Ethiopia: Abyssinia Adventure - Hwy 3
Nile Gorge

Bicycle Africa / Ibike Tours
 
       
Ethiopia's Nile Gorge averages about 1000m (3300 feet) deep and is 400km (250 miles) long  In places it is 1500m (5000 feet) deep.  Ethiopians, say the Nile Gorge is second only to the U.S. Grand Canyon, which averages almost a mile in depth. There are other river valleys in Ethiopia that are more than a 1000m deep, and some approach 1500m, but they are not as long as the Blue Nile's.
Road into the Blue Nile River gorge, Ethiopia

Road into the Blue Nile River gorge, Ethiopia

Road into the Blue Nile River gorge, Ethiopia Road into the Blue Nile River gorge, Ethiopia Road into the Blue Nile River gorge, Ethiopia Road into the Blue Nile River gorge, Ethiopia
There are countless spectacular views descending into the Nile Gorge. Enough so that it significantly impedes the descent processes because of the frequent stops for photographs and to awe at the magnificence landscape.
Road into the Blue Nile River gorge, Ethiopia
For the gorge of the Blue Nile, this elevation graph accurately tells part of the story: You descend for 23km (13 miles), cross a river, climb for 22km, and then all of a sudden the road turns a corner and flattens out onto a new plateau.
Elevation Profile: Hwy 3, through the Blue Nile River gorge, Ethiopia
[Graphs are built with incomplete data and are only general representations of the topography.]

Road into the Blue Nile River gorge, Ethiopia Road into the Blue Nile River gorge, Ethiopia Road into the Blue Nile River gorge, Ethiopia Road into the Blue Nile River gorge, Ethiopia Road into the Blue Nile River gorge, Ethiopia Road into the Blue Nile River gorge, Ethiopia
  But the graph doesn't give any clues to the expansive views, colors and textures of the landscape. While we thought the earlier plateau was eye candy, this was even better.  On the descent we stopped so many times to take in the view that it probably added an hour to what could have been a 30-minute trip.  Even so our travel time to the bottom was faster than some of the heavy trucks that inched their way down the precipice.

Even without visual distractions the theoretical 30-minute trip is somewhat dubious. The steepness of the grade, hairpin turns and increasingly deformed road surface forced us to keep a tight grip on the brakes for long periods of time -- to the point that our hands ached.  So it was nothing close to an easy 20km roll at 40km per hour, especially the last 5km before the bridge.
 

Road into the Blue Nile River gorge, Ethiopia

Bulk cement truck in the Nile Gorge, Ethiopia

The cause of the deformed road is a point of conjecture; it was worse on steeper sections and closer to the bottom. The destruction took the form of deep lateral ruts, high ridges at the edges and between the ruts, and corrected surface in between the waves.  Part of my explanation was the air temperature was about 20oC (36oF) warmer at the bottom of the gorge than on the plateau.  Where the road was in direct sunlight, in a tight ravine, the difference on the road surface might have been even more extreme. The high temperatures softened the road and little-by-little, the heavy trucks, trying to slow themselves, pressed into and tore at the surface.  Thousands of trucks later it was ripped to shreds in places.  I was too busy trying to control the bucking bicycle through the worst sections, but here are a couple pictures of some of the deformation.

Dozens of the heavy truck traversing the gorge daily are bulk cement trucks carrying materials for construction of the Great Renaissance Dam and other building projects on the west side.

The Japanese, who originally built the road, are now (2014) back on site to help rebuild it.
 

Road into the Blue Nile River gorge, Ethiopia
Blue Nile River gorge, Ethiopia Though the White Nile is considerably longer, and collects water from parts of Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda, the Blue Nile, which is collects all of its water in Ethiopia and supplies 90 percent of the water of the combined Nile. The two tributaries converge near Khartoum, Sudan.

 

Road and bridge, Blue Nile River gorge, Ethiopia
Baboon in Nile Gorge, Ethiopia The baboons of the Nile Gorge are so habituated to passing traffic that they station themselves within feet of the road waiting for handouts -- bananas are particularly prized. Fortunately, the baboons don't have any aggressive intents towards bicyclists.

Pointing out what should be obvious (but drivers are known for their lack of common knowledge), there were several signs with versions of "Drive cautiously! You are in hilly, winding, sliding and rock fall area."

Drive cautiously! sign, Nile Gorge, Ethiopia
West bank road, Nile Gorge, Ethiopia Oxpecker (tick birds), Nile Gorge, EthiopiaAbyssinian ground hornbill, Nile Gorge, EthiopiaVervet monkeys, Nile Gorge, EthiopiaThe ascent is about as long and takes two-to-three times as long to complete with a loaded tour bike. At a speed of three miles and hour the road surface is not a factor and there is plenty of time to deliberate on the scenery and so many other things. The subjects that made it to the photo record are Vervet Monkeys, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Oxpeckers (tick birds) with their bovine hosts and traditional beehives up a tree.. Another unique bird that didn’t pose was a pair of Red-billed Hornbills that flew past.

Fortunately, the temperature declines as you climb -- but slowly.
 

Beehives, Nile Gorge, Ethiopia
Terracing for agriculture, Nile Gorge, Ethiopia The hillsides of the gorge are impressive with there hundreds of miles of terracing for agriculture.

Near the top of the gorge is a small gypsum mining operation. This and a cement factory north of Dejen, at the rim, are the only two large industrial operations in the area.

 

Gypsum mine, Dejen, Ethiopia
Othodox Church, Dejen, Ethiopia Othodox Church, Dejen, EthiopiaJust as the road reaches the rip of the Nile Gorge there is a large new Orthodox Church on the north side of the road and a similarly large and new mosque facing the church from the south side of the road. It gives the appearance of a static cultural-religious stand-off, It is hard to many conclusions from a snap view of the buildings, but on Friday afternoon the mosque was empty and small groups were about the church. Mosque, Dejen, Ethiopia

(South: Sulutan to Gohatsion) (North: Dejen to Bure)

 

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Ethiopia Bicycle Tour: Nile Gorge