Río Marañon has had only 3 near-complete descents
John Wasson et al., 1977: Paddled 790 km with 3 kayaks and a 12' raft from Rondos to Imacita (Nazareth) [Jul-Aug].
Tim Biggs et al., 2004: Kayaked all 1750 km in kayaks from Río Nupe to Iquitos: the entire river. [July 2004]
Contos et al., 2012: Boated all 1750 km river: "Upper" 200 km in kayaks (8 days), "Main" 650 km with cataraft, 2 kayaks, and IK (28 days); "Lower" ~900 km to Iquitos in motorboats (7 days) [July 2012]
and many partial descents:
La Condamine 1743: rafted from Chiriaco confluence to Borja [then ship to the mouth of the Amazon]. [Jun-Sep, 1743]
Arturo Weatherman 1870: rafted from Utcubamba confluence down to past the Pongo de Manseriche.
Herbert Rittlinger, 1936: Attempted descent in Folbot kayak from near Rondos but aborted. Book sold 300,000 copies!
Laszlo Berty, 1976, 1977: Rafted ~450 km (maybe solo?) from Chagual to jungle (summer low water).
Andrzej Pietowski et al., 1981: Rafted 148 km from Chagual to Balsas only. [March 23-25, 1981]
Dignum et al.,1987: Group of 4 Dutch rafted 206 km section from near P.Copuma to Chagual. [Oct 1987]
Kurt Casey et al., 2000: Kayaked from Vizcarra confluence down to Chagual only. [July 9-18, 2000]
Dam survey parties, 2011-2013: [sections of the river between Chagual and Rentema (2009 to 2012)]
No river rafting experienced is required to join a trip. However, you should be comfortable camping and you should have an easygoing attitude in order to get along with a diverse group on a Grand Canyon-style trip for an extended period. It's easy for some people to get annoyed by others in various ways - we just ask that you make a good effort to get along on the trip and minimize conflict. If you are concerned about this issue and are an experienced boater, consider arranging your own group with our outfitting services. [Even inexperienced boaters can arrange private trips.]
Everyone joining SierraRios trips should have an interest in river conservation and help us on our mission to document the river further, talk to residents, publicize the issue, and help train local guides. We welcome competent boaters. If you want to kayak, you must have adequate class IV experience and a solid roll. If you want to row a raft, you must have adequate experience rowing class IV rivers. Comparable rivers are the Colorado (Grand Canyon), Middle Fork Salmon, Thompson, Futaleufu, Sun Kosi, Karnali, Omo, Yangtze (Great Bend), and Zanskar. You should be in good physical condition. In general the pace is relaxed with several layover days, but there may be some long days on the water. You should plan to help facilitate the trip in any way possible, including transport of some gear down to Peru and to the river if necessary. You don't need to be bilingual but it is helpful.
The policy we will take on the trip is that the trip leader will have main authority when it comes to decisions for the group regarding river progress, camp, etc. If a participant has overestimated their ability to row or kayak, he/she may be mandated to ride on a raft and or be assessed other penalties. Trip leader decisions can be vetoed by a majority vote of the group. Any participant always has the right to leave the trip if they so desire.
HUARAZ: The main rendezvous point at the start of the trip will be Huaraz. You should arrive 1-2 days before the launch date. We will arrange transportation for the ~5 hr drive to the put-in near the pueblo of Huacaybamba on departure day. We will likely visit the ruins at Chavin de Huantar in the morning enroute and camp at the put-in after starting to rig boats.
