’t really want to flip,” etc.
The sketchy put-in was an almost shear cliff with loose rock extending three throw-rope lengths.
The entrance to the river looked reasonable from up high.
I did not feel like going; it was at least 34 degrees Celsius and my stomach was upset with a bit of diarrhea.
It is normal to suffer from a bit of diarrhea when you travel, the food is different, sometimes you drink a little too much and knowing you are heading for a hard run tends to loosen your bowels.
They say yogurt is good for your stomach; it has good bacteria.
Heck, if you are going to take risks you might as well do something healthy!
So I ate yogurt.
I had a couple in the morning to settle my stomach.
There wasn’t much choice; we needed three paddlers for safety, three throw ropes to get down.
I got dressed in full gear for protection in spite of the heat.
Gallo just wore shorts and a lifejacket. Kevin, my son, also got dressed in full gear.
Another yogurt and down I went.
Lowering the boats, Kevin’s rope got jammed.
He pulled hard, and rocks started falling.
I was wearing full gear, so I should have put my body against the wall and ducked.
Instead, I just looked up.
We reached the bottom. I was sweating so bad I must have lost five pounds.
The entrance wasn’t so reasonable from the river view.
We had to ferry in front of a wall, avoid some squirrelly currents and peel off downstream.
The climb back up was totally unreasonable.
Funny how sometimes our options dictate what is reasonable!
A few days later, a kayaker did miss the line at the put in and flipped. He went over a few pour-overs before swimming.
He emerged from the water with a few bruises and a long walk ahead of him. The kayak did not do well.
We did fine following Gallo.
Once we stopped at a horizon line, he said: “Es pequeño (it is small) centre.”
We followed over a 4.5-metre-high fall, but the centre line was right.
Normally we stop and scout all class V rapids, but with Gallo we seem just to follow his lines in blind trust.
We followed him through a complex long rapid, he pointed right we pointed right, left we went left, ferry across the river and we followed — boof, jump, lean right, paddle hard.
Gallo eddied out; he looked at us as I was
coming in and said: “Todo bien (all good).”
He smiled that happy paddler’s grin and took off downstream.
I peeled out behind him and yelled at a smiling Kevin Daffe.
“In Silvio we trust.”
We both grinned.
Boof, jump, ferry, slide between rocks… and so it went as we followed.
Finally the river calmed down.
It was pretty. The river life contrasted the desert scene of the canyon walls.
Ducks and river birds were abundant on shore, crickets and frogs were singing away.
“I don’t like this,” said Silvio.
I could not understand why, but he explained that a rock avalanche created another big rapid.
Remember, don’t flip! That sure tightened those butt cheeks, boy!
The entrance looked reasonable until Silvio pointed out the log on the right.
We had to squeeze between a pillow rock to take a chute to the left.
We watched Gallo go from the eddy.
The current took him right on the pillow, not a clean line, and then he disappeared over the horizon.
Kevin followed. I went next.
I cleaned the first line just in time to see Kevin go over another horizon line.
We were running grade 5 rapids on the fly.
Finally we reached the bridge where Gallo stopped in an eddy. We all sported big grins.
Where is the toilet paper?
Two weeks later we found ourselves at the start of another Diamante trip.
Theresa offered Che Che, another Argentinean kayaker, a yogurt.
He answered: “No estoy bien del estomago (no my stomach is fine).”
A strange response!
Theresa offered again — we had lots of it.
“My stomach is fine,” he said in half-decent English.
At our puzzled look he grabbed the yogurt.
“See, this is when you have problems — laxativo,” he said.
The fine lines went on to explain this yogurt benefits in preventing constipation and loosening your bowels.
I need to use my reading glasses more often.
Bob Daffe is a Whitehorse-based river guide.