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A pair of torrent ducks skimmed across its swirling waters, peering curiously at the steel cable and cage that hydro-electrical engineers had strung up four decades before and which now sagged perilously close to the water.
A hundred yards downstream, the Qulroz emptied into an even more ferocious maelstrom: the Rio Pascua, one of the fastest-flowing rivers in Chile. Sanger, an environmental campaigner for Berkeley, CA-based International Rivers, knew a mistake could cost his life. He climbed gingerly into the rusted steel cage, checked the harness that secured him to a tree on the far bank, and gasped as the icy water surged to his waist.
On the other side of the river, fellow hikers strained on the rope, hauled the cage free of the turbulent waters, and pulled him uncertainly across. Sanger, together with seven other environmental campaigners, had come to Chile's remote Aysen province to document the plant and animal species of the Rio Pascua watershed, one of the least explored areas of Patagonia's great waterways.
Draining from glacier-carved O'Higgins Lake, the river tumbles for 38 tumultuous miles through uninhabited, trackless valleys to one of the many sea water fjords that serrate Chile's southern coastline. Just a few dozen people have reached its headwaters, locals say; far fewer have explored its entire length. There is no sign of human activity at all-no paths, no trails, no roads. Yet if the power companies get their way, the whole valley will be irreversibly damaged.
Under the scheme, electricity produced would be sent 1, miles north to supply Chile's biggest cities and, indirectly, to power its copper industry. This would require one of the world's longest clear cuts, a logged corridor more than yards wide, much of it slated to slice through temperate forests of a type not found outside of Patagonia.