Huaraz is a beautiful colonial city at 3000 m elevation and a major outpost i the Andes for trekkers and climbers, as it's close to the highest tropical mountains in the world, including Huascarán. You might consider doing several days trekking before the trip, such as to the Cordillera Huayhuash, one of the principal sources of the Amazon. To get to Huaraz from Lima, you can fly (1 hr) or take a bus (8 hr). Flights are only operated by LC Peru. There are two primary bus companies servicing Lima-Huaraz with ~8 hr rides (links below). On these buses there are regular seats, semi-reclining seats, and sometimes "cama" seats that recline almost fully. Prices are about $11-32 for the ride depending on seat type (note some buses are all cama seats; some have mixed seats, etc):
Movil Tours (Paseo de la República 749, La Victoria; tel: 332-0004) has departures throughout day: e.g., 8:00am, 9:40am, 10:10am, 10:30am; 1:00pm, 9:40pm, 10:30pm
Cruz del Sur (Javier Prado & Arriola) has departures usually 11:00am and 10:30pm from Javier Prado; $11-32 depending on seat type
CHAGUAL: There are 2-3 regular small plane flights between Trujillo to Chagual per week. In 2012 Atasur had them scheduled Thursday and Saturday morning ~$130). It is possible to enter or exit the trip at Chagual, but we generally we will not schedule it because the Balsas/Cajamarca exchange point is convenient.
CAJAMARCA/BALSAS: Balsas is pueblo by the river dividing the Upper Grand Canyon Amazon trip from the Lower Grand Canyon Amazon trip. From the river access bridge at Balsas it is a 1.5 hr drive up to Celendín (taxi), and then a 3 hr ride to Cajamarca (bus or taxi). Regular flights and buses serve Cajamarca to/from Lima. Two domestic carriers service Cajamarca-Lima (LAN and LC Peru) for $120-180 one-way. You can also take a 14 hr bus to Lima ($30) - some are quite comfortable with reclining seats.
BAGUA: If you continue down through the Lower Grand Canyon Amazon with us, we will arrive at another access point of Corral Quemado 8-9 days past Balsas. Corral Quemado (where a highway bridge crosses the river) is the official end of the Grand Canyon section and start of the Jungle Marañon. In this region, the river flows peacefully in valley, and the slope of the Andes to east and west is much lower. From either Bagua or Jaén, it is a 4-6 hr bus ride to Chiclayo, with regular commercial flights (1 hr) and bus service (10 hr) to Lima. Alternatively, you can go to Tarapoto (~8 hr ride to the east) which has more and cheaper flights to Lima. For flights, check STAR, LAN, PeruvianAir, or LC Peru. Downstream of Corral Quemado is the Jungle Marañon with huge water class III rapids called "pongos". The take-out of Imacita will entail a ride (covered in cost of the trip) back to Bagua - or you can continue the journey down the rest of the Amazon (to the ideal end point at Iquitos).
TENTATIVE ITINERARY [trips to be scheduled every ~1.5 months]:
This is for the Upper Grand Canyon Amazon trip (times are for low water trips Jun-Oct; trips are shorter at high water):
Day 0: rendezvous in Huaraz; meet Rocky or trip leader [Jun3, Oct19]
Day 1: take bus and/or vans toward put-in; perhaps stop in Chavín de Huantar to visit ruins; hotel or camp
Day 2: rig and launch at Puente Copuma put-in (near Chingas)
Day 2-11: First section to Chagual (km 0-206); many IVs; two Vs (Wasson's Landslide & Llamara); layover at hotspring
Day 12-15: Chagual to Balsas (km 206-357); starts class III, then long section of I-II; ending with III-IV (Samosierra)
Day 14-16: Arrive Balsas; stay at river and camp or get ride up to Celendín (2 hr); possibly to Cajamarca (5 hr more); hotel
Day 15-17: in Celendín/Cajamarca; exchange participants; hotel in Cajamarca or Celendín
From here down is the Lower Grand Canyon Amazon Trip
Day 18-25: Balsas to Jaén/Bagua (km 357-556); class III-IV
Day 26-29: Jaén/Bagua to Imacita (km 556-664); pongos in lush jungle: huge-water class III-IV
Day 30: Make way back to Lima or continue down more of the Marañon (motorboat rides available from here down)
To paddle the entire distance of 357 km (221 miles) in 16 days with 2 layover days would require an average of 26 km/day when making progress downstream. Getting through the class Vs will occupy a full day put together. On the Sep28 trip, we plan to have one layover day at a hot spring (day 6) and possibly one other at an interesting location (ruins, side hikes) downstream of Chagual. On Day 16 we want to arrive in Balsas by mid-day to arrange to leave the rafts and head up to Celendín/Cajamarca or Chachapoyas/Kuelap. The following day (day 17) will be spent visiting one of these cities/ruins and in passenger exchanges. Note that given enough time, we may arrange to have meetings with residents of the area to discuss the dams and their consequences. This is all tentative and assuming no accidents/delays. Also, note that downriver progress is faster at higher water such as Nov-May, so we may have more opportunities for more layovers on trips during those months or the entire trip may be shortened several days.
