I slept the entire night on top of my Therm-A-Rest. Only early in the morning did I feel a little cold but I never even touched my sleeping bag. That was the first time I’d camped on a river trip in such warm conditions. There were now some clouds around and it almost looked as if it would rain. We packed up all of our gear and loaded the boats again. Luke was in his medium Fluid Solo and I was still in my usual large. It’s amazing how much stuff you can actually fit into those boats. We had packed in, correction, Luke especially had packed in a serious amount of luxuries (even two plastic glasses for our wine) and we weren’t even noticing it. As we were getting ready to leave, two fishermen came from the other side of the river. They greeted us cheerfully from the other side and went about their business as if we were nothing unusual. We headed off and began our days’ paddle.
The next morning at our camp site.
A few hundred metres down we found another guy fishing and then for the rest of the trip we didn’t see a soul. The rapids got much better and the river entered a kind of a gorge. Steep cliffs rose up sharply and there were some great rapids that would be quite serious with more water. I don’t think the river could be paddled with any less water than what we had, so we were at the very bottom. That is actually a good thing, because then it can only get better! One must always see the glass half full. We ran a simple little slide that dropped into a slot thing that was highly undercut. With some water, this spot would be reasonably nasty. There was another really lekker rapid just downstream that we just boat scouted. The pictures I’ve taken don’t fully do it justice. I can’t wait to try it at medium or high levels. It would be magical.
Luke running first on the staggered slide drop. Pity there wasn't a foot more water.
With the camera back with Luke it was time for me to have my run. Photos by Luke Longridge.
"Duh, like down there boss?" (Don't know what I was on about) Photo by Luke Longridge.
Adrian Tregoning with a rock 180... With so little water, and so much weight in the boat, a 360 was tough to get. Photos by Luke Longridge.
A random shot just downstream from the staggered slide thing.
Luke sitting in a calm pool. Keeping an eye out for crocodiles though.
At one spot we got to scout and just as well. Luke was quite certain that at this spot there was a mean rapid. Once out of our boats it was obvious that the rapid was blocked off with rocks. Luke said that Hugh du Preez had been pinned here and even with loads more water it was quite dodgy. At our water level, it was not runnable as the line couldn’t be achieved and one would almost definitely go to some mini siphons in the mess of boulders. The rapid is split with a massive rock island and towering cliffs on the right. We took the left channel and it was quite fun actually. There a bad undercut to avoid but otherwise it was fine. Once the channels meet up there is a small drop and Luke said some guys got punished here at high levels in the hole that formed.
The very messy boulder mess that we portaged. It doesn't look too bad in the photos but in reality it wouldn't be a smart move to run this.
There is one more little rapid and then two or three hundred metres from the portage is a really sweet drop. When Luke did the trip they ran on the far right and avoided the far left line we ran. No doubt it would be quite nasty and he says it formed a huge, retentive hole. As we were scouting the drop we noticed these red caterpillars with long, white spikes on them. There were plenty around and only at that spot. Later on, I decided to name the rapid, What Lies Beneath. In real life, the rapid looks weird and the blocks of rock fallen into the river bed create a very different drop. It has a curved lip and it also slopes down, making a boof harder. We decided running far left, with a strong right boof, would do the trick. The landing looked shallow to me and pencilling in wouldn’t be advised. I ran it first and my run was really sweet. Luke came next and I took a few photos of him before the time. As he was about to plant his stroke I held in the shutter release and only one photo was taken. Luke’s run was sweet but I had missed it, I couldn’t believe it. It would have been easy to walk back and once I told Luke he said that when I ran it did the same and he just pressed and pressed as fast as he could. Ha, he should have told me when we swopped over! I had left the shutter release on single shoot mode because of all the night and scenery shots from the previous afternoon and had forgotten to change it continuous mode again. Oh well, so one learns. Luke decided to not run again and down we went.
Adrian Tregoning playing the fool before running the next rapid. Photo by Luke Longridge.
Adrian Tregoning with a lekker boof and keeping the bow dry on What Lies Beneath. Photos by Luke Longridge. Great stuff Luke!!!! Especially because the mode was not even on continuous shooting!
An interesting catepillar that had drowned next to the rapid. There were plenty more which were quite active though.
Luke lining up for What Lies Beneath.
