Hi Simon! Your notes were very helpful to us, although we question your definition of 'roadside'! An amazing country, thanks for laying the groundwork for us to go there. I've begun to get trip notes together, here's part of it all....
Bolivia River Notes/ Trip Report.
I have GPS co-ordinates for most of the put-ins/ take-outs here, email me if you seriously intend to make use of them.
Day 1 – Arrived lunchtime, met 4WD and drivers at airport. Drove from La Paz to Corioco, took a detour to inspect the Rio Unduavi en route. It looked terrifying. Later the Landrover drove off the ‘World’s Most Dangerous Road’ in the dark. Scary.
Day 2 – Warmup paddle on the Rio Huaranilla. This gets rafted sometimes. We tried carrying our boats upstream of the road head, but the path just kept climbing away from the river and locals told us it did that indefinitely. So we carried back! Excellent Grade 3 and 4 with some quite long rapids, medium flow. With hindsight, we should have carried on down the Rio Corioco past the takeout, two for the price of one…had plenty of time spare.
Checked out the Rio Vagantes in the afternoon (first bridge after Corioco on the new highway) looked promising but too low. Went into Coroico and chilled out.
Day 3 – Rio Choro. This has been run at least twice, by some Americans and also the ‘Adventure Trippin’ Kiwis. The carry-in was horrendous due to heat, and we got the last bit wrong…we climbed down a scree slope and this ended up with two hellish hours of ropes, machetes, biting ants. We weren’t the first to make this mistake, we found traces of throwline! Andy L gashed his hand on a rock. River was running at a slightly discoloured medium level, excellent Grade 4+ and 5 drops in a gorge. Looked heinous Grade 5+/ 6 directly upstream of where we launched (maybe a new landslide rapid?). Paddled down to confluence with Rio Corioco.
Day 4 – Rio Unduavi. River running low and clear, you wouldn’t want more. The river is rarely less than 100 metres below the road and very hard to access. This has apparently been paddled by an American and Frenchman who used to live in Bolivia. Sketchy info though. The place where our driver thought they had launched cannot have been right…700 foot+ a mile. We launched a couple miles downstream where there was a good path to the river above a big gorge. Kev had inspected the gorge and said it was, “flat”. Ha! Full-on Grade 5 in the gorge and lots of pool-drop Grade 5 afterwards. This section is superb but comes at a price. It finishes with a spectacular Grade 5 rapid below a waterfall, with a don’t-miss eddy before it goes to Grade 6 (possible in super-low water?). BUT climbing to the road 300 foot above simply defeated us, we had to be guided up the scree at dusk by locals. Best check out possible routes beforehand. We stayed in the weird Gothic ‘Castle’ Hotel that you’ll spot on the road along this section.
Day 5 – Rio Unduavi. Still low (=good). A great day but with everything from Grade 3 to 6. We launched down a path a mile below where we’d climbed out the day before. We effectively paddled two sections on this long day. First section was down to the Hydro works, which have excellent road access. In this section, there is a very long stretch of lovely Grade 4. Eventually this gets harder with some Grade 5. I also seem to recall daunting looking box canyons, but they all turned out to be good.
We assumed it was all over when we reached the Hydro works (be careful, they seemed to be building a weir/ dam thing) but how wrong we were! Below here, there is much more volume due to the Hydro inlet. Things start off deceptively with classic Grade 3 in a fantastic gorge. However, the river forms a small lake behind a landslide….this is a crappy portage around a really evil rapid. After this, there is plenty of Grade 5 including one rapid ending in a waterfall that’s really dangerous; inspect carefully. Eventually you reach a bridge by some houses but keep going; the takeout is about half an hour below at the confluence of the Rio Susisa.
Day 6 – The plan was to explore the (unrun?) Rio Takesi, which joins the Rio Susisa just above the Rio Unduavi confluence. This would have involved a major journey and trek in to the start; however luckily we drove up from the bottom to check it out. I say luckily, because we discovered that it had little water…all taken out and diverted for the Unduavi’s Hydro works.
Plan B was to check out the (unrun?) Rio Susisa which had much more water. We drove up a couple of miles and walked a couple more…very hard due to heat and a big climb. The river was beautiful Grade 4 and 4+, worth the effort. There is definitely much more to explore further up this valley with time and prior planning. That night we travelled back to La Paz.
Day 7 – A travel day. Not bad actually, the interesting journey north took us along Lake Titicaca and back over the Andes to Camata. Some idea of how off the tourist trail this is can be gleaned from the fact that Camata is a reasonable sized town, but we ended up sleeping in the school building as there are no hotels. It could have been possible to paddle this day with an earlier start and no punctures (four that day).
