Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Demon River Apurimac

Demon River Apurimac: The First Navigation of the Upper Amazon Canyons, by J. Calvin Giddings, (pub. Univ. of Utah Press, Salt Lake City, 1996, 290 pp with appendices.)

Back on 25 August, I did another review of a book titled “Running the Amazon.” Unlike that book, which covered the full length of the Amazon, this book concentrates on just the headwaters of the Amazon, the Apurimac, the most difficult segment. It is interesting reading even if you, like myself, have no intention of venturing up into the Peruvian mountains. What this party went through is hard to even imagine, but this book puts you in closer contact with the experience than “Running the Amazon.” Part of that is the quality of the writing, and mostly it’s because they are concentrating in more detail on a shorter section of river.

They were paddling short pools, lining, and portaging around boulders as large as rooms, buses, and houses. Some they went over, some around, and some they even crawled under. They slept under some boulders for protection from falling rocks from the canyon walls. A whole grueling morning might have been spent moving 50 yards, or an entire day may have moved the group forward only a mile. Fatigue, stress, danger, and discomfort drove wedges between the members of the party. Eskimo rolls were almost as common as walking, and some members of the group had close brushes with death. On the plus side, they saw nature, wildlife, and scenery that only a handful of people can comprehend (beyond the highland indians that live there). They even climbed into the mountains to visit a long-lost Inca village.

Unlike the Grand Canyon, which Giddings has also paddled, the Apurimac is the Colorado River on steroids. Rather than miles across between the canyon walls as in the Grand Canyon, the canyons on the Apurimac are as narrow as 50 yards and not more than a couple hundred yards. The walls go up thousands of feet, up to 10,000 feet at one point and nearly block out the sky, drop rocks and boulders into the river below almost continuously, are often so sheer that there is no way to climb out and escape if there is a problem, and frequently polished so smooth that even a finger-hold cannot be found. Nights are spent on ledges too small for a tent. Portages are done along rock that offers no more than a toe-hold. After reading this, you will never be able to look upon your worst experiences the same way. At the end, the author said, “Glad to be headed home! I shall never return.” If you seek something wild and incredible, this book may be the best way to get it.

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