When the pressures of his Stamford-based practice reach a certain level, Gary Klein doesn’t just go for a jog or lounge around the house for a couple days.
He would rather stare down death on raging rivers in the Amazon or deep in southern Chile. After all, nothing forces one to forget the daily tasks of professional life as quickly as riding a raft into the snarling mouth of ferocious and icy rapids.
“It’s an incredibly exhilarating experience,” said Klein, a commercial litigator with Sandak, Hennessey & Greco.
Since January 2006, Klein has made annual trips to Chile or Ecuador for outdoor adventures. Ecuador was his most recent destination, in January, and he rafted three rivers. But Ecuador didn’t have the Class 5 rapids that define the Futaleufu River in the area of South America known as Patagonia, which consists of parts of Argentina and Chile. Klein rode those rapids in 2006 and 2007.
On the International Scale of River Difficulty, Class 5 rapids are known to be long and violent with steep drops and virtually uninterrupted action. They demand all possible safety precautions be taken.
Klein has been whitewater rafting for nearly 10 years, mainly in Massachusetts and New York. When he went searching online for other rafting experiences, the Futaleufu (pronounced foo-tuh-luh-foo) kept popping up as a place where the river churns through a peaceful pastoral countryside of grazing cattle and horses. It’s a bright green river that runs wild (no dams) and is home to giant trout of 20 to 30 pounds.
Though meant as an escape from work, Klein’s trip did require some of his legal skills when he searched for rafting companies whose guides take visitors down the rivers.
“I was really skeptical of the safety records [of the companies] and I made certain to ask a lot of hard questions,” he said. “You can’t fool around with this. You’re putting your life in their hands.”
Many of the touring companies’ guides are college-educated Americans and Canadians in their 20s who, Klein said, must be highly skilled in order to navigate such dangerous waterways. “To get a job doing this [on the Futaleufu] is the equivalent of landing a job with the best law firm on Wall Street,” he said.
Klein stayed in a well-appointed lodge with all of possible amenities, including high-speed Internet service, when he went rafting in 2007. His days usually started with an 8 a.m. breakfast and then a ride in a 4-by-4 truck, which towed the rafts, to the point of the river where the run would start.
Five guides accompanied the six guests, who paid the touring company approximately $3,000 for the experience, which included all meals, lodging, transportation, rafts, guides and rafting gear.
One guide commandeered the raft while the guests each paddled. The group had to learn a set of command words and instructions before venturing out on the water, but no previous whitewater rafting experience was necessary.
Other guides rode down the river in kayaks or small rafts, acting as a rescue team in case anyone fell out of the raft.
Before making each run, the guides scouted the river to determine water levels and the safest route to navigate. Before Klein’s group encountered one stretch of rapids, known as the Terminator, they paddled over to a quiet part of the river to strategize.
“We knew we were in trouble because the guide was gone for 45 minutes,” he said. “He came back and gave us the FOG speech, or the ‘Fear of God’ speech.”
The group made it through with no problems, as the guides screamed instructions over the water’s roar. But when Klein’s raft encountered Casa de Piedra (or “House of Rock”), the run didn’t go as well. “We got tossed and the raft flipped front over back,” Klein said. “We all disappeared in the water.”
The guides quickly pulled Klein and the other rafters out of the river. But his 15 seconds in the roiling 60-degree water was “pretty frightening,” he said.
Rafting trips lasted about three hours each day. “That’s about all you can handle,” Klein noted. “It’s cold and very dramatic.”
Recharging The Batteries
At lunchtime, the group pulled off to a calm spot and enjoyed hearty spreads of sandwiches, fruit and drinks. If a guest rafter wasn’t up to riding certain stretches of whitewater, they could get off the raft and hike to the next set of rapids.
There also were plenty of opportunities for photography and bird-watching when Klein wasn’t focused on surviving.
The area is “a vacation paradise if you like outdoors activities,” he said.
And at the end of a day of intense paddling and adrenaline surges, the lodge was a welcomed retreat, especially on chilly nights.
The key to such a trip, Klein said, is “you have to have a family, partners and clients who will let you get away for a week.” And when they do, “it’s a great way to recharge the batteries.”