SierraRios Grand Canyon Amazon trip: Sep28, 2013 trip: summary/photos
Marañon Sep28-Oct27 (2013) trip summary

The Sep28-Oct28 (2013) Grand Canyon Amazon trip was a great success! Scroll down for some reports of memorable events, the trip summary per day, participant description, and a few comments from folks. All expedition members should now appreciate this river, its canyon, its residents and its special qualities more.  There were no raft flips (other than lining in Wasson's Landslide), no serious injuries, folks got along, and things generally went well everywhere, which is a testament to everyone's navigational skills, decisions on the water, and willingness to help out both on the water and in camp.

 We kept to the planned schedule pretty well, which included 2 full layover days on the Upper part (at hot springs Day7 and Rio Chocla Day14), while on the Lower section we took several shorter days instead of a full layover.  We had a lot of hikes on the Upper section, and more village and people interactions on the Lower, though there are a lot of side canyon hikes to do on the Lower as well (we just didn't get to do).  

The weather was hot from the start with temps probably never dropping below 15oC/59oF (avg. hi/lo 90/70oF). In fact, it was uncomfortably warm many evenings - I had to wet a shirt down a few evenings to cool off enough in my tent. However, the rainy weather really cooled it down later in the trip.

No-see-um jejene bugs were bad in many camps but could be avoided with repellent, molle (natural plant repellent) or loose clothing protection. There were no mosquitos on nearly the entire trip except the last few days I noticed some at night. Traveller's diarrhea (very hard to avoid here in Peru) was a problem for many foreigners at one time or another, but usually only really bad for one day per person.

I do hope everyone who experienced the river will take some steps toward publicizing the planned damming issue and rousing up more support against the projects.  So please use the photos, write and post things, and make it known! [if photos are published, please check with the person who shot it and give credit].

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

Below are a few more length descriptions of some memorable events on the trip.

Wasson's Landslide
On Day9 during a rainy morning, we arrived at Wasson's Landslide, a long class V and the toughest rapid on the river downstream of our put-in.  I was hoping it would look a bit more runnable to my co-guides (Pedro and Julio) and we'd pass the kayaks and rafts through rather quickly, but they didn't like the looks of it, so we went with the strategy (as I did last year) of lining the rafts much of the way, which ended up taking most of the day.  We started the day with folks taking off their personal bags and portaging them to the end, which lightened the loads on the rafts and assured that nobody's personal gear would get wet or lost.  Everyone needed to see the full rapid anyway, so it was a natural thing to do during the long scout.  Julio and Pedro decided quickly not to kayak the uppermost part. Most kayakers did not like the looks of it either and only one or two folks paddled part of the rapid, while I ended up running ~5 kayaks through nearly the entire rapid (one short portage at 2nd tough spot) and Julio/Pedro took care of the rest.  Julio/Pedro also started lining the rafts down quickly (without consulting with me, though their idea of passing the rafts through the upper RR slot worked and I started helping with this, but it was before I could give instructions to the rest of the group, most of whom were down at the lower part of the rapid). After we lined rafts through the first drop, I rowed each down to a second tough spot, where Julio pushed them over another rock/drop and they were lined the rest of the way to the bottom.  Pedro helped with this last long lining, as well as Boris (and of course, lots of other folks helped with the lining, especially Enga, Dave, and Graham).  Pedro and Julio were used to only working with other Spanish-speaking guides and did not expect much from others initially, but learned to delegate tasks later. Boris was good at coordinating the lower part of the lining, though the big cataraft did flip and two pet food boxes fell off (recovered with water inside kilometers downstream).  At the end of the sieve part, there was another class IV that Pedro, Julio and I rowed all the rafts through, then we took off while Julio and I directed everyone through the next IV slot (RR) that avoided a huge hole (which I ran last year).  With the toughest stuff behind us and only <1 hr of light left, we paddled quickly through the next section of class III-IV and made camp on RL by a class IV. It was great success to reach that camp rather than camp on the rocks as Amie and I did the previous year!  At camp, I explained a bit more what happened during the day to everyone and thanked folks for helping get everything through.  This was a good learning experience on how to get through Wasson's with a large group - next time we'll be better prepared and will have stations and lining/portaging duties set up better to get through the section more quickly.

On Day10, we arrived at Llamara, the second toughest rapid on the river and class IV-V difficulty. I thought we would have to run the rafts through the RR channel initially, which had high flip potential and long swims/upside down boats in class III-IV if that happened.  Because of that, I instructed the same strategy of taking personal bags off at the top stop point and having folks carry them down to the ledge drop where we'd reload after the rafts got there.  This again worked well as everyone had to walk down to scout the entire rapid anyway.  But fortunately, since water levels were a bit higher than the previous year, it was more feasible to get the rafts into a RL slot (over a partly submerged flat rock) and run them through.  Julio, Pedro and I ran all the rafts through as well as two or three extra kayaks, while several kayakers ran the whole thing (Enga, Sadia, Graham).  I kayaked down to the RR side ledge drop, looked into it more carefully and decided it unwise to even kayak in the big Stomper90 which was very loose on me.  I confirmed that there is high flip potential for rafts there.  We had lunch at the ledge drop rendezvous after the rafts were through the RL slot.  Several folks did not want to run the entire long III-IV lower part of Llamara, so Pedro, Julio and I ran several more boats down to a point where folks were comfortable.  Overall, getting through Llamara was relatively easy. The following rapid (Sebastian; around the right turn) was difficult to scout and had a tough right-left move which spooked a few folks but we all made it through fine. 

