SierraRios Grand Canyon Amazon trip: Sep28, 2013 trip: summary/photos

Boris Trgovcich
Kelly Kellstadt


BORIS TRGOVCICH'S DESCRIPTION OF THE MARAÑON [he joined the Sep28-Oct27 2013 river trip]

In October 2013 I joined a group of about 20 adventure-minded people on a 30-day, 412-mile boating trip down Rio Maranon, one of the principal sources of the Amazon. The Maranon has been compared to the Grand Canyon of Colorado so I was curious to see it for myself.

The drive from Lima to the put-in was absolutely spectacular.Our heavily loaded vehicles climbed up and over a 15,000-foot high pass before descending down the eastern slope of the Andes to the river. The barren peaks of the Cordillera Negra and the snow-capped peaks of the Cordillera Blanca dominated the scene.  As we approached the put-in, the river appeared unimpressive at the end of a dry season. At about 2000 cubic feet per second (cfs) and relatively low gradient it appeared to be peacefully meandering through the high desert landscape like a Golden Serpent, the name used by some locals to describe it. However, arriving at the put-in, what immediately stood out- even in a relatively flat section, was that the river was moving at an amazing pace. The power of the water seemed incredibly disproportionate to the low flow and gradient.

Over the next 400 miles the character of the river was constantly changing. At first, we encountered easy class I-II rapids, a narrow canyon barely 6-feet wide, and many short and exciting class III and IV rapids. The thrill meter soon shot up as we approached two class IV-V boulder-choked cascades, sections of which we portaged or lined. Farther down, we paddled mile-long fun rapids with no apparent end in sight and an exciting long class IV-V monster [San Lucas] consisting of huge waves and holes unlike anything I have seen on the Grand Canyon. On two sections of the trip we found ourselves relaxing on a long, flat, braided section. After the second of these, we entered the pongos – big wave trains going through steep, jungle covered canyons. The river never slowed down. About half-way into the trip, a rain storm in the mountains, several thousand feet above the river, suddenly raised the river by more than five feet over night. The river quickly demonstrated its power as huge eddies and whirlpools played with thousand-pound gear rafts as if they were toys.

For experienced boaters, the Maranon offers fun rapids and surfing holes almost all the way down to Imacita.  A few slower sections, where the action temporarily ceases, provide a welcome opportunity to relax and drift along in a fast-moving current while enjoying the scenery.  For those without boating experience there is plenty of opportunity to hike and learn new skills, such as rowing a raft, paddling a hard shell or an inflatable kayak, and preparing gourmet meals and Dutch oven desserts by campfire.      

Along the banks, the ever-present cacti faded in and out of sight as mango, banana, papaya, cacao, coconut, orange, lime, avocado and ciruela (plum) trees popped up along the side streams carrying precious water. Lush gardens of fruit trees, vegetables, coca plants and yucca stretched for miles up these tributaries. More than a thousand feet above the river additional gardens that defied gravity clung to the mountain side. Villagers popped out from the desert, and later out of the jungle, to examine our flotilla of rafts and kayaks. Children swarmed like locust into our rafts and kayaks checking out our gear and posing for photos. Along the lower section of the river villages, often connected to the outside world only by a network of trails, were nestled along the river. Some offered fresh produce, beer, soda and even ice cream. There we even played soccer and volley ball matches against the local teams. As we floated around the next bend, every trace of civilization would suddenly disappear into a vast rugged landscape made up of large sandy beaches, caves and vertical walls resembling those of the Grand Canyon.

Half way into the trip we abandoned our boats and drove for several hours up a steep winding road into Celedin, a vibrant city that sits in a valley high in the mountains. There we spent two days taking advantage of a nice hotel, hot showers, stores selling desserts, cold beer and ice cream, and a big outdoor market where chorizo is sold by the meter and one sole (less than 50 cents) will buy you the biggest and sweetest mango that you have ever seen. 