Luke Longridge running What Lies Beneath. So where are the other photos? Well, I left the camera on single shoot from the night before and forgot to change it! Idiot!! Sorry Luke.. :-) (he decided not to run it again, too lazy and chilled out perhaps)
I was feeling confident as we came to the next horizon line. Luke said he couldn’t quite remember it. I went ahead and dropped down on the left down a metre clean drop, then right ninety degrees on a narrow shelf thing for about fifteen metres and eventually made a small boof at the end. It was quite a sweet rapid. It joined up with the right line and dropped down a little more. We paddled across a long pool and when the river turned right, we got out to scout. Here was the second slide that Luke had been talking about. It was straight forward at these levels but super fun and the second day was much better than the rapids we had encountered on the first day. It was a real bonus. Below the slide is another tiny ledge thing and Luke said that this formed a big hole that caused more swims on their trip. Sounded like an epic trip. Luke decided to run first and made it with no problems. I followed with a sweet run too. From a paddling perspective, we were paddling perfectly with no problems. It would have been nice to have a little more h20 under our hulls though! Luke decided that this rapid would be called Slippery Seconds!
Luke getting ready to run Slippery Seconds.
Luke Longridge having a good run on Slippery Seconds.
Adrian Tregoning waiting for the sun to quickly peek through for the run on the next rapid. Photo by Luke Longridge.
Adrian Tregoning with a run on Slippery Seconds in a little bit of sunshine. Photos by Luke Longridge.
There were more lekker rapids all along the way and the scenery got even better. The Mutale River is truly a very special place and one which I think will never get a lot of paddling traffic. It is very far north and out of the way for most people. It is situated in a reasonably low rainfall region. Downstream, at the Pafuri camp, they often get less than 600mm of rain in a year. I guess it only counts what happens upstream and the rainfall there should be much better. This river does get very high, make no mistake. We were told that several times a year, the water overflows it’s banks and comes into the camp even. We’ll have to time something like that then. At least once a year the entire Limpopo Province gets a spell of heavy rain and people start flooding away. Usually this coincides with the poor Mozambiqueans already under siege from the Zambezi and other surrounding rivers lower down in Mozambique and some tropical cyclone too; poor dudes.
Luke Longridge approaching some towering cliffs towards the end of the trip.
How's this tree growing into the rocks? We saw loads of trees that had been dislodged on the river banks and had many small boulders still firmly in their roots. Amazing stuff.
The view from our lunch stop that day.
The river downstream from our lunch spot which was a small island in the river.
Luke at our lunch spot on day two. Note that there is still the odd dead/burnt tree. What a beautiful place the Mutale River is!
We were kept company by many kingfishers again and it surprised us both as to how tame the birds were here. I’ve seen hundreds of different birds on rivers throughout South Africa but none are as relaxed as here. One particular giant kingfisher allowed us to get very close. Usually they move off as soon as, or even before, one can even spot them. This is a magnificent bird and although it doesn’t display the vivid colours as some of the other kingfishers, it is still an amazing bird. Weighing around 350 grams this bird is quite large and much larger than most other kingfishers.
There were still some other sweet rapids and then finally they were gone. A quiet section of about five hundred metres interspersed with some tiny rapids and then we were at the end. Here the river was very broad and the thought of more crocodiles haunted us. There was some type of structure on the right and I had remembered that there was a lodge that someone was building that Vince had told us about. Luke was not convinced that this was where Vince would pick us up but I was quite sure. The bridge at the main road was another twenty to twenty five kilometres away and I was not keen on paddling that at low levels, with loads of crocodiles. The gradient is also a lot less. We had been lucky to only see one but we are assured there are many more in the gorge still. They are more prolific out of the gorge where goats and what not make up regular meals. It was decided that we’d leave our boats at the water and then walk up to the lodge. There were two ladies there and they were doing some cleaning. The lodge was still heavily under construction and the only thing of value we could determine from them was that a guy called David owned the place. We decided to wait for Vince and had only waited about ten minutes when he arrived. Ha, I couldn’t believe our great timing.
The drive back was quite long and I can assure you that finding the take out is not an easy task. I’m sure that lodge will be well sign posted and hopefully they won’t mind the odd kayaking party using their land to take out on in the future. Check it out on Google Earth and use a GPS if you’re not interesting in asking for directions from the locals that don’t speak much English.