Unusual rain/high water
We had an unusually high number of rainy days for October - about 13 days with rain when the normal in Balsas is only about 4.  The rain usually came in the evening but sometimes in the morning.  It was never very heavy near the river and usually didn't last very long.  However, higher amounts of precipitation near the rims led to what are possibly record high river levels for the third week of October (according to the records for ~10 years that I've seen).  We experienced water turning muddy and rising a bit over several days on the Upper section (first 16 days), but where it really came up the most was on Day18 (Oct15) at Balsas during our layover in Celendín/Cajamarca, which happened to be a day with pretty steady downpours much of the day. I noted that the gauge at Balsas rose >1 m between Oct14 and Oct16, and then by Oct17 likely rose another 0.5-1.0 m. Thus the gauge height (at appx. 5 m) reached normal January levels, which are ~700 cms (22000 cfs), much higher than the normal October flow of 280 cms (9700 cfs) or normal September flow of ~140 cms (5000 cfs) [what we likely started on in late September]. This made the section downstream of Balsas feel much bigger.  On the lower section, the big rapids were still tough, but El Choclón (where we camped the 2nd night) and San Lucas (the long class IV going around the right bend) became somewhat harder at the high flows - while other big rapids (Playa El Inca, Magdalena, Linlín) had some easier lines open up, and others (Tupén Grande, Totora, for example) were about the same difficulty. I think overall the lower section of river at the higher flows is still III-IV as I have it generally rated now. Note, though, that the upper section would probably feel similarly big with such higher river levels - other than the river being a bit narrower rio in places and possibly tougher with the more frequent and steeper rapids.

Mendán visit
Another memorable event happened when we stopped at the pueblo of Mendán to discuss the dams with residents.  When we arrived in the morning, we heard the angry speeches of several woman of the village and how they were very suspicious of us. These women, as well as many folks in the village, were upset that previous rafting groups had come down saying they were tourists doing studies, but did not mention it was all geared for the Chadin 2 dam.  In those cases, residents initially helped them, but when they learned that the dam would flood their village, force them to relocate, and they would get little compensation, they felt lied to and angry.  They have taken to arms to prevent further dam survey groups or any advancement of dam plans.  We soon met Simon Mejía, the presidente of the town ronda (local police-type force), who suggested that we stay the rest of the day and have a meeting with everyone that evening since many were out working their fields in the day.  I thought it a good idea, so we just set up camp where we had landed.  I asked if he was anticipating our arrival as Monti (from International Rivers) and Fabian (from FORUM) had been there only 1-2 months ago, but he said they mentioned nothing, arrived late in the evening, and took off early the next morning.  Thus, they were not expecting us, which added to the suspicious attitudes of many folks in the town.   I gave one presentation of the river film/anti-dam film during a mid-day meeting, and then another in the evening with dozens of villagers in attendance.  At these meetings, I announced who we were (SierraRios tourist groups), our goals, how we loved the river as it was in its free-flowing state, how we were opposed to the dams, and how we wished to help them in their fight to save their village. They wanted to know what they could do to stop the dam plans.  I gave them an IR pamphlet and the FORUM pamphlet, but basically said that more publicity, protests, and organization with others opposed to the various planned dams on the river was the way that the plans could be saved.  I stated I would do as much as possible to help in this fight, as I love the river and canyon too.  At the end of the meeting, we were officially welcomed by them, and SierraRios groups will be welcomed by them in the future as well.

Word of us being stopped in Mendán got out via Harlan and his satellite phone to Harlan's wife and others.  Some of this info got to Tyler Williams and Jeff Moag, the editor of Canoe & Kayak, who interviewed Erik and Harlan as they arrived back in the USA.  Jeff wrote a little story about it that was recently published.  While it is a bit sensational to grab attention, I think overall it's good to see more publicity about the planned dams on the river.  You can read the story online at:

Awajún visit (Yupicusa tribunal)
A second memorable resident encounter happened the final day of the trip, when we were called over by an Awajún village (Yupicusa) on the bank of the Marañon just past the end of most of the pongos (which are the huge jungle rapids). We had great interactions with the initial villages of Tutumberos, Mahush and Nahén.  But at Yupicusa, all members of our party of 23 had to march ten minutes into the main village square where we were all seated in a row by their main building and listen to speeches and give speeches about our visit and the permission to be there. Our group included four Awajún, three local mestizos, and three other Peruvians.  The Awajún in our group were Segundo Valera (who I met in Santa Maria de Nieva last year who is attempting to develop ecotourism in their region and who supposedly obtained official permission for our visit), Eusebio Chumpi (an Awajún apu of the village of Nahén upstream), Manasés Chumpi (son of Eusebio and apu of the village of Mahush near Nahén), Yolanda Chumpi (Eusebio's wife).  The three mestizo local residents accompanying us were Luciano Troyes (a Mestizo environmentalist who lives in Jaén, runs an ecotourist lodge, who is opposed to the dams, and who also supposedly obtained official permission for our visit), Noe Piedra (a mestizo friend of ours from El Muyo), and Brenilda Piedra (Noe's sister, also from El Muyo). We also had Pedro Pena (one of my co-guides from Lunahuana near Lima), Julio Baca (another of my co-giudes from Cusco), and Jesús Quiroz (a teacher/environmentalist from Celendín who is an anti-dam activist). 

