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ASAHAN - Indonesia's wildest Whitewater




Rubin Gan on the first descent of the ' Honeymoon Canyon' back in 1998

above: me paddling the same rapid ' HEY, is that rock in the middle GONE or is the waterlevel up so much ?!?!"

ASAHAN's source is the biggest craterlake in the world, Lake Toba. 160 creeks and smaller rivers flow into the lake and only one drains it : The mighty Asahan river, undoubted one of the most exiting big water rivers in South East Asia. It is the site of the infamous yearly ASAHAN WHITEWATER FESTIVAL, - the river the best indonesian paddlers use for training before they attend international competitions and the place that no kayaker should miss if he's in the region...

Location: Northsumatra - the ' Wild West' of Southeast Asia / Indonesia.

Because of the tropical climate the water is WARM ( about 25 degrees Celsius ) and BIG all year round.
Usual flow is 100 cbm/sec. The river is dam - regulated and therefore has an unusual constant waterflow.
Seasons: the rainy season is September - January , the drier part of the year February - August.

Environment:The river is located in one of the wildest valleys of Indonesia with waterfalls gushing hundreds of meters down from steep vertical canyon walls; picturebook Sumatra with monkeys, leopards, snakes... even some tigers are still living in the remote rainforest up on the plateau.

spectacular view on the road : the 250 m high SIGURA-GURA falls ( foreground ) only have seldom that much water...
...and YES, they are still unrun !

Asahan is outstanding FAST and CONTINUOUS river because it is still young ( lake Toba eruption dates back only 100.000 - 75.000 years, - geological speaking the worst volcanic disaster the world ever experienced happened just yesterday...

above: ' NEVER-EVER-ENDS' - two km uninterrupted fast class 4 water without too much eddies to catch !

The sections of the river which are usually paddled are grade 3 - 4 but there are also extreme sections with several grade 5 - 6 rapids which were only paddled once 1998 after El Nino brought Asahan the lowest ever recorded waterlevel, - just about 40 % of it's normal 100 cbm/sec.

The Asahan Whitewater Festival

The year 2000 has seen Indonesia's first International Whitewater event. 42 international paddlers came, along with big stars such as Mike Abott, Tao Berman, Brad Ludden, Alex Nicks...

Everybody was enthusiastic about Asahan river and we were sure it must become one of the big whitewater destinations in Asia. - Unfortunately things did not go so well in the years that followed - organizers changed once money became a focus - and Indonesia went through hard times...
2001 there only 12 international athletes came - even though more than 20.000 US $ pricemoney was in the pot.
2002 there was no event staged and the Bali bombing used as a welcome excuse.
2003 saw the last International kayak event and a National raft race,
2004 was the year the tsunami hit Sumatra...

The last years have seen Raft - races but no more kayaking. However, Asahan is an outstanding beautiful river in an amazing wild environment that is increasingly under threat. There are plans to build ASAHAN III another hydro-power scheme that will destroy most of the whitewater. North Sumatra is suffering a continuous lack of power supply and so there is a loud cry for the project. So far the ever-present corruption in Indonesia has prevented the plans - potential investors went home to cut losses even before they could begin with construction. But the plans are still on the table and so far there is not much benefit from ecotourism in the region.
below : one of the existing dams...

Therefore, fellow paddling brothers and sisters, better hurry up to visit Sumatra and paddle Asahan, lake Toba or... there are many places worth a visit for the adventurous travelling paddler !

How to get there: international flights from Europe via KUALA LUMPUR ( Malaysia ) or SINGAPORE to MEDAN in Northsumatra cost about 800 Euro. Living costs in Indonesia are low. Accomodation at lake Toba starts at about 5 US $ / night, a full meal is about 1 - 2 US$. To rent a car is about 40 US / day incl. driver ( DO use a driver - traffic down there is pretty crazy and roads are no highways ), fuel is about 30 cent Euro / liter.
below: traffic jam during the event 2003

For further info You can also contact me at or call + 62 - 61 - 6635 279
or mobile +62 813 620 75875 ( Georg or Halim )
I maintain a simple wooden house close to the river where I keep some kayaks and I am now trying to get local people trained up to do rafting on Asahan but it might take a year or so until they are up to do it...

Finally here some more photos from ASAHAN, enjoy ...

below a shot from the road as You go down the winding road into asahan valley

Asahan lower canyon - hardly to believe this is the same river

above: admiring the flying foxes at PORNOT FALLS

below HARIMO waterfall - a rare sight to see it with that much water -

I have NEVER seen the upper Asahan at this flow ( notice the trees ) - the ASAHAN Whitewater festival 2008 literally drowned, none of the four teams that showed up dared to go to the river...

One of the Indonesian teams and me waiting at Parhitean bridge for lower waterlevels... hopefully the organizers of the event pick a smarter time of the year next time...

Just two lonely kayakers, Michael Whirter from Newzealand and Thomas Ahlers from Germany went down at this historical floodlevel of 250 cbm/sec. They both agreed it was not a good idea to do an event at this conditions.
We left happily after their run to lake Toba which is just 2 hrs away -

Epilogue: ASAHAN III , a new Hydropower plant is planned and construction works are supposed to start soon... if it is really done, one of the most unique river environments will be destroyed and with it all rapids on upper Asahan will be gone forever... so IF You wanna go there, better hurry up !

' SAVE ASAHAN ' party : from 6th - 8th August 2012 ( or should we start earlier, take the weekend with us ? ) 

Below: HARIMO FALL and heroes of the ADIDAS SICKLINE 2009: Jared Meehan, Fabian Doerfler, Tomass Marnics

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Comment by Louis McCarten on February 2, 2012 at 5:13am

Save the Asahan--somebody. This area was supposed to have been legally protected by the designation of  the Tormatutung Protection Forest. (50,000 hectares).


There has to be another way to bring energy and prosperity to these people.

Comment by Greg Loftus ( Cominco) on December 29, 2008 at 10:17pm
I'm sure you will make it I was almost there in 84 but that was before i paddled. greg
Comment by J.C. on December 29, 2008 at 8:50pm
awesome !!!
hope i get there before i
Comment by Greg Loftus ( Cominco) on December 22, 2008 at 8:31am
Sounds great and I will try and get there before it is to late. I was very close in the early 80s but I think that that would have been to early. Merry Christmas greg




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