Friday, October 31, 2008

Río Mapacho: V - Day 4

The gettin´ gits good!

As we staggered into camp the previous afternoon exhausted from portaging half of the last three km, we were pretty unenthused to see the next rapid. Just below camp, the river divided around, under, and through more big boulders in a steep drop. It seemed like the seives of Orange Canyon continued for quite some distance. Upon closer inspection, however, the rapid looked very manageable. We got to start our day off with a steep class V, one of the best rapids of the trip.
The rapid, dubbed ¨Buenas Dias,¨ was particularly intimidating because our warm-up consisted of a dicy seal launch and paddling around in a 20-foot pool above the rapid. The twisting channel was only about 5 feet wide and required a couple boofs into cross-currents, the second one landing between a sticky hole and an undercut. In the end, we all made our way through the rapid unscathed with big smiles, and started looking forward to the day to come.

Peruvian topo maps are most widely available in the 30´quadrangle series. The entire run on the Río Mapacho spans five of these maps; we were able to get one of them. Conveniently, we arrived on the map the day before, around lunchtime. The map indicated that our gradient was tapering off from the afternoon before, but we still had five kilometers to Puente Sahuay, the landmark indicating the end of Orange Canyon. In spite of a great wake-up rapid, we were fearing a torturous morning of portages.

Below Buenas Dias, the river indeed opened up. We took turns leading through class III boulder gardens until a horizon line where one of us got out to scout. It turned out to be another clean class IV with a great boof. Such was the character of the river for the next several miles. The enormous orange boulders disappeared and gave way to black gorge walls. We saw fewer and fewer undercuts and, to our delight, not a single portage.

Mike and Kase below Orange Canyon. You can sort of make out the elevation drop of the rapid hidden behind the river-right wall

We had a few more scouts and plenty of good class III/IV whitewater leading up to the welcome sight of the Puente Sahuay bridge.
The road doesn´t cross here, but does come within a few hundred feet of the river on the left. From here it switchbacks up and out of the canyon, into the neighboring Yantile River valley which is more populated. This is an optional take-out/resupply/evacuation point, but traffic is non-existent and the hike out would be....long.

Zak at Puente Sahuay

Below Puente Sahuay, we enjoyed several more miles of continuous, mindless class III boogey water. We were all able to relax a bit and pound out some much needed miles (We were already a full day behind the 7-day schedule.) We left Puente Sahuay around 10:30 and by noon, we were cold, hungry, and opted for a long lunch break. It may not have been the best time to subject ourselves to food comas, because some of the biggest whitewater of the trip waited just downstream. Just before lunch we stopped briefly to talk with a local who was setting up his fishing lines. He gave us a bunch of fresh oranges and avocados. When we inquired about what lay downstream, ¨mas saltos,¨(more waterfalls) he said. ¨Mas saltos.¨

We didn´t really know what to expect, but the topo map indicated a single kilometer dropping 50m, a gradient of 250 fpm. Shortly after lunch we saw why. We arrived at a major horizon line, with no view of the river below, except for the huge boulders and narrow canyon. Scouting looked great on the left so I made my way over to an eddy. Kase and Dave on the other hand, seemed to be considering boat scouting. Kase hovered just above the lip of the drop giving it a close look, then looked at us with a big grin and disappeared over the edge with a right boof stroke.

I didn´t know what to think, but Kase seemed to feel it was good to go. One by one, Dave and Zak followed suit and vanished. I joined Mike in the ¨scouting¨eddy and was able to see the rest of the team down below. About 20 vertical feet below. Intimidating as the gradient was, we were getting hand signals that it was clean. Mike dropped off next leaving me separated from the group by a steep, unscouted class V drop.

Mike on the entrance ledge. The boulders obsure the view of the bottom half of this drop.

From the pool above I couldn´t see much of the first drop, but they said boof left. I could see that the second part was a slide with a tight line between piton rocks and the right wall. After that, no ideas. So I took a couple breaths and went for it. I got a running start towards the lip and launched off the ten-footer with a hard boof. I kept the boat flat in the air, landed with a loud splat and started driving right for the next slide.

I don´t even remember the rest of the rapid. I went screaming past the other guys in an eddy below the slide and I vaguely recollect going deep into a pillow and resurfacing like a breaching whale, only upright. Or perhaps it was more like a dolphin saying ¨so long and thanks for all the fish.¨ Anyway, I kept the upside up and parked in a pool below feeling elated with what was by far the largest drop I´d ever run blind.

Mike on a rapid shortly below the big one

For the next half-mile or so, we continued to run class IV+ and V rapids without scouting, thanks to incredible probe work and good communication from Kase. Eventually the class V´s vanished and we kept momentum going through several miles of good class IV whitewater.

Mike evading focus but nailing a boof

Around three in the afternoon, we started looking for a camp and quickly stumbled upon a great beach hidden by boulders. We lost a lot of elevation today, and the canyon was starting to show signs of the jungle. Namely, a banana tree in camp, a small plot of coca (as in cocaine) plants, and spiders the size of my hand.

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