River 3: The Sandrananta

Edit 17 Nov 2015: We were incorrect in thinking that this was a first descent. Read about the true first descent here: http://geraintanderson.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/into-unknown-first-descent-of.html

The Sandrananta, our initial first descent began with a day of full on 4×4 driving. There was mud and stuff but we didn’t get stuck so that was nice.

Cheeky pineapple

Cheeky pineapple

Following this we spent a Saturday night in a bunk house in Ikongo, ready to add our chapter (to be read in south African accent). The next day we were perfectly set up for a Sunday morning organising our kit and cooking breakfast by a church in front of 100+ locals blowing off prayer to laugh at the fazzas (a local word for gangly white men in skirts).

Josh’s crowd-pleasing face

Josh’s crowd-pleasing face

The first giveaway of excitement downstream was the congregation sprinting a few hundred metres to the first set of rapids, where they continued to whoop and holler as we paddled past. Many high fives and fist bumps were had, good fun all round! The rest of the day was flat scrapey nonsense, Campbell took one for the team with a swim to keep morale up on the one good rapid. Good lad (#LADSLADSLADSMADA2K15).

Calum at “Sticky Lawrence” – the site of an unfortunate swim for Campbell

Calum at “Sticky Lawrence” – the site of an unfortunate swim for Campbell

That evening on a comfortable camp unnamed members of the team whom had substituted ponchos for sensible clothes delved into the benefits of this choice and its associated privacy, stroke technique galore and an evening well spent deep in the bush! On an other note if you don’t own a poncho, who even are you? As a now hardened expedition kayaker and total bad ass, I can tell you a poncho represents fashionable evening get up. A towel/drying implement, a warm sleeping recepticle (minus the head hole always ending up around crotch area), along with ensuring celebrity status with the locals. Alas, I digress.

The finest garments known to man

The finest garments known to man

Day 2 turned out to not be quite as guff, with building bony grd 2 then 3 then a cheeky chossy 4, this was followed by a 70 / 80 ft top to bottom monstrosity that may go with more precipitation and a more testosterone fueled group than ours.

The Monster!

The Monster!

The afternoon included some lovely first descent grd 3 and 4, most notably one round an island Calum charged in order to not poo himself (this country is bad for your bowels and colour of your underwear, as I type and sip rum Matt and Sam are upstairs running back and forth from the bed and toilet, this seems to be a rota of who is likely to have an accident at any one time). Completion of this quality whitewater culminated in us finishing an anticipated five day section in two, happy days!

One of the chossier sections!

One of the chossier sections!

Sam lining up one of the many little ledges

Sam lining up one of the many little ledges

We finished the next morning dropping a further 50m with some nice grade 4, which we mucked about and beatered our way down before reaching our take out and destination. We were therefore disappointed as a true traveller finds solace not in his destination, but the journey and is disappointed if he does find his destination (also to be read in a south African accent). Generally a worthwhile first D and top #bantr #lads #letsgetmadagascartattoos

Training in Uganda

With winter well and truly in swing and a massive lack of rain in Scotland preventing us from doing our thing, Calum and myself headed off to the sunny pearl of Africa…Uganda! Where the White Nile flows from Lake Victoria you’ll find some of the finest big volume river running and play waves in the world, catering from your casual kayaker to the best big wave freestyle paddlers around! With little persuading needed our team of 5 booked flights back in August and before we knew it we were in the air heading for Entebbe, followed by a few hours in a Matatu (taxi) to our campsite at NRE (Nile River Explorers – raftafrica.com) and the home of Kayak The Nile. We arrived just in time to bring in the New Year, which involved the second annual Beer Olympics (we were straight up terrible) and introducing the Ugandans to Buckfast Tonic Wine (needless to say it went well). This was the best welcome to the Nile that we ever could have expected, and kudos to everyone at NRE for making it so epic…many a funnel was seen off that night…

