By Will Rudisill
Posted on July 15, 2016
Our camp was a small beach, the flattest one with the most sand we could find, occupying the precarious space between the river and the vertical gorge walls, hemmed in by scree, large boulders, and large class V rapids above and below. As we made camp, the realities of our position became more evident; the remote and inaccessible nature of the canyon, the two days of difficult whitewater to come, and how close we were to the onset of Peru's rainy season. I had heard stories of immense storms on the Apurimac, thoughts I put to rest as I began to sleep beneath a clear and brilliant night sky. But then the air became suddenly warmer, the wind picked up, and dark clouds back lit by the full moon moved in. I felt a single raindrop on my forehead, and thereafter the sky opened up with torrential rain, lightning, and incredible gusts of wind. We pulled the kayaks farther up shore, fearful they may be swept away by the rising river. I hadn’t set up a tarp that night, and my ultralight bivy did little against the downpour. I crawled under a boulder, in my bivy with a tarp draped over me, a small opening by my face for ventilation. The onset of rain triggered rock falls and debris flows down the near vertical canyon walls, which echoed, in conjunction with the pouring rain, thunder claps, and racing wind, into a terrible and sublime cacophony. How high could the river rise? Were we safe from falling debris? The magnitude of the canyon and the storm rendered intuitive sense of spatial scale useless. Anything seemed possible. That night I truly felt wilderness–not just geographically, in the sense of being far away from human civilization, but existential wilderness. We use layers of abstraction (maps, beta, GoPro videos, GPS, and satellite communication devices) to psychologically armor ourselves from the immensity of places like the Apurimac’s Abyssmo Canyon. These means allow us to carve the wilderness experience into pieces that seem doable. That night in the canyon, all of those layers of abstraction melted away and I felt how frail and tenuous our individual capacities are compared to the 4.6 billion year old forces of Earth.
Will Rudisill is currently studying Hydrologic Science at Boise State University. For more from his trip to Peru, check out his blog at https://willkayaks.wordpress.com/.