By: Mylo Nicholas
With so much left to explore and thousands of rivers offering waterfalls and endless kilometers of whitewater, Kenya needs to be on every kayaker’s wishlist.
The big question we asked ourselves before arriving was ‘’Why have so few people come here to kayak?” Was it the hippos, the crocs, the mosquitos, or the uncertainty of water levels and lack of information on the rivers that put people off? We still do not have the answer, as this place has proven itself over and over again, even in a year where the rainfall was only at 20%...
After months of preparation and Google Earth scouting, we spent a month from mid November to mid December 2021, exploring the rivers coming down Mount Kenya and around Sagana, running the “classics” and bagging sweet sweet first descents.
Arriving in Nairobi was a bit of a culture shock for us, as this was our first kayaking trip outside of Europe and our first time in Africa, but we soon got comfortable with the way things work and how to negotiate the Muzungu price to a reasonable price.
We were accommodated by Savage Wilderness, a rafting company that operates in Sagana, Central Kenya, an hour away from Mount Kenya. The best part about staying here, is that the Middle Tana becomes your homerun. A really nice class 4 section that finishes off with a stunning 10m waterfall. Laps and laps are a must and the takeout is the campsite. What more could we have asked for?
Now, one of the first things you should know, is that there are no crocs, hippos or any mythical creatures living on the rivers we ran. They do live in the country, but are not generally found on the class 5 waterfall sections. They prefer the chilled out calm water on the slow moving lower sections of river. Avoid them by taking out before the flats. We saw one small croc on the Lower Tana, which finishes off in a Lake.
After a week waiting for rain, getting to know the place, doing Tana laps, settling in and buying food (we lived on bananas, mangoes and chapatis), it was time to start exploring! Water levels were not optimal, but we thought we would give Mount Kenya a shot! We decided to head up, driving through the tea and coffee fields to see what was hiding in the upper sections of the Thiba river. Some sections of this river had been run before, but we wanted to go higher up, much higher, to the foot of Mount Kenya and the border of the National Park. Once there, water was low but we thought we’d go check it out! We ended up finding a brand new waterfall section that we need to go back to with more water…and of course a log choked gorge that meant we spent most of our day portaging through the jungle. At the end of the section, there was a nice 7m boof, but a local wanted us to pay to run the drop, so we bailed and went back to camp. Mission successful? Not so sure, but the first few drops of that section would be worth running one day, you would just need to take out before the gorge.
That same day, back at camp, we caught up with the other group of kayakers exploring in the same area, the SEND boys! Whilst we were climbing our way out of the Upper Thiba, they found gold on the Nyamindi River and did the first descent of the Upper section. What they found is for sure one of the new best sections on the globe. We found out for ourselves the next day and were blown away by the quality of the whitewater. Levels were prime when other runs were dry. Mount Kenya showed us what it could offer. We ran this river a few times on our trip, as it was always a reliable section that always had water.
The next week was spent on a bunch of different rivers, including the Rupingazi, the Maragua, Ragati, others and more Tana laps, which all offered some good and not so good whitewater (due to water levels). One must, is the Ragati with it’s huge slides, a true waterpark after a solid night of rain. We also got the chance to run a sweet 18m falls lower down on the Nyamindi which had been run before, but offers a good adrenaline boost.
A big highlight from our trip was a big goat barbecue we organised and invited the SEND boys and Savage staff to. We bought a big live goat and managed to feed 20+ people with it. This traditional African meal is called Nyama Choma, which directly translates to ‘’grilled meat”. Nothing goes to waste including intestines, the head, kidneys, liver etc. Anyway it was great and a night to remember with local brew and plenty of Tusker beer!
On our last week, we decided to go to the East side of Mount Kenya, a slightly less explored side going from the towns of Embu to Meru. We found what we came for on the Ruguti river. We cannot confirm if it was a first descent or not, but it felt that way.... Another incredible volcanic rock section offered itself to us with more waterfalls, clean boofs and technical rapids for kilometers on end. The great part about kayaking in Kenya, is that the logistics are surprisingly easy if you rent a car and driver or use the Savage Wilderness vehicules, you can easily get around, and most sections are bridge to bridge.
We will be back sooner than you think. And next time we’ll bring more paddles… the volcanic rock broke 3!
(We’ll be adding the new sections we found on the Whitewater Guide App so you can see the details for yourself if anything sounds tempting)
View the Level Six Instagram take vver: https://www.instagram.com/stories/highlights/17934466708723930/