Born and raised along the Rogue River in southern Oregon, First Ascent kayaker and Mountainfilm 2011 special guest Chris Korbulic has been on the river since before he could walk — and it shows. He’s now one of the most accomplished expedition kayakers in the world, walking the thin line at the limits of the sport and looking to go even further. With a life on the river and camera in hand, he has a unique ability to capture stunning whitewater images.
In an interview with Korbulic on the First Ascent blog, we dove deeper into questions of adventure and action. Here's a teaser:
Last year, you and Ben Stookesberry tackled a tough expedition to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). What inspired you to take on this kind of expedition?
CK: “Why” is definitely the most asked question of expeditions like these, but there is no answer in black and white. It’s one that must be asked though, one that I sometimes struggle to answer. Reasons for the DRC expedition were grey as any, but that doesn’t make them any less valid.
There are some definites about why to attempt a first descent in the DRC. The area has long been on the map of explorers, seeing attention from colonial era and style explorers like Stanley, Speke, Burton and Livingston, of course. We traveled by kayak, paddling a mostly water route to achieve a first descent on the Lukuga River. This part of the Congo epitomizes “Wild Africa” and still abounds in mystery, not having garnered much modern attention or exploration. Hendri [Coetzee] had been on a 6-month solo trip through the DRC the year before and had nothing but the best things to say about the people, place and experience. He couldn’t wait to go back. There had been little modern exploration of the area due to ongoing conflict, so having Hendri there was a great inspiration and changed our perspective of the region. And that’s what we tried to bring home.
Ultimately though, reason doesn’t fully support going on a trip that risks your life, so there has to be something more. Putting yourself up to the massive challenge of the unknown with as many factors at play as there are in the DRC represents an experience where you can learn about yourself and enhance your appreciation for life.
How do you see adventurers and expeditions like this one as catalysts for change?
CK: Nothing can replace personal experience and the stories that come from expeditions to remote, but still affected places. Charts and graphs only take you so far, but an intimate story from the ground can bring you right there to where it’s happening and hopefully move people to action. The unique thing about river exploration is that we don’t always get away from everything like you might by climbing a snow covered peak or crossing a desert. Rivers supply life-giving resources to so many people and we get to see change and hear stories on an intimate level. This perspective can be a powerful tool in really bringing an issue home and moving people to action.
Editor's Note: "Kadoma" will be screening at Mountain Summit 2011 in Aspen on August 25, 2011.