SUBSCRIBE | NEWSLETTERS | MAPS | VIDEOS | BLOGS | MARKETPLACE | CONTESTS
TRY BACKPACKER FREE!
SUBSCRIBE NOW and get
2 Free Issues and 3 Free Gifts!
Full Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
City:
State:
Zip Code:
Email: (required)
If I like it and decide to continue, I'll pay just $12.00, and receive a full one-year subscription (9 issues in all), a 73% savings off the newsstand price! If for any reason I decide not to continue, I'll write "cancel" on the invoice and owe nothing.
Your subscription includes 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Or click here to pay now and get 2 extra issues
Offer valid in US only.

Also on Backpacker.com


Enter Zip Code

Backpacker Magazine – November 2012

Life List: The Source of the Amazon

Trek to the Peruvian high spot where the planet's most powerful river is born.

by: Eugene Buchanan

Incan Paths at the Andean Headwaters (Photo by Michael Majcherczyk)
Incan Paths at the Andean Headwaters (Photo by Michael Majcherczyk)

For seven years, David Livingstone searched in vain for the Nile’s source. He died before finding it. Such is the pull of a continent-defining river.

I’m not so dogged, but I share his fascination with headwaters: I love gazing at a trickle, knowing that along its course to the sea, it will create canyons and shape cultures. Incredibly, the birthplace of the world’s greatest river, the Amazon, was just confirmed by satellite images in 2011; fewer than 100 Westerners have ever seen it. So I leap at the chance to add my name to the list, joining a four-day, 25-mile, mule-assisted trek in the Peruvian Andes.

Guided by Yurek Majcherczyk, a Pole who’s led Peru trips for 30 years, we start our hike at a tiny, ice-lined creek at 15,600 feet. While the altitude takes our breath away, so does the scenery: Snow-capped peaks tower everywhere, giving way to broad, glaciated valleys. Five miles across the lunar altiplano (high plain), we arrive at our first camp. I wake at 3:30 a.m. to join a side trip up Nevado Mismi, an 18,363-foot behemoth shark-finning off the divide, with views to both sides. It’s nontechnical but long, and 10 hypoxic hours later we meet the rest of the group at an icefall-bordered spring spilling out of a cliff. This spot once claimed the “source” title, but the newly confirmed one, seven miles away, eclipses it in length and elevation.

So we march on, following a stone-lined Incan trail up the Apacheta Valley. On day three, we arrive at the river’s true start. Barely a dribble, it flows clear and cold below a stone marker, snakes through grass-lined mounds, then disappears around a corner into the valley below. Sixteen-thousand vertical feet and 4,300 miles away, the river that starts with this seep dumps a fifth of the world’s fresh water into the Atlantic. Straddling the granddaddy of all waterways, watching it emerge, I feel a thrill Livingstone would envy.

Do it
You can get there on your own (fly to Arequipa, four-hour shuttle to Chivay), but doing so requires hiring mule teams, shuttles, and more. Better to leave that to the guides at Classic Travel (classic-travel.com, 800-774-6996). Make sure to take time to acclimate in the region beforehand (good bet: Hike into Colca Canyon, home to Andean condors). Best time is during the dry season in July and August.




Subscribe to Backpacker magazine
Sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter
Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
City:
State:
Zip:
Email (req):

Reader Rating: -

ADD A COMMENT

Your rating:
Your Name:

Comment:

My Profile Join Now

Most recent threads

Gear
Advice on pants
Posted On: Jul 22, 2014
Submitted By: Silock
Trailhead Register
What year did you go digital?
Posted On: Jul 22, 2014
Submitted By: sarbar
Go
View all Gear
Find a retailer

Special sections - Expert handbooks for key trails, techniques and gear

Check out Montana in Warren Miller's Ticket to Ride
Warren Miller athletes charge hard and reflect on Big Sky country, their love for this space and the immense energy allotted to the people who reside in Montana.

Boost Your Apps
Add powerful tools and exclusive maps to your BACKPACKER apps through our partnership with Trimble Outdoors.

Carry the Best Maps
With BACKPACKER PRO Maps, get life-list destinations and local trips on adventure-ready waterproof myTopo paper.

FREE Rocky Mountain Trip Planner
Sign up for a free Rocky Mountain National Park trip planning kit from our sister site MyRockyMountainPark.com.

Follow BackpackerMag on Twitter Follow Backpacker on Facebook
Get 2 FREE Trial Issues and 3 FREE GIFTS
Survival Skills 101 • Eat Better
The Best Trails in America
YES! Please send me my FREE trial issues of Backpacker
and my 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Full Name:
City:
Address 1:
Zip Code:
State:
Address 2:
Email (required):
Free trial offer valid for US subscribers only. Canadian subscriptions | International subscriptions