Gates of Infierno
Gates of Infierno is the first rapid of the Infierno Canyon. There are four rapids in the Infierno Canyon of greater or lesser difficulty, all in the class IV to V+ range. Once the "gates" are entered every rapid must be run, as there are no practical portages. A paddler is totally committed to running the river upon entering The Gates of Infierno.
The entryway to the Gates of Infierno is characterized by sheer granite walls on both sides of the river. As the Futaleufu makes its final zig-zag approach to this first rapid one can’t help but be reminded of Dante’s inscription above the Gates of Hell: “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.”
The rapid itself is a constriction gorge type with numerous ledges and walls with which to contend. The physical constraints affect the water by magnifying its features. The total vertical drop of the rapid is one of the greatest on the river producing large primary and secondary reaction waves and massive hydraulics. There are three primary horizon lines, or drops. The last two contain enormous ledge-holes.
High and Low Water
At low water the rapid tends to become sharper, more technical and less pushy. At high water this rapid, like many constriction gorge rapids, gets huge and dominating. As the water levels rise to the highest levels, The Gates of Infierno tends to wash-out. At these levels laminar sheer off the walls makes getting to the shore very difficult. If one were to swim The Gates of Infierno at the highest levels it would be difficult to get out of the river anywhere in the entire Infierno Canyon.
This is a rapid you will definitely want to look at before running. The eddy above the rapid, by the rocks on river-left, is the only place to scout from. The sheer canyon walls make an exit at the scouting point nearly impossible. Do not plan to take-off the river at the scout area, the decision to run this rapid needs to be made before you arrive at the scouting point. At very low water levels, however, a good paddler "might" attain and eddy-hop back upstream to the beach just before the Gates.
The two greatest hazards of this rapid are Lucifer’s Ledge and Wall Hole. Lucifer’s Ledge is essentially the second major drop or horizon line of the rapid. About half of the main flow feeds into this hole and it should be regarded as extremely dangerous. Wall Hole lies hidden along the canyon wall just past Lucifer’s Ledge. The Central Wavetrain flow does brush up against Wall Hole. In a calm pool below the rapid lies a third river-wide ledge that contains the keeper-hole Gorilla. This hole needs to be avoided at all costs. The length of the rapid is also a hazard in itself. Up top, The Minotaur and The Mushroom, both provide challenges and dangers. An early swim from either of these two features will leave a paddler with little chance of rescue until the bottom of the entire drop.
In 1992, at moderately high levels, on a commercial trip, a raft flipped and a safety kayaker swam through The Minotaur. The entire trip was out of control just seconds into this rapid. The trip leader and a few clients were stranded on the river- right shore while two other clients swam the entire gorge. They drowned and were pulled out of the river at the first ranch in the Las Escalas Valley by local campesinos.
Where to Swim
Try not to exit your kayak. Roll for all you are worth. If you find yourself swimming remember that there is a potentially fatal keeper-hydraulic, called Gorilla, about fifty meters below the bottom of the rapid on river-right. It is just waiting for you if you miss the river-right, Regroup Eddy, at the bottom of The Gates of the Infierno, directly below Lucifer's Ledge. If you try to swim for the Regroup Eddy and miss it, which is probable, you will swim right into Gorilla. For this reason, stay away from the Regroup Eddy, unless a random current takes you in to it, and stay in the center-flow conserving all your energy while going river-left of Gorilla. The water will slow above a large river-left eddy on the inside of a gradual left turn some 150 meters downstream of Gorilla. This final eddy is big, easy to enter, and the answer to a swimmer’s prayers. We call it Easter Eddy. If you sprint for all you are worth river-left, to enter the top of the eddy, you can make it with ease. This eddy does not appear on the map.
Where to Rescue
Rescue kayakers should wait on river-right at the bottom of the Gates of Infierno. Signals can be relayed up to the scouting area to give the go ahead sign. A rope thrower can be placed on the rocks for a potential rescue but swimmers are often spinning, and sometimes still under water in this deceleration zone. They often will not see the rope when they pass this spot unless the water is very low. The optimum course of action is for a rescue kayaker to peel-out and provide a grab loop for the swimmer and reassurance that that all is ok. Everyone should relax as the water calms down. As you pass Gorilla on your right, all energy should be saved to focus on the sprint in to the large eddy 150 yards downstream. We call this eddy Easter Eddy (note it does not appear on any diagrams). Assisting kayakers should be retrieving scattered equipment into this Easter Eddy. Getting the swimmer rescued here is mission critical.