This tough bugger sat on the spare wheel (on the bonnet) the entire way back to the lodge!
As we got back to the lodge we had plans to do a second descent of a nearby waterfall and a first descent of a slide a little further away that we know about and Luke has scouted. But then we were greeted with the news that Sybrant had gone into town and taken Luke’s car keys with him. There was nothing we could do. There is no cell phone reception there and we couldn’t contact him. We waited for a very long time and eventually went for a swim and chilled out for a while. After probably an hour and a half he came back and we packed up and headed off. It was too late now for our other missions and we decided that we’d now take a leisurely drive through the Kruger National Park. If you’ve never heard of the Kruger National Park then do the following. Stand up from where you’re sitting and kick yourself in the shin. If your head is still in the sand then take it out and give yourself a klap in the face. I won’t go further into an explanation.
The awesome bar we sat at the first night with the pool in the background. A first class camp!
More of the Pafuri Rivercamp.
Because of the way the roads are situated we would either have to drive back to Louis Trichardt and then go around a long way, or we could cruise through the Kruger, which would mean we’d have to stick to the obviously slow speed limits, but at least we could relax and enjoy seeing some game. The entry was much cheaper than what I thought it would be (maybe R27 each, can’t quite remember) and in we went. It was quite hot and most of the game would still be lying in the coolness of the shade but we still saw a couple of animals. It was a great way to end an even greater trip and we idled through it. After about an hour and a half, we came out at the Punda Maria gate. From there we drove via these dodgy little back roads for quite some time. We were starving for any type of food and the only place where we could get something was this tiny little garage that stocked almost nothing. I managed to find a box of biscuits and a few small packets of salt and vinegar chips and pointed these out from behind the counter. A truly African shop where everything is behind the counter and one must point. Most of the shops in real (not South Africa/Namibia) rural Africa have their shops set up in this system. It is to curb shop lifting I guess but makes for painful ‘shopping’. Eventually some KFC saved us at this very dodgy place where Luke braved the interior and I kept guard of the car. It went down like a homesick mole.
Another huge baobab in the Kruger National Park.
A kudu cow with an impala just behind her.
The signs have to be strong so that animals don't bend and break them when using them as scratching posts.
The Luvuvhu River inside the park.
Another kudu cow, this time crossing the road with several behind her. We didn't see that much game actually. It was still hot in the day and this far north the bush is quite dry.
A Lilac-breasted Roller sitting next to the road in a tree. We saw plenty of these birds that day. Amazing!
Another one sitting lower down this time!
Another massive baobab tree towering above every other tree around it.
A couple of vultures hanging around in a tree.
Back on the road it got dark and I think by then we had driven over a thousand kilometres already on that trip!!! We were on our way to the Blyde X-Fest and apart from making the odd navigation decision it was relatively uneventful. The only thing exciting was almost crashing into the back of tractor that was driving on the main road at 30 km/h, with a trailer, with no lights on anything while we were coming at around 110/120 in total darkness on a twisty road. Luckily I saw the slight outline in the moonlight and warned Luke so we swerved around them hooting and cursing, not that it helps of course. Once at the camping grounds it was obvious that some people had been there long before us and the beers had been flowing very freely. Stand by for the next article.
Photography by: Adrian Tregoning, unless otherwise stated. I messed up the editing this time round a little trying something new. But after editing 103 photos I coudn't motivate myself to re-edit them. Next time... If anyone would like to volunteer in the Venda region them please visit Vince's site by clicking HERE.
Words by: Adrian Tregoning .
Next article: Blyde X-Fest 2008
News on the site for the coming months!
