The Wilderness Neuquén section was descended in the 1990s by some Argentinians (AraucaniaRafting expedition). There are no reported descents of the upper Neuquén sections or Río Vavarco aside from Oct2015 when Rocky Contos and Tomás Binimelis paddled much of the Upper Neuquén.
Participants need no prior rafting experience as a raft passenger/paddler but everyone on the trip should be comfortable camping and have an easygoing attitude in order to get along with a diverse group on a multi-day trip for an extended period. All participants should be in good physical condition. We welcome competent boaters to paddle or row this river, but you need to have adequate and recent experience on comparably difficult rivers. If you are in charge of your own kayak or raft, you are responsible for what happens to you on the water and for the equipment you use. Every participant must sign a liability waiver.
Everyone joining SierraRios trips should have an interest in river conservation and help us on our mission to document the river further, talk to residents, and publicize the planned dams. You should plan to help facilitate the trip in any way possible, including transport of some gear down to the destination if necessary. You don't need to be bilingual but it is helpful and more fulfilling to communicate with local residents when we meet them.
The trip leader will have main authority when it comes to decisions for the group regarding river progress, camp, and other decisions affecting the group. If a participant has overestimated their ability to row or kayak, he/she may be mandated to ride on a raft, sit out days, and/or be assessed other penalties. Trip leader decisions can be vetoed by a majority vote of the group. Any participant always has the right to leave the trip if they so desire but refunds are at the discretion of the board.
CHOS MALAL: Our main rendezvous will be Chos Malal, the closest town of any significance and located along the Neuquén between the Upper and Wilderness sections.
MENDOZA: We plan to have a van pick up participants in the city of Mendoza just before the trip and bring them to Chos Malal. Mendoza is the capital of the eponymous province, known for its robust red wine made from Malbec varietal grapes.
Air travel: International flights will generally land you in Santiago (SCL - Chile) or Buenos Aires (BUE -Argentina). If you fly to Santiago, you can take a bus to Mendoza (about 5 hr). If you fly to Buenos Aires, it is a 12 hr bus ride to Neuquen and Chos Malal or you can get a domestic flight to Neuquén (then 3 hr drive to Chos Malal) or Mendoza. Regional flights are generally best booked on SKY, AerolineasArgentinas, or using Depegar.com.
Passport/Visa: Argentina welcomes tourists from the USA, Latin America and Europe (see Argentina Visa policy). General information on travel to Argentina is available at the US State Dept. Citizens of the United States, Canada, and Australia generally have been required to pay a reciprocity fee to obtain a visa for tourist visits of up to 90-days, but as of March 2016 the $160 reciprocity fee for US citizens has been suspended (see Reciprocity fee). Although there are forms to fill out, tourist visits Argentina are relatively straightforward but you will need a passport with expiration date of >6 months later than your planned visit (see Argentina Embassy).
Upper Neuquén; class IV then III; 7 days
Day0 Rendezvous with group in Mendoza or San Rafael ; HOTEL
Day1 Drive to Lago Vavarco; raft/fish/hike on lago; kayak section between lagos (km 0-7); camp by lake; Lago car camp
Day2 Vavarco (km 7-40) to hot springs or Pichi Neuquén (km0-15; class III); hot springs cabins
Day3 Vavarco to confluence (km 40-64; 1470m-1180m; IV-V) or Pichi Neuquén to confluence (class III); confluence camp
Day4 Upper Neuquén (km 64-100); 36 km class III; raft camp
Day5 Upper Neuquén to near Trocoman (km 100-137; 945m); 37km class III; raft camp
Day6 Upper Neuquén: LAYOVER (possible to paddle a tributary: Trocomán or Nahueve); raft camp
Day7 Upper Neuquén to camp near Chos Malal; resupply (km137-169; 858m); 32km class III; raft camp
Wilderness Neuquén; class II-III; 7 days
Day8 Upper Neuquén to past Puente Chos Malal; pickup new participants & resupply; (km169-209); 40km class II-III; raft camp
Day9 Wilderness Neuquén: pass ferry crossing; beautiful canyon area; (km209-252); 43km class II; raft camp
Day10 Wilderness Neuquén: possible hike; (km252-282); 30km class II; raft camp
Day11 Wilderness Neuquén: possible hike; (km282-324); 42km class II-III; raft camp
Day12 Wilderness Neuquén: possible hike; (km324-350); 26km class II; raft camp
Day13 Wilderness Neuquén: paddle to just past Río Agrio confluence; maybe do a hike; (km350-380); 30km class II; raft camp
Day14 Wilderness Neuquén: Final day to Paso de los Indios (km380-411); derig; load up; 31km class II; HOTEL
Day15 Sort gear and group disperses
We will generally paddle from ~9 am to 4 pm with some stops for side excursions. At normal higher spring season flows (Oct-Dec) the river is very fast so it is usually quite easy to cover 10 km/hr of class III water even in rafts as long as we are on the water focusing on downstream progress. Stops for hikes, scouts, flips, and water collection do cause signficant delays, but we should still easily cover the full distance in the allotted time if flows are average and we do not have unplanned delays. With average flows there should be plenty of time in camp. If flows are abnormally low, there may be less time for such activities. With extra time, we may arrange additional excursions to paddle some tributaries. There will be at least one layover day option when some of the group may get a ride up to paddle one of the tributaries.
