The Quebrada Carhuasanta is located in the
Apurímac Regionof Peru. It is known as the headwaters of the Amazon River. The brook is fed by the winter snows of Nevado Mismi, (5,597 m), some 6,400 kilometres from the Atlantic Ocean. Of all the possible river sources in the Amazon Basin, it is the snow melt of the Carhuasanta that has been calculated by cartographers to be the furthermost water source from the mouth of the Amazon.
The Carhuasanta joins with the Quebrada Apacheta, becoming the Rio Loqueta. The river has several more name changes before it becomes the
Apurímac River. The mining town of Cailloma lies near the junction of four rivers that form the Apurímac.
National Geographic expedition
National Geographic Societysent a three-man expedition to the region in 1971, headed by Loren McIntyre. The expedition travelled from Cailloma by four-wheel drive, but soon got bogged. Continuing on by back-packing up the river, they climbed up the Apacheta Trailand traversed onto Nevado Mismi, taking in Nevado Quehuisha and Nevado Pumi Chiri. This is, as McIntyre describes it in his 1972 National Geographic article, "a semicircle rampart of the continental divide. All that trickles from the inner rim joins to form the Apurimac."MacIntyre, L. "Amazon - The River Sea", "National Geographic Magazine", 1972]
Nevado Mismi makes an unreliable source of water in the dry season. Lagoona McIntyre, as the lake was called, is deemed the 'true source', as it is permanent. However, it is known that the source will change over time, perhaps in a single season, due to the changes of the weather and its impact on the
microclimate. In the wet seasonthe mountains and undulating altiplanoare covered in snow. In the dry seasonit resembles a desert as the mountains crumble slowly to dust. The effect of global warmingwill no doubt accelerate the changing of the Amazon's source water.
Very few people have visited the headwaters of the Carhuasanta. A walking track called the Apacheta Trail, used by locals, runs across the continental divide 13 kilometres to the west of Nevado Mismi, linking the villages of the
Colca Canyonto the isolated valleys of the altiplano used by alpacaherders and their families, and to the mining town of Cailloma, 60 km distant (which can be accessed by a road from another direction). The locals have no interest in traversing the higher mountains of the divide.
Nevado Mismi was frequented by the Incas. "A gold figurine was discovered in a "pirca" (burial pit) on the summit by a South African father and son who were working in the Colca Canyon in the early 1970's." They didn't seem to know of the significance of the mountain as the source of the mighty Amazon, nor of the interest invested in it by others in the decades before.
The third team to reach the top of the Nevado Mismi, in search of the 'true source', was
Jean-Michel Cousteauand his crew in 1982. McIntyre writes, "Despite support by a helicopter and a monstrous six wheel truck carrying five tons of equipment, Jean-Michel and his puffing lowlanders barely made it to the top."
In 1985 a five-man team from the Los Angeles Adventurers Club, led by the late Emil Barajak, erected a heavy iron cross at the source.
In the same year, a 9-member international team organized by South African Dr. Francois J. Odendaal climbed out of the Colca valley and hiked up the Apacheta Trail with grandiose and expensive plans to run the Amazon by raft and kayak all the way to the sea. The team was torn with dissension - not to say mutiny. Odendaal, a South African, pulled out after they reached flat water at Atalaya with 3600 miles yet to go. Only Polish Piotr Chmielinski and American
Joe Kanecompleted the journey to the Atlantic with Kane documenting it in the classic book "Running the Amazon" (1989). Kane documents in his book that he hiked for an hour to the top of a mountain, off the Apacheta Trail, and "touched the source" (a frozen river of water).
One of the most unusual stories of reaching the head of the Carhuasanta comes from (South African born) Australian adventurer Gary Caganoff. In 1987, guided only by an October 1972
National Geographic Magazinefound in a Limabook market and a couple of topographic maps of the area, he walked alone, without support, 40 kilometres along the continental divide. It was an original route, perhaps unique in its undertaking.
Finding this route was an accident - it came about as a matter of survival. Caganoff had meant to begin his walk in Cailloma and follow the river up from there, just like McIntyre's party. However, in the truck he had hitched a ride on, he was warned by the drivers that if the terrorists stop them, being a foreigner, he would most probably be killed. Oblivious to Caganoff until then, he had travelled right into the heartland of the
Shining Path. Quickly changing his plan, he was dropped on the road in the middle of the night, in the middle of the vast altiplano, with little food (as he was going to buy supplies in Cailloma). The only way out of this now sticky situation was to reach the source via the continental divide, then walk down into the towns of the Colca Canyonbeyond.
Under a full moon he recognised Cerro Chungara (5,286m) 5km to his south, which helped to orientate him. In four days he crossed the lower western ridges of Chungara, crossed the flat boulderous summit of Cerro Ticcla (5,072 m), crossed the Quebradas Condori and Aquenta, and climbed the ridge up onto Cerro Ajo Colluna (5,255 m), the north eastern ridge of the Mismi Massif. Halfway along this ridge to the summit of Nevado Mismi, he spent an agonising night thinking he was dying of altitude sickness. He had had little food over the four days, which had made him weak. He bivvied next to a small snow drift on the north side of the ridge halfway to Nevado Mismi, overlooking the headwaters of the Quebrada Carhuasanta.
His experience there is described in his website. [ [http://www.landscapesofthesoul.com/amazon.htm Landscape of the Soul: Amazon Source] ]
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