Cracking kayaking in Kenya
I landed the muddy six-metre waterfall with a resounding ‘phoosh.’ That noise, plus the slight jarring sensation in my back told me I’d nailed the boof. I rode the massive boil into a swirling eddy and stopped to take in my first river experience in Kenya. I looked back up at this chocolate milk cascade and thought to myself, “The kayaking in Kenya is so wonderfully weird.” With a couple years of hindsight, I still think that’s the best way to describe it. and have never experienced anything quite like Kenya. It’s hard to put into words even now. Rain fed rivers and clay
soil combine to make an other-worldly water colour – I kept imagining that I was kayaking on Mars. The stepped
landscape radiating out from the epi centre of Mount Kenya makes for some intimidating slides and waterfalls
that seem to randomly appear after you’ve been meandering through flat, bush-infested waters. Just when you think the whitewater is over, your river goes cascading off the edge of the earth, and just when you get used to dropping waterfalls and massively steep rapids, finding your gravity-defying-groove, you enter the flatlands again. In 2015, Don and I spent a week on the White Nile in Uganda doing some playboating, then hopped on a plane to Nairobi to meet up with James Savage, owner and operator of Savage Wilderness. We met James kayaking in Ecuador ten years earlier and had vague memories of him telling us that he ran a rafting and kayaking company in Kenya. That was so long ago that we didn’t have many expectations, or even really any image of what we might find when we landed in Kenya. Our first day in the country, James and one of his guides, Peter, showed us down their home river, the Tana. For the two-minute flat water paddle in, we had to avoid shore to minimize our risk of a hippo encounter. As soon as we wrapped our brains around that idea, we were careening down basalt slides and punching through big holes; our orange Fluid Solos disappearing in the equally orange water. Towards the end of the run, we reached ‘The Mission’ a perfect six-metre waterfall with not too much consequence for a blown line. There is even a staircase on the river left side so you can ‘huck your meat’ multiple times with minimal effort. An awesome training ground for anyone looking to work on their water fall running techniques. The Mission is tall enough that you have time to practice your ‘boof to stomp’ but not so tall that it’s dangerous to just send a big boof. Yet, it is still tall enough to practice penciling in when you have enough free fall to need to work on the timing of your tuck. After a few laps on The Mission, we had a nice paddle back to James’s camp on the banks of the Tana River. We pulled our boats up onto the grassy banks, walked over to the bar, grabbed a cold beer (Bombe Baridi in Swahili) and walked over to our cabin to enjoy the sunset.
The rest of our time in Kenya was filled with new rivers every day, each pouring off a different flank of the looming Mount Kenya. Some were made up of steep boulder gardens, others had us paddling through little tunnels in the vegetation only to emerge to a wide-open river bed and huge slide or waterfall waiting for us. We found some new surprise around every bend Kenya’s rivers are all rain fed and when it rains in this tea-producing region, the rich, red clay soil fills the rivers. The red/orange water contrasts nicely with the verdant green hills that are covered in thick tea shrubs and brightly clad tea harvesters. The locals are incredibly friendly and we often found ourselves being chased down the river by cheering kids excited to see us paddle by. Another huge perk of paddling in Kenya is the wildlife. The whitewater kayaking is centred around the town of Sagana, which is a two hour drive from Ol Pejeta National Park. On a clear day, Mount Kenya dominates the background while zebra, lions, hyenas, ostrich, baboons, rhino and much more go about their lives on the plains. A one to three-day trip to the park is a must do while kayaking in Kenya! A day trip to the park is possible, but if you have more time and money to spend, staying overnight in the Sweetwater Serena Hotel inside the park would be an incredible experience. Having a gin and tonic on the porch of your 5-star wall tent while watching the sunset over animals drinking from the nearby watering hole would give you the quintessential African experience. However, if you envision your trip to Kenya unfolding, contacting James and Savage Wilderness should be your first step.
The Savage family has a long history in Kenya. Lynn (James’s mother) was born in Kenya to British immigrants. Mark Savage (James’s father) came to Kenya in 1954 and was a bush pilot in Africa from 1975 through the early 1990s. In 1989, someone showed him a rafting video from the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River, and images of all the Kenyan rivers he flew over flooded his mind. He was inspired. Later that year, he bought an old raft and started teaching himself how to run rivers. Mark soon became a legend, pioneering rafting descents throughout Kenya.
Twenty-eight years later, he still runs a whitewater/adventure camp on the banks of the Tana River and has created a whitewater family, both by blood with his son James heading up operations at Savage Wilderness and via the local connections he’s made over the years. The team at Savage Wilderness can make your paddling trip to Kenya headachefree. They have a fleet of Fluid Kayaks – Bazookas and Solos – that you can rent, they can arrange shuttles, provide food and lodging and they also offer guide services and instruction. Unless you speak Swahili and have
a great map, it’s incredibly useful to have the local beta of the Savage family.
RIVERS: To get you fired up about a trip to Kenya, here is a quick lowdown on some of the rivers you can paddle from the Savage Wilderness Camp.
The Upper Tana can be run at nearly every water level from super low to super high. At low flows, it will be a more mellow Class IV, while at high flows it turns to Class V.
The Lower Tana,just below James’s camp, is a step up in difficulty. At low flows, it’s a short but steep IV+ run full of ledges to navigate. At high flows, it’s full on Class V with massive holes to avoid.
Other rivers in the area include: The Mathioya Class IV/IV+, Muragua Class IV/V, Regatte Class III-V, Namindy Class IV (paddlers can choose to run the 10-12-metre waterfall called ‘Shoosty Boosty’ at the put in), Rubangazi Class IV/IV+, Chania Class IV and many more! There is still plenty of exploring to be done around Mount Kenya if you have the time and the willingness to suffer.
WHEN TO GO:
You need rain in order to kayak in Kenya! There are two rainy seasons around Mount Kenya. The first is mid-April through the end of June and the second is mid-October to the end of December. James Savage organizes the Tana River Festival each year, so that is a great time to meet up with other paddlers. The dates for 2017 are November 24-26th. You can find more info here: https://www.facebook.com/kenyariverfestival/?hc_ref=SEARCH&fref=nf
WHERE TO GO:
Fly into Nairobi, Kenya and arrange transportation to Sagana, which is about two hours north. Savage Wilderness can arrange this for you.
James Savage at Savage Wilderness is your man for all logistical needs in Kenya. He can rent you kayaks, arrange a pick up from Nairobi, set you up with food and lodging (in cabins or tent space), provide shuttles, guiding and anything else you may need. http://www.savagewilderness.org/
Original Article: kenya article
By Darcy Gaechter