   Briefly, in the village meeting, we were seated in front of the apu of the village (wearing a crossed bead adornment), an Awajún lawyer, the head of their general assembly, and a reporter, while several hundred Awajún villagers crowded around behind them. It was quite the show. No photos were allowed by us, while the reporter took photos freely  Each of the main leaders went on to give speeches about our arrival. One of them read aloud the permission letter sent to them from ORPIAN-P (la Organización Regional de los Pueblos Indígenas de la Amazonia Norte del Perú) that announced we would be arriving on Oct26.  At least two of them stated that they did not recognize this letter or give approval themselves or through their representative in the Indigenous council of Peru for our visit.  They stated they were therefore "surprised" at our arrival, and made clear what authorities they would recognize.  I gave a speech as to who we were, our motives as tourists, how I attempted to obtain official permission from the appropriate authorities, and offered my apologies for not obtaining it from the proper entities that they recognized.  I then requested such permission from them directly for us to pass by village and down the river 18 km further to Imacita.  The lawyer guy spoke more, and was particularly fervent at rousing the crowd, citing indigenous rights, the Curva del Diablo protest/killings a few years ago, how their people needed to continue to unite and see proper development in their interests, how the many dams planned on the river could destroy/dislocate many of their people, how they needed to really know of all foreigner's motives, and how it was still widely believed by their people that gringos arrive to kill their people and take fat and organs away, among other things.  More speeches were given by various folks, including Segundo (who was introducing us and supposedly translating what I stated in Castellano to Awajún, but was criticized for putting in his own words), Luciano (whose comments were much more well received as to us being environmentalists), Eusebio (who spoke in Awajún and was shouted down quickly by the villagers there, probably because they thought he was getting paid by us), and several villagers (some expressing fears and concerns about development and how they might not be ready for tourists). In the end, however, they accepted my apology and gave us permission to pass in peace, having every leader (and lots of villagers) sign a document to this effect, as well as having each one of our group also sign.  A round of banana drink came out for us all, as well as some corn-on-the-cob, and many villagers became friendly.  

In my opinion, the reporter and lawyer were obviously there anticipating our arrival in order to make their statements widely publicized. Segundo thought it was more like part of a struggle of political parties for control of their government.  Luciano said that all the other communities he knew of respected and listened to ORPIAN, especially those downstream.  I had a lot of interactions with both Awajún and Ashaninka the previous year on the exploratory Amazon headwaters descents. You can read an article (the C&K online link also above) that I wrote about my encounters with the Ashaninka at: 

Erik Weihenmayer
Erik's joining the trip from Balsas to Puerto Miyeta want very smoothly and was a great experience for him and the crew he brought along.  Erik was one of the main reasons the trip was planned initially with dates adjusted so he could accompany the No Barriers Soldiers-2-Summits crew in the Cusco area just before.  I met Erik, Skyler, Harlan, SteveM, KellyM, Michele and Chris in Cajamarca soon after many of them arrived on October 15. We finished food shopping for the Lower, soaked in Baños del Inca, then made it back to Celendín where we spent the night. The following morning we were back at Balsas packing and rigging again, then off about 4 pm.  Erik kayaked well despite being blind.  The bigger water wide Grand Canyon-like rapids below Balsas were particularly enjoyable for him and his crew, and great training for his planned full Grand Canyon Colorado run next year.  While Erik did kayak a large section of the river with lots of the class III-IV rapids, he also got a GI bug and felt sick two days, so rode on a raft some of the time, but still paddled many of the big rapids.  Due to being away so long for the mountaineering stuff beforehand, he cut his trip a bit short by taking out at Puerto Miyeta (9 days; 8 days on the water) at the first easy road access at the end of the Grand Canyon Amazon section. There, Erik, Harlan, Sklyer, SteveM, Sadia and Peter all took out and made it to Chiclayo in a private combi (800NS or 100NS/person) in 8.0 hr total. All folks there caught their flights back on time, with at least 1-2 hr to spare.



Sep26: Everyone is in Lima; rendezvous in Miraflores at Friend's House and Chris Meyer's house.
Sep27: Depart Lima; large bus for everyone plus smaller combi "Sprinter" for the gear.  We get out by 9 am and are in Chavin after dusk (7 pm). We had to get an additional pickup to lighten the load on the dirt roads near Chavin. Hotel paid for in Chavin for everyone.

Sep28 (Day1) 0 km. Leave Chavin at 7:30 am; ruins not open until 9am, so we miss them. We arrive to river a little after noon - gated access to put-in now so I pay the owners for it now and will do so in the future. Rigging most of afternoon. River is low - about 50 cms/1600 cfs.  About 6 kayakers go up and run the 6 km class III-IV section from P.Copuma to put-in point.  We camp at put-in.  Pasta dinner.

Sep29 (Day2) 25 km; class III-IV.
  Finish rigging. Leave a few items at casa nearby. Enga and others give safety talk. At first class III Neil gets heavy cataraft stuck on a rock, but soon wiggles off.  All seems to go well otherwise here and in Jata (first IV) which several folks elect not to row (Julio and I row several rafts through). Yesojirca Narrows are easily passed with kayaks off the rafts.  We camp a little ways down on RL.  Camp km 25 RL. Steak/salmon dinner.

