Hendrik Coetzee, Ben Stookesberry, and Chris Korbulic

Descents of the Congo River's Tributaries

Mar 4, 2011
Outside Magazine
Kayaking Congo River Tributary

A fatal crocodile attack on South African expedition leader Hendrik Coetzee, 35, on December 7, while paddling the Congo's Lukuga River, brought this journey to a tragic close, but not before the team had accomplished its objectives—first descents of several of the Congo River's steep upper tributaries. Along with Coetzee, American expedition-paddling veterans Ben Stookesberry, 32, and Chris Korbulic, 24, started on the border between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and descended the Ruzizi River, which Coetzee described on his blog, greatwhiteexplorer.blogspot.com, as a perfect Class V run: "The whitewater was everything we had hoped for, rapids flowing into one another in uninterrupted continuity." But the dangers of the Congo aren't necessarily in the rapids, as proved true on their next river, the Lukuga, which flows out of Lake Tanganyika. After the attack, Stookesberry and Korbulic, shaken but unhurt, abandoned the expedition. They'd still like to explore other parts of Central Africa, but out of respect for Coetzee, they have no plans to return to the Lukuga. Next time, they'll focus their efforts farther south, in Zambia. "It's still this massive wilderness with so many huge rivers that have yet to be run," says Stookesberry.