Does The Amazon Still Remain Un-Paddled From Source-To-Sea?


An interesting story showed up on the Outside magazine website yesteraday. Its an article that first appeared in the January issue of the print mag and is just now making its way online. In it, a white-water kayaking guide by the name of James “Rocky” Contos contends that the river that has been previously thought to be the source of the Amazon isn’t in fact the source at all. That would mean that all previous attempts to make a first descent of the waterway were starting in the wrong place and the Amazon has yet to be paddled source-to-sea.

Contos says that he made his discovery while using Google Earth to plan some new kayaking routes in Peru. Previously it has been assumed that the Apurimac River marks the furthest starting point of the Amazon, but he believes that its true source sits on the 18,363-foot (5597 meter) Nevado Mismi mountain, where the Mantaro River begins. By Contos’ estimates, the Mantaro is approximately 50 miles longer than the Apurimac, giving it the distinction of being the furthest source.

If what Contos says is true, we’ll eventually have to re-write the record books on the first descent of the river. As of right now, it hasn’t been done. At least not by kayak. Contos shared his findings with West Hansen, who was launching his Amazon Express expedition last year, but the two had a bit of a contentious relationship it seems, which led to Hansen going the historical route and Contos using motorboats to complete a first full descent of what he believes is the Amazon River. The Outside article has more details on the situation between the two men, which seems like it can best be described as frosty.

For now, we have to wait to see if there is independent confirmation of this new finding, which Outside speculates could lead to a rush of expedition paddlers heading to South America to attempt to become the first to run the Amazon from the “new” source to the sea. Regardless if it is proven or not however, I suspect there are some already planning to make the run, just so they can lay claim to it.

Kraig Becker

4 thoughts on “Does The Amazon Still Remain Un-Paddled From Source-To-Sea?”

  1. I'm in San Diego. I was supposed to meet Rocky last week but no time. I'll call him in the morning and see if we can meet.
    I've been researching the source and apparently it's a matter of definitions and technology. The last article I found shows that Nevado Mismi isn't the source.

    I plan to visit both sources around June.

    Anyway, my own opinion is the following: All previous starts of the river (Ed Stafford, Piotr Chmielinski…) are all good to me in the sense of adventure if they started where it was thought at that time the source was. There is not much extra difficulty of reaching the 2 current sources.

    1 is supposed to be the longest (Mismi), the other one is official by the Peruvian geologists and I think they have some sort of definition where they add a decent waterflow/larger stream.

    I surely think that with the current technologies, a forum should be set to conclude where the source is and what definition we use. It should be internationally recognized.

    And of course, in the future, one of these sources or both might disappear (if no more snow on the peak, there's not gonna be much water flowing) but we're far from that.

  2. By the way, I found out the accurate height of the highest mountain in Colombia isn't sure + not even sure of the summit as there are 2 candidates. Also perhaps depends on definitions (with, without snow…) but for sure if someone wants to bring scientific equipment there and measure it, would be great!

    Even the highest lake in the world isn't sure. I couldn't find a recognized international definition for LAKE. Does it need a minimum size?. depth ? volume ?
    So if a climber out there wants to join me to locate OJOS DEL SALADO pool in October…drop me a line (google me, you'll find me).

    I'm also looking for a 1 or 2 people to kayak around lake Titicaca in July. (I estimate 5 weeks). I just sent an email to the embassies to check out for permits and if done before (no record found yet) Anyone a world first ? + document by photo the shores (polluted, retreating so we need photos and GPS points for future comparison, like we do now for retreating glaciers)

  3. Saturday evening I attended a presentation given by West Hansen. He told us that they actually descended the Mantaro river but were asked to keep it quiet until later.

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