Blue Nile (Abay): Grand Canyon of the Nile raft/kayak expedition: 14-32 days, 916km (594 miles), class III-IV; JOIN US!

BLUE NILE: The Grand Canyon of the Nile (Last Descents!)

876 km (543 miles), class III-IV(V), 16-32 days

launches: Dec14 Jul20 Aug10 Sep1 Oct1 Nov1 (2018) RESERVE

The Blue Nile in Ethiopia passes through the bona fide "Grand Canyon" of Africa as it descends from Lake Tana to the desert in Sudan enroute to Egypt. Join our raft/kayak group as we paddle through the length of the canyon in Ethiopia with challenging rapids, cool side hikes, beautiful beach camps, and interesting geology, people and wildlife. In 2017-2018, you will be one of the last people to float through the Western Cataracts and Lower Gorge sections before they are drowned by the Grand Ethiopian Rennaissance Dam. Help us SAVE THE REMAINING GRAND CANYON OF THE NILE!

Articles: GERD
Film: MysteryOfTheNile
Videos: 2017 2007 1995


The Blue Nile (Abbai) is one most incredible rivers in the world and the source of most of the water for the Nile in Egypt.  On this expedition, we’ll spend nearly a month rafting down the river in Ethiopia where it has carved the bona fide Grand Canyon of Africa. After an optional day-trip from Lake Tana to Tissisat Falls (40km), we'll put in with the main loaded rafts just below the falls where the river enters its canyon and there is certain to be a runnable level of water in the river Sep-Oct-Nov. On our trip, the first challenge will be to navigate the tough rapids in the ~50km downstream of Tissisat Falls in what is known as the Northern Gorge, where there are numerous class IVs and at least three Vs (Gauntlet, Crux, and Cave). Then from the 2nd Portuguese bridge downstream for the next 826km of the trip, the river is fairly easy and usually class III max, though there still might be some IVs (especially in the Black Gorge section).  We’ll do resupply of food at several of the main bridge crossings of the river (~Days 9, 12, and/or 19 of the trip) where we can also have passenger exchanges.  The trips in 2017 will be particularly special as this is the last year possible to raft through the Lower Gorges before the Grand Ethiopian Rennaissance Dam (GERD) is completed and flooding ~200 km upstream from near the Sudan border.

Our main Grand Canyon Nile trip is appropriate for anyone. No prior whitewater experience is necessary on a raft. However, the Northern Gorge is a more intense section due to the rapids and portages and can be trying on many people. It may be more appropriate for beginners to enter the trip after this section.

Private groups are welcomed to schedule a trip - either as a fully guided trip or a Outfitting Service trip for experienced boaters.

EMAIL LIST: Sign up for our email list (send an email) and you'll be be advised of upcoming trips and often special lower rates compared to the general contribution rate.


The "Grand Canyon of the Nile" (coined by Snell's expedition in 1968) refers to the profound canyon section of Blue Nile in Ethiopia where it cuts a canyon through a high raised tableland. The canyon extends >800 km from Tissisat Falls to near the Sudan border and is generally 1200-2000 m (4000-6600 ft) deep on both sides throughout its length. Although there are similarities to the Colorado's Grand Canyon, the Nile's Grand Canyon has less limestone and consequently fewer vertical walls. Access points divide the river into various sections including the Northern Gorge, Gorgeous Gorge, Inner Canyon, Black Gorge, Western Cataracts, and Lower Gorge sections. Each section has numerous big-water rapids and other features/side excursions/villager contacts. Aside from the Northern Gorge (with many class IVs and several class Vs), most of the river is class II and III in difficulty and comparable to the difficulty of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado.

Anyone (even folks with no river experience) can always join a normal SierraRios trip through any section scheduled and have experienced class V guides lead them safely on the trip. Ideally, participants in charge of a raft or kayak should feel challenged, but not scared. If you're planning to row or kayak, you should note the difficulties below.

SierraRios trips launching late September through June will be based in Bahir Dar with an initial two days of excursions on Lake Tana and the Tis Abay sections. Then all convene at the initial camp below Tissisat Falls for camp orientation and safety discussion before launching into the Northern Gorge section. Passenger exchanges, resupply of food, and ending of trip are possible at the following access points:

2nd Portuguese Bridge (km90): involves a hike of ~12 km from near Mota
Merto Bridge (km220): ~10 hr drive from Addis Ababa
Rennaissance Bridge (km 331): ~4 hr drive from Addis Ababa
Bure Bridge (km 524): ~10 hr drive from Addis Ababa
Sirba Abay (km 800): ~18 hr drive from Addis Ababa

SierraRios trips launching during high water July through September will often start somewhere after the difficult rapids of the Northern Gorge - either on the Bashilo river or at the 2nd Portuguese Bridge, Merto Bridge, or Rennaissance Bridge. All trips in 2017 and probably most in 2018 will continue through the Lower Gorge. When the reservoir begins to fill and flood the Lower Gorge (probably in 2018), we may end trips at Sirba. When the reservoir is full, trips will likely end at Bure Bridge. To get a better idea of all the sections, see the Overview Map.

