First Descent: Great Bend of the Huallaga, - Mountain Buzz

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Old 11-24-2010   #1
Telluride, Colorado
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First Descent: Great Bend of the Huallaga,

Full Huallaga video
feliz accion de gracias!
Matt Wilson

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Old 11-24-2010   #2
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Old 11-26-2010   #3
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Looks cool, thanks. Would love to get down there sometime.
Googling around, found this:
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Old 11-26-2010   #4
Join Date: Feb 2006
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Impressive commitment. This was the 3rd attempt over 12 years huh?

I guess the IR-Sponsored Vacation to Hell with the Seattle group was the 2nd.

I found this story of the 1st attempt in 1998:

Río Huallaga

The Upper Huallaga has not yet been conquered. In early July 1999 Ethan Green, John Mattson, Mark Fair and myself bailed out of a first descent after 5 days. Our goal was to reach the town of Tingo Maria at 600 meters elevation.

Access to the river is easy with paved roads the whole way from Lima. The put in at the headwaters is along the road from Lima to Huanuco. You can hop off any bus traveling this route or easily hire a vehicle and driver in Lima for the 7 hour trip to the put in. The road leaves Lima and follows the Río Rimac to the high pass at 4500-5000 meters and then gradually drops down to the town of La Oroya on the banks of the Mantaro River. From here one follows the road to Cerro de Pasco which at 4400 meters is the highest city in the world. The turn off for Huanuco is just before Cerro de Pasco and here the one enters the Huallaga drainage. At 4000 meters the road crosses a bridge over the lower reaches of the Sharpa Gorge, which is the birth of the Huallaga River. When we crossed this point in July the flow was a mere trickle and was not runnable for the next 21 km (1000 meters vertical meters of elevation drop) as the river passed through a series of man made obstacles including tunnels and dams.

When we reached the town of Huariaca, the river, which now had around 150 CFS became navigable. From here it was 167 km Tingo Maria and a drop of 2300 meters. A casual put-in was not possible since the mayor and hundreds of the town’s residents insisted on escorting us to the stadium so the whole town could watch from a bridge as we descended. The elevation here was 2941 meters (9705 feet). The river was steep and a few kilometers below town we came to a radical micro gorge and the first portage (100 meters long). Soon the Río Tingo entered on the left and bumped the flow up to 300 CFS. We made camp at 2720 meters alongside a Quebrada (canyon mouth) 3 km above the town of San Rafael. The distance traveled in the first day was 9 km with a vertical drop of 221 meters or 24.5 m/km (122 FPM).

Day 2

There is 3 km of flatwater to the town of San Rafael (elevation 2715 meters) with a few Quebradas bringing in additional flow of 50-75 CFS. Below the town of San Rafael the river becomes prettier and picks up steam. I would suggest this as a put-in as opposed to Huariaca. 8 km below San Rafael the action picks up to Class 5- at the town of Tecte where the river enters a limestone walled gorge we called Tecte Canyon. In this stretch the gradient is serious at 50-60 m/km and the vegetation takes on a noticeable change with the appearance of Cacti, Molle trees and Centenarios. After 2 KM a bridge becomes visible which signals the entrance of the Río Blanco which although small brings in clear water. The Río Blanco also brings in the first granite boulders seen on the river. 2 km downstream at the second Quebrada on river right we found a nice camp (2340 meters). The distance traveled was 14-1/2 km with a drop of 380 meters or 27 m/km average. Using Tecte as the starting point this section would average over 50 m/km and with higher flows would be 5+. There were no portages on this section.

Day 3

From camp at 2340 meters to town of Ambo at 2064 meters is a good 10 km class 4 stretch filled with granite boulders that ends at the confluence with the Río Huertas which brings in clear, cool water and doubles the flow. From here it is 20 km of flatwater to Huanuco and an additional 15 km of flatwater to Puente Taruca. Our group was able to get a ride in a truck with our boats to avoid the 35 km flatwater stretch.

Starting at Puente Taruca (1800 meters) the road no longer follows the river, which starts its plunge into a deep canyon. Here the river is larger and warmer and the climate much more arid. The hills are covered with cacti and a brown, scrub vegetation. The shores of the river contain concentrations of foliage, principally willows and bamboo. From Puente Taruca it is an easy stretch of paddling to where we camped at the mouth of the Quebrada Yanomayo which lies 100 meters upstream of the confluence of the Río Acomayo (1650 meters) Note: From this point onwards be very careful using the topo maps as they become completely inaccurate.

