Cheating Death on the Amazon

In 2012, National Geographic explorer and grantee, West Hansen, was preparing to set the record for the fastest expedition to paddle the length of the Amazon River. Amid expedition planning, the game suddenly changed. The Mantaro River was declared as the new source of the Amazon River, making the river some 50 miles longer than previously thought. With little hesitation, Hansen set his sights even higher: “Once the new source was discovered we shifted gears to become … the first expedition to paddle the full length of the Amazon River from its newly discovered and farthest source,” Hansen says.

Heading into uncharted waters, Hansen and his team had little idea of what to expect. “It’s relatively unsure, the number of miles that we’re gonna cover. We looked to be going approximately 4200 miles … So while I’d like to finish in 60 to 90 days, I’m really not sure how long this is gonna take,” Hansen said.

During their 12-14 hours of paddling each day, the explorers were met with ocean-like conditions, as the Amazon River can reach 300 feet in depth and 30 miles in width, stirring up 12-foot waves. Storms emerged with no warning, leaving the team in whiteout conditions and temperatures below freezing.

Hansen’s team was also confronted with challenges far more frightening than nature’s wrath. They were held up at gunpoint no less than three times and were on high-alert for drug runners and pirates who might not think twice about robbing or even killing the outsiders.

Terrifying weather and criminals aside, Hansen still believes the journey is one most people can complete. “I’m no physical specimen,” he laughs. “Things like this are open to most people whether they know it or not … Every morning I woke up, I didn’t think, ‘I’ve got 1800 more miles or 3,000 more —> Read More