EarthQuake in the Colca

This is a slightly exaggerated version of an awesome adventure!

    This is a somewhat exaggerated version of a true story.  See  for lots of other stories and to find out what really happened.

I wake up at dawn, and my senses are instantly overwhelmed by the incredible colors and the stark emptiness of the huge canyon where we have spent the night. The experience feels almost like a dream as I slowly recapture my senses and remember where we are. “Wow!” I suddenly recall what my old friend Dave Black had told me before the trip: “It’s a real scary canyon! The rapids are always changing, and there is one Class V rapid that is very hard to scout and cannot be portaged. Every run is essentially a first descent.”

The infamous Colca canyon is the deepest gorge in the world, and also contains some of the most interesting Geology on earth. I had seen an article in National Geo about a Polish Team that had explored it in the early 80’s and had been dreaming about it for more than a decade.  This canyon sounded totally enchanting, and the right group of people and opportunity finally arrived. 

The shuttle through the great Atacama desert of southern Peru offered a thrilling start to the expedition, and revealed how remote we would really be. The trail into the canyon used local burros and was a thrilling exchange of culture as well as a big adventure, as we dropped into the grandest crevasse on earth. The trail ended at a gentle beach, and we quickly unloaded the burros and organized our gear. The views were beyond description and became even more vivid as the daylight gradually disappeared. The black desert sky allowed a spectra of brilliant stars and we had a few hours to relax before the drama that we could not even have possibly imagined was about to begin. 

The canyon was already quite deep and narrow, but the depth increased within a few moments and we felt as if were being drawn into the very depths of the planet. Some gigantic condors circled above us and their presence made the chasm feel even more supernatural. It was almost as if we had passed through time and entered a prehistoric world in the very bowels of the Earth. There were no roads, no people, and not even an airplane to distract us from the serenity of this remarkable world.

The first rapid was a constantly changing serious of class V drops but we managed to survive them and we were celebrating on a small beach when the first volcano erupted.

“Holeee Sheeet!” Exclaimed my Peruvian friend Gian Marco, as we watched the torrents of Lava  and a few giant boulders spew into the river. We managed to find a reasonably safe camp and spent the afternoon watching the nearby mountain explode. The fumes from the Lava were a bit overwhelming but our camp stayed safe, and we spent a sleepless night listening to the ever threatening sounds and contemplating our fate. The night seemed to last forever, but the dawn finally came, and we carefully analyzed our choices. 

The volcano seemed to be easing a bit, and the canyon walls seemed impossible to climb, so we proceeded cautiously down stream. Torrents of steaming lava were pouring down the side canyons, and the flows triggered a few rock slides that rattled our already shattered nerves. The combination of the class 5 rapids with the added challenge of dodging the flowing lava was a bit overwhelming, so we found another reasonably safe camp and hoped that the eruption would  soon cease.

“That looks like a safe spot there!” exclaimed Gian Marco, as we managed to find a beach with a small cave. “We might as well drink the whisky now, because we might be dead tomorrow!” He exclaimed, as we huddled helplessly in the small shelter and guzzled our small ration of Scotch whiskey. The torrents of lava continued to flow, but the whiskey helped to ease the mental pain and we managed some restless and very needed sleep. 

The rest was short, as we were rudely awakened with another sudden eruption. Boulders and lava were suddenly flying all around us, but our little cave somehow managed to survive, while the rivers of lava continued to pour into the canyon and a cloud of steam overwhelmed the view. 

The action of the volcanoes suddenly eased and the scenery was absolutely stunning, but the views did not solve out dilemma, so we climbed back into our kayaks and plundered onward into the great depths. 

The gradient of the river had now eased and we started to feel a bit of optimism until we arrived at the brink of a ninety foot water fall that had been formed by the recent eruption. The lava flow and rock avalanche had enclosed the box canyon, so running the falls looked like our only option. A careful scout revealed a line on the falls that did look possible, but it was a much bigger drop than either of us had ever run and it looked extremely dangerous. There was a reasonable and somewhat safe camp at the top of the falls, and we had about 3 more days worth of food, so we decided to procrastinate as long as we possibly could. 

It was another sleepless night, but the dawn finally came, and the waterfall was still there to taunt us. The torrents of lava had ceased, but just as we were preparing to run the falls, the earth started to shake again. We rushed back to the sheltered spot and hugged each other while we anticipated the end of our lives.  

But, just as suddenly as it had started, the trembling ceased, and we wondered back out to survey the falls. “Wow! Maybe there really is a God!” exclaimed Gian Marco, as he gave me an exuberant hug. The latest quake had broken the new dam, and the new line looked much easier. The rapid would still be challenging, but it looked doable and we eagerly climbed into our boats and paddled out of the enormous gorge.

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