section km days class rapids scenery hikes cultural note
Gilgel Abay 200 ~5 IV-V +++++ ++++ ++ ++++ section from source to Lake Tana
Lake Tana 50 ~2 0 + ++ ++ ++++ monasteries on the islands of the lake
------------ -- -- ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------
TisAbay section 40 ~2 IV(V) +++++ ++ + ++ exiting Lake Tana but often little water now
Northern Gorge 50 ~5 V +++++ +++++ ++++ ++ very difficult; class Vs at Gauntlet, Cave, BadSeeds
Gorgeous Gorge 130 ~4 III +++ +++++ +++++ +++ incredible scenery and side canyons
Inner Canyon2 111 ~3 II-III ++ +++ +++ +++ nice scenery; more wildlife
Black Gorge 195 ~5 III-IV ++++ ++++ ++ + fun rapids; hotter; remote with wildlife; crocs
Western Cataracts 267 ~6 II-III +++ +++ ++ +++++ Gumuz native tribes; remote with wildlife; crocs
Lower Gorge 179 ~4 II-III ++ ++ + ++++ hot; some rapids; soon to be flooded by GERD
Sudan 756 10+ I-II + + + +++ Roseries Dam; then flat open & hot to Khartoum
-------------------------- -- --- --- --- --- --- --- --------------------------
TOTAL 1978 ~45 - - - - - for entire Blue Nile descent source-to-Khartoum
TOTAL nice rafting 916 ~29 - - - - - full Blue Nile descent

Tis Abay section (Lake Tana outflow)
class IV (V)
40 km (24 miles); 1-2 days
Lake Tana (1790m) to Tissisat Falls (1640m)
3.5 m/km (20 ft/mile)
avg flow August: 80cms (2,600cfs); avg flow January: 40cms (1200cfs)

The Tis Abay section from Lake Tana to Tissisat has a number of class II, III, IV, and V rapids but is generally in open country with a wide riverbed and the river often divides into many channels. The first major rapid about 6 km downstream from the lake is called Jordi Falls (IV) followed a few km downstream by the steeper Arafami Falls (V) and there are many more drops with multiple channels on the way to Tis Abay (Tisissat Falls). When the flow is high enough, in many of the rapids there are many channels of different difficulty, so you can pick the route that best suits you. But it is rare to find optimal flows now. The flow out of the lake is controlled by a regulating dam. During the years 2001-2015, the river usually had a constant ~110 cms in it (+tributary addition) to generate power at the Tis Abay powerhouse all year long. However, now due to the Tana-Beles hydro diversion project removing water from Lake Tana all year into the Beles River, this section will have much reduced flows - and be more dependent on overall lake levels. Much of the year the upper part of the run will not have enough water to raft. The best time of year to likely find fun flows in the upper ~25 km is Oct-Nov-Dec when releases from the lake will lilkely be 30-70cms (1000-2300 cfs), while the lower ~15 km should have good flows Jul-Dec from a combination of outflow and tributaries entering. The section ends at Tisissat Falls, a ~40 m two-tiered drop and the iconic symbol of the Blue Nile. A poor quality dirt road leads to the powerhouse and falls - and continues beyond it about 2 km, so it is easy to skip this section and put in downstream, avoiding a potentially boney section of river if there is inadequate release from the lake, as well as the portage of the falls.
See slideshow of Tis Abay section (late July 2017)

Northern Gorge (Grand Canyon Nile)
class IV (V)
50 km (31 miles); ~6 days
Tissisat Falls base (1600m) to 2nd Portuguese bridge (1380m)
4.4 m/km (24 ft/mile)
avg flow August: 200cms (7,000cfs); avg flow January: 50cms (1700cfs)

The Northern Gorge section of the Grand Canyon of the Nile is the most feared section on the river due to a series of difficult class IV and V rapids and should ONLY BE ATTEMPTED WITH RAFTS WITH EXPERT GUIDES ALONG AND ONLY IF THE WATER IS LOW ENOUGH . The section starts at the base of Tisissat Falls (road access) where electricity used to be generated by diverting the water out of the river above the falls and into one or two powerhouses. However, since 2016, water from Lake Tana (about 70cms out of an average 116cms) is preferably diverted into the Tana-Beles hydroelectric project with a larger elevation drop, effectivly making the powerhouse at Tis Abay unused. There is still a mimimum flow required to be released to go over Tisissat Falls for ecological and tourist purposes, and this flow is highest in the traditional high water months of Sep-Oct-Nov and possibly Aug and Dec. Aside from the water entering the Northern Gorge from Lake Tana, there are a number of tributaries that augment the flow appreciably during the rainy season, but provide very little extra flow during the dry season. The rapids in the Northern Gorge start just downstream of Tissisat Falls with some class III-IV rapids leading down to the First Portuguese bridge (Alata bridge). Rafts will generally start downstream of the bridge near the Tul confluence. From Tul confluence down to the Abaya there are numerous difficult passages, the toughest of which are Catfish Falls (IV), Gauntlet (V), Crux (IV-V), Blackwall Cavern (V+), and Bad Seeds (IV-V), with other IIIs and IVs in the section after Gauntlet. The toughest rapids end at the Abaya river confluence (entering RR and boosting the flow in the river substantially) with some fun class IIIs in the last kilometers down to the 2nd Portuguese bridge (a.k.a. Andabit bridge).
See slideshow of Northern Gorge (Aug 2017)
See slideshow of Northern Gorge (Oct 2017)


Gorgeous Gorge (Grand Canyon Nile)
class II-III
130 km (81 miles); ~4 days
2nd Portuguese Bridge (1380m) to Merto Bridge (1200m)
1.4 m/km (8 ft/mile)
avg flow August: 1000cms (35,000cfs); avg flow January: 80cms (2700cfs)