Part of the purpose of the these trips is to continue to find and document interesting locales along the river such as ruins, hot springs, slot side canyons, waterfalls, and caves. Several dams are in late stages of planning along the river and the beauty and special qualities of the river and canyon need to be assessed and made known. Many such features were documented on the 2012 trip, but plenty remain to be discovered. Aside from the river trip, you might consider visiting other interesting places in northern Peru, including the Incan/colonial city of Cajamarca, various thermal baths nearby, natural wonders such as the Catarata de Gocta (771 m high and one of the tallest waterfalls in the world), as well as many ruins such as Caral, the oldest known city in the Americas (near Barrancas on the coast), Kuelap, the Machu Picchu equivalent of the Chacahpoyas culture (near Chachapoyas), and Chavín de Huantar, a site worth a stop enroute to the Puchka put-in. Note that Cajamarca was a major Incan city and the site where Pizarro met and defeated Atahualpa, who had recently assumed title of full emperor of the Inca after defeating his brother Huáscar.
SierraRios has all topo maps of the entire river marked with rapids and potential beach camps. If you would like access to these, you can sign up as a member of SierraRios specifying you're interested in the Marañon map/book/video, and you'll receive immediate access to the maps (book/DVD later). If you have the password, click here to access printable maps.
CLIMATE AND BUGS:
The trip occurs at tropical latitudes in semi-arid country and at moderate elevation. Average annual precipitation is about 450 mm (19 in) near Puchka and 330 mm (13 in) at Balsas. The elevation at the put-in is 6900 ft, so expect warm days and cool evenings in the initial sections (highs of 27oC/80oF and lows of 10oC/50oF are common the first days). Water is pretty cool (15-20oC) initially. After the first week of the trip, it will generally be hot (highs of 32oC/90oF and lows of 20oC/68oF generally) and the water warms up considerably (to ~23oC by the jungle).
There is almost no rain in the dry season May-Sep in the Upper Grand Canyon Amazon section, but expect some in the rainy season. On our July 2012 trip, we had only two days with some sprinkles of rain for the first 25 days. Once we entered the jungle (as part of the Lower Grand Canyon Amazon trip), we experienced rain every day or two, usually in short intense storms.
Although many camps have no biting bugs, in some camps there are annoying biting gnats and flies. Repellent works against these. Mosquitos are not common but are present at times in the dry canyon areas. They are much more common in the jungle. Other critters to beware of are spiders, scorpions, snakes, and centipedes.
This trip is being run to raise more awareness of the dams planned for the Upper Amazon and generate revenue for conservation campaigns. We welcome everyone: raft passengers, raft paddlers, raft rowers, kayakers, IKers, and guides. How much the trip costs for you depends on what you want out of it and what you can offer. Costs are reduced significantly for early commitment with a deposit and for those with guiding experience who can help make the trip a success. To give an idea of the range of potential costs, note that most 14-day Grand Canyon trips cost >$3500 for raft clients with everything taken care of, while experienced paddlers who can mostly take care of themselves and watch after others might contribute closer to the outfitting service rate ($1200-$1600 for a 14-day trip). Our contribution guidelines are below for various participants. We have a special need for experienced rowers and safety kayakers on some trips. If at all interested in the trip, start a discussion by sending Rocky a note saying how you found out about the trip and a little background info about you. [email to Rocky-at-SierraRios.org]. [If you're a guide, it is nice to see a resumé and provide references]
Contribution guidelines: General (general rafting client category)
Contribution guidelines: Assistant (helper on trip)
Contribution guidelines: Experienced Boater (only for solid class IV boaters)
Once you get the go-ahead from Rocky, you will need to provide a deposit to reserve your place on the trip ($1000 for trips 10 days or more; $500 for trips <10 days). Full contribution must be received before the trip. See PAYMENTS for payment options.
