Friday, October 31, 2008

Río Paucartambo/Mapacho: V - Day 1

A Grand Farewell

It´s not like we knew any of them, but we seemed to be pretty big news for the residents of the colonial pueblo of Paucartambo. Hundreds of people gathered on the historic stone bridge and the village flood walls to watch our departure, ignoring the local parade a couple blocks over. Here were five gringos sitting in colorful plastic potatoes talking about travelling by river from their mountain town to the jungle 8,000 feet below. Since its first descent in 1986, there have likely only been about ten complete descents of the Paucartambo River, several of which have started further downstream and the end of the valley. It´s entirely possible that many of these locals have never seen kayakers before, hence their excitement to play with our equipment and wave us off into the canyon.

Anticipation for this trip had been building for over a month when we first discussed this run amongst other Peruvian destinations. Initially, I was only moderately serious about considering the Paucartambo. The three pictures I´d seen looked pretty, but write-ups warned of strenuous portaging over unstable landslides, continuous class V dropping 250 feet/mile, and something about an unscoutable, unportageable class VI gorge. However, as our team assembled and we acquired more beta, our hopes rose and we started planning our entire trip around running the Paucartambo before the rainy season hit.

This river goes by many names. Road maps and kayakers refer to it as the Paucartambo. Locally, it´s known as the Mapacho for much of its length until the final stretches where it winds through the jungle under the name Yavero. Our put-in was at nearly 10,000 feet above sea-level and over the course of 230 km (140 miles) the river drops to around 1,500 feet near the edge of the Amazonian Rainforest. Other teams had completed the run in five to eight days with full days on the water and strong teams. This is a full-on expedition with some fairly daunting statistics indeed.
Zak marvels at a trash avalanche into the river, reminding us that we´re still roadside

With our group of five, we chose to pack for ten days, nine nights on the water and take it slow, especially the first couple of days. The quantity of food in addition to our camping and emergency gear meant the heaviest boat I´d ever paddled. I had a trash bag full of bread sitting in my lap just to make everything fit in. Fortunately, the first day didn´t challenge us with any real whitewater.
Mike draws the attention of more locals downstream in the valley

After leaving the crowded bridge at Paucartambo, we started working our way through the 15 miles of braided channels and gravel bars in the lower end of this agricultural valley. After an hour or so, a local farmer waved us down to chat. We told him what we were up to and he offered us some of the hot boiled potatoes he was having for lunch.

Around 3:00, we had passed the town of Challabamba and the end of the real road, so we decided to call it a day. We found plenty of firewood to cook up our no-frills meal of soup and lentils, then got some rest for the next day´s whitewater.

on to day 2

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