Ed Stafford

First Descent of the Amazon on Foot

Mar 4, 2011
Outside Magazine
Ed Stafford

   Photo: Photo by Keith Ducatel

For 860 days—that's two years, four months, and one week—35-year-old former British Army captain Ed Stafford hacked his way through the South American jungle to become the first person to descend the length of the Amazon River on foot. Starting at a trickling rivulet in the Peruvian Andes, Stafford walked more than 4,000 miles downstream to the river's mouth at the Atlantic Ocean, finishing on August 9. The hardest part of the source-to-sea expedition, however, wasn't digging bot flies out of his scalp, digesting fried ocelot, or keeping at bay the countless parasites looking for a host. The hardest part was the mental burden of shouldering his heavy pack—which included a raft for crossing the river—every morning and slogging through muddy jungle for nearly two and a half years. "It's easy to go into the jungle for two days," he says. "A bit more of an ordeal to go for a week. But to go into jungle for two years is just ridiculous."

Stafford, who received military training in the jungles of the Far East and Central America, saw firsthand the atrocities of tropical deforestation—the illegal felling of old-growth mahogany, the slash-and-burn consumption of acre after jungle acre, the unchecked expansion of agriculture. So after retiring from the military in 2002 and spending several years as an expedition guide, he decided to do something about it. He packed a laptop, started a blog for schools to follow his progress, and set out for the Amazon.

But progress wasn't always as easy as putting one foot in front of the other. Aggressive Ashéninka tribesmen near Atalaya, Peru, barred Stafford's passage for three days. A cut on his arm festered and refused to heal. He got lost. He suffered malnutrition and sore feet. He collapsed on the side of the road the day before reaching the Atlantic. But in the end, uncorking a bottle of champagne on the beach was elation enough for him to plan a second expedition. Stafford heads out again in January for parts unknown. He won't divulge what that next project is, but, he assured Outside, "it's bloody difficult."

Filed To: Exploration