The Murchison Falls section of the Nile River is a 50-mile whitewater wonderland flowing through the most pristine wilderness on the African continent. Few runs in the world come close to its combination of challenging big-water rapids and staggering natural beauty. But there’s a reason only a handful of boaters have run it more than once—wildlife. In the words of African whitewater legend Pete Meredith, “You’re only safe in the rapids. The crocodiles, hippos and idiots are all in the flatwater.”
Here, Canadian expedition paddler Ben Marr and a crew of international paddlers come face-to-face with this section of river’s friendly locals during a recent Murchison Falls run. Marr captured the exchange with the angry croc on his helmet camera as the team was floating out. To present a more intimidating target to the toothy beasts, the kayakers pulled their boats up onto the support raft to negotiate the flatwater—an arrangement that at least allows the boys to keep a 360-degree lookout.
This big fella wasn’t at all intimidated, but the team was ready with timely paddle thrusts and some colorful language when it charged the raft. One boater managed to plant a paddle on the reptile’s nose, which sent it packing. Nobody went back for the plastic paddle that retails for about $20 and measures between four and five feet long—giving some perspective to the size of this “big c___,” as one paddler indelicately describes the reptile (sensitive viewers and anyone within earshot of a corporate HR rep should mute this one before playing).
If you think this is scary, keep in mind that crocs aren’t even the most dangerous animals on this stretch of the Nile. Those would be the hyper-territorial hippos that congregate in the eddies and reflexively charge any kayak or raft that comes their way. This section of river flows through Uganda’s largest wildlife reserve, Murchison Falls National Park, and aside from the occasional Lord’s Resistance Army militant known to hide out in the bushes on river right, there are no people on the entire section of river. That means the wildlife has developed zero fear of humans.
Still, there’s no better whitewater in Africa. Veteran kayaker Ben Stookesberry ranks it among the 10 best big water runs on the planet, likening it to a wilder, woollier version of the famed Itunda Falls upstream. So if you’re in Africa with a set of brass balls and solid Class V skills, he says, “track down Pete Meredith and take out another life insurance policy.” Murchison, and this big bugger, will be waiting for you.