The Gorgeous Gorge section of the Grand Canyon of the Nile is one of the most scenic sections of the river. The section starts at the 2nd Portuguese Bridge (Andabit Bridge or Broken Bridge) that requires a hike of 12 km from the dirt road access near the town of Mota up on the rim. The bridge was destroyed by fleeing rebellious Ethiopians when they were being pursued by the Italians in the 1930s. Just after the turn of the millenium, the group Bridges to Prosperity repaired the bridge so it could be used by the local population, but this repair has since been destroyed as well. Downstream of the bridge, the Abay river moves swiftly among basalt cliffs (and some pillars) with frequent class II rapids (and a few IIIs). There are plenty of interesting side hikes on this section of the river - with perhaps the nicest scenery and most interesting natural features to explore along the entire river - including slot side canyons, natural arches, waterfalls, springs, and caves. One major tributary enters in this section: the Bashilo (RL), Walaka (RL), and Jamma (RL) rivers, all on the left, as well as a number of smaller tributaries on the right. The nights are still fairly cool at these elevations and due to the interesting side excursions possible and easy floatability, this is a great section to spend some extra time and layovers. There are numerous inhabitants in the canyon here, but they tend to live in the higher, cooler elevations, coming down to the river to graze livestock, fish, or cross from Gojjam (west side) to Bejemder (east side)/Shoa (south side) or vice-versa.
See slideshow of Gorgeous Gorge (Aug 2017)
See slideshow of Gorgeous Gorge (Oct 2017)


Inner Canyon (Grand Canyon Nile)
class II-III
111 km (69 miles); ~3 days
Merto Bridge (1200m) to Rennaissance Bridge (1030m)
1.5 m/km (8 ft/mile)
avg flow August: 1700cms (60,000cfs); avg flow January: 120cms (4000cfs)

The Inner Canyon section of the Grand Canyon of the Nile passes through the deepest part of the canyon and is one of the most scenic sections of the river. The section starts at the Merto Bridge which was constructed onl in 2012 and is a ~1hr drive from Merto Le Maryham (and ~10 hr from Addis Ababa). The river moves swiftly in a beautiful canyon with limestone, sandstone, and igneous basalt layers and frequent class II rapids. There are a several interesting side hikes on this section of the river into side canyons and up to rims with grand vistas of the canyon. Two major tributaries enter in this section: the Walaka (RL) and Jemma (RL) rivers as well as a number of smaller tributaries on the right. There continue to be residents in the initial half of this section but mostly disappear in the lower half. The section ends at the Rennaissance Bridge (Shefartak Bridge), the main highway between Addis Ababa and Bahir Dar.
See slideshow of Inner Canyon (Aug 2017)


Black Gorge (Grand Canyon Nile)
class III-IV
195 km (150 miles); ~6 days
Rennaissance Bridge (1030m) to Bure Bridge (800m)
0.9 m/km (4.8 ft/mile)
avg flow August: 2500cms (80,000cfs); avg flow January: 170cms (6000cfs)

The Black Gorge section of the Grand Canyon of the Nile is named due to the black rock on the sides of the gorge that extend much of the length of this section. Although this section has lower gradient compared to the Inner Canyon section, the river is much more voluminous and the rapids are tougher, especially at low flows when more features like waves and holes develop. The gorge starts after the Muger river enters (RL) and before the Guder river enters (RL). Near the start of the gorge is an interesting ruin called Castanio's Bridge (with the abutments still present from 1903 but the bridge and roads to it never being completed). Rapids get tougher after the Guder, with numerous class III rapids and several that can be class IVs. The class IVs that may be encountered include Rubin, Fincha-a, 200m Eddy, and Dumb. Most rapids are located where tributaries or gullies have deposited debris in the riverbed (similar to the Colorado in Grand Canyon). This section has few to no people living near the river and therefore it is more likely to encounter wildlife such as crocodiles, bushbuck, kudu, baboons, and hippos. It is important to take precautions against crocodile attacks, especially the Gatekeeper. Being at lower elevation and with dark rocks nearby radiating the heat absorbed during the day, this section gets very hot.
See slideshow of Black Gorge (Aug 2017)


Western Cataracts (Grand Canyon Nile)
class II-III
267 km (166 miles); ~6 days
Bure bridge (800m) to Sirba access (610m)
0.71 m/km (3.9 ft/mile)
avg flow August: 4200cms (130,000cfs); avg flow January: 230cms (8000cfs)

The Western Cataracts section of the Grand Canyon of the Nile was named by the 1968 British expedition due to their encounter of a number of rapids in the section at high flows. In general, the river is very voluminous here and the canyon is going into more densely-vegetated area that appears more like jungle in the rainy season (Jul-Oct). Rapids tend to be located at curves or where tributaries enter and have deposited debris, and at higher flows often have large roller-coaster type wave trains. The upper part of this section has people living near the river (Gumuz) who are a darker more central African type of people compared to the Amharic and Oromo peoples who are the primary people of the highlands (and the majority in Ethiopia). The people in this region have different customs compared to more typical Ethiopians. In the unpopulated lower part of this section, wildlife is particularly abundant with numerous crocodiles and more frequent sightings of hippos. Being at low elevation, this section is often very hot but side canyons with clear water offer refreshing breaks to cool off and bath. The lower part of the Western Cataracts section will be flooded by the Grand Ethiopian Rennaissance Dam (GERD) which is to be completed in 2017. The reservoir is not expected to fill until 2020, so this section should remain free-flowing at least through 2018, but it depends on how quickly the reservoir is filling.

See slideshow of Western Cataracts (Aug 2017)


Lower Gorge (Grand Canyon Nile)
class II-III
179 km (111 miles); ~4 days
Sirba access (610m) to Yarenga bridge (500m)
0.61 m/km (3.4 ft/mile)
avg flow August: 5000cms (170,000cfs); avg flow January: 250cms (8500cfs)

The Lower Gorge section of the Grand Canyon of the Nile is the section where the canyon opens up and ends, but there still are gorges and rapids in the river. The toughest rapids actually are located just before the Sudan border where they are constructing the GERD (Grand Ethiopian Rennaissance Dam). The entire section will be flooded starting in 2017 after they close the gates and start filling the reservoir, but it is expected to take 4-5 years to fill the reservoir. The river is very voluminous here and the canyon is wide and opening up. There continue to be Gumuz people to meet in this section, some of whom are being relocated due to the GERD reservoir - and who may harbor bad feelings toward ferenjis (foreigners) coming into their area. There are still encounters with wildlife on this section but much fewer crocodiles to be concerned about. A convenient access point is at the Yarenga bridge located only 5 km downstream of the Beles river confluence. The GERD dam site is 35 km downstream of this bridge.

