Thursday, October 28, 2010


Murchison section
And so another page in my relationship with an extra ordinary place is written. Every journey has had its own cast of characters and individual flavor. Some have had more close encounters than others, some more humor but in the end they have all been overshadowed by the place itself. 
Perhaps it is coincidence that I should have my first flawless run now that I do not look on it as a challenge that needs to be overcome but as a place that I love being in. A more likely explanation is that I have found a route through the 80km's that minimize the risk and that I have begun to know the location of the territorial hippos and the best way to react to crocodile encounters. It is tempting to believe that it is the great white explorer’s skills that brought me through another run, but next time before I put in I will realize again that it is not.
There are many moment that stand out from the past 2 days, but perhaps the most striking is looking back upstream at a stairway of whitewater stretching over a kilometer long, descending in giant steps seemingly from to the sky. For the first time in 6 years I thought, maybe one day we will come down the middle. Murchison is a place where my generation's skills and mindset are not up for the challenge, but if this section survives for another 15 years it could become the place where the next generation of kayaker come to test superior skills.
Perhaps there will be someone who will also fall in love with this place, someone who will consider tying his paddle to his hands, strapping himself to his boat, sowing in his spray deck and fitting an aqua lung. His Jet Ski rescue team will foul up the natural serenity and I will grumble about the chopper filming him but it will be worth every tetsy fly bite and infinitely more to watch someone ride one of the giants from top to bottom.
Much more likely, Murchison will merely fade away under the pressures of a 3de world economy and its need for power and oil. It will become legend and its experience the domain of the few petty humans who were willing to risk a bit more to experience one of the world’s great natural cathedrals. Oil has been found in the park and a new lodge has been built, Murchison is far from spoilt but the tide is turning for one of the last bastions of truly wild Africa, I will not complain about it much, I would rather focus on the positive, I have a class 5 local run, with more channels than I can run in  a lifetime, where you can stop in the eddy and watch a herd of elephant washing as a pod of hippos play fight. What could there possible be to complain about. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

stage one

I was late to the arrivals hall, and a few dollors poorer thanks to the military check point outside the airport. A few taxi driver stood around trying to scrounge business from the last tired foreigners arriving through the drab glass doors. I looked around worried for anysign of my new best friends. Its never easy going into the unknown and its not ideal with a team you have never met. They are going to have to trust me as I will have to them, losing them at the airport would not be an ideal start

Eventually one by one they emerged from the harsh neon lights into the garden outside  where I had been waiting. Strong handshakes and straight looks, as we weighed each other up as fast as possible.

The ride back was filled with small talk and petti details that told me nothing. It was only when I saw them sitting in their kayaks that I relax. If nothing esle these guys can kayak. I could tell that even before we got to the rapids.

The first week is done and its been a good one. Showing people who share my passion around the backyard is a joy. Learning from them as they look at it with new eyes, a pleasure. As can be expected when getting stuck into the big stuff, it has not all been plain sailing. Jesse took a swim from a monster hole on the first day. He came out ok, but its not what you want at the start of a mission in a strange continent. In this game like most others its all about confidance. He, like all of us, know that things will only get harder.
Tomorow we start the infamous Karuma to Murchison falls section and all indications are that it will be the highest level in years. Yes please.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Because it is there

‘Why?’  the most asked question in the business. It’s a tough question, without a definite answer but one that has to be asked.
The classic answers are ‘Because it’s there’ and  ‘If you have to ask me you will never know’ both great one-liners that mean little.
On most long expeditions, there will be days where you are lonely, hungry, bored, sick or all the above. If you don't know why you are out there, the option to quit becomes a lot more appealing.

Pre trip jitters are in their own way one of the most challenging and special times of the mission. By definition fear and doubt are uncomfortable feelings. On the most basic level dealing with them, establishes commitment to overcome obstacles on the journey. On a deeper level it makes you reassess your life.

It's not a black and white world and neither are the reasons for our actions. We live in a world of opposites, filled with irony, and our actions arise from the same favoured mix.

Perhaps all achievement is born out of insecurity and I have done many a stunt to impress others. By doing something that no one else has every done, that no-one else is likely to want to do, I reinforce that I am different. For a compulsive individualist this is oxygen. We all have our roles to play.  I wish I was the guy who sings beautifully but this will have to do. Unfortunately for my ‘brave ‘ man illusion it has become clear to me that the brave people are not the ones risking their life’s paying boyish games.

Psychoanalyst will diagnose a death wish but missions like these enhance appreciation of life.  It is no coincidence that death and rebirth are related in all forms of religion and spirituality. When you accept that you are going to die and that it will be sooner than you think, it becomes impossible to merely go through the motions. Live without passion holds no appeal.

Deeper yet, lies the need to escape the mundane of everyday existence. Escape from a world that tries to tells me how to live, what to do and how to behave. Escape from my own shortcomings. Escape from the duality of mind and body. Simultaneously there is a need to move towards something, of needing something more, of completing oneself through effort. To be tested to the core is as good a reason as any, because it is in that place that we learn most about ourselves.

