As we float down the Futaleufú River, elated by the Class IV and V rapids we’ve just run, I say to myself, “I get it.” I understand why people travel thousands of miles to be battered by 10-foot walls of roiling water and to shoot rapids so fast it feels like being dragged along by a cigarette boat. I get the bonds that are built during those wild rides and the ways they are cemented with barbecues on river beaches and singalongs led by guitar-strumming guides.
I also appreciate why the adventurer-entrepreneur Yvon Chouinard named his outdoor clothing and equipment company Patagonia, even though he had spent much of his young life scaling the Tetons and making first ascents in Yosemite. And I understand why his one-time CEO Kris McDivitt Tompkins and her husband, Doug, who founded the equally prosperous North Face and Esprit concerns, not only moved to South America but purchased more than 2 million acres of land in Patagonia in an effort to preserve it. (Much of the land was subsequently donated to the Chilean government; Doug Tompkins died tragically in a kayaking accident in 2015.)
Finally, as a bend in the Futaleufú brings yet another majestic snow-covered peak into view, I understand why I keep coming back to Patagonia: for treks through stunning national parks, for some of the best trout fishing in the world, for whitewater rafting. But, ultimately, because it is pristine. Patagonia is what Yosemite or Yellowstone must have been like a century ago.