See slideshow of Lower Gorge (Aug 2017)

Literature & prior descents:

The Blue Nile has had over a dozen partial descents since paddlers started trying in the 1950s. The first successful complete descent was by a British expedition during high water July-August 1968 led by John Blashford Snell. They used army assault rafts to get from Lake Tana through the Northern Gorge and Inner Canyon, and before that, used motorized larger boats to go from Shefartak Bridge to Sirba (Mendi). Other near-complete or complete descents were done by Arne Rubin (1965 from Shefartak to Khartoum), Sobek crews in the 1970s, by some groups in the 1990s, by Pascuale Scaturro (2004) and by Mark Tanner et al (2004). To prepare a bit more for your Blue Nile expedition, you may wish to watch some films and purchase/read some of the books available: 

CzechPaddlers_2007UpperSectionVideo [shows paddling from LakeTana to ShefartakBridge]
MysteryOfTheNile_2004Scaturro [shows a lot of the river from LakeTana to Tissisat and a little bit downstream] 
ItalianKayakers_OndaSalvaggia_1995 [shows from Tissisat to 2ndPortugueseBridge in November; also LakeTana-Tissisat]
Ethiopia_BlueNile_2010Documentary [shows more the source and culture around the BlueNile than the river]
GrandEthiopianRennaissanceDam [describes the project briefly]

Books (river expeditions):
Mystery Of The Nile (2005) [Richard Bangs]- describes a 2004 Blue Nile descent from the source using kayaks (to Lake Tana) then rafts (Lake Tana to Sudan and all the way to the Mediterranean; but using motors after Gumare Bridge)
Blue Nile: Ethiopia’s River of Magic and Mystery (2000) [Virginia Morell]  - describes a Blue Nile raft descent in Sep-Oct 1998; hiking until 2nd Portuguese Bridge; then rafting to Sudan border
Alone on the Blue Nile (1973) [Kuno Steuben] - story of a solo descent with homemade raft
The Blue Nile Revealed: The Story of the Great Abbai Expedition, 1968 (1969) [Richard Snailham] - classic account of first full descent of river from Lake Tana to Sudan
The Lost River: A memoir of life, death, and transformation on wild water [Richard Bangs] -  Richard Bangs autobiography about Sobek and the initial expeditions in Ethiopia including the Blue Nile; death of Lew Greenwald

Books (general):
Blue Nile (1963) [Alan Moorhead] - classic historical account of events, wars and theories surrounding the Blue Nile 
On the Run in the Blue Nile (2014) [Gizachew Tiruneh] - Ethiopian man sought by the red emperor; politics, culture & history

Grand Ethiopian Rennaissance Dam (Wikipedia)

No river rafting experience is required to join a trip. However, you should be comfortable camping and you should have an easygoing attitude in order to get along with a diverse group on a Grand Canyon-style trip for an extended period. If you are concerned about this issue, consider arranging a private trip or if you're an experienced group, contracting our Outfitting Services. Note that in some sections of the river, it is essential to have bilingual guides who can communicate with the residents to ensure friendly interactions.

Everyone joining SierraRios trips should have an interest in river conservation and help us on our mission to document the river further, talk to residents, publicize the planned dams, and help train local guides. We welcome competent boaters. If you want to kayak, you must have adequate class IV experience and a solid roll. If you want to row a raft, you must have adequate experience rowing class IV rivers. Comparable rivers are the Colorado (Grand Canyon), Middle Fork Salmon (high water), Thompson, Futaleufu, Karnali, or Sun Kosi. You should be in good physical condition. In general the pace is relaxed with layover days planned, but there may be some long days on the water. You should plan to help facilitate the trip in any way possible, including transport of some gear to Ethiopia.

The policy we will take on the trip is that the trip leader will have main authority when it comes to decisions for the group regarding river progress, camp, etc. If a participant has overestimated their ability to row or kayak, he/she may be mandated to ride on a raft and/or be assessed other penalties. Trip leader decisions can be vetoed by a majority vote of the group. Any participant always has the right to leave the trip if they so desire, but no refund is due.

