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The Conquest of the Blue Nile, 50th Anniversary Celebration

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Royal Geographical Society

1 Kensington Gore

London

SW7 2AR

United Kingdom

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The 50th Anniversary of the first descent and major expedition of the Blue Nile in Ethiopia is to be commemorated at the Royal Geographical Society, London 6.00 – 9.00pm on Tuesday 2nd October 2018.

Said to be one of the great expeditions of the last century it was described by the Daily Telegraph as 'the conquest of the Everest of Rivers'. An exhibition of equipment will include one of the original Avon white water boats and items used on the expedition.

There will be a reception (with a cash bar) attended by members of the expedition and an illustrated presentation by the explorer Colonel John Blashford-Snell who led the team and some of those who took part. A number of VIPs are being invited.

The event aims to aid the CURE hospital in Ethiopia that provides life changing orthopaedic operations for young children, and the Scientific Exploration Society (registered charity 267410).

The Expedition:

The Blue Nile plunges for 500 miles through the highlands of Ethiopia running through a gorge, in places is over one mile deep, much of it unmapped. Until 1968 all attempts to explore this little-known region had failed. Then a 70 strong Anglo-Ethiopian team of servicemen and civilians organised by the British Army was requested by His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia, to navigate the river and study allegedly the last unexplored part of Africa.

In March 1968, the project was explained to Her Majesty the Queen and H.R.H Prince Philip during their visit to the Royal School of Military Engineering. The Queen had recently visited Ethiopia and viewed the Blue Nile Falls with the Emperor.

To study the river, it was planned to move by boat in the wet season, when the flood water should smooth out the cataracts. The lower reaches would be covered first and then the more dangerous head waters would be tackled. There were other hazards, including huge crocodiles and disease, but the major problem was that of re-supply. This was overcome by parachute drops from an Army Beaver Aircraft flown specially from Britain. Special philatelic covers were issued to commemorate the epic journey and these were posted at remote towns in the region.

The scientist included archaeologists, a vet and five zoologists. A bilharzia survey and geological studies were also undertaken. Game and crocodile surveys were made for the Ethiopian Wildlife Department.

In late July, the main base was established at Debra Marcos in Ethiopia and the explorers set out from Shafartak in four Army Assault craft.

For three weeks, they battled through the cataracts of this mighty river, stopping at selected points for scientific work. Specimens were taken out of the gorge by mule parties, who likened their journey to the ascent of a never-ending ladder in a Turkish bath. The steep slopes were covered in loose rocks, concealed by elephant grass up to twelve feet high. Mid day temperatures were around 90 Fahrenheit and the humidity 85%.

The last phase involved the descent form Lake Tana to Shafartak. The first fifty miles were raging white cataracts and the river party moved in special Avon inflatable boats.

This voyage was an extreme test of men and equipment and tragically, a soldier was drowned whilst crossing a tributary.

The final descent was though a completely unexplored gorge. Here there were more crocodiles, and cataracts could not be by-passed. In three days, the team negotiated 12 rapids, fought two gun battles with bandit and met many large crocodiles. It sailed through fantastic, vertical sided canyons and saw a land that no outsiders had seen.

The expedition had lost much of its equipment, several boats and had 50% casualties of one sort or another. Nevertheless, it pressed on to the finish.

On 24th September, the successful flotilla reached Shafartak. As the boats approached the great bridge, they were dwarfed by the magnitude of the gorge, however it was a proud sight as they sailed in flying the flags of Britain and Ethiopia.

Through careful preparation, excellent equipment and outstanding teamwork, the Everest of rivers had been conquered.

Over 70 scientific papers were published covering the work of the expedition. The use of the Avon inflatable boats led to the development of White Water rafting worldwide. The expedition film was widely acclaimed on TV and the historian Richard Snailham wrote the official book “The Blue Nile Revealed”. Four editions of the Daily Telegraph Magazine were published covering the venture.

John Blashford-Snell, who led this historic expedition and members of the team went on to form The Scientific Exploration Society, which encourages scientific exploration and supports coming generations of explorers. Now the Society has become the spiritual home for scientists, explorers and adventurers.

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Date and Time

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Royal Geographical Society

1 Kensington Gore

London

SW7 2AR

United Kingdom

View Map

Refund Policy

No Refunds

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