Monday, October 13, 2008

Black Canyon of the Apurímac: IV+

After a great three days on the three day commercial section, we sought to explore some upper reaches of the Rio Apurímac. Our friend Dave had just arrived in Cusco with his gear and was eager to paddle, but Zak was getting sick, so our group was still at three. We received lots of conflicting local beta about the Black Canyon run, the most reliable source describing it as 5 km of stacked up full-on class V that was a good day trip. Upon learning that the last group of solid paddlers took 7 hours to do the run, we hired our taxi driver Lucio for the whole day and left town early. I was nervous.

Then I wasn´t sure if I should take it as a bad omen when we pulled over half and hour into the drive and my boat wasn´t on the roof of the car anymore.

Car minus one boat
For a few tense minutes, I was worried my kayaking vacation in Peru was already over, but shortly thereafter a van came up the road with my boat on top.

Eventually, we climbed over the pass, passed the town of Pacarritambo, and got a view into the canyon. For the next hour and a half, we slowly switchbacked down the dirt road to the put-in and Puente Tinco.

Our first view into the Black Canyon: lots of white down there!

The first mile of our run was flat with occasional class II rapids and we quickly realized that the flow here was much less than we had days earlier on the section downstream. We guessed the flow at 800 cfs. In the flat section we passed a small village with no road access where the locals were very intrigued to see us. One elder explained that their village was very poor and out of fishing lures and asked if we could help, but I´d left all my tackle at home for the day. They wished us well and we continued around the corner to the beginning of the gorge.

The first few rapids we came to were mellow boulder gardens with lots of options that we could easily boat scout, but then we got into mazes of boulders with terrible visibility and we got out to have a look. We saw a long series of drops going around the corner. There were lots of boofs in the three to five foot range with good recovery pools below. We chose the slots that looked the best and got back in our boats.

Dave boofing away

That turned into the pace for the next kilometer. We made very slow progress by scouting everything and mostly running together. Once we first scouted, almost nothing was boat scoutable. With more water, more of the channels would go. But at our low flow, there was lots of piton and pin potential. Fortunately, the water was moving slowly enough that we had plenty of time and eddies.

Mike finding his way through the sievey boulder gardens

Boof was definately the word/hand signal of the day. Every rapid had something small and vertical to fall off of. With the 20-30 boofable drops and low consequences, this run turned into some of the best boof practice I´ve ever had.

After the first kilometer of steep stuff, the gradient mellowed out and the river channelized more, so we started boat scouting again.

Towards the end of the run, we came to a fast twisty channel with a great launch pad at the bottom. Several children from the local village of Nayhua had come out to watch the crazy gringos run the cascades.

Dave shutter ruddering in the limelight

We boat scouted the final rapid with more good clean fun and an enthusiastic audience and then hiked up to the car.
Mike and Dave walking through the adobe alleyways

A day later, several of the rapids still stand out in memory. But if I were to go back, there would still be lots of scouting. All the seived-out boulder gardens with fun boofs just blend together.

Overall, we agreed that this was not a class V run. There were occasional class V consequences, but all the moves were class III/IV. It took us almost 6 hours to complete the run with lots of scouting, some videography, and no lunch break. We probably could have run it in four hours if we felt pressed for time. We also ran it in mid-October when the river was at its lowest point. With twice the flow, it would probably have the same difficulty. Above 1500 cfs, I can easily imagine this section being legitimate class V.


Ned said...

Hey Hey Hey!!!! Nice work you guys! Glad you made it out on an adventure. Pictures look sweet, and I wish I could be with you. My roommate and I have been discussing plans of a paddling trip to south america next semester, so let me know if your still going to be down there.

Gigo Castillo said...

if any of you go to Pucon in Chile send me a
and we can run some rivers in my home town

Brian Mc Donald said...

Are you guys interested in running the Colca? Send me a mail if you are, im looking for paddlers to join me.
I should be in Arequipa around wednesday