The Apurimac flows hastily from Nevado Mismi (5597 mts) in the region of Arequipa in southern Peru. Hurrying on its way to the jungle, it is the source of the Amazon river, the world´s largest river system. On its way it travels through countless canyons, deeply embedded into the Andes mountains. At times these canyons are twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, and as it turned out, I happened to be paddling through those profound realms just a month ago.
There are no crazy waterfalls on the Apurimac, no huge slides to bomb down, nor are there any ”deepest canyon of the world” to pass through. Unless you belive the rafting companies of course. It is not the place where you set up a fancy camera and shoot one rapid for hours on end, and you don´t even do lapses on a rapid even if it was fun as hell. Though, as soon as you mention to any of the locals that you are going to run the Abissmo de Acombamba their eyes narrow. There are so many stories, rumours and anticipations about this seldom run three-day section of the Apurimac, it gets you wondering.
At put in, we quietly slid into the water at Banos Ccunoc, the popular hot springs resting at the river side a few kilometers below the normal raft section. We were an internattional team, with Ron Fischer (SUI), Julio Vargas (Peru), Julian Schaefer (GER) and myself, alternating conversations in german, spanish and english. . I think we all realized quickly that something special was about to happen. As this section of river is often referred to as simply ”the Abyss”, I was not surprised to see the arid mountainsides immideately starting to loom over us like sleeping giants. Paddling in the back of the group, I got a hunch of what was to come as I watched the mountainsides pull closer.
While reading the reports from previous trips the weeks prior to this moment, I had been wondering why we even wanted to go in there. Blind rapids, blind and unportagable box-canyons, huge swims and beatings, giant rapids, rockfalls onto the campspots, huge, intimidating thunder storms, problems with narco trafficking guerillja, and it seemd simply full on in every aspect, not just the whitewater.
As it turned out, it was not just a great idea, it was a freakin great idea!
Day one was easy-going when it came to the whitewater, even if I found my own little personal vendetta in a sneaky, blind class four. My wrong line took me straight into a nasty pocket-hole, where I ended up grinding my head on a rock underwater and finally bailed. We decided that scouting was in order from then on.
The beauty of the Abyss was from another world, and one that the other missons failed to mention. Even if the whitewater was brilliant, it was the sheer beauty of this place that enchanted me for three days and two nights. The first box canyon was as intimidating as it gets. The walls closed in, there were a few blind chutes to chose from, and even if you thought that your pick was the good one, there really was no way of telling until somebody dropped over the horizon line. The hardest part though was to simply focus on the whitewater, the eddies, the strokes and the river, as I could not stop staring up and down the canyon. Deep, deep and narrow, with the whitewater echoing eerily between the canyon walls. It was dark in there, and powerful.
At the end of day two we dropped into the steepest section of river. Up until then the whitewater had gotten more and more difficult, and many times I found myself at the bottom of the rapids we had scouted and run, shaking my head and swearing that they just did not look that steep from shore. The lines were technical and blocked, though at least always fair. However, the last few rapids before camp had more of a punch to them, and we knew that day two would be a long one as we pulled into the last campspot before the steepness took over. Five minutes after the tents were up the Abissmo gave us another great show. Huddling under a big boulder we watched in awe as lightning crisscrossed the sky and the thunder rumbled through the canyon, it hailed, then it rained. A lot. Landslides were echoing throughout the night, making us feel even smaller.
Day two started out steep, and blocked. The low water made the rapids less pushy, but at the same time we had less options of where to paddle. Most of the lines involved avoiding huge siphons, ferrying back and forth through messy whitewater, and would have made any Oetz-tal boater the happiest ever. Ron was grinning for about four hours straight, I had my game-face on as I have never in my life seen so many siphons!
Passing under a foot bridge, our friend Julio pointed upwards to the sky, telling us about the ruins of the inca city of Chocquequirao. It had been protected by its remoteness for centuries, and has often been called ”Machu Picchu´s sacred sister”. I could almost feel hidden eyes following us down the river from those ancient ruins, and I decided that the next time I run this river I will allow two days extra to hike up the trail and get a glimpse of an ancient past.
The second day we camped on the most beautiful campspot ever. A huge boulder sheltered the camp from the elements, and a nice little beach welcomed us as we paddled to shore. Amazingness all around. We woke up to the third blue-bird day, and got on with the quest. Downstream laid the unscoutable canyons we had read about in the online reports, and we anticipated hugeness. Passing a big sidecreek called Quebrada Arma, the river dropped some good gradient, forcing us to get out and try and scout the exit of the rapid. It was kind of scoutable from the middle, where Ron scrambled on top of some rocks and then pointed out a bony line down the middle. The walls were towering over us, and the atmosphere turned eerie. However, as it turned out, also because of the low waterlevel, it was mostly a nice class four/five paddle the rest of the day, through more of the amazingly deep canyons that allow notthing or anybody to escape.
Arriving at Puente Pasajes we did not even wait five minutes before the taxi we had hired from Cusco came cruising down the marginal road. It has taken the driver 12 hours.. Four boats and six people jammed into the little car, and of course there was no roofrack so we strapped everything down the cowboy-way. (lots of throwbags, some carabiners and a lot of faith..) The drive back involved crossing a 3000 meter high pass, and as I peeked back into the canyons of the Abyss from the ridge, I realised just how far away from anything we had been. No big missons of filming, no new crazy first descent, just simply four people out on a little adventure in one of the most beautiful places on the planet.