Running The Amazon, by Joe Kane, pub. by Alfred A. Knopf, NY, 1989, 277pp.
No one had ever done a source-to-sea expedition of the Amazon. A few had paddled or rafted short sections, but a previous attempt at running the entire river in 1976 ended when the expedition leader died within the first three minutes of having his boat in the water. About a half-dozen other attempts were made, two more people died, and none succeeded
The river gradient is five times greater than the Colorado River, and drops 13,000 feet in one 300 mile section. The American Whitewater Assoc. classification for rapids has six levels. Level six is labeled ’extreme.’ It reads, “These runs have almost never been attempted, and often exemplify the extremes of difficulty, unpredictability, and danger. The consequences of errors are very severe, and rescue may be impossible.” The Apurimac ran from threes to many sixes or off the scale.
The river’s source is in a snowfield high in the Andes Mountains. At 18,000 feet on the side of Mount Mismi, South America’s continental divide, their first challenge would be altitude sickness. The Apurimac River would shortly begin after a few miles of following the snowmelt stream. It led them into Black Canyon, one of the world’s deepest gorges, at more than twice the depth of the Grand Canyon. At one point the canyon rim perches two and a half miles above the river, or over 10,000 feet deep. The roar of the cascades is so great that the native Quechua name for the river translates to “The Great Speaker of God.”
The expedition started with a team of ten, nine men and one woman, the team doctor. It ended with four members by the time they had completed the 4,150 mile run. They introduce the reader to the river, jungle, small, sleepy native villages, drug-smuggling plantations, being shot at by guerilla gunmen, violent storms, equally violent confrontations among team members, and pretty much everything else you could expect from such an expedition. This is definitely a good read.