Day 4

From camp we immediately paddled past the Río Acomayo, which entered small and brown. After a few kilometers of relatively calm water the river started into big, pushy class 4 rapids with some easy class 5. We all portaged around one river wide hole and around the “Chorro de Panao”, a cataract formed at the confluence with the Río Panao. Here the river is deep in a canyon with bail out on the left impossible. A trail exits on river right following the canyon formed by the Río Panao and eventually reaches a town with the same name. It was noon when we reached this point and we continued downriver passing a waterfall entering on river left after 1-1/2 km. Four km below this point we found a nice beach camp (1400 meters) just above a big class 5 rapid. In the distance we can see a mountain completely shrouded in green vegetation signaling the entrance to yet another climatical zone-THE JUNGLE

Day 5

After ½ km on the river we came to another large waterfall entering on river left. Another km downstream we reached a vertical walled canyon which, after a quick river level scout, revealed unrunnable and unportagable class 6. We spent two hours fighting our way up to a pampa to scout the gorge and what we saw was a maelstrom, cascading into a vertical walled abyss. We were 103 km from where we started and 64 km from our goal of Tingo Maria. The maps indicated the heavy section of river we were looking at continued for another 30 km and dropped 550 meters (average 100 FPM) through a vertical walled canyon. After a group discussion we concluded the only way to safely run the river was with some sort of helicopter scout so the decision was made to bail. The question was how and to where. By some sort of miracle a fisherman named Hilario showed up. He was from the nearest village named Huanacuari located some 1000 vertical meters above us. He was returning to his village and we asked him to send some chasqui’s (porters) the next day to help carry our gear. He agreed and then we spent the rest of the day carrying our boats and gear up a heinous pitch only 100 meters above the river. The boats were abandoned at the pampa and we continued with gear only another 300 meters up a steep grass slope to where we found a trail. Following the trail upstream we came to the same stream we had passed as a waterfall earlier in the morning. After 7 hours of carrying gear this was the first water we found. At dusk a boy from the village named Abel, his uncle and his cousin arrived to help us. They went for the boats and arrived in the rain at our bivouac at 9:30 in the evening. It continued to rain hard until 4:30 in the morning.

Day 6

We climbed the remaining 600 vertical meters to the village with our porters and are gear in three hours on an intense trail. Abel’s hut had no electricity but his mother cooked us soup over a wood fire. We continued to hike up to the village proper which lies at the END OF THE ROAD and for this reason sees very little traffic. We agreed to pay 100 soles to be driven in a dump truck to the town of Tranca, which is only 1 hour away. With fuel consumption at 7 soles gallon large truck are expensive to operate. In Tranca we hired a pickup for 50 soles for the 1-1/2 hour ride to the paved road near Acomayo. From this point the four of us rode in a crowded collectivo to Huanuco with all our gear for 4 soles a head.

Day 7

Huanuco has a small airport with flights to Lima. We were able to get seats for $ 65 and put the boats in the aisle of the small plane. The flight went down the Huallaga canyon following the path we had just kayaked. After only 15 minutes we touched down in Tingo Maria to pick up passengers and were surprised by how large and clear the river had become. The vegetation was jungly with banana and palm plantations and hot sultry air. Someday someone will reach this point via river completing the last great-unknown canyon in Peru.
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Old 11-27-2010   #5
Denver, Colorado
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Cool video!

Sounds like the first two teams got stopped at an unscoutable location entering a walled in section, not sure if it was the same one each time. How did the first D team get past this obstacle? Fly over scout?

Great accomplishment! You are a long way out there when the road ends in Peru.
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Old 11-27-2010   #6
placerville, Colorado
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they went for it
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Old 11-27-2010   #7
Telluride, Colorado
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Originally Posted by deepsouthpaddler View Post
Cool video!

Sounds like the first two teams got stopped at an unscoutable location entering a walled in section, not sure if it was the same one each time. How did the first D team get past this obstacle? Fly over scout?

