Nile Explorers Battled Adversity, Tragedy to Find River Source

Stefan Lovgren
for National Geographic News
April 19, 2006

In their quest to be the first people to travel the length of the Nile River to its longest source, a group of explorers calling themselves the Ascend the Nile team fought back crocodiles, hippos, and armies of mosquitoes.

Those obstacles turned out to be a portent of the horrific tragedy that would follow. Driving through Uganda, the intrepid adventurers ran into a rebel ambush.

While the expedition members barely escaped into the bush, the driver, Steve Willis—a former British diplomat living in Uganda who had come to help the team—was shot to death.

For four months the trek was suspended. But the explorers never thought of giving up.

"Having listened to family, friends, and everyone else, without exception everyone encouraged us to continue," said Cam McLeay, a New Zealander and a co-leader of the team.

So in early March they resumed their expedition. And on March 31—after 80 days on the Nile—they finally arrived at what they determined to be the longest source of the Nile, deep in the Nyungwe Forest in Rwanda.

"The Nile has held mysteries for thousands of years," said Neil McGrigor, the British co-leader of the team, which included Garth MacIntyre, a New Zealander. The team was supported by Dr. Kate Heathcote and George Heathcote.

(See a photograph of the explorers from the National Geographic Adventure magazine Web site.)

"The Egyptians sent whole armies to discover its source," said McGrigor. "In the 1800s it became almost a British Imperial obsession to find the source. All the greatest names failed—until now."

Papyrus Swamp

In 1858 the Scottish explorer John Hanning Speke encountered a magnificent lake in the heart of East Africa, where Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania meet. Naming it Victoria, he proclaimed it to be the fabled source of the Nile.

(See "Nile River Rafters Draw Closer to Epic Run" [2004].)

Continued on Next Page >>


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