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.