As of March 2014, participant totals tentatively stand at:
06/06 Jun4 launch UPPER/LOWER [+1 guide]
16/16 Oct20 launch UPPER/LOWER
02/02 Dec4 launch UPPER/LOWER
We can handle groups of up to 24 (the limit) with the boats available (12 rafts; 12 kayaks; 2 IKs): 6 oarsmen, 12 kayakers, 2 IKers, and/or up to 12 raft paddlers/passengers per trip. Trips will definitely occur with a minimum of 12 participants. If interested, send Rocky a message with a little info about you and what you'd like to do. If a trip is full, you should still send a note of your interest, as there are often cancellations.
We reserve the right to cancel the trip 2+ months in advance. This generally will occur only if there are not enough folks signed up (<12). If we cancel the trip, all deposits and payments will be refunded.
If you must cancel, you'll get your money back if you find someone to take your place on the trip. If you don't find someone, we may allow much of the payment to be applied to a future trip (at our discretion). The amount depends on the circumstances surrounding the cancellation.
TRIP LEADER AND TEAM MEMBERS:
(1) Rocky Contos (scheduled trip leader on the Sep and Jan launches), descended the entire Marañon from its headwaters on Río Lauricocha to Iquitos between July and September 2012, and led the latest 20+ person 30-day expedition Sep-Oct2013 (a big success!). In 2012, he also paddled all of Ríos Apurímac, Mantaro, and Urubamba as part of his Headwaters of the Amazon expedition. He has explored nearly every river in Mexico including >100 first descents covering ~8,000 km of river and ~55,000 m of drop. Rocky believes the Marañon is the finest Grand Canyon-style raftable river in the South America. He is fluent in Spanish and has organized many Grand Canyon length trips. Several articles have featured Rocky (American Whitewater; Kayak Session; Canoe & Kayak). While attaining his Ph.D. in neuroscience (see CV), Rocky worked as a kayak instructor and guide for UCSD's Outback adventures from 1993-1996 and gained valuable trip planning skills for large groups. Although primarily a kayaker, Rocky started rafting in the mid-1990s in order to introduce more people to the wonders of river travel. Since then and throughout his years as a postdoctoral research associate, he organized numerous large group raft and kayak expeditions, including five through Grand Canyon (18-22 days), three on the Salmon River (4-10 days each), two on Río Mulatos-Aros (8-11 days), five on Río Usumacinta (7-8 days each), and dozens to destinations such as the Salt, Kern, Rogue, Deschutes, John Day, Thompson, Similkameen, and Baja California (2-6 days each). Rocky had dreamed of rafting the Marañon for over 10 years and has all the maps and information. Rocky founded SierraRios with the goal of conserving the rivers of Latin America, and hopes that increased awareness and enjoyment of the resource will lead to protection. He is organizing all aspects of the trip. He likely will be rowing a large cataraft with gear and passengers, but may safety kayak if a competent rower is availlable.
(2) Other guides/trip leaders are to be decided, but likely will be selected from Rocky's Peruvian guide friends - Juan de Ugarte, Pedro Peña, Julio Baca, or others from Apurimac Explorer (Alonso, Romel or Victor). Pedro and Julio are scheduled to be on the September launch.
(3) Monti Aguirre from International Rivers will likely join a trip sometime in the future.
(4) In the jungle Aguaruna areas, it is not possible to pass without approval from the Aguaruna nation [you will be detained and possibly robbed/attacked]. We intend to have along Eusebio Chumpi again and teach him a little more about rafting. See more about Eusebio at the SierraRios Local Guide Training Program.