In a world filled with interpretations; truth exist in only in nature. There you cannot even lie to yourself. She does not tolerate bullshit. You come before Her with respect, fully present and ready to give a 100%, anything less and She will have your head.

Ultimately going on a journey that puts your life at risk is not a decision made by the mind. Reason does not support it. When Edmund Hillary was asked why he climbed mountains, he said “Because it is there.”  I wonder if he knew he was talking about the need not the mountain

My current view on the matter is that the issue of motivation is indeed beyond words or even petty needs. When we surrender to the unknown, faced with the magnitude of the powers that lies ahead, it forces the realization of how insignificant this body is compared to the forces that lie in our path. Someone recently pointed out to me that our greatest moments are the ones where we lose ourselves. Moments when we become not only more, but become everything.  I have breathed in life in its purest form a few second here and there and all I want is more of it.

These moment by themselves are inadequate, they offer only brief respite. Grabbing onto them can be as destructive as any addiction. Their value lies in the glimpses they provide of what is possible. I have come to hope that perhaps the intensity and clarity of these experiences can be used for more than cheap thrills. There is more to this world than what we perceive and perhaps one day I can slip through the gap these experience briefly provide, to live permanently in that place of Boundlessness, also know as Happiness. Not the superficial ‘satisfaction of needs’ happiness, but the real thing. The happiness of Being one with the moment, no matter how it presents itself. Ultimate freedom.

the team

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Without the sex scenes

Put in below Karuma falls

Murchison Falls Section (Put in 26 Oct 2010)

The days of the great explorers who walked onto blank continents and sailed into unending oceans are gone for good. People like me are wanabes, lucky that there are some places that have not had their mysteries trampled by previous generations feet.
The Murchison section of the Nile is one such place and epitomizes “wild Arica”. Few have heard it and even fewer have actually done it. 

If my calculations are correct, if completed, this will be the 10th decent. My seventh. Every descent with a different crew, every time by the skin of our teeth. It is a terrifying place to love but fear is the price you pay to be allowed into nature’s VIP lounge. .

In an attempt to sound brave some great white explorers might write extensively about the size of the rapids. They might even conclude that they are the biggest rapids on the continent, second only to the Black Gorge (I made up that name) on the Congo. Or they might point out the lack of access in remote wilderness. Some might even be so direct as to mention the densest concentration of hippos in the world (statistically the most dangerous animal) and the healthy Nile crocodile population. Personally I would not dream of using such childish tactics.

Basically the place is larger than life and what happens down there is straight form a Wilbur Smith novel, without the sex scenes and the reason i keep going back is because it makes me feel like Tarzan. To give you an idea, I copied a few short clips from past trips. 

... the most dangerous animal in the world..

Dr. Justin Venerrable
Red Bull mission 2007

“ I decided to use a hippo trail to get back up above the rapid and report beta to the boys still rigging above. I heard a loud grunt just ahead of me and looked up to see the jungle ahead erupt into chaos and begin shaking wildly back and forth. Something huge was bearing straight down on me very quickly. I panicked and realized that I could not outrun whatever what coming, so I looked up and grabbed the largest vine I could reach and clambered up hand-over-hand as fast as I could. Just as I reached about 8 feet off the ground and pulled my legs up, 2 massive bull hippos(they grow up 5 tons.. ed.) came charging straight underneath me on the same trail I had just been standing on! I clung desperately to the vine until I thought it safe enough to return to the river, hollered for Scott (who had managed to warn the boys in time) and got back to the boats as quickly as possible.”

Hendri Coetzee
Nile Source to Sea 2004

“Four different waterfalls plunge between island cliffs high above us. Reuniting at the bottom of the turmoil the converging currents ferociously oppose a ninety degree turn and creating a ripple of power in the air. Anywhere accessible, it would have had tourists from all over the world flocking to hotels built on its edge with postcards for sale at quaint cafe’s located in the spray of the falls. Instead it stands unmolested, sheltered, as un-spoilt as the day it was created and all the more beautiful for not performing to regular audiences.

Nile Source to Sea 2004

The eerie thing about a crock charge is the utter silence with which they happens. Not a word is spoken as we watch it approach. Dale and Marcus sitting in front are in the greatest danger as they calmly sit on the inflatable raft tube staring into the approaching row of teeth.  It is close enough to see the plaque on its teeth when it launches itself out of the water and at them. An explosion of sound shatters the silence that has given the situation the detachment of a movie scene.

The plastic yellow paddle blades swung by Marcus and Dale, make contact with leather, flesh and bone in mid air. Dale slightly miss-hits with a deflecting blow but Marcus is on the money. Flashes of its white belly and green scales twists in the air like a sporting marlin before splashing back into the water from the direction it came from. A 900kilogram Nile crocodile takes some stopping, especially in its killing lunge but perhaps it is the surprise of being treated so disrespectfully that did the trick. Stunned, we sink back into silence for a second before exploding into “HOW FUCKING COOL WAS THAT!!!!!!”