Ethiopia is a unique country in Africa with most of the population of ~95 million living in the high cool tableland that experiences a strong northern summer monsoon season. Over 50% of the population is Christian, with about 30% Muslim.  Modern hominids are thought to have originated in Ethiopia, with one of the most important intact human remains (Australlpithecus afarensis or “Lucy”)  found in the Eastern area of the country (Awash valley).  The country is the origin of coffee, and also has the hottest place on earth (Dankil Depression; -100m elevation). Currently, although the typical wildlife of deep Africa does exist in Ethiopia, it is not as prevalent as in some countries to the south.  Our rendezvous will be Addis Ababa (hotel TBD), the largest city and capital of the country (~4.5 million people in the metro area).  All international flights will land you at the ADD airport here (called Bole).
Visa:  Ethiopia allows US citizens and most Europeans arriving at Addis Ababa airport to obtain a tourist visa on arrival for 1 month ($50) or up to 3 months ($70).  Other requirements, restrictions and such can be reviewed at the US Dept. of State webpage on Ethiopia.   
Money:  The local currency is the Birr [current exchange rate is 23 birr/USD as of Apr2017]. You should bring some cash with you into the country but note the official limit of $3000USD per person.  It may also be a good idea to bring some traveler’s checks.  Addis Ababa has ATMs where you can withdraw local currency but only with credit card (Cirrus and Plus are not supported).  Outside of Addis Ababa, it’s hard to use anything but Birr. Credit cards are usually only accepted by airlines and major hotels. It is recommended to only exchange money with authorized banks or at hotels. It is a good idea to budget some tip to the guides at the end of the trip (we suggest 10% if you are happy with service).
Food: The food in Ethiopia can seem somewhat foreign to the western palate. The staple food is a thin spongy sourdough bread called injera, combined with wat which are side dishes prepared with a variety of vegetables, meats, cheeses, and/or lentils. Note that although the water in hotels is supposedly safe, it is best to drink only purified water out of the clear plastic jugs and/or disinfect tapwater with UV, iodine/hypochlorite, or use a water filter.  
General tourist attractions: There are a number of interesting things to see and do in Ethiopia aside from paddling the Great Abbai (Blue Nile). High on many tourist’s lists are to visit Bahir Dar and Lake Tana as well as Gondar (3.5hr drive to the north) and its castle.  Many tourists rent bicycles in Bahir Dar and some even ride the 35km down to Tis Abay (Tissisat Falls) to behold the falls (though if you join our trip from the start, we’ll visit the falls and put-in just downstream).  Far to the north of Lake Tana are the Simian mountains, a spectacular high-elevation area with interesting wildlife.  You might also wish to visit the source of the Blue Nile at Gish Abay (south of Lake Tana).  Actually, we may plan a day or two for our group to visit Gish Abay and Bahir Dar/Lake Tana just before the trip (especially if it appears we will have to take out at Sirba due to the GERD being already completed and the reservoir filling). 
Domestic travel: Ethiopian cities are served by bus lines (e.g., see LonelyPlanet, SkyBusEthiopia) and domestic airline service (see EthiopianAir).  We may offer domestic flight options to get to BahirDar at the start of the trip or at the end a flight back from one of the cities close to the take-out  [such flights will entail an added charge - last check it was ~$180 each way for ADD-BJR]. 

Jul20 (2018) TENTATIVE ITINERARY (16-day trip departing Jul20):
Itineraries and camps may var slightly from this :
Jul19 Rendezvous in Addis Ababa; hotel
Jul20 Drive Addis Ababa to Bashilo Bridge; camp
Jul21 Bashilo; rigging day; orientation and safety talk; camp; [km40]
Jul22 launch from Bashilo Bridge; class III; km80 
Jul23 Bashilo Canyon;
class III; km120 
Jul24 Bashilo Canyon to BlueNile confluence & Alcove Camp ;
class III; km171 
Jul25 GorgeousGorge; Layover; Alcove Camp (km171); class II-III; km171 
Jul26 GorgeousGorge; pass
Merto Bridge (km 220); class II-III; km240  
Jul27 InnerCanyon;  class II; km310 
Jul28 InnerCanyon; pass 
Rennaissance Bridge (km 331); class II;  km380  
Jul29 BlackGorge; class III-IV; km460  
Jul30 BlackGorge; pass 
Bure Bridge (km 524); class III-IV; km540  
Jul31 WesternCataracts; class II; km620  
Aug1 WesternCataracts; pass anticipated high water mark of GERD reservoir; class III; km700  
Aug2 WesternCataracts; pass Didessa confluence; class II; km790  
Aug3 LowerGorge; pass 
Sirba access point (km800); class II; km880  
Aug4 LowerGorge; arrive to 
Yarenga Bridge (km 916); derig; drive to Asosa (5hr); hotel Asosa; km916  
Aug5 finish drive back from Asosa (10hr) or fly back (1hr); arrive Addis Ababa; hotel  
Aug6 sort gear; flights out possible   

Note on Jul20 trip:  July and August are high water so we will avoid the Northern Gorge. Instead, we will be launching on the Bashilo river, a large tributary that enters the Blue Nile in the Gorgeous Gorge. The GERD may be filling in its reservoir by this time, so we may end the trip at Sirba if flooding extends into the Lower Gorge (but most likely we will have free-flowing river to Yarenga Bridge).  

Sep20 (2018) TENTATIVE ITINERARY (32-day trip broken up to 17-day and 14-day trips):
Itineraries and camps may vary slightly from this :
Sep20 Truck with gear drives Addis Ababa to Bahir Dar (9hr) gear truck; all rendezvous in Bahir Dar; hotel;  km0
Sep21 TisAbay: Boating on Lake Tana; possibly upper 10 km Tis Abay section; hotel or camp; km10
Sep22 TisAbay: Tissisat Falls; paddle down to and/or hike to and visit falls; finish rigging rafts; hotel or camp; km42
Sep23 NorthernGorge: camp orientation; safety talk;

