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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Upper Apurimac, Salkantay with kayaks and the second full descent of Peru´s Rio Santa Teresa!

What an incredible week! Our legs are still suffering, cut by jungle thorns and beaten by heavy loads but it’s a good pain!
During the last seven days JV and I have made sure our time in Peru has been well spent.

Justin launches clear of a fluffy mound in the Upper Apurimac. Image - Zak Shaw
From Cusco we visted a class five run in the upper Apurimac canyon. Climbing over cactus lands above the river we passed through Paccaritampo: a small village to be situated in the area of the Inka uprising.
The section held fantastic whitewater but unfortunately our Peruvian paddling friend Diego Ibanez flipped in a major rapid and damaged his shoulder.

Big country - Image Justin Venable
Back in Cusco we found food for four days and packed ready to leave the following morning. In Mollepata our attempts to recruit burros, muels or men fell flat on its face. We connected with the village horsemen who shook their heads at the prospect of carrying our kayaks over the 4600m summit pass of Mt Salkantay (6264m – 20671ft)

Thomas tests our load in Soraypampa. Image - Zak Shaw
Our car scrambled up the track a further 1.5 hours to Soraypampa; a cowboy camp staged on the path of Peru´s alternative Inka trail. Two Quechua women with young children greeted us beside a rough shack. Tree limbs toped by corrugated iron sheets. We were traveling as light as possible and it was great to be offered the shack to sleep in.
At 6.30am we met with several horseman who were setting their horses up to transport tourist packs, tents and cooking gear to Ccolpapampa. Thomas the one horseman we managed to recruit lifted my kayak a laughed at the idea of taking it over the mountains.
By 7.30am we had our horse loaded with our gear and JV and I had begun the journey with our kayaks.
Soraypampa sits at an elevation of 3800m so we felt the effects of the thin air immediately.
“One day we want to be like Keith Riley”- Image Zak Shaw
Image - Justin Venable
Steep switchbacks guided us towards the base of Salkantay. Loose rock and the heat of the day already upon us made for slow plodding. With lungs inefficient we plodded. Plodding is the way forward.

Loaded, our horse. Image Zak Shaw

Image - Zak Shaw
After three hours the gradient aback off slightly and we crested the saddle at 4600m. The spectacular face of Salkantay stood immediately above our heads. Bulging ceracs of ice hung precariously in the thin air. We had the big mission feel. Standing and starring at the sculptured ice ridge was without doubt an odd place to be with a kayak. No flowing water was in sight. It was big country, striking and a landscape with definition.

Image - Zak Shaw
Over the pass the valley wound its way down. We dropped 1850m during a six hour shoulder destroying descent.

On the downhill we moved much faster passing thatched huts, hydrating when we could until we reached the village of Ccolpapampa.
Darkness fell at 5.30pm and we were invited into a local wowmens home to cook our dinner. Peruvian music sounded from a small transistor radio on the dirt floor and smoke passed out through a purposely unfinished section of wall. Eight local workers joined us for dinner, drinking cup upon cup of local coffee. They were truly impressed by out nine hour day.

Image - Justin Venable
We began kayaking where the Quebrada and Rio Tortora joined the Santa Teresa at 2750m. Within 200m of our start we eddied out above a steep rapid. I felt insufficiently warmed up and with a fully loaded kayak didn’t want to run a 3m falls over a backed pocket in a wall. We could not portage on foot or seal launch unassisted so JV attached a nine to the stern of my kayak and with me in it belayed out 20 feet of rope until I reached the water. After much deliberation JV ran the drop unscathed. Two hours of eddyless non stop class four followed. It was fast paced, no rest kayaking.

Bedrock walls heralded a change of scene and our creek confined before dropping away. Vertical rock and jungle on our right dictated travel on river left above the canyon. Landslides threatened to fail and send us into the gorge. Looking at a 100m section of snaking blind corners we found seven must make moves. Eventually we agreed to do battle. JV went first and I gave him a minute before I followed. We both emerged upright downstream!
The following rapids were a mix of sharp junk. On slick rock we portaged at water level, lowered kayaks on ropes and jumped into eddies. Back in the jungle I brushed through some thick vegetation before being stung by a huge spear covered caterpillar. 5pm rolled on and finally the gorge relented. We found a tiny patch of sand to camp on. Wood was in good supply so we stayed warm and ate well. Lightening bugs lit up the forest canopy pulsing for hours in an electric show. At 12pm JV woke me and said a massive storm is brewing. Streaks of lightening boomed one valley over and in the dark we rigged a plastic tarp for shelter. The storm did not hit us and thankfully the river remained flowing clear!

In camp, dry, warm, golden, for now....
Image - Zak Shaw
River day 2.Class four out of camp then the gradient subdued and we thought it was all over! It was not to be! The class five returned and stayed constant for a further three hours.

Zak Shaw amongst it - Image - Justin Venable
Classic unrelenting kayaking where mistakes would be punished. All the moves required both finesse and power sapping our energy reserves.

Image - Zak Shaw
At 3pm I hit the wall. I had to eat more. We paused briefly but were also wondering how far we had to go and the day was running late.

Image - Zak Shaw
After another 45 minutes our take out bridge came into view.

Image - Zak Shaw
In the last eddy we hung over our kayaks truly exhausted. Man it felt good to finish! Cola de Mono and cold beer was just twenty minutes away.

Zak Shaw


1 comment:

  1. Good adventure and some really sweet pictures! Looks like an amazing place...

    - Adrian