Great accomplishment! You are a long way out there when the road ends in Peru.
The Range Life made it about 8 km downstream of where Kurt's group aborted their mission. Having a group of six really helped getting us past the Chalk Stone Gorge, where the Range Life hiked out. This way we were able to string out a few of us into the gorge while leaving all of the high angle rescue equipment out. Once the first paddlers in the gorge saw a viable escape (from the inner gorge not the canyon) we'd all continue to that point and regroup. I can't imagine how bad it would suck to hike out of there! I see why the range life left their boats in there. It was also good the entire team was on the same page of doing whatever it took at river level before we split up wondering off into the Jungle.
The success of this expedition was due to the leg work of both previous groups. Without their efforts this would have never happened.
Matt Wilson
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Old 11-28-2010   #8
Charc in = charc out
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So E-Ro sent me this video the other day & all i can say is HELL YES! .. it is SO awesome to get a view of the inside of the rest of that gorge! Bryan & i were the only ones of our group to peer into the chockstone gorge beyond what you could see from river level just upstream. It was SOOO enticing, but also incredibly foreboding .. incredibly heavy.

Our scout involved a big scramble/climb up, then some serious bushwhacking, then a belay to the rim of the gorge, which was totally overhung & overgrown .. & that only got us a quick view of the room & drop immediately downstream of the chockstone. Gaining a view of the corridor downstream of that was even more difficult .. we ended up climbing a couple trees & still only got half a glimpse. Even just that tiny bit of a downstream view, though, is forever burned into my memory. The scouting mission took up most of a day.

We didn't see anything that wasn't manageable, but then again, we didn't really see much of anything at all .. relatively speaking. We saw the fun drop exiting the chockstone gorge room, & the slackwater downstream which lead to an eddy on river-left before the river dropped back to the right & into another very tight gorge which dropped out of sight. Things got a little weird once we hiked back to the rest of the group. While neither Bryan nor i had a bulletproof plan for continuing downstream, we both were still pretty much committed to continuing downstream .. cautiously. But that whole time, the rest of the group had been staring at the junky rapids leading to the chockstone, as well as at the maps which showed another 20 or 30K of super gorged out terrain (actually on the map, the river climbed up the gorge walls in a couple places, so you couldn't really trust the gradient). Group dynamics & a conservative approach dictated, "we need a thorough scout before dropping in." Piero said, "you don't just drop into a gorge like that in Peru without scouting first" .. so we decided to begin climbing up as a group for an extended scout from the trail.

The enormity of our predicament became evident immediately thereafter; just getting up from river level turned out to be an EPIC endeavor .. it was super steep & nothing but jungle bush for thousands of feet. The whole nature of our decision then became nothing at all about the river & gorge itself, but instead all about just finding the trail & a safe way to the rim of the canyon. It's like we turned a page in our story & a new chapter in the adventure had begun.

By the time we did get to a reasonable spot, we were so far off the deck & so deep, that a "thorough scout" of the next 20-30K of canyon was an impossibility. Piero was talking about helicopters, which aren't even really available in Peru, & he was talking about his family, not about scouting. I have some photos of our view downstream from once we reached a trail, from which you can see miles downstream & it's nothing but steep jungle for thousands of vertical feet, to the lip of a crazy overhung gorge .. for miles.

I can only start to imagine what was going through you blokes' heads as you committed to that gorge. I've been in some pretty epic canyons/gorges as a kayaker, but that gorge, so deep down in the bowels of that canyon, itself set amidst those mind-blowingly huge mountains .. it definitely takes the cake as the most powerful & intense environment I've ever been in. I've had dreams about that river & that gorge, about hiking out of it & about continuing on down into it. I've spent uncountable hours daydreaming about going back there. You fellas did it, just as Kurt predicted in his story from many years ago. So stoked you guys pulled it off!

My recollection of the rest of the run is that in spite of the truly disgusting water quality, the rest of the river was nothing short of classic. If the rest of the Great Bend is as good & reasonable as it looks on vid & as Ev says, then maybe it's worth a return trip before it's dammed? Thoughts?

Anyway, congrats dudes!
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Old 11-29-2010   #9
Join Date: Jun 2006
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Whats the best river in Peru for hard multi-day?

To me, looks like the following are in contention:

Apurimac Abysmo

If you were going to go down there to run the hardest and most classic, what would it be? The Abysmo sounds like the sickest thing down there other than the Maran, but the logistics sound dreadful. Is it really possible to fly from the takeout of the Huallaga in Huananco right back to Lima? Whats it like getting from Lima to the put in?

Ive seen Kurt Casey's site, just wondering since you guys apparently just got back from doing alot of the classics.

Oh yeah, what about the Urubamba?

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Old 11-29-2010   #10
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So sick. Best thing to hit mountainbuzz in an age! Congrats!
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