NRE Bar - Calum, Leslie, Jack, Roddy

NRE Bar – Calum, Leslie, Jack, Roddy

Overlooking Bujugali Lake (once Bujugali Falls) this place defines paradise, and is where we lived for our three weeks away. Calum and myself used this trip as a good opportunity to find transport, haggle prices, and generally be dirtbag kayakers living on a shoestring in preparation for Mada, and it definitely paid off! It really is amazing just how little you can get by on if you’re prepared to search and ask, also getting fed by locals was always fun (eating great food and meeting amazing people!). The first week or so was spent exploring the different channels of the river, getting a feel for the paddling style (/being wedged in a playboat that’s too small), and spending whole days lounging and surfing at SuperHole. Now I’m not much of a playboater, but even after just three weeks it’s amazing how much your skills develop and I’m sure a lot of people will be testament to that. Want to get good at kayaking? Head to Uganda.

Leslie - Nile Special Wave Access

Leslie – Nile Special Wave Access

In week two we treated ourselves to a few days camping at the Hairy Lemon Island (hairylemonuganda.com), a self sustaining island paradise where you can spend all your time sessioning the infamous Nile Special surf wave (epic), along with Bells Hole (trashy beatdowns) below, and Club Wave last (for those 6am wake-up sessions). This is where you’ll truly learn a new style of paddling, and find that getting kicked a foot or two in the air by its power is all part of surfing…bring on the air screws! Waving goodbye to the Lemon myself and two others decided to public transport it the 6hr trip north-west to Masindi in order to see all the pretty animals and check out Murchison falls, an incredible rapid where the entire Nile funnels through a 6m wide gap! If this mini-holiday taught me anything it’s two thing: avoid crocs at all cost, they’re scary; and public transport is wild, sweaty, and highly uncomfortable in general, however it was worth it considering the cost was around £4/5 each way!

Calum - Blunts For Dayzzzz

Calum – Blunts For Dayzzzz

The rest of the trip was spent with more lazy super hole days, a lot of nights in the curry house (amazing), and tagging onto raft trips in order to paddle the entire section of river – from below Bujugali dam to the Hairy Lemon island, where lots of food and beer awaited us. Home time came around way too fast, and just in time for the famous Nile River Festival we had to jump on our plane (Uni term spoiling all our fun!). However the time we spent there has opened my eyes to new kayaking styles and a totally different way of life, I think I could live there extremely easily (and perhaps one day I will). I honestly urge anyone of any kayaking ability to head out for a holiday, get some fantastic lessons from the good people at Kayak The Nile (kayakthenile.com), and just experience Uganda in all its friendliness and hospitality.

Before it’s too late, the stretch of the Nile that has become so notorious is gradually disappearing due to damming projects. Already the Silverback rapids at Bujugali have been lost, of which I am sad enough that I never got to experience, and the rest of the rapids are under serious threat from the proposed Isimba dam. This is likely to happen in the next few years. Check out the film ‘A Dam Shame’ by Sam Ward (https://vimeo.com/37428996) for an insight into the Bujugali dam impact and celebrating the rapids before they disappeared.

Huge thanks to Scotty Robinson for making sure we didn’t drop into death rapids! Also along with big thanks to the guys at KTN – Dave, Sam, Emily – for sorting Jack with boats when Brussels Airline lost his (and just generally being good to us), Flo and the rest of the NRE guys for putting up with our mess, and anyone we met/fed us when we were floating about.

Until we meet again Africa!

UGANDA: 2015 from Jack Brickell on Vimeo.

Film Produced by Jack Brickell
Photos Courtesy of Murray Gauld

North Wales selection weekend

Fairy Falls - Photo by Rob Moffatt

Fairy Falls – Photo by Rob Moffatt

The British Universities Kayaking Expedition is a biennial event that sees a small team of some of the UK’s finest white water paddlers organise and undertake an extended trip to a location of their choosing. Often very remote and undiscovered, they’re aim is to generally find new stretches of world class white water along with any other goals that their team see’s fit. Details of the event along with previous trip reports and footage can be found at uniyaker.co.uk, some of the previous destinations look suitably epic!