If you have provided a deposit for the trip, you can access printable maps of the river with appropriate pass codes. Topo maps span the entire river with roads, rapids, features and potential beach camps marked. Otherwise, if you would like access to the maps, you can sign up as a member of SierraRios specifying you're interest in Argentina.
This trip is being run because it is one of the most incredible in the world and more paddler visitation is needed to help raise awareness. More ecotourism income to the region and appreciation of the natural resource will help stop the river's destruction with dams. Our general pricing guidelines are found at the following link: COST
Once you get the go-ahead from Rocky, you will need to provide a deposit to reserve your place on the trip ($500). Full contribution must be received before the trip. See PAYMENTS for payment options and cancellation policy. Trips may be cancelled 3 months before launch if there is not enough interest (6-8 paying participants will assure a trip occurs).
TRIP LEADER AND TEAM MEMBERS:
(1) Rocky Contos (scheduled trip leader), kayaked the Upper Neuquén and Grande-Colorado in Oct 2015. He also kayaked the first descents of Ríos Pilcomayo and Grande in 2015 and 2016 (Bolivia), and has also paddled most rivers in Peru and Mexico. In Peru this includes Ríos Cotahuasi, Colca, Cañete, as well as all of the upper Amazon headwater streams (Mantaro, Apurímac, Urubamba, and Marañon) as part of his Headwaters of the Amazon expedition. He discovered the most distant source of the Amazon [see articles C&K, Outside, Nat.Geo, FoxNews, LaRepublica]. He has explored nearly every river in Mexico including >100 first descents covering ~8,000 km of river and ~55,000 m of drop. Rocky is fluent in Spanish and has organized and guided many Grand Canyon length trips. Several articles have featured Rocky (American Whitewater; Kayak Session; Canoe & Kayak). While attaining his Ph.D. in neuroscience (see CV), Rocky worked as a kayak instructor and guide for UCSD's Outback adventures from 1993-1996 and gained valuable trip planning skills for large groups. Although primarily a kayaker, Rocky started rafting in the mid-1990s in order to introduce more people to the wonders of river travel. Since then and throughout his years as a postdoctoral research associate, he organized and led numerous large group raft and kayak expeditions, including five through Grand Canyon (18-22 days), three on the Salmon River (4-10 days each), two on Río Mulatos-Aros (8-11 days), eight on Río Usumacinta (7-8 days each), eight on Río Marañon (14-30 days each), dozens to destinations such as the Salt, Kern, Rogue, Deschutes, John Day, Thompson, Similkameen, and Baja California (2-6 days each). Rocky founded SierraRios with the goal of conserving the rivers of Latin America, and hopes that increased awareness and enjoyment of the resource will lead to protection. He is organizing all aspects of the trip. He likely will be kayaking but may row a raft.
(2) Other guides/trip leaders are to be decided, but likely will be selected from other SierraRios and Argentinian/Peruvian guides: Ariel Diaz, Tomás Binimelis, Lorenzo Bergamin, Luciano Lázaro, Gigo Castillo, Antonella Urbina, Pedro Peña, and Julio Baca.
(3) All oarsmen will be experienced river runners and raft captains guides with extensive experience. Non-experienced and less-experienced participants are welcome to inquire about joining as raft paddlers/passengers.
CHORES, TOILET AND BATHING
WHAT TO PACK
A major aspect of safety on this trip is prevention of sickness and accidents. It is of utmost importance that you take all precautions necessary to avert sickness and complications while on the trip. For example, it is a good idea to be vaccinated against Hepatitis A, Typhoid, and Tetanus [however, no vaccines are required].
All participants must assume responsibility for themselves and sign a liability waiver before the trip. We cannot guarantee against accidents. If you're an inexperienced boater, the trip leader and guides will advise you on saftey issues. If you are an experienced boater in control of your craft, you must accept the responsibility for what happens to you on the river. It is the experienced boater's responsibility to make appropriate decisions whether to run the rapid or not and to stay close to someone who can watch and oversee you. A certain level of freedom will be provided, but each such person must abide by trip leader requests, which may mandate not paddling certain rapids. If an accident occurs, we will do all in our power to help you, see that proper care is rendered, or evacuate you if need be.
We will have an Inmarsat satellite phone ($1.50/min for calls) and possibly a SPOT device. Anyone can see the latest SPOT position of the SierraRios trip if we utilize it.
BUGS / UV / SILT / WIND: UV rays from the sun can be intense so it is recommended that you use sunblock liberally. While few biting insects were encountered on the first reconnaissance trip, this aspect has not been determined so it is best to prepare with some repellent. However, due to the cooler evenings and covering up with clothing, you probably will have little skin area exposed. The main tough circumstance to deal with is the wind, which can often be strong in Patagonia. However, we will attempt to select camps with protection.