Sep24 NorthernGorge:  launch from rigging beach; Catfish Falls (IV; km53); to Gauntlet (V; km70); km70
Sep25 Layover: day to ghost boat rafts through Gauntlet (V); km70
Sep26 NorthernGorge: more III-IV; Crux (IV-V); Blackwall Staging Camp; km81
Sep27 NorthernGorge: Blackwall Cavern (V+); km83
Sep28 NorthernGorge: ZigZag Gorge (III-IV); Bad Seeds (IV-V);
camp near Abaya confluence; km89
Sep29 GorgeousGorge; pass 
2ndPortugueseBridge (km90); camp near basalt pillars; class II; km118 
Sep30 GorgeousGorge; gorge hike; class II-III; km148 
Oct1 GorgeousGorge; to Alcove Camp near Bashilo confluence (km170); class II-III; km171 
Oct2 Layover; afternoon hike;  km171  
Oct3 GorgeousGorge; class II-III; km220  
Oct4 InnerCanyon; pass deepest point; pass Merto bridge (km220); class II; km260 
Oct5 InnerCanyon; to Jemma river; class II; km310 
Oct6 InnerCanyon;  arrive to 
Rennaissance Bridge (km 331);  km331  
Oct7 Midway Layover and resupply in 
Addis Ababa; km331  
Oct8 Midway Layover at 
Rennaissance bridge (km 331); km331  
Oct9 BlackGorge; class II; km370  
Oct10 BlackGorge; class II; km410  
Oct11 BlackGorge; class III-IV; km450  
Oct12 BlackGorge; class III-IV; km500  
Oct13 BlackGorge; possible exchange at 
Bure bridge (km 524); class III; km530 
Oct14 WesternCataracts; class II; km590  
Oct15 WesternCataracts; class II; km640  
Oct16 WesternCataracts; pass anticipated high water mark of GERD reservoir; class II-III; km690  
Oct17 Layover; clear water side stream with falls; hikes; km690  
Oct18 WesternCataracts; Grand Finale Cataracts; class III; km730  
Oct19 WesternCataracts; pass Didessa confluence; class II; km780  
Oct20 LowerGorge; pass 
Sirba access point (km800); class II; km830  
Oct21 LowerGorge; Palm Rapids section; class II-III; km890  
Oct22 LowerGorge; arrive to 
Yarenga bridge (km 916); derig; drive to Assosa (5hr); hotel Assosa; km916  
Oct23 Participants fly Assosa to Addis Ababa (1hr); truck drives (14hr); arrive Addis Ababa; hotel  
Oct24 sort gear; flights out possible   

Note on Sep20 trip:  September and October have high to medium water levels so moving quickly downstream will be fairly easy. There should be enough water to kayak and raft the lower Tis Abay section, though we may not take a raft there. There is a danger rafting the Northern Gorge section due to the class Vs, so particpants may be asked to walk around the most difficult section.  Our main resupply and passenger exchange point will occur at the Rennaissance Bridge on Day17 of the trip. The trip will continue down to Shogali/Yarenga bridge near the dam site (km916; ~Day28). Although the GERD is scheduled for completion in July 2017, it was not completed and filling as of Aug2017 and the delay means that on this trip we will almost certainly have free-flowing river to the Yarenga bridge take-out point (km916).  

Nov4 TENTATIVE ITINERARY (32-day trip departing Nov4; main raft launch on river Nov7)
Nov3 Rendezvous in Addis Ababa; shopping/gear sorting;  hotel
Nov4 Fly (1hr) or drive (10hr) from Addis Ababa to Bahir Dar; hotel;  km0
Nov5  TisAbay: Boating on Lake Tana and possibly upper 10 km Tis Abay section; hotel or camp; km10
Nov6 TisAbay:
Tissisat Falls; paddle and/or hike to and visit falls; finish rigging rafts; hotel or camp; km42
Nov7  NorthernGorge: safety talk; start rafting; Catfish Falls (IV-V; km53); to Gauntlet (V+; km68); class III-IV; km68
Nov8 NorthernGorge: get through Gauntlet(V+) and Crux(V); more IVs; camp before BlackwallCavern (V+); km80
Nov9 NorthernGorge: make it through Blackwall(V+) & BadSeeds(V); camp Abaya confluence (km87); km87
Layover; hikes; km87  
Nov11 InnerCanyon; pass  
2ndPortugueseBridge (km90); camp near Pillars; class III-IV; km118
Nov12 InnerCanyon; hike in morning; class II; km148 
Nov13 InnerCanyon; to Bashilo confluence (km170); hike around arches/caves; class III; km170
Nov14 InnerCanyon; class III; km210
Nov15 InnerCanyon; 
Merto bridge (km220); possible resupply; class II-III; km250 
Nov16 InnerCanyon; class II-III; km290 
Nov17 InnerCanyon;  class II; km330 
Nov18 BlackGorge; resupply at 
Rennaissance bridge (km 331); class II; km360  
Nov19 BlackGorge; class II; km390  
Nov20 BlackGorge; class III; km430  
Nov21 BlackGorge; class III-IV; km470  
Nov22 BlackGorge; class III-IV; km510  
Layover; hikes; guide possibly paddles to/ascends to Bure for resupply; class III; km510   
Nov24 BlackGorgeGC; group arrives to 
Bure bridge (km 524) possible resupply at Kuch/Bure (30/56km north); class II; km540
Nov25 WesternCataracts; canyon opens up a lot; cruising; class II; km580
Nov26 WesternCataracts; class II km620 
Nov27 WesternCataracts; canyon closes in again; class III; km660  
Nov28 WesternCataracts; pass anticipated high water mark of GERD reservoir; class III; km700  
Nov29 WesternCataracts; Grand Finale Cataracts; class III; km740
Nov30 WesternCataracts; pass Didessa confluence; class II; km780
Dec1 WesternCataracts; class II; km830  
Dec2 LowerGorge; arrive 
Sirba access point (km791); visit village; class II; km870
Dec3 LowerGorge; to near Yarenga bridge; class II; km910 
Dec4 LowerGorge; arrive to 
Yarenga bridge (km 916); derig; drive to Asosa (~3hr); hotel; km916
Dec5 participants fly to Addis Ababa (1hr) or finish drive back (11hr); arrive Addis Ababa; hotel  
Dec6 sort gear; flights out of Addis Ababa possible 

Note on Nov4 trip:  November has medium to low water and the current is not as fast as Jul-Oct, so extra time need be budgeted to cover the same distance.  There should be enough water to raft through the Northern Gorge, so the plan is like the previous trip to put in with the rafts at km 40 (below TissisatFalls) to avoid the big portage at the Tissisat Falls and potentially too-little-water in the Tis Abay section. However, it will be possible for some folks to kayak the initial section before we start with the rafts, and we may take a paddle raft on part of the Tis Abay section.  As with the September launch, participants can join for shorter lengths of time by entering/exiting at access points/bridges. Given the GERD construction is delayed, it should be possible to float on free-flowing river all the way to the Yarenga bridge.