This will be the last article for perhaps three to four weeks. By the time you read this I’ll probably be cut up like a fish already. Yep, Monday 19 May I’ll be undergoing some surgery to my right shoulder. Getting injured last year on 26 June in Norway, I only recently went for some x-rays! It was recommended then that I have an MRI scan. Before doing the actual scan I had to undergo a process known as an arthrogram. This is a truly horrible thing to do and I’ll quickly explain it. You lie on a cold stainless table in a freezing cold room (maybe they want to preserve bodies in there?) with an x-ray machine over you. They take one x-ray to see what is potting. Then a doctor marks off a position with a marker and injects some local anesthetic. There is a slight prick and almost no pain. After about two seconds he said, “Now I’m going to go a little deeper” and WHAM he knocks that needle in super deep and you can feel it going deep into the muscle as the needle shudders going through everything. This is quite painful and highly unpleasant to say the least. Then, still lying on the table (with a blanket over one to avoid hypothermia) they let the local anaesthetic become a bit more regional. A massive needle (about 12cm long) is then carefully put into the shoulder. It goes in around 6 to 8cm I think. This has the dye or contrast (the fluid is known as gadolinium) in it that will fill the space inside the shoulder joint, so that needle has to go in very deep. To guide it accurately they take quite a few x-rays while they wear lead vests and you don’t (to increase your chance of cancer and make sure you’re a return customer to the hospital) and this takes a while. Deeper and deeper it goes as they guide it in looking at the x-ray images. One can feel it in there. It was one of the worst things I’ve ever done. Similar to having ones teeth pulled, and I’ve done 4 beastly molars (I have monster roots) in the chair that left me bleeding for 3 days. Had to use tea bags in my mouth to absorb the blood so hence the reason I haven’t had a cup of tea since 1993. Just out of interest sake, I haven’t had a single cup of coffee since about July 1997 too!!! But there is no exciting story there so I’ll carry on with my little story.
After about 10 minutes of agony and being freezing cold even though my hands were sweating, I hit the MRI machine. MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging. If you are claustrophobic, then pray that you never go into one of those machines!!! Stop reading now and check out some kayaking videos. I don’t mind going in at all. It’s almost like lying in my bivi bag. But you’ve got to lie still for AGES and the first long scan, of about 20 minutes, I had to do again because they said I was moving and this produced blurred images. It is uncomfortable as they jam your shoulder into a holder type thing and position blocks to force your body into it from the opposite side to keep you there. I wore ear phones to block out the sound but it was still very loud. The third scan was shorter but worse; had to have my arm above my head. Zero fun. The entire process I can highly recommend not doing, especially the injection into the joint. I rate it low on the fun scale. Did I mention that the MRI room is highly air conditioned with a force 7 storm blowing through there? The room is very cold to keep the machinery cool. Screw the customer. The flimsy blanket didn’t help much and they wonder why I was breathing so much!
Well, it seems I’ve torn my labrum quite nicely. Hence the pain I’ve been experiencing for the last 11 months… So that affected my Scandinavian trip a hell of a lot and even though I was in a lot of pain, I still managed a reasonable amount of rivers. If you look at the 19 articles I’ve posted on the trip then I would say I still made something very positive out of a bad situation. After that trip I rested for about two months before paddling and the pain never really went away. People probably got sick and tired of me moaning and I know many thought I was just making excuses but the pain was severe and I shudder to think of the vast number of pain killers I’ve chewed on over the months. Not anymore though. Even during the Zambezi trip the shoulder was starting to hurt a lot but I know Marten would have rung my neck if I harped on about it! But now the pain will end. No more paddling with my shoulders back and tucked as I’ve noticed in the videos of myself and photos, truly horrible. I even noticed in some video footage that my stroke on the right was shorter; this made the left side work harder and probably the reason why my left is also sore now. Another lesson learnt, seek professional advice immediately.
A big thanks to the huge amount of support and advice I’ve received from people all over the world. Many of whom I’ve never even met before. Thank you, I really appreciate it. Thanks to all my friends here and also to my folks! It has helped me a lot and the encouragement is awesome!
So about that injury....taken from this site:
The shoulder joint is a ball and socket joint, similar to the hip; however, the socket of the shoulder joint is extremely shallow, and thus inherently unstable. This means that the bones of the shoulder are not held in place adequately, and therefore extra support is needed.
To compensate for the shallow socket, the shoulder joint has a cuff of cartilage called a labrum that forms a cup for the end of the arm bone (humerus) to move within. The labrum circles the shallow shoulder socket (the glenoid) to make the socket deeper. This cuff of cartilage makes the shoulder joint much more stable, and allows for a very wide range of movements (in fact, the range of movements your shoulder can make far exceeds any other joint in the body).
So what they need to do is screw in a plastic thing into a bone in the shoulder with these strings attached to the screw. The other end of the strings will be used to hold the labrum in position while my shoulder heals. After about 18 months the screw will have dissolved. The strings will stay forever but they’re not a problem, hopefