The Rio Apurimac is the source of the world's longest river, the great Rio Amazonas. Flowing North from a ridge of high andean peaks which separate its headwaters with the Rio Colca drainage, the Apurimac penetrates deep into the high Altiplano creating another amazing abyss twice as a deep as the Grand Canyon in the USA.
An Andean Condor soars high above the rivers which create the deep canyons of Peru.
From Cusco, the commercially rafted section of the Apurimac is a convenient 3-4hr ride by bus and although the rafting trips take 3-4 days to complete, the length of the run is less than 40km and can be kayaked in two days. Basically the paddling season begins when the rains come to a stop in June (navigable high water), and ends in October (low water). Even if you haven't come to Peru with the main purpose of paddling, upon reaching Cusco, you will be amazed to discover that next to Machu Picchu and the Inca Trial, rafting the Apurimac is the next place of interest among thrill seekers from abroad. Although low safety standards do exist on a river with numerous class IV hazards and rock sieves, you can experience a 3-4 day raft trip down one of the deepest canyons in the world for less than 175.oo Cdn. As a recommendation, stay safe by NOT paddling "Dolore de Muela", a sketchy and long class V that for some reason Peruvians take their guests down until somebody dies!
Another salad tossing about to happen in the Baticueva hole on the Rio Apurimac, Peru.
When Michelle and I drove into Cusco in August 2003 with kayaks on our van, we were quickly confronted by Peruvian raft guides who were very informative and genuinley nice. Before the night was through I had been asked by Willy from Southern Rivers if I would like to safety kayak on his next Apurimac trip. After some negotiation (which included getting Michelle on the raft trip), I agreed and two days later we set out on another great adventure. This ended up being a 2 month job for me and by the end Michelle had also descended the Apurimac 3 times in raft and once in her kayak.
Willy from Southern Rivers guiding Michelle (red helmet) and the rest of the crew down the Rio Apurimac, Peruvian style!
Before the Apurimac reaches the lowlands of the Amazon basin, it plummets down through the high Vilcabamba plateau and into the Abismo Gorge. The Abismo Gorge section begins directly after the commercial takeout at the town of Curahuasi where a new bridge was installed in the early 90's on the Abancay-Cuzco road. Still considered one of the most intimidating sections of river that one could find in South America, the Abismo gorge's window of opportunity comes in October when the water is at its lowest, yet only days before the start of the heavy rains and Peru's "wet" season. The late Russell Kelly of Ophir Colorado, having no fears solo kayaking inescapable canyons worldwide, ran the Abismo both in 2002 and 2003 with little time to spare before the rapids became unavigable.
Tuesday, October 26, 2004
Three of the world's deepest canyons in Peru as observed by satellite. The rivers that created them are: Colca (top canyon), Cotahuasi (middle canyon) and the Rio Maran. The bottom right corner is the Pacific Ocean (white).
Almost the same time a year ago, Michelle and I finished up working and playing in Cusco Peru, and began our long journey back down to Southern Chile. However before we left Peru for good, I was fortunate to be invited on a trip down the Rio Cotahuasi by Peruvian kayaker Gian Marco Velutino and Americans Matt Wilson, Damon Miller and the great Russell Kelly. While still debated against Tibet's Yarlung Tsangpo Gorge, the Cotahuasi Canyon at 11,550ft deep makes it one of the deepest canyons in the world. Only recently was the Cotahuasi accurately measured to be 500 ft deeper than the nearby Colca Canyon. Together along with the equal abyss of the Rio Maran which joins the Cotahuasi as the Andes come down to the sea, these three river canyons present incredible and committing paddling adventures to those who are willing to enter them.
The view of Cotahuasi from near the canyon rim.
Our crew began our 11hr, 300km dirt road journey from the city of Arequipa, where the road climbs gently from the fertile Ocona valley up into the high Altiplano to well above 14,000 ft. As we passed between the white capped peaks of Nevado Coropuna and Nevado Solimana, the beauty and expanse of the Peruvian high desert gives one an awesome feeling. Yet just beyond these two mountains the road drops away to reveal an even more astonishing sight. The Cotahuasi canyon is so deep that even after two solid hours of descent by car or bus, we could still observe the road weaving back and forth far below us.
Once you arrive in the town of Cotahuasi, the river is still below but the Peruvian culture of the past and present surrounds you. Here you must make the necessary arrangements to find the rest of your basic foods, get another 5km down to the river, and have mules transport your boat and gear another 7km further downstream around the impressive Sipia waterfall. Below the falls, your long hike will get you back along the shore of the Cotahuasi. Once here, you can finally begin your 3 day, 65km class IV+ wind through the heart of an arid canyon still containing many Inca artifacts, graves and simple structures along the banks.
Peruvian children enjoy some new sights as Damon, Russell and the rest of us prepare for another mission on the Cotahuasi.
The first decent of the Rio Cotahuasi was completed by Dave Black, Jon Barker, Jose Luis Lopez, Fico Gallese, Kurt Casey, Greg Moore, John Foss, Franz Helfenstein, Duilio Velutino and Gian Marco Velutino on June 4, 1994. Together as partners in expedition kayaking, Americans John Foss and Kurt Casey first descended a majority of rivers in Chile and Peru. Kurt Casey still spends his winters living in Chile and has created an incredible Peruvian paddling resource dedicated in memory of the late John Foss who pinned and drowned July 5th 1998 during the first descent of the Rio Huallabamba in Central Peru. For a complete description of the Cotahuasi and many more incredible rivers in the majestic country of Peru, check out www.peruwhitewater.com
Cotahuasi 2003: Russell Kelly, Michelle Basso, Mark Basso, Matt Wilson, Gian Marco Vellutino and Damon Miller.