Aside from excursions during the river trip, you might consider visiting other interesting places in Ethiopia, such as the castle at Gondar, Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile at Gish Abay, Tissisat Falls, and the Simian Mountains.

We will have a complete set of marked topo maps for our river navigation.

There is a lot of wildlife to view along the Blue Nile. The most common animals to see are olive baboons, hippopotomaus and Nile crocodiles in the river.  We will also see other primates including grivet monkeys (a vervet monkey variant), and possibly the mantled guereza (black-and-white colobus). In the unpopulated sections of the Black Gorge and Western Cataracts there exist a lot of other species that we will likely spot, including bushbuck deer, kudu, dik diks, and possibly warthogs, hyenas, and perhaps even a leopards (these are very elusive).  There are ample fish in the river, and catching catfish can be satisfying and fun to cook and eat (use a lure with cheese or meat that sinks to the bottom).  We’ll have a wildlife fauna book along on the trip. 
Birdlife: We will probably see a full complement of African water birds, plus some forest and bush species. Common are fish eagles, kingfishers, bee-eaters, storks, vultures, and herons (goliath, grey, and green-backed). Others that may be spotted include weavers and their nests, various doves, sparrows, swifts, and the interesting red-billed hornbill, raucous silvery cheeked hornbills, and Abyssinian ground hornbill.  We will have a bird identification guidebook with us (Birds of the Horn of Africa) and note the birds that we spot. 
Crocodiles:  The Nile crocodile poses a threat to boaters on this river as on most in sub-Saharan Africa. Although there are very few crocodiles on the Tis Abay, Northern Gorge, and InnerCanyon1 sections (on a recent trip only 5 small ones were spotted on these sections), the frequency of sightings increases downstream of the Merto bridge with the most frequent sightings (as well as largest specimens) are found in the unpopulated sections of the Black Gorge and the Western Cataracts. Often crocodiles will flee upon the approach of people and boats, and you can scare any away that may be lurking near the shore by slapping a paddle or throwing rocks into the water.  However, larger crocs may swim toward a boat or person and consider an attack. You can almost always see an approaching croc charging toward you and chase it away by throwing rocks or making other counter aggressive displays. While there is always the threat of a surprise attack in calmer water where crocs may be lurking, everyone can remain safe on the large rafts.  
HIppopotamus:  Many hippos are generally observed around the shores of Lake Tana, and a few in the first few (flat) kilometers of the Blue Nile as it emerges from the lake.  However, after that, there are generally no hippos in the river until the unpopulated section of the Black Gorge, where some live, and then in the unpopulated section of the Western Cataracts.   Hippos are often frightened at the sight of humans and boats and will try to flee (espcially from groups of us). However, hippos can pose a threat to boaters. If a hippo appears angry and ready to attack or is charging you, the best thing to do is to try and get away as soon as possible - either paddling (on the water) or running (if you’re on land).

This trip is being run to increase appreciation of the river and protect what remains of the Grand Canyon of the Nile.
We welcome everyone: raft passengers, raft paddlers, raft rowers, kayakers, IKers, and guides. No prior rafting experience is required to join a trip. We offer professional level service similar to other established outfitters in the Grand Canyon (USA). The general costs of this and other trips is listed at: COSTS

Special discounts are sometimes offered to folks on our email list, so you are encouraged to sign up (Email List info).

If interested in joining a trip, send a note stating how you found out about the trip and a little background info about you and your paddling experience, what dates might work for you, and what sections of the expedition you are most interested in joining (also see above at COSTS). Once you get the go-ahead, you will need to provide a deposit to reserve your place on the trip. The balance must be received prior to trip commencement. See PAYMENTS for payment options.

A minimum of 4 full-rate guests will assure a general SierraRios trip occurs. We may allow trips with fewer folks depending on circumstances. If interested in doing a trip on a date not listed, send a message about optimal scheduling for you, as well as a little info about you. We may list the launch date, and if enough folks sign up by the 3-month cut-off, we'll organize it.

(guides may include the following)

(1) Rocky Contos is the main organizer and actively explores rivers, organizes trips, and works on conservation of rivers for a living. He descended the entire Blue Nile in Ethiopia in Jul-Aug 2017 and led the Sep-Oct 2017 trip . He has spent a lot of time focusing on the upper Amazon as well, descending the entire Marañon from its headwaters on Río Lauricocha to Iquitos from July to September 2012, and led three 20+ person 30-day expeditions in 2013 (Sep28) and 2014 (Jan16, Jun4, Oct14, and Dec4). He discovered the most distant source of the Amazon [see articles C&K, Outside, Nat.Geo, FoxNews, LaRepublica] and in 2012, also paddled all of Ríos Apurímac, Mantaro, and Urubamba as part of his Headwaters of the Amazon expedition. He has explored nearly every river in Mexico including >100 first descents covering ~8,000 km of river and ~55,000 m of drop, as well as most in Peru. Rocky believes the Marañon is one of the finest Grand Canyon-style raftable rivers in the South America. He is fluent in Spanish and has organized many Grand Canyon length trips. Several articles have featured Rocky (American Whitewater; Kayak Session; Canoe & Kayak). While attaining his Ph.D. in neuroscience (see CV), Rocky worked as a kayak instructor and guide for UCSD's Outback Adventures from 1993-1996 and gained valuable trip planning skills for large groups. Rocky started out kayaking in 1991 but also learned to raft in the mid-1990s in order to introduce more people to the wonders of river travel. He has organized numerous large group raft and kayak expeditions through the Grand Canyon Colorado (7X), Gramd Canyon Amazon (9X), MF and/or Main Salmon River (4X), Mulatos-Aros (4X), Usumacinta (12X), Taseko-Chilcotin-Fraser (1X), and many other long trips to the Salt, Kern, Rogue, Deschutes, John Day, Thompson, Similkameen, and Baja California. Rocky founded SierraRios with the goal of conserving the rivers of Latin America, and hopes that increased awareness and enjoyment of the resource will lead to protection. He is organizing most aspects of the trips and will lead some but cannot lead all.

