Rafting Down the Blue Nile NPR's Alex Chadwick talks with Pasquale Scaturro, who just completed the first-ever descent of the Blue Nile from its source in Ethiopia to the Mediterranean Sea. The 3,250-mile journey with fellow explorer Gordon Brown took four months. See photos from the journey, and a map of the explorers' route.

Rafting Down the Blue Nile

Explorers Document First-Ever Journey Down Entire River

Rafting Down the Blue Nile

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Navigating the Western Rapids of the Blue Nile in Ethiopia. Courtesy MacGillivray Freeman Films/Orbita Max hide caption

View a map of the expedition route
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Courtesy MacGillivray Freeman Films/Orbita Max

Pasquale Scaturro, left, and Gordon Brown on the banks of the Nile. Courtesy MacGillivray Freeman Films/Orbita Max hide caption

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Courtesy MacGillivray Freeman Films/Orbita Max

It's rare that explorers in this modern world accomplish a first. But this week, a team of explorers and filmmakers complete one of the last great adventures of the modern age: the first descent of the Blue Nile from its source in Ethiopia to the shores of the ancient Egyptian city of Alexandria, where the river spills into the Mediterranean Sea.

The historic four-month rafting expedition was led by renowned adventurer and geophysicist Pasquale Scaturro, best known for leading blind climber Erik Weihenmayer on a successful assault on Mt. Everest in 2001. Joining him was Gordon Brown, an expert kayaker and adventure filmmaker.

For nearly four months, the two explorers and a small support crew traveled the river in two 16-foot inflatable rafts and a kayak, all the while filming the experience with a bulky IMAX camera and two digital video cameras.

Scaturro says the Nile he discovered is very different from the wide, lazy river flowing through a parched desert plain that most people associate with the Nile. "It has rapids, waterfalls, jungle, canyons, deserts, hippos, crocs, long flat beautiful sections, huge beautiful sandbars," he says. "There is no other river in the world that can compare."

The expedition began on Christmas Day 2003 at the river’s source, the legendary Springs of Sakala high in the Ethiopian highlands, where the river is known as the Little Blue Nile. The team rafted 3,250 miles through the whitewater gorges of Ethiopia, the desert plains of Sudan past where the Blue and White Nile rivers merge to create the Nile proper, and finally through the heavily populated cities of Egypt -- where river traffic and raw sewage posed a very different kind of challenge.

"One theme we hope this expedition highlights is that the Nile brings people of different faiths and cultures -- particularly Christians and Muslims -- together," Brown says.

The film about the experience, Mystery of the Nile, will arrive in IMAX theaters early next February. It is being produced by the same filmmakers who documented a historic 1996 ascent of Mt. Everest, MacGillivray Freeman Films of Laguna Beach, Calif., and Orbita Max of Spain.