Monday, December 31, 2007

Dreaming of a White Nile Christmas

The White Nile is a big river. Others have said it before but I will say it again.
On December 7th, only twenty minutes after finishing my last final paper for fall term, I walked up to the check in desk for NorthWest Airlines.
"Anything to check, Mr. Ross?"

I handed her my gear bag and pointed behind me where my kayak sat wrapped up and concealed.

"Yes Ma'm, just this and my surf bag."

She looked at me puzzled.

"Are there any waves to surf in Uganda?"

A little smile crossed my face, because now my dreams of a big-water Christmas were becoming very real.

"I hope so, Ma'm."

After 28 hours of plane rides and customs checkpoints I landed in Kampala, where I was picked up by my good friend Karl (See more of him at and his girlfriend Tara. I had just met his dad on the flight from Amsterdam, but I'm 90% sure he would have picked me up anyway. They waited for an hour for us to appear out of customs, watching my kayak run laps around the baggage carousel.

The Day One Section...

The first section of whitewater, commonly referred to as Day One, begins at the Nile River Explorers bar and ends at a rapid called Itunda. After the entrance ramp (which can only be described as a leap of faith into an unpredictable but luckily non-retentive hole) most paddlers take a few seconds to roll up and orient themselves. The next move is to ferry across the backwash of a hole named The Pencil Sharpener (see the author in the above photo) and avoid the next one called The Cuban (see below).

The second time I ran this rapid I opted to punch the Cuban, and after two perfectly vertical back flips I flushed out of the backwash on a nose stall looking straight into the next hole: The Ashtray. (In the above photo I am taking my last stroke into The Cuban, while Mexico City kayak star Rafa Ortiz skirts The Ashtray.) Below The Ashtray the water slides down a shelf toward the last hole, The Bad Place, on river right, but most of the time a little left momentum is enough to flush through.

The Day Two Section...

At Itunda the river splits between three channels. Itunda is on the right and the far left is Kalagala Falls, a stout class two waterfall with class six consequences and a reputation for breaking paddles. It doesn't seem to matter if you boof it or plug it, as long as you avoid the left side. The middle channel is Hypoxia, and infamous unavoidable hole that has flushed everyone who ran it so far at higher flows. Although my new friend Rafa was stoked to follow me off Kalagala completely blind, neither of us wanted to attempted a low-water descent of Hypoxia. It looked like a cross between a geyser and the Sand-Man from Spiderman III. (see

The Day Two Section begins with one of these three rapids, meanders through some easy channels, some flat sections, some play waves, Steve Fisher's island, and ends at the best wave on the continent: Nile Special. (See right)

At higher flows a little shoulder pocket allows paddlers to access the wave from the eddy, but lower flows necessitate a tow rope. Either way the wave is sick, and everybody seems to get ample airtime.

Just downstream is an island resort called The Hairy Lemon, where fifteen dollars a day buys camping, all you can drink tea, three solid meals a day and back-yard access to Nile-Special.

Parting Shot...

After three weeks of areal moves, ant attacks, and big-water beatdowns, this was the only sticker remaining on my boat. Go CKS!!!


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