Day 8 – Rio Camata. This was first run by Doug Ammons/ Scott Lindgren (we think). Running slightly brown and very feisty. Too much water perhaps. A medium volume river with notable gradient for its size. Grade 5 mostly, with holes everywhere and some really pushy bits. There were a few white faces and everyone got their butt kicked. We ran a gorgy bit that cranked up to Grade 5+, and then it began to get silly, we found ourselves portaging quite a lot. Eventually pulled out at a small school a mile upstream of the first road bridge down the valley. Slept in this school, too.
Day 9 – Rio Camata. Higher than before due to rain. Too much water, it made for an slightly unsatisfactory day. We paddled down to the bridge (Grade 5) and then there was an easier bit for a about a mile. The river then went silly and we had to climb out again right away. Annoying, not least as this took an hour.
There is a Grade 6 gorge a few miles downstream (begins directly below the massive ‘Two Brides’ waterfall) so we drove right past and launched from the road a few miles below. The section below began at Grade 4 but quickly eased to Grade 3 in a beautiful gorge. We took out at Quita Calzon village. We then drove back up the valley past Camata and inspected the Camata’s various tribs. All looked too high/ steep/ evil except for the Rio Calaya (unpaddled?) which follows the road. We bivvied in a field up the valley. Rainy night.
Day 10 – Rio Calaya, Grade 4+ and 5. We hoped to paddle the Calaya down to the Camata, but this was waaay too high…something challenging to come back for. Instead, we did a bridge to bridge section of about 6 km which was simply outstanding. It dropped at least 300 fpm for the first half, was absolutely relentless to the end. There was only one portage, otherwise everything was amazingly clean.
That evening, we made the trip back to La Paz and arrived in the early hours.
Day 11 – Journey to the Rio Zongo. All we knew was that this had been run in low water by the French/ US combo mentioned above. We later found out that it has actually seen some kind of rafting. To reach it, we drove up the hill out of La Paz and crossed a 15600 foot pass surrounded by glaciers…wow! The road then dropped 12000 feet in switchbacks, quite something really (when we reached the bottom, Ferdinand returned with the vehicles as he was running out of time. He ran a short cold section of the Rio Zongo up the valley). We were a bit uncomfortable, as the Rio Zongo at the road’s end looked feisty and was in a walled-in gorge. We loaded for several days (we indeed carried overnight gear on most trips) and followed a track down into the gorge. Some self-appointed local guide claimed to know a good way to the river, so we ended up following this prat for an hour as the daylight faded. He kept saying “Twenty minutes” but eventually we got sick of this and climbed down a gully to the river.
We ferried across the river and tied our boats to trees, then waded upstream to a camping beach. Dinner in the rain was a grim affair, not least as we were in a walled-in gorge with a lumpy Grade 5 rapid just below and too much water.
Day 12 – Rio Zongo. We had to make a decision whether to climb/ travel back out again, as we suspected we’d taken on too much. I ran the first rapid to get a look around the corner. Amazingly, the gorge opened out right away and all was well! The river began with outstanding Grade 4+ and 5, easing through the Grades along its length and ending in flat water at the Rio Coroico confluence. We paddled all 35 miles to the takeout that day. One monstrously huge unportageable rapid in a gorge sticks in the mind...you’ll know it when you see it. Actually it’s easy…but you have to send a victim first to find out. This river was different in character to the others, more like a Nepali rafting run.
That night we stayed in the hot jungle town of Caranavi.
Day 13 – Checked out the Rio Quita Calzon but (thank heavens) it was surprisingly too low.
Marcus and Andy Mc did the Rio Choro again. They hired porters and this was a success…quick and simple to arrange. They tried to go higher on the river but couldn’t find a way. The nasty stuff we’d seen just upstream of where we’d launched before was still nasty, they portaged.
Three of us did the Rio Suapi and the Rio Coroico which it flows into. The Suapi was really steep at first and has a great gorge, however it was too low really. After rain it would be Grade 4-5. Watch out for fallen trees on this run. The Rio Coroico was no harder than Grade 3+, yet a Grade 3 paddler’s nightmare…it kept piling into big cliffs. That night we headed back to La Paz.
Day 14 – Our first duff call. We headed out of town to check out some Andean streams forming the Rio Palca…on the map you couldn’t go wrong, however there wasn’t enough water; it was all taken away for irrigation. We didn’t mind…the scenery there was fantastic, it was a nice wind-down just to be Tourists!
Back in La Paz we had a really heavy night on the town with the Bolivian Ministry of Tourism (no, really).
Day 15 – Hangovers, Alpaca shopping and flights out.