Sep30 (Day3) 33 km; class III-IV.  Some III in morning. Hike Q. Huanapampa to nice narrows and little falls/climbs. Bruce got ahead and misses lunch there. Pass Rio Yanamayo - two channels a bit of branches to avoid.  Pauca is more like a IV according to some. We scout Pachachin (III-IV) high on RL which reveals easier raft route in RR channel.  Camp km 58 RR. Kebab dinner.

Oct1 (Day4) 29 km; class III-IV. Several folks feeling GI problems (Suzy, Steve, Bruce are bad - two take cipro; John, Glenn, Joe not good).  Q. Sachachin hike in morning across river - very nice milky white water and walk under boulders to falls.  Good class III section to start - some II-III after. Meet guy on side who gives us bananas just upstream of our lunch spot. Lou-Phi kayaks but flips in a III and gets banged up on swim. Late in day we all go into Shapalmonte (IV) without side scouting - rafts get thrown to center & RR. Lou-Phi jumps off cataraft and hit wall by raft.  Camp is smaller than I thought but folks frazzled and it's late. A bit of rain at night - river gets some silt that clears later.  Camp km 87 RR (small). Pasta dinner (Lacey).

Oct2 (Day5) 29 km; class III. Lots of IIIs today. Pass Huacrachuco and stop briefly. See USA/Peruvian dam survey crew at Puente Jitaraxan - flow is 68 cms.  Peter is not there so I arrange a message to get to him to meet us at the hot springs downstream.  Enter beautiful canyon section and camp at ideal big beach before Cañas.  Camp km 116 RL.  Tamale dinner. 

Oct3 (Day6) 18 km; class III.  Day starts with stop at Q.Cañas - awesome short side hike like GCC. Stop late morning at fallen bridge and go up to Huchus since invited by villagers. Lunch here or snacks only.  Spend 2+ hrs here.  Downstream, great surf wave below R.Actuy. Make it to Aguas Termales and camp. Folks generally against layover here but it rains later and several change their mind.   Camp km 134 RL. Panang curry dinner.

Oct4 (Day7) 0 km.  LAYOVER. Decided in morning.  Graham not well. Hike to get water.  Relaxing/hanging out. Partly sunny. A little more rain. Water turns muddy in rio.  Camp km 134 RL. Enchilada dinner. 

Oct5 (Day8) 29 km; class IV.   In Mayas, Boris doesn't scout and flips. Suzy in IK left not knowing what to do - Julio and I help her get through (put on raft; ghost boat her IK down). Lunch just after. Ihauno is great fun.  Farther I try to figure how far to go to camp and find excellent big "Grapevine"-like playa RR. Camp km 156 RR. Burrito dinner (Lacey).  

Oct6 (Day9) 5 km; class V and IV. Wasson's.  Raining in morning - water crashing down opposite side. We get to Wasson's and folks carry their bags down while scouting. Julio, Pedro and I get most kayaks though and rafts through first part with help from Enga, Dave, Sadia, Boris, Joe. Boris helps coordinate lower lining. It's late. Julio, Pedro and I run rafts through next IV. We direct folks through next IV. Then we all paddle quickly tough section including Rupaybamba (IV) to camp at Chayalo.   Camp km 161 RR. Chicken/gravy dinner.  Suzy b-day.

Oct7 (Day10) 26 km; class IV. Chayalo is tough some don't run. Get to Llamara and folks carry bags RL, but ends up fairly easy to get rafts to RL channel, so Julio, Pedro and I run the rafts through and each run an extra kayak through. Some kayakers run the whole thing (Enga, Sadia, Graham).   Camp km 187 RL. Lasagna dinner. 

Oct8 (Day11) 33 km; class IV. Get to Carrizal and scout long time RR. I run first raft but lose oar and go into wall, but make it through. Paul not feeling well today so on raft. Julio & Pedro run other rafts, but Joe takes his own and makes it RR easier line.  Hike and lunch up Q.Carrizal is well worth it to long narrows. Stop Rio San Miguel for a while.  Nobody scouts Pumurgo but all fine. Some kayakers go past camp near Vijus and carry back up. Joe stays night in town to charge batteries.  Camp km 13 RL (end 207). Grilled cheese/chowder dinner (Lacey). 

Oct9 (Day12) 20 km; class II-III. Do shopping in morning at Vijus - nice folks there. Lunch but no hike done.  Lower Gansul wave is awesome. Continue to camp at salty low area across from Rio Lavasen.    Camp km 33 RL. Chicken/Lentils/Fries dinner. 

Oct10 (Day13) 22 km; class I-II. Hike up quebradas by camp - fun climbs as chicharras whizzing loudly. Then mud blowout hike to multi-colored area. Need more time to do it fully - back at 11 am. Next time to lunch here.  Down to Q.Huertas Viejas (RL) where we have lunch and some hike, but heat keeps many in shade. Cool narrows.  Then early afternoon arrive at Calemar and walk through town - nice residents. Popsicles, cerveza, lunch here next time. Visit Ciro Alegrías house. Beautiful scenery around Chusgon confluence. Make it to Rio Chocla camp - very nice just downstream of the confluence.   Camp km 55 RR. Spaghetti dinner.  