(5) All oarsmen will be experienced river runners and raft captains guides with extensive experience. Non-experienced and less-experienced participants are welcome to join as raft paddlers/passengers and will have the opportunity to kayak easier sections of the river.
CHORES, TOILET AND BATHING
WHAT TO PACK
There is no threat from terrorists, as the Sendero Luminoso was never based along the Marañon. There is a chance we may meet unfriendly villagers along the river in places, but nearly all residents we met in 2012 were friendly, especially when they realized we were opposed to the dams. In the jungle, the Aguaruna do not allow passage by their villages without approval. We have secured such permission for the Sep28 trip and expect to have such approval on all trips. Aguaruna guides will come along with us in these sections for safety and pleasant interactions.
The other aspect of safety is prevention of accidents. It is of utmost importance that you take all precautions necessary to avert injury, sickness, and complications while on the trip. It's a good idea to be vaccinated against Hepatitis A, Typhoid, and Tetanus on any part of the trip, and Yellow Fever and Rabies if you're entereing the jungle areas [no vaccines are required]. Although the dry Grand Canyon section has little risk of Malaria, jungle areas do (see map), so you might consider taking anti-malaria medication there if you're concerned about the risk.
We cannot guarantee against accidents. If you're an inexperienced boater, the trip leader and guides will advise you on saftey issues - we do not expect raft flips. If you are an experienced boater in control of your craft, you must accept the responsibility for what happens to you on the river. It is the experienced boater's responsibility to make appropriate decisions whether to run the rapid or not and to stay close to someone who can watch and oversee you. A certain level of freedom will be provided, but each such person must abide by trip leader requests, which may mandate not paddling certain rapids. If an accident occurs, we will do all in our power to help you, see that proper care is rendered, or evacuate you if need be. We will have Wilderness First Responders on the trip.
We will have an Inmarsat satellite phone ($1.50/min for calls) and SPOT device. Anyone can see the latest SPOT position of the SierraRios trip: quick link is at the top of this webpage (below schematic map).
BOATS AVAILABLE IN PERU:
[current list available]
16' cataraft (NRS frame)
16' cataraft (NRS frame)
16' self-bailer (NRS frame)
14' self-bailer (NRS frame)
16' self-bailer (NRS frame) [available January]
16' self-bailer (NRS frame) [available January]
Kayak: Liquid Logic Stomper 90
Kayak: Liquid Logic Stomper 80
Kayak: Wavesport Diesel 70
Kayak: Wavesport Stubby
Kayak: Dagger Nomad 8.1
Kayak: Dagger Mamba 8.1
Kayak: Dagger Mamba 7.5
Kayak: Dagger Axiom 8.0
Kayak: Fluid Bazooka (L)
Kayak: Pyranha Burn (S)
Kayak: Prijon Embudo
Kayak: Prijon Rockit
Inflatable kayak: NRS Bandit II
Inflatable kayak: Tributary Strike II
If you reserve a boat, you can paddle it most or all of the time. In the easier sections of river, others might want to try out your boat. If you've ever done a Grand-type trip, you should know that it is often comfortable for kayakers to hang out on a raft some of the time on flatter sections - or row some. The above listed boats will remain in Peru after this trip. They will be used for other trips in the future and may be availble to rent to members.
You might consider bringing your own kayak or inflatable kayak. You will get a discount, especially if the boat is needed (i.e. the boats available are not occupied). We may even purchase from you afterward and/or you could retain rights to paddle it whenever you return to Peru.
A FEW COMMENTS FROM PAST PARTICIPANTS:
"I need to do another expedition!!!!! I'm already jonsing for one .... The Marañon trip was one of kind that I will never forget ... the perfect combination of big water, gorgeous scenery and a taste of rurual Peruvian lifestyle! ... I would do this trip again in a heart beat ... It really is amazing how helpful some people have been along the way. Going way out of their way in order to help..."