(2) Alex Aitkin will be co-guide or trip leader on the 2017 expeditions and many in the future. Alex has worked on rivers for decades and his life's work is almost entirely devoted to training guides, teaching swiftwater rescue, as well as guiding trips. Alex calls Spain his home base when not guiding in Switzerland, Kenya or South America. See his webpage at

(3) Lorenzo Bergamin will be co-guide or trip leader on some expeditions. Born in Milan, Lorenzo grew up near the Alps with their great whitewater and fell in love with river running and guiding. He has traveled in 62 countries and paddled/guided rivers in many areas around the world, including the Grand Canyon (several times), Futaleufu, Zambezi, Sun Kosi, Karnali, and Tamur. He has guided Marañón trips for SierraRios from 2014-2016. Lorenzo speaks English, Italian, and Spanish. Lorenzo calls Oregon home nowadays.

(4) Local Ethiopian guides. All trips will have one or more bilingual Ethiopian guides along with the group to communicate effectively with most people that we meet along the way and try to keep the group safe and without threats of assault/attack.

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The Blue Nile at the end of its Grand Canyon averages roughly 4X as much water as the Colorado at the end of its Grand Canyon. It reaches an average of 195,000 cfs in August, the highest water month. This is >5X as much water as the White Nile's maximum month with the average yearly flow ~2X as much.

At Rennaissance bridge, the Blue Nile has on average 1.3X the volume of water of the Colorado through Grand Canyon, but also displays a greater seasonal variation, with high water months of Aug-Sep averaging about 2000cms (70000 cfs) but dropping to only ~100 cms (3500 cfs) during the lowest water months of Feb-Apr. The below average at the 2nd Portuguese bridge accounts for withdrawals from Lake Tana for the Tana-Beles project.

river Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Avg
Blue Nile (2ndPortug) cms 68 57 57 57 59 70 125 223 182 141 87 74 100
cfs 2400 2000 2000 2000 2100 2500 4400 7900 6500 5000 3100 2600 3500
---------------------------- ----- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- --------
river Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Avg
Blue Nile (Shefartak) cms 120 90 90 90 100 200 1000 2000 1700 800 300 160 550
cfs 4000 3000 3000 3000 3300 7000 35000 70000 57000 28000 10000 5600 19500
---------------------------- ----- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- --------
river Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Avg
Blue Nile (GERD site) cms 320 270 270 270 340 630 2600 5480 4420 2270 840 470 1515
cfs 11400 9600 9600 9600 12100 22400 92300 194500 156900 80600 29800 16700 53800
---------------------------- ----- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- --------
river Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Avg
Colorado (LeesFerry) cms 148 188 259 560 1188 1476 597 293 234 234 175 163 486
[pre-dam flows 1922-1962] cfs 5300 6700 9200 19900 42200 52400 21200 10400 8300 8300 7500 5800 16480

[current list available]


" We went through a variety of canyons and topography. Multiple sections of very deep canyons with really spectacular walls - some deep gorges - various sections with different kinds of rock formations which was pretty interesting. We had a variety of rapids - some of the toughest that I've run. Some that we didn't run. ... Great whitewater - the upper sections especially were challenging - some with decisions you needed to make in the middle of them - to line up in a good place. So, it was a good challenging river... The day after the portage was phenomenal boating with waterfalls coming into the canyon on both sides; some big pools to drop into; big boulders and rocks to get around; big hydraulics on some of the days... Some of the sections of the canyon had pretty flatwater and a lot of rowing but mostly good current and we made a lot of miles on many days (70km/day). We had some good interactions with people - some sections had no people, some had a lot. We had a couple nice stops where we had pretty good interactions with people in villages - was fun! We saw a lot of birds, pretty good wildlife ... lots of baboons, quite a few crocodiles, a few hippos - not as many as I was hoping to see but still some pretty good hippo encounters... The crocodiles were medium sized - some pretty good sized - some seemed interested in us - but overall not really aggressive.... Some sections got long, but the topography changed a bit... The Omo River had more variety with people encounters, with different tribes and certainly more hippos and crocodiles. But I think that the Blue Nile has much better rapids - especially the section at the top. I'm generally opposed to damming the river. I understand there will be some economic advantages to Ethiopia... but it's a beautiful canyon and there's some people living there whose life will be disrupted. "
Tony Stearns; Oarsman on Sep27 (2017) BlueNile expedition (has rowed Colorado GC >20X, Omo, many long rivers)

"I think in the end that I had been too worried about wildlife and that it wouldn't be something that I would be worried about if I were to do [the trip] again. I think I may have over-exaggerated my nervousness and I would probably share the same opinion as you - that in numbers and on a raft, it's pretty safe. Never was I nervous about the whitewater. I felt that the ones we ran were doable and the ones we went around I felt confident in portaging. I was at times nervous with the local people. It wasn't so much for violence but possibly stealing... I am saddened by all of the dams being built still. I am grateful to see these rivers before they are under water and wish that others may see them as well to see what should be protected... I wish I was able to afford to go back again before the dam is built...."
Messa Rasmussen, River guide; oarsman/participant on Sep27 (2017) BlueNile expedition.

"Great Trip... Only Regret was losing the Cat-Raft - Liked Ethiopia and want to go back - see more of National Parks... Great Expedition Rocky. ."
Stan Pully; Participant on Sep27 (2017) BlueNile expedition