Oct11 (Day14) 0 km; LAYOVER.  Decided night before 8 favor 6 not. Great clean clear stream. High shady area under mango trees.  Decent hiking can be done.  Several of us venture up the side canyon. Locals call this Rio Santa Maria.  Several join us for dinner.    Camp km 55 RR. Pork&Beans dinner (Lacey).

Oct12 (Day15) 33 km; class II.   Stop and go for hike into Hacienda Chuquiten and up Rio Chon Chon - like Bright Angel trail.   Lunch just downstream. Then pass R.Crisnejas and marvel at Muro Poso.  Camp km 88 RR. Indian dinner. 

Oct13 (Day16) 28 km; class II.  No stop at Sute. Go down to R.Molino - check out some ruins (not Incan) but I find my friend later and he shows us the Incan ruins there. Rio Molino hike not worth it. Others go down to Llanten and do hike to narrows, then lunch. Suzy flips in class III Llanten. Scout Samosierra; local guy rushes out and wants to watch - gives us bananas. All do well but group separates a bit in rapid. I hang with John at end.  Camp km 116 RL. CauCau dinner (Lacey). 

Oct14 (Day17) 33 km; class IV. Off early and all are at Balsas bridge by 11 am.  Walk around Chacanto - buy some items. I see Tomás and wife.  We decide to paddle 2 km down to Balsas and leave/pack things there with Alciviales and neighboring hostel. Lunch there. Everyone decides to go up to Celendin. Combi and taxi waiting for us.  We are unloaded and going up around 3-4 pm. Stay in Hotel Villa Madrid.     HOTEL 149 RL. RESTAURANT dinner. 
Oct15 (Day18) 0 km; EXCHANGE DAY; Most folks in Celendin all day. I go with Lacey, Glenn and Bruce to Cajamarca. Meet Skyler, Erik, SteveM, Harlan, Michel, and Chris. Do shopping. Raining well all day. Soak at Baños del Inca. Back to Celendin and hotel. I meet Jesus and he's psyched to come on trip.    HOTEL km 149 RL. RESTAURANT dinner. 

Oct16 (Day19) 11 km; class II.  Return to river from Celendin in 3 combis. One has flat tire. Another has gas tank fall off and break window. Third on (which I'm in) has brake problems and runs into wall. Michel comes in taxi and a few of us make it down with him- other combi goes up to bring rest of crew down.  We have lunch then lots of time repacking/re-rigging at Balsas. Depart by 4pm.  Rain that evening.  Camp km 11 RL. Tamale dinner. 

Oct17 (Day20) 25 km; class III. River up another 1-2 ft in morning, so about 2 m higher at Balsas gauge and est. 700 cms (22000 cfs). Running muddy with trees/debris coming down.  Get to Playa El Cura and hike around 2+ hr in morning - to piscina, ruins, skeleton (but I goof and several folks don't stay with me and don't find it).  Wilson Guevarra is nice - gives us pacay. Lunch here.  Then downstream II-III stuff; Erik does well. Two Channels rapid is nothing. Get to El Choclón and we find drinking water there so camp. Some rain.   Camp km 36 RR Locro dinner. 

Oct18 (Day21) 9 km; class III-IV. Folks do well in El Choclón - tougher at high water, but still can avoid most of it RR. Around bend to right is tougher part (overall III-IV).  Yangas/Santa Rosa has a great surf wave on RR - good class III.  We are at Mendán late morning and walk into town - a woman is suspicious of us. Simon Mejia (ronda head) comes by and suggests we stay the evening to have a meeting with the town. [some call this sequestering us]  I have a meeting with him and a few others in the afternoon and show film. We stay the rest of the day. Return for lunch and set up camp. Rains again and high winds tear Kelty rain fly. Go on hike in town - not really any ruins, but nice to go up hill by town. Some play soccer game with locals (tie). Return to camp and make dinner, but then return for evening meeting where I show film again and speeches by me, Jesus, Julio and others in town.  In end we sign a sheet stating what happened, and will inform them when we are to rerurn again.  We will be welcomed next time.  Camp km 45 RR. Lomo saltado dinner. 

Oct19 (Day22) 26 km; class IV. The head of the ronda from Tupén Grande came to our camp in the morning and we gave him a ride back to their village for a meeting there. He asked us to stay the evening but I convinced him we had to move on, so we just went into the pueblo and had an ad hoc meeting that morning with whoever could show up. I gave a speech again, and we heard speeches from several residents - some were still quite suspicious of us but I think most were convinced and welcoming in the end.  I make a donation to the village. Next time I say we'll spend a layover here and do the hike up to Talap (the cool ruins 5 hr walk up the mountain).  Then onto rapids - Tupen Grande is a multi-part class III-IV but folks don't stop and wait at bottom. I stop everyone 2 km down and have a meeting sternly calling for everyone to regroup at the bottom of each bigger rapid.  At San Lucas, we stop to scout at the top, but we can't see most of it since it's 1 km long. We go in and Pedro is signaling the rafts to move RR, but most don't make it so go over the big waves/holes on RL. It's exciting but all make it through fine. This rapid is still really big at high water - about class IV difficulty (maybe still III on far RR). We get water at spring and then go down and camp at the Chadin II dam site beach (small) with lots of driftwood.  Camp km 71 RR. Lasagna dinner. 

