Cruz del Condor Expedition Navigates Peru’s Upper Colca Canyon


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The 27th anniversary of the first exploration of the Colca Canyon in Peru has just passed, and the southern trench is widely recognized as ‘the world deepest canyon’. But its upper reaches have always remained shrouded in mystery…until now. On Aug. 31, with PL leading the kayaking charge, eight adventurers emerged from the region’s 12-mile-long Cruz del Condor section tired and beaten after the upper portion’s first canyoneering/kayak descent.

“It was one of the most intense kayaking trips I’ve ever done,” says PL’s Eugene Buchanan, who paddled the expedition’s only kayak, a Pyranha Ammo, while helping other expedition members canyoneer down the waterway via ropes and two Alpacka pack rafts. “There was more water — and waterfalls — in the canyon than any of us expected, so the going was pretty slow, but it’s a pretty amazing place. I wouldn’t be caught dead down there in high water.”

Because of the slow going, with the team only able to make about a mile per day downstream, the expedition was forced to hike out of the canyon after navigating only six of the 12-mile-long upper canyon. Still, using pack rafts, climbing ropes, swimming techniques, wet suits and the lone kayak, the team descended more than 1,200 vertical feet of the Class V-VI canyon. It estimates that the second half drops another 1,550 vertical feet, making it even more treacherous to traverse.

Carrying along the Explorer’s Club flag, it was as much a scientific journey as an adrenaline-addled one. “We took measurements, geologic samples and mapped it using GPS coordinates for the first time ever,” says expedition leader Yurek Majcherczyk, a member of the lower river’s 100-km-long first descent in 1981 who admits to the canyon also being a likely hiding place for lost Incan riches. “But after six days, we’d only made it halfway, with the steepest portion of the gorge still to come.”

Ironically, another group from Poland, students from the AKT Watra Club, was in the canyon at the same time, morphing both expeditions into a sort of Polish Race for the Bottom of the Earth. After Majcherczyk’s team passed them at the cusp of a waterdall on day five, the two groups effectively became one, tackling the canyon’s jigsaw puzzle of problems together.

Pressed for time and food, both groups were forced to hike out on day six after traversing 1,200 vertical feet of the planned 2,750-foot drop. In all, the section drops nearly 260 feet per mile, compared to the average drop in the Grand Canyon of just eight feet per mile.

Still, the expedition — sponsored by the Warsaw Stock Exchange as well as the New York-based Explorer’s Club — was deemed a complete success and brought to light a corner of the world never before seen. “It’s become the second most popular tourist attraction in Peru, only behind Machu Picchu,” says Majcherczyk. “This should help it get on the map even more.”

With Peruvian mountain guide Carlos Zarate leading the ropework for rappels and climbs, the expedition averaged about two kilometers per day, negotiating waterfalls, cascades and deep Pereuvian pools. After the two-day hike out of the canyon, they arrived in the town of Cabanaconde to a parade in their honor, followed by press conferences in Arequipa and Lima, the latter resulting in front-page stories in the Commercio and Republica, Peru’s answers to the LA and New York Times.

Among the expedition’s discoveries was a tomb containing up to eight pre-Incan mummies. “That alone is a very significant discovery,” says Majcherczyk, who heads to Poland for another press conference on the expedition at the end of September. “All in all, it was an extremely successful expedition and we can’t wait to return.”

Sponsors: Warsaw Stock Exchange,, Victoria Consulting and Development Co., Western Union

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