The selection process for the 2015 team began in the run up to October, where all applicants submitted a two page information sheet (avoiding using the word CV…its not!) basically bigging themselves up with the hope of being narrowed down and included in the top 20 paddlers to go to the selection long weekend in North Wales. I believe around 35 people applied this year proving a strong interest in exploratory kayaking amongst UK students. On the 6th of November everyone made their way to the Imperial College mountain hut in Snowdonia, North Wales, arriving in the evening it was a good chance for everyone to make each others acquaintances and have a social bevvy!

Mountain Hut - Photo by Ant Stewart

Mountain Hut – Photo by Ant Stewart

The next morning (Friday 7th) saw us up at the back of 7 for a fry up breakfast before heading off for the Mawddach, thankfully lots of rain the previous week and a drizzly weekend meant good levels and lots of boating! The Mawddach is ace!! For its length and its continuity it was a great opportunity to paddle with new people and prove yourself as competent on the river. I’m sure we’ll all be back to conquer the Rhaeadr Mawddach…one of these days! Once off the river with ample daylight left we headed to the Wnion with reported good flows, and boy were they right! I was gutted daylight only allowed a couple of runs as I could’ve sessioned that peach of a a grade 4 gorge all day, reminded me of a high Briancon gorge…narrow, committing, and tonnes of fun!! As darkness descended we headed back to the mountain hut to get the fire on and see about sorting dinner out, spag bol was on the menu and once everyone had eaten their fill it was time to set about hearing everyone’s destination presentations.

Leslie on the Mawddach - Photo by Ant Stewart

Leslie on the Mawddach – Photo by Ant Stewart

Campbell running Fairy Falls - Photo by Jack Gunter

Campbell running Fairy Falls – Photo by Jack Gunter

The presentations were focussed on being short and sweet so the evening wouldn’t drag out all night and everyone produced the goods its safe to say, with solid destinations looking into the likes of Iran, Azerbaijan, South Korea, Laos, and so on. Once all destinations had been pitched and discussed they were narrowed down to three options, Madagascar, Colombia/Ecuador, and Iran, where they were left for decision by the final team (giving room for extra research, etc.).

Saturday 8th saw another early start with cooked breakfasts and a prompt exeunt to the days rivers…Glaslyn and the Fairy Glen of the Conwy! The Glaslyn acted as the days warm up with four or five runs down this cracking piece of short and sweet class 4, followed by a le mans start boater cross! After getting our asses handed to us for first place by Josh we headed to the Fairy Glen! Grade 5 feature after feature it truly is one that should be on every UK boaters to-do list, with a highlight being Fairy Falls, a broken jagged slide leads into two meaty boof-tastic holes/drops with a messy lead out requiring a dash right to avoid a potential pinning. Managing to get a few runs in we once again headed back for an evening at the mountain hut, with dinner left to the charge of the Scottish boys (wise?) where naturally they cooked up huge quantities of Haggis, Neeps, and Tatties! Following the foreign cuisine it was onto the nerve racking part…the selection! This year it was a collective decision made by all applicants, each of whom listed their top 6 candidates that they’d like to see in the team (including themselves), this was probably the most difficult part as overall the level of paddling displayed had been incredible. The votes were then taken away for counting leaving all the candidates waiting in anticipation, upon return and after the weekends prizes were given out the team was announced as such:

The team: Calum, Joshua, Matt, Campbell, Leslie, Jacob, Sam

The team: Calum, Joshua, Matt, Campbell, Leslie, Jacob, Sam

  • Calum Peden
  • Josh Brewer-Smith
  • Matt Brook
  • Campbell Simpson
  • Leslie Simpson
  • Jacob Collings
  • Sam Lyons

Evening socialising once again commenced along with our first meeting, where after discussion and a little more info gathering we decided Madagascar would be the best option for our expedition giving us incredible scope for first descents, multi-day jungle adventures, and also the option to work in both charity and environmental aspects. This is an incredibly exciting prospect and one that we are all fully committed to getting the most from.

Overall the weekend as a whole was incredibly rewarding, a chance to paddle new (incredible) rivers, meet new people, and gain an insight into the high-level of student white water kayakers across the UK. Every paddler at the weekend (regardless of making the team) now has a wealth of information for potential expeditions and plenty of new friends to go paddling with across the country, definitely recommend applying to anyone interested in this field of kayaking!