Oct20 (Day23) 11 km; class IV. We take off and get to Playa El Inca, and hike up a bit to scout and then up to some tomb ruins. Pedro doesn't take folks up there though, so only a few of us go up. There's an anti-dam poster on the casa. We make it though the Playa El Inca rapids (3 parts: class III-IV) without problems and all folks wait at bottom.  Make it to Magdalena and have lunch, then a few of us go on hike up the side canyon.  Warm water is nice to sit in. Magdalena (IV) looks easy and can avoid the waves/holes on RL but all rafts miss line and go through the meat. Also four of them are coming at once.  Kayakers had so much fun were walking back up to run again.  Bad situation but all make it though fine. [Sadia drops her boat and has to swim across river]. Through some more IIIs then to nice big camp RL across from huerta/quebrada.    Camp km 87 RL. Burrito dinner (Lacey). 

Oct21 (Day24) 20 km; class IV. In morning I make friends with the local campesino resident across the river and we all go up to see his huerta and a small chorrera (waterfall). He gives us oranges. Nice hike through lush foliage.  I try to have folks take picts in next III (Artesamayo) - Michel and Skyler get out to photo but stop too far up and take long time. Folks waiting a long time and some go down past the Quebrada Vaqueria hike just downstream and can't get back up.  Joe, Enga and I still do the short hike to the narrows and find the others with lunch ready at the end of the class III rapid. After more IIs and IIIs we arrive at Linlín (IV) - which is the toughest rapid at low water. The high water opened up an easy kayak route on far RL. Rafts can even make an easier run on RL side of main channel - all rafts go this way. Kayaks go either this way or through the meat on RR.  Long time scouting and running this one.  7 km downstream we get to Totora (IV) and kayakers are comfortable going with boat-scouting. I stop on RR at top but Lacey goes down RL where kayakers went.  Other rafters come over to RR and take nicer route over huge wave - exciting! We camp a little downstream on RR. Gold panniers are camped out nearby. Rain.  Camp km 107 RL. Indian dinner. 

Oct22 (Day25) 23 km; class III. Rainy morning but soon ends and tents dry before packing up. We make it to Saura and scout/run this III to III+ which is super fun wide open big waves.  Fairly mellow down to Q.Aguablanca (km 107) where we stop and hike to cool waterfalls/pools, then have lunch.  Stop at Puerto Churro and talk to Reina and her kids again - very friendly - she brings us some papayas. Suzy donates some shoes to her.  Stop and enter the "Amazon Cavern" - like a Redwall Cavern but deeper - amazing inside.  Then down to Silaco confluence  where we camp across rio. Pretty sunset.   Camp km 130 RR. Pasta dinner (Lacey). 

Oct23 (Day26) 44 km; class III then I-II.
Get going early - through last two class III rapids but miss first Chununa take-out point to meet combi driver (for Erik and crew to Chiclayo). Meet him at Puerto Mayeta instead, which is better take-out anyway. Send them off with kayaks to go to Luciano (Jaen) for 800NS - they are off 10:30am; in Chiclayo at hotel 6:30pm. Flights are at 10pm. Sadia, Peter, Skyler and Steve go with Erik and Harlan so split costs (100NS each).  Good shorter trip end point.  We pick up water, some more beer and a few groceries there, then continue through some more II and then flat river with good current the rest of day. Winds picking up later afternoon but we find a wonderful beach camp free of bugs and protected from wind.  Camp km 174 RL. Indian dinner. 

Oct24 (Day27) 42 km; class I-II. Tour local orchards and give tip for bananas/mangos to local guys. We stop at Baños Almendral by R.Chamaya confluence and check out - some hot spring from ground but most in Roman baths. Little fee to use - I wash and shave and others soak - others skip the excursion and go right down to Corral Quemado.  We all meet there, have coco helado and most eat lunch in restaurant (good plan). Fill up water there. Onward downstream - winds not bad until past Bellavista. Stop Bellavista and meet Luciano Troyes who delivers some groceries - will meet us in 2 days at Montenegro. Nice scenic mellow paddle.  We find a camp on RL near wall protected. Few bugs.   Camp km 30 (+186) RL. Fish/fries/lentils dinner. 

Oct25 (Day28) 46 km; class III. Make it into Pongo Rentema and meet Segundo, who we'll meet again later that day in Tutumberos. Chinchipe and Utcubamba boost flow to 1000-1200 cms (35000-40000 cfs).  The high water covers up some rapids, but main rapid is still class III.  Berty's Bluff is still III+ huge waves. Eat lunch on beach RR just downstream of there before La Libertad bridge. Stop in El Muyo where I meet Noe/Brenilda - we buy a few items and have fun with the kids swarming around the rafts.  We continue downstream with Noe/Brenilda and then stop in Tutumberos - nice playspot there.  Apu leads us to a little falls with pool . A woman tries to sell some necklaces/etc.  They want us to camp there but Eusebio is there and says we can go down to Mahush where there's a nice beach, so we continue down.  Lots of villagers there- meet Manases - communicate via radio to communities downstream.  Camp km 76 RL. Spaghetti dinner. 