While the rest of us though it might be runnable, Tyler had other plans

Source to sea 2004

“In front of me, bigger than anything I have ever heard off and certainly bigger that any I have ever seen, is a standing wave, the standing wave. A sheer green cliff, as fierce and fragile as a gas flame, nearly eight metres tall. The speed and volume needed to defy gravity so blatantly is hard to comprehend even as the contest plays out before me. Defiantly the freak wave holds its form while tons of water pass through it. Just when it looks as if gravity will drag the mountain down, it jerks back up, like a punch drunk giant teetering on the edge of collapse.
It is too big for the raft, but in a kayak, oh my goodness, it might just be possible…..


Its important to make the take out

Solo Mission 2007

I increase my routine 360 degree turns to check for any incoming, but there is just too much water around to be sure. Stagnant and without speed after a turn, I see it only as an after thought. Some deep instinct drags my eyes back to where seconds ago they noticed only placid green water. In its place is a crocodile, 15 meters from me, at full charge, closing the almost irrelevant distance between us rather quickly.

In the hope that it slow the beast down, I throw a decoy. I have kept my helmet on my kayak deck for just such an emergency and lob it at the croc, without looking back I concentrate on making every stroke count. A few seconds later I steal a look at the croc still coming hard, I have maintained the distance between us. The race is still very much on, but at least it’s a race.


Monday, October 4, 2010

so much for squash

It is not the first time I have felt that everything I have done before has merely been training for what lies ahead. But that does not make it less true. If you can see past a challenges, its not big enough. This is also the reason I have retired from Great White Exploring about 5 times. “That’s the last one. Surely. From now on I am getting serious about my future, perhaps start a relationship with a pot plant. Adventure education has taken me as far as it will”
Then I spend 4 months in one place and next thing you know, minding my own business, a idea arrives. This time, I had just come back from Thailand and settled into Jinja, Uganda, started up my own little business and began playing squash when I got a email from a Ben Stooksberry.

The last time and only time I had heard the name was 2009, I was neck deep in the Congo and he just wanted to touch base. In other words he had an itch for the Congo that needed scratching. I pretended I did not understand. It would be ludicrous to take a American, who you don’t know, and who has never been to the Africa, into Its very heart.

This time Ben was more direct. He and a few kayakers wanted a proper African expedition. For the few professional kayakers who have come to the continent for a expedition instead of surfing safari's, this normally means a week on the Zambezi, a week on the Nile and a few creeks along the way, finishing with a run down the Murchison falls section.

Since I am retired, I distractedly encouraged him and said I would paddle on the Nile with them for a bit. It’s a nice way to get my yearly Murch run in and to keep my sponsors happy while doing it. Its when he said he wanted to kayak the Rwenzories (Mountains of the Moon) that I started to really listen. Next he mentioned Rwanda, and soon afterward, the C word.

After hearing Congo I did the Google search and it turns out Ben is a National Geographic action hero. I have no idea what this means but if I was one, I would have it on my business card. Further checking indicated that he and the other members of the team, Jesse Coombs, Christopher Korbulic and  Darin McQuoid can all kayak in a straight line and amongst other things, have the record for the steepest mile in kayaking. This is a worrying fact since they might expect me to do some proper kayaking instead of just standing around and speaking bad Swahili. Any which way, I resignedly moved my retirement plans to next year and checked the outfitting in my Expedition Solo. The universe has spoken.

For those of you who have no idea where the following places are, don't feel left out, not many do... that's the point. I will be posting descriptions of the various sections over the next 2 weeks.
In short it is a circular route around the great lakes area of Central Africa.

We start in Jinja,Uganda, with a few days of big water kayaking in paradise, then down to Murchison park for a week in Africa's version of grade 5 whitewater. On to the Rwenzories, Africa’s highest mountain range,(no, its not Kili) where we will spend 10 days in the African alpine zone in the hope of finding some kayaking gems. After one full days rest, we go to Rwanda  and Lake Kivu to put on the Ruzizi river that forms the border between Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. Take out is in Lake Tanganyika at Bujimbura. From here we go by boat to Kalamie(Congo), paddle the Lukuga until it joins the Lualaba (later to become Congo river) at Kongolo. Have another days rest, hopefully avoid any local shenanigans and drop into La Porte de l'Enfer or Gates of Hell section (love the name), for a big water ride through one of the worlds most mysterious gorges.
We finish in Kindu, go by road(if it exist) to Bukavu, cross Lake Kivu by boat to Goma, hike up a active volcano, take a picture and come home the conquering hero’s, hoping to survive the NRE bar on our first night back.
To quote the great Jo Henry “what can possible go wrong”

As far as I am concerned (and since this is my blog, it all about me) this is not just the most comprehensive African river exploration of our generation but it is so by far. I want to thank Ben, Jessie, Chris, and Dan for making their first trip to Africa a proper one and for trusting me enough to dive in the deep end. When most people speak about fear of the unknown, I bet they have no idea what you must be going through right now.

Eddiebauer you surprise me. After watching I thought you might just have no idea of what you are allowing us to try but after checking up some more it seems you like it hard. Respect. If nothing else at least we can add the word expedition to this trip with a clean conscious.

Kick of on 19Oct and we hope to be back by Xmas. Watch this space for details.