By the end of the trip my curiosity was satisfied. Yes, the river resembles the Grand Canyon of Colorado in many ways with its rapids, beaches, side canyons and deep cacti-studded gorges. Both rivers offer numerous side-hikes and waterfalls.  Like the Canyon, the Maranon is ideal for a long multi-day boat trip where a person can forget the grind of everyday life. A distant rainstorm can quickly change the water color from turbid to chocolate brown. The trip can also be broken up into several shorter sections if one cannot afford the time to travel the entire 400+ miles.  I cannot think of another river in the lower 48 States that offers the same kind of experience.

However, the Maranon offers much more. Unlike the Grand Canyon though, the Maranon is free flowing and its character can change overnight by the whims of nature. Its navigable section is much longer than that of Colorado and its canyon is deeper. Some Maranon beaches are big enough to accommodate small villages. The Maranon offers more and greater variety of rapids that are overall more challenging to navigate.  Its continuously strong current makes it possible to easily cover 30-40 miles per day in a raft, assuming one does not stop for side hikes. The jungle area of the lower Maranon has no equivalent on the Colorado. Currently, the Maranon can be floated most of the year and it is unlikely that you would ever see another group of boaters (no competition for choice camp sites!) while on the river. There is no need for a permit and the total lack of government regulations makes logistics relatively simple. Basic food items can be obtained cheaply at several larger villages along the river. One can also hire a cheap taxi or combi for a longer excursion into the big cities nestled in the mountains.  With an experienced guide familiar with the river, almost anyone willing to temporarily give up few daily luxuries, can enjoy the Maranon experience.

Most importantly, the Maranon supports several self-sustaining indigenous cultures whose people are generally friendly and generous towards outsiders. A few are distrustful, and even hostile, but they quickly change their demeanor once they are convinced that the visitors are not associated with damn builders.  We were “detained’ twice by local villagers who suspected us of being associated with dam survey crews.  However, once they realized that we were as opposed to dams as they are, they assured us a safe passage and invited us to come back in the future.

 There are currently several proposed dams on the Maranon which would flood vast sections of the river including thousands of lush, fertile gardens and orchards along it and its tributaries. The indigenous people would experience a catastrophic demise if they were forced to relocate and change their way of life.  Although materially poor, their way of life has sustained them for centuries and they are reluctant to fully embrace the 21st century and mainstream Peruvian life.  Like in the cases of the Australian aborigines, the American Indians, and many Amazon tribes it would take few generations before the Maranon inhabitants could be fully assimilated into the mainstream Peruvian way of life. 

Boris Trgovcich (Placerville, CA) ran his own rafting operation in the 80s-90s (N.Cal) but he now mainly uses an IK.  He was with us in Peru for a few weeks running the Mantaro and doing the Amazon's most distant source reconnaissance. He has run/organized several GCC trips and done most major rivers in the West. 


KELLY KELLSTADT'S DESCRIPTION OF THE MARAÑON [he joined the Sep28-Oct27 2013 river trip]

I was attracted to the Marañón because of the temptation of wilderness adventure. Being a semi-professional river guide in New Mexico for many years and having done wild trips in Alaska (rafting & sea kayaking), British Columbia (Stikine R), Chile (5 weeks whitewater kayaking), Mexico (early trips kayaking the Santa Maria) and many trips in the western US (including many through Grand Canyon), I wanted something even more remote - and the Marañon in Peru fit the bill. Adding to the allure was that the canyon was still not completely explored,  Marañón was also the headwaters of the most biologically significant river in the world (the Amazon), the river was threatened with dams, and the other team members were extremely experienced. 