Oct26 (Day29) 18 km; class III-IV.  Morning spent in the village - soccer game and then go up to get new gas tank in Montenegro and visit another little side waterfall in lush jungle.  Then back for a little taste of traditional foods.  We're then off downstream with Eusebio, Manases and Yolanda (Eusebio's wife) and a few others (Segundo, Luciano,  Noe, Brenilda Jesus and a few others from Mahush we take only a short way). . They have a  few PFDs - good because we are short.   Pongos are impressive fun big water class III rapids but some areas are IV and sure raft flippers. Everyone waits below each big one but most folks never stop to scout any.  We make it to a great beach below Durucachi and camp. Walk up to find local family of Gilberto (relative of Eusebio's) who are quite friendly.  Last night!   Camp km 94 RL. Indian dinner. 

Oct27 (Day30) 32 km; class III then I-II. Final rapid of Panqui and then one easier II+, then river gets mellow and opens out from gorge.  We are stopped at Yupicusa by the entire village of hundreds on RR. No photos as we are marched to village and seated in front to give and hear speeches.  Some folks are passionate - hear many things but in the end "we are all human beings and deserve respect" - they just don't recognize ORPIAN-P and want to get permission from them or the other indigenous council member.   We get permission this time to continue to Imacita. This is a delay of 2-3 hr but worth it to establish good relations with them.  We take off, have lunch on the water as current still moves us quickly downstream and are in IMacita by 2 pm. We derig, but it rains so things wet.  We take 2 combos, a pickup and a taxi back to Bagua (3.5 hr ride) unload the gear at transport place, and get to hotel.  END km 126 RR. 

Oct28 (Day31) BAGUA. Several depart early for Tarapoto - others later in morning. Pedro, Dave, Chris and I spend most of day drying/organizing/cleaning the gear. BAGUA 

Oct29 (Day32) TARAPOTO. Pedro takes off to Lima next day on bus.  The rest of us with Kelly take taxi collectives to Utcubamba and Tarapoto - 7.5 hr total.  Hop on flight back to Lima.    TARAPOTO/LIMA 



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 several short and exciting class III rapids.  The thrill meter soon shot up as we approached  couple class IV-V boulder-choked cascades, sections of which we portaged or lined, mile-long fun rapids with no apparent end in sight, and an exciting long class IV-V monster consisting of huge waves and holes unlike anything I have seen on the Grand Canyon.  Then, we would find ourselves relaxing on a long, flat, braided section followed by several impressive 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.  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. 

Most folks on the trip are guides or experienced rafters or kayakers:

Rocky Contos (San Diego, CA) is trip leader/guide. I paddled the entire Marañon river in 2012, as well as all headwaters of the Amazon. You can read a little more about me at BIO.
Pedro Peña (Lunahuana, Peru) is a bilingual class V kayaker/raft guide with extensive experience guiding the Cañete, Apurimac, Urubamba, and Futaleufu. He has run the Lower Marañon starting at Balsas >3 times. He accompanied me on the Apurimac descent in 2012 and will be my main co-guide for the trip. Pedro will likely lead trips in the future. 
Julio Baca (Cusco, Peru) is a bilingual class V kayaker/raft guide with extensive experience guiding the Apurimac, Tambopata, Urubamba, Trancura and Fualeufu. Julio helped me guide an Apurimac trip in 2012 for Erik Weihenmayer's group.
Kelly Kellstadt (SantaFe, NM) ran a kayak/raft outfit in New Mexico for many years, organized many trips down the GC of the Colorado (GCC), and will likely be kayaking much of the time but can row some too.  
Lacey Anderson (Joshua Tree, CA) has been a raft guide (American River, MF Salmon/Salmon, Green-Colorado) but now usually uses a small cataraft that she'll be bringing with her. She's also done numerous rivers with me in Mexico and is great at food organization/prep - actually she has a "No Coolers" cookbook out and a blog.  Lacey will organize 1/3 of the food.  
Neil Nikirk (Joshua Tree, CA) has tons of experience on class IV rivers, has done some in Mexico, and will row a raft 1/2 or all the time. 
Dave O'Keefe (Bali) is a good friend of mine who has done two GCC trips with me and many rivers in the NW - he likes to row but can also kayak the class III days.  
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 last year for a few weeks. He has run/organized several GCC trips and done most major rivers in the West. 
Suzy Garren (Oakland, CA) has come on GCC and Usumacinta trips with me and helped on two GCC commercial trips, will be in a raft/IK/kayak and will be helping me out with food.  
Sadia Lone (FortCollins, CO) is a former raft guide (Canada) and class IV kayaker who will be bringing a kayak down.
Bruce Bradshaw (Denver, CO) is an experienced kayaker/rafter who has organized several GCC trips and knows Sadia (they did a MF Salmon trip together this summer). 
Paul Chapman (Melbourne, Australia) is a class IV kayaker who's run the Franklin and other rivers with his dad Glenn
Glenn Chapman, dad of Paul will be a raft paddler on this trip.  
Graham Fitter is NE class IV boater who has paddled the GCC, in New Zealand and other places.  
John Stephan (Atlanta, GA) is a class V kayaker who has paddled the GCC and a lot in Costa Rica, Ecuador, all over the USA and knows key friends of mine.  
Enga Lokey (Australia) is a professional GCC guide and very experienced kayaker/rafter.  
Steve Jones (Berkeley, CA) is a former raft guide for the UCB outdoor program, guide on FOR trips, has organized a GCC trip and two Tat/Alsek trips, and works as a chemist, but is in between jobs - he'd be rowing but can kayak class III.  
Joe Anderson (Portland, OR) is an anesthesiologist who has kayaked GCC 14X and rowed it 3X, as well as the Salmon 8X and many other multi-days - he will be our main medic on the trip. 
Michel de Ruyck (Bali) a Belgian dive instructor who lives in Bali and is a friend of Dave's (will be on a raft most of the time).
Chris Meyer (Idaho) is living in Lima with wife Karen Kuzis until 2015 and has done tons of raft trips on the MF/Main Salmon and similar rios in the West, as well as other locales like Sri Lanka.

