After 114 days, 4200+ miles, 12 paddlers and two countries, and a cast of support people marathon paddler West Hansen recently completed his National Geographic-sponsored source to sea expedition down the Amazon River in record time…
At 4,225 miles, the Amazon River is the longest and largest river in the world, with only three expeditions completing its official course from source-to-sea (the first of which was in 1985). Hansen, a long-tome competitor in the grueling Texas Water Safari, made it number four, arriving in Belem, Brazil on Dec. 7 just 114 days after setting out in the whitewater of Peru.
“Things are strange for me right now,” Hansen wrote in his blog after arriving safe and sound back home in Austin, where he works for the state as a quality management specialist. “I’m feeling somewhat indulgent, what with all the fresh water coming straight from the faucet, the ability to flush toilet paper (don’t do that in South America), food all around me, good coffee and being surrounded by people who love me. It’s very nice, but being away from the daily push I’ve encountered over the past four months is a bit foreign. I’m sure I’ll get used to it soon. After putting away gear and such, I’ll begin work on the book journaling the expedtion…”
Along the way Hansen collected data for ASC’s South American Wildlands Biodiversity Project, writing down observations of flora, fauna, geology, archeology, and cultural use areas as they traveled. Their data will help create a comprehensive map of biodiversity in the region.
Before the expedition, Hansen announced his plans to be the first person to paddle the entire length of the river in half the time it took the previous expeditions. He became entranced with the idea while racing on Team Easy Living during 2008’s Great River Amazon Raft Race (which his team won in a new course record). “After getting back to the states, I read “Running the Amazon” by Joe Kane, which is what did it for me,” he said. “I’m not the fastest racer, by any means, but I do have the ability to paddle non-stop for pretty much for-freaking-ever without stopping, so I figured the Amazon River, from source-to-sea, would be a good way to start off the second half of the century I have remaining.”
The Amazon begins off the flanks of 18,363-foot Nevado Mismi in Peru, high in a valley where the Apacheta and Curhuasanta creeks flow to meet and form Lloqueta Creek. The creeks are two of the four creeks that form the headwaters of the longest and largest river on Earth. Nearly 17,000 vertical feet and 4,225 miles later, these drops of water spill into the Atlantic Ocean. Before Hansen’s descent, only three Amazon River expeditions have accomplished the trip since Kane and Piotr Chmielinski’s trip in 1985. Chmielinski helped Hansen with logistics on the trip’s upper portions.
Rocky Contos, meanwhile, who was supposed to join Hansen on the trip’s upper whitewater sections, split with the expedition to make a first descent of the Rio Mantaro, which he is exploring as a new potential source of the Amazon.
After finishing his whitewater portion of the expedition in whitewater kayaks supplied by sponsor Jackson Kayaks, Hansen – who has paddled in ultra-marathons since 1992 and holds speed records in the Texas Water Safari and Missouri River 340, including numerous team and course records, and is a multiple solo winner in regional and national events — continued on with his team in sea kayaks provided by sponsor Epic Kayaks for the flatter, touring sections.