I found the river trip labeled the "Grand Canyon of the Amazon" to be completely comparable to the Grand Canyon of the Colorado in most respects, and it exceeded my expectations in every way. The Marañón is like the Grand Canyon in its rapids but the Marañón's rapids have more variety, difficulty and duration. Many are often impractical to scout from shore due to their length, and therefore must be done on the fly - so I consider the difficulty a notch higher than they would be otherwise. As a result I was challenged more by the Marañon's rapids than the hundreds of other rapids in my more than four decade history of river running, including those on the Grand Canyon of the Colorado. Other enjoyable aspects were the camping on huge beaches, hiking up spectacular canyons, viewing the interesting geology at every turn of the river, checking out waterfalls, ruins, old haciendas and farms, and enjoying social interactions with the crew and local people. One of the side excursions reminded me of the Bright Angel Trail; another of Redwall Cavern; another of Havasu Creek; and many of the narrow slot canyons in GC.  I ended up in great physical shape afterward due to the many side hikes,  the lengthy nature of the trip (30 days!), and the general beating the environment gave my 68-year old body. In general, I would recommend the trip for anyone who has enjoyed the Grand Canyon, Tatsenshini-Alsek, the Salmon or any other challenging long private wilderness trip - but note that this trip is a notch up in commitment than most due to the rugged nature of the canyon, the wild river and non-park status. 

I found the leadership of the SierraRios trip exemplary in every way. The planning was excellent despite being exceedingly complex, the Peruvian guides were energetic, beyond competent, joyful and necessary to take the unknown edge off coming from the uncertainty of a remote river. The web page ( describing the river and trip was the best I have ever seen, especially since not done commercially - it is a reflection of the attention to detail that Rocky works on consistently. 

The put-in day is a good example of the variety of our experiences. We were in our bus driving down a major paved road built above a major tributary canyon and going through a typical village when a work crew appeared up ahead. A replacement bridge had just been set in place across a large gully and so we stopped to watch what the crew would do to accommodate us. In about 15 minutes they used boards, rocks and levers to make ramps up onto and back down the new structure. We proceeded on the very winding road past weird landslide activity across the canyon, then stopped to look at Río Puchka's gorge and rapids before we arrived at the bridge over the Marañón. The river looked low and hard but runnable. We drove down river several miles looking for access to a place Rocky saw a road descend previously and found a road going the right direction with a gate. Rocky got out and talked to some well-dressed people on the private land. He negotiated permission to drive down to the river to camp and launch & I wondered if our large bus would be able to make it down & back. We spent the rest of the day rigging and packing with Rocky fielding the inevitable questions that even seriously experienced boaters have. It went so smoothly that Rocky invited any kayakers who wanted some initial river action to get a ride back to the main bridge on our bus to make the run back to our launch site and first camp. The whole day demonstrated Rocky's commitment to not miss opportunities, deal with situations with impeccable grace, communicate effectively in Spanish and be thoughtful at all times. 

That first day set the tone for a cooperative and efficient trip. The trip was organized with one main goal- to help the boating and ecologically aware populations of the world to understand that another important river is in extreme danger of being dammed to death! As with Glen Canyon of the Colorado River in the U S and the Bio-Bio River in Chile, this is also currently a “place no one knows” about and therefore will be destroyed due to lack of opposition. You can change this by signing the petition at, liking the site on Facebook, doing the trip, and directly putting the word out as much as you can.   

I'd like to add that in the 1980s I paddled the Bio-Bio as a participant on one of the first commercial kayak trips in Chile. Chris Spelius, the activist for saving the Bio Bio and Futalafu Rivers, was our guide and instructor. We ran the Bio Bio's Royal Flush gorge several times and did a first descent of an upper section. We camped on the ranch of a Mapuche family (part of one of Chile's native “tribes”) with wonderful views and hot springs. We heard about planned dams but were powerless (especially without the internet) to get the word out effectively to slow or stop the drowning of a wild area and culture. While this destruction was abominable both environmentally and culturally, the size and importance nationally and internationally of the Bio-Bio's destruction was but a small warning shot compared to the potential disaster planned for the Marañón/Amazon.  

Kelly Kellstadt (Santa Fe, NM) ran a kayak/raft outfit in New Mexico for many years, organized many trips down the GC of the Colorado (GCC), and is now a retired manager of some properties.

Marañon2013a_UPPER (km0-127)
Marañon2013b_UPPER (km127-206)
Marañon2013c_MIDDLE (km206-357)
Marañon2013d_LOWER (km0-144)
Marañon2013e_JUNGLE (km144-320)
Graham's photos
C&K Article (Mendán)
C&K Article (Ashaninka)
TRIP INFO: Grand Canyon Amazon