The group entering on the Lower is mostly composed of Erik Weihenmayer (Colorado) and various guides. Erik is a well-known blind mountain climber for whom I've been organizing various kayak expeditions such as the Usumacinta and Apurimac/Yanatile.  You can read an OUTSIDE article about him here that just came out about his bid to kayak every rapid in the Grand Canyon next year.  Of the additional folks coming with Erik are:  

Erik Weihenmayer (Colorado) is training to paddle every rapid in the Grand Canyon Colorado.
Skyler Williams (Colorado) is Erik's main buddy/coordinator going around to his various talks, and a class III-IV kayaker.  
Steve Mace (Colorado) is a class V kayaker who joined us on the Apurimac and can help guide Erik on the water. 
Harlan Tanney (Flagstaff) is a professional Grand Canyon Colorado (GCC) guides 
Kelly McGrath (Flagstaff) is a professional Grand Canyon Colorado (GCC) guides.

 Harlan, Steve, I, and possibly Julio will be guiding Erik on the water.  Kelly will row a raft.  Most of those guys are doing a Soldiers-2-Summits trip just beforehand in the Cusco area - taking vets trekking and up some mountains. Also entering on the Lower is Michel de Ruyck (from Bali; dive instructor/tour operator). 

Upper: Sep28-Oct15 Lower: Oct15-28 --
Rocky Contos (guide; kayak) Rocky Contos (guide; kayak) full-trip
2 Pedro Peña (guide; kayak) Pedro Peña (guide; kayak) full-trip
3 Julio Baca (guide; kayak) Julio Baca (guide; kayak) full-trip
4 Kelly Kellstadt (kayak) Kelly Kellstadt (kayak) full-trip
5 Neil Nikirk (raft2)  Neil Nikirk (raft2)  full-trip
Lacey Anderson (small cat) Lacey Anderson (small cat) full-trip
7 Dave O'Keefe (raft3) Dave O'Keefe (raft3) full-trip
8 Boris Trgovcich (IK/raft) Boris Trgovcich (IK/raft) full-trip
9 Suzy Garren (raft/IK) 40th B-day Oct6 Suzy Garren (raft/IK) full-trip
10 Enga Lokey (kayak) Enga Lokey (kayak) full-trip
11 Steve Jones (raft4) Steve Jones (raft4) full-trip
12 Joe Anderson (raft1/kayak) Joe Anderson (raft/kayak) full-trip
13 Sadia Lone (kayak) Sadia Lone (kayak) full-trip
---------- ----------
14 John Stephan (kayak) Erik Weihenmayer (kayak) half-trips
15    Paul Chapman (kayak) Skyler Williams (kayak)  half-trips
16 Glenn Chapman (raft) Harlan Tanney (kayak) half-trips
17 Graham Fitter (kayak) Steve Mace (kayak) half-trips
18 Sadia Lone (kayak) Kelly McGrath (raft1) half-trips
19 Bruce Bradshaw (kayak/raft1) Michel de Ruyck (raft) half-trips
20 Lou-Phi Loncke (raft) Peter Gandesbery (kayak) half-trips
21 Chris Meyer (raft) half-trips
22 Jesus Quiroz (raft) half-trips

Boat condition size range --------- Upper Lower
16' NRS cataraft (w/NRS frame)  2012 - --------- Neil KellyM
16' RMR cataraft (w/NRS frame) 2013 - --------- Joe Joe
16' RMR self-bailer (w/NRS frame) 2013 - --------- SteveJ SteveJ
14' RMR self-bailer (w/NRS frame) 2013 - --------- Dave Dave
13' cataraft (Lacey's) - - --------- Lacey Lacey
- - - --------- - -
Kayak: Liquid Logic Stomper 90 2012 170-270lb --------- John Erik
Kayak: Wavesport Diesel 70 2013 120-190lb --------- Enga Skyler
Kayak: Wavesport Stubby 2000 100-220lb --------- Sadia SteveM
Kayak: Dagger Mamba 8.1 2013 150-200lb --------- KellyK KellyK
Kayak: Dagger Nomad 8.1 2013 110-190lb --------- Paul Harlan
Kayak: Dagger Axiom 8.0 2013 90-150lb --------- Graham Enga
Kayak: Prijon Embudo 2004 110-250lb --------- Bruce Joe
Kayak: Prijon Rockit 1999 100-200lb --------- Rocky Rocky
- - - --------- - -
Kayak: Liquid Logic Jefe (Julio's) - - --------- Julio Julio
Kayak: Dagger Nomad 8.1 (Pedro's) - - --------- Pedro Pedro
Kayak: Exo XT300 (borrowed) 2012 - --------- Peter Peter
- - - --------- - -
IK: Tributary Strike II 2013 - --------- Boris Boris
IK: NRS Bandit II 2012 - --------- Suzy Suzy
- - --------- - -
Raft passenger/paddler - - --------- Glenn Michel
Raft passenger/paddler - - --------- - various