Amie Begg; class IV kayaker on 2012 Marañon trip
"The Marañon trip was a magical journey. Big, clean water; big canyons and expansive natural beauty; and big-hearted, friendly people who made us feel welcome along the way, while sharing with us their fears of imminent dams, mines, and petroleum drilling. I hope we can find a way to help them protect this incredible treasure and their ways of life."
Barbara Conboy; SierraRios board member and rafter/kayaker on 2012 Marañon trip
"The Marañón resembles the Grand Canyon of Colorado in many ways with its rapids, beaches, side canyons and deep cacti-studded gorges. Both rivers offer numerous side-hikes and waterfalls. Like the Canyon, the Maranon is ideal for a long multi-day boat trip where a person can forget the grind of everyday life... However, the Maranon offers much more. Unlike the Grand Canyon, the Maranon is free flowing and its character can change overnight by the whims of nature. Its navigable section is much longer than that of Colorado and its canyon is deeper. Some Maranon beaches are big enough to accommodate small villages. The Maranon offers more and greater variety of rapids that are overall more challenging to navigate. Its continuously strong current makes it possible to easily cover 30-40 miles per day in a raft, assuming one does not stop for side hikes. The jungle area of the lower Maranon has no equivalent on the Colorado... I cannot think of another river in the lower 48 States that offers the same kind of experience."
Boris Trgovcich, class IV rafter/IKer and former raft tour operator in N.California. [2013Sep Marañon trip participant]
See Full Comment
"I found the river trip labeled the "Grand Canyon of the Amazon" to be completely comparable to the Grand Canyon of the Colorado in most respects, and it exceeded my expectations in every way... In the 1980s I paddled the Bio-Bio as a participant on one of the first commercial kayak trips in Chile [with] Chris Spelius. While [the Bio Bio's] destruction was abominable both environmentally and culturally, the size and importance of the Bio-Bio's destruction was but a small warning shot compared to the potential disaster planned for the Marañón/Amazon."
Kelly Kellstadt, class III-IV kayaker and former guide/instructor in New Mexico. [2013Sep Marañon trip participant]
See Full Comment
"THE TRIP KICKED MAJOR ASS! mike" [2011 Mulatos-Aros trip; 2012 Marañon trip]
Mike Doktor (Portland, OR), former raft guide for Ken Warren Expeditions
"Hi Rocky, Thanks again for a sensational and unforgettable trip. You did such an amazing job organizing. I especially am psyched to have met you and to have another kayak friend/guide to work with. You guiding me off the waterfall was a big highlight... Erik." [2011b Usumacinta trip]
Erik Weihenmayer, blind mountaineer/author and budding kayaker (see www.TouchTheTop.com )
"You led one of the best trips I've ever been on... and I've been on a lot. " [2011b Usumacinta trip]
Chris Wiegand, former olympic runner and C1 paddler, founder of Sportainability and guide for Erik Weihenmayer
"Thanks for everything man, it was a trip of a lifetime ... We´ll be in touch and I look forward to conquering new rivers in the future. Salud, Eric" [2011b Usumacinta trip]
Eric Bach, Modern Gypsy (see www.TheModernGypsies.com)
"Hey Rocky, Thanks for the great trip... Looking forward to another trip down the road. John" [2011b Usumacinta trip]
John Post, Modern Gypsy (see www.TheModernGypsies.com)
"Great synopsis of a fabulous trip. Expect to hear more from Team Weihenmayer in the future... Cheers, Rob. " [2011b Usumacinta trip]
Rob Raker, climber extraordinaire and guide for Erik Weihenmayer (also see here)
"Thanks again for the great tour and the late-night excitement, Greg" [2011a Usumacinta trip]
Greg Scwhendinger, kayak explorer of Chiapas and Central America (see www.MayanWhitewater.com)
"Thanks for everything, Rocky! What a blast that all was. When's our next trip?!! -Suzy" [2011b Usumacinta trip]
Suzy Garren (Oakland, CA), former Grand Canyon trip participant.