Where to Portage
No portage is possible without a near vertical rock climb out of the canyon.
Running the Rapid
The Good, The Bad & The Ugly: After scouting the rapid, it will become clear that there is a viable center route that will keep you away from the hazardous holes. However this center pathway has The Minotaur and The Mushroom guarding it at the top and it will feed kayakers into the wall at the bottom if they paddle passively. At the top, a paddler has the choice of three lines – all choices merge into the same line after The Minotaur and The Mushroom and go to the same place. Negotiating the upper line successfully will allow you to paddle proactively down the rest of the rapid.
From the scouting area, head upstream and ferry to the far side of the river. Align yourself with the long train of guard/reactionary waves coming off the right side wall. Einstein’s Eddy will be off to your right and the center of The Minotaur wave-hole coming up on your left. Try and find the weak spot on The Minotaur along the river-right shoulder. After punching The Minotaur get aligned with the Central Wavetrain as quickly as possible. Should you get back-endered by The Minotaur be prepared for a disorienting and physically violent experience. You will need to roll and recover quickly.
A less intense entry route is to clip the river-left side of the The Mushroom and pivot around to the slow water behind it. From the scout area, paddle out to mid-river and aim for the left side of The Mushroom. Use the corner of The Mushroom and your momentum to drive into the slack water behind it. Then paddle out to the middle to join the Central Wavetrain, pointing downstream and aiming for the weakest spots in the route.
For those who don’t want to directly challenge The Minotaur or The Mushroom this route is the way to go. From the scouting area head out to the center-left of the river and cut to river-left behind Dante’s Rock and into Last Look Eddy. Head down the slow water to the left of The Mushroom and be prepared to pivot-turn to the right, just ahead of another ledge. This move will put you in the slack water behind The Mushroom and allow you to angle towards the center and successfully join the Central Wavetrain. Point your kayak aggressively downriver.
Back together in the Center:
Once past The Minotaur and The Mushroom (from any of the above routes) you will want to angle your boat left to join the Central Wavetrain as quickly as possible. After a short distance a river wide horizon line and white chaotic ramp will appear, this is the First Ledge. Maintaining an aggressive paddling attitude in this area is important so you are not forced on the defensive. At the apex of the waves you can get a view of where you are, which should be in the Central Wavetrain on your way to a close brush with the river-left wall. Before you get to the wall, and slightly before Lucifer’s Ledge, the second ramp will appear on the right. It descends into a series of huge exploding waves. Angle your kayak to the weaker right side shoulder of the first wave below the ramp. Paddle aggressively out of the wave train toward the Regroup Eddy and the calmer water downstream of Lucifer’s Ledge. Should you go past this Regroup Eddy be on the lookout for the very dangerous ledge hole, Gorilla, coming up on river-right.
- Gates of Infierno from above. Fergus Coffee running the river-left line: "The Good" Video
- Gates of Infierno from below. Past Lucifer's Ledge into the Regroup Eddy above Gorilla. Video
- Gates of Infierno from the middle. Brennan Guth running past Lucifer's Ledge on river-right and the Wall Hole on river-left. Video
Copyrights: (Copyright © 2006, Expediciones Chile) All photos, maps, diagrams, text and computer code is the copyrighted property of Expediciones Chile with all rights reserved.
Disclaimer: Under no circumstances should paddlers substitute the information and diagrams in this guidebook for their own sound judgment on the river and their collective experience running rivers. This guidebook is based on Expediciones Chile's twenty years of experience running the Futaleufu River. However, the diagrams and descriptions found here are only approximations of what paddlers will find on the river once they get here. They are not to scale and nor are they completely accurate. Water levels change, rocks move around, landslide debris can enter the river at any time making the diagrams obsolete. Expediciones Chile also reserves the right to update these diagrams and descriptions at any time as we find better ways to illustrate and discuss the rapids. Use this guidebook at your own risk.Read More: Disclaimer