Vaya con Dios

Undiscovered South America

"The Peak of the Mists", northwestern Brazil.     Photo: KE Adventure Travel Photo Library

Pico da Neblina
WHERE THE HELL? Northwestern Brazil, 506 miles northwest of Manaus. WHAT IN THE WORLD? Few foreigners have ever attempted to scale 9,888-foot Pico da Neblina, Brazil's highest mountain; even fewer have been rewarded with a view. The "Peak of the Mists" is almost perpetually shrouded, so much so that it wasn't discovered by outsiders until 1962. But on the odd clear day its cuspidated summit, looming some 1,600 feet above a grove-dotted grassland, offers Kodak-moment potential: a lush, unbroken rainforest as far as the eye can see. Of course, you'll have to earn it. After a ten-hour canoe ride from outside São Gabriel da Cachoeira to a base camp on Tucano Creek, native guides march you into an untarnished jungle, part of the 5.4 million acres of Pico da Neblina National Park, an inky realm of howler monkeys and three-toed sloths. After three days of machete hacking, vines give way to the 8,000-foot-high savanna and the start of the nontechnical but slippery ascent. You'll fight your way up Neblina through swirling mists, praying for sun like an Aztec with every step. ACCESS: Contact KE Adventure Travel ($3,545; 800-497-9675; www.keadventure.com), which will run the first commercial trip here in September, beginning in Manaus. RISKS: Malaria, typhoid, yellow fever. Get your full range of recommended vaccinations for this one. ESSENTIAL: Mosquito netting. The forest floor is crawling with creatures you'd best know nothing about.

Valle Turbio 4
WHERE THE HELL? Argentina, about 22 miles south of Lago Puelo National Park. WHAT IN THE WORLD? Decades of outdoor-clothing marketing may have softened Patagonia's remote mystique, but where else on earth exists an unmapped region of rock and ice so unexplored that a valley roughly the size of Yosemite can be the hidden lair of a mere handful of climbers? Just last February, clutching a hand-drawn map from the 1960s (a gift from a local family whose patriarch explored the area in his free time) with enigmatic instructions inscribed&3151;"Still need exploration in this area of peaks and glaciers"—twin brothers Damian and Willy Benegas and three team members took a chance. After three days of hacking through bamboo thickets and leech-infested muck, they headed up a small tributary branching off the Turbio River's main channel. A day later, jaws dangling, the trio took in the view: Waterfalls shot from cliffs; glacier tongues wagged off others; 2,500- to 4,000-foot unclimbed walls soared up on both sides. After a few days of having the granite all to themselves, they rafted the Turbio back to Lago Puelo—leaving the three higher valleys largely unexplored by climbers. The race is on. ACCESS: From Argentina's Lago Puelo National Park, hire a boat (the Benegas used a local fishing guide) across the lake to the mouth of the Rio Turbio, and start the four-day upriver scramble to the granite playground. Bring a raft to float back out. RISKS: Meet trouble and your chance of getting rescued is not likely. Leeches, on the other hand, are. ESSENTIAL: A camera (for proof).
Tuichi River
WHERE THE HELL? Bolivia, descending northwest from Lake Titicaca. WHAT IN THE WORLD? On the two-week journey from the high Andes to the bottom of the jungle-coated canyon of the Tuichi River, the last hazy memories of your prior, civilized existence usually wear off around day eight. Flying to La Paz aside, getting to Upper San Pedro Canyon requires driving over a 15,300-foot pass and two days of four-wheeling to the outpost village of Apolo, then trekking another 15 miles across "dry jungle," or rain-shadow deserts, to the Rio Tuichi put-in, where you will descend Class II-­IV rapids for two days. Now you can relax: Perched in your tent near the riverbank, as spider monkeys scream from vegetated cliff walls and harpy eagles soar above, your former life dissolves into murky recollection; only two more days of rapids remain before a motorized canoe takes you down a broader, lazier Tuichi. Maybe your team can get along without you? ACCESS: Join a trip leaving in late June 2002, run by Mukuni Wilderness Whitewater Expeditions ($2,950; 800-235-3085; www.mukuni.com). RISKS: Scout a clean line on El Puerto Del Diablo, or The Gate of the Devil, a 150-yard, Class IV+ rapid where flipping in its hole will wash you into a giant boulder. ESSENTIAL: A flask. "Dry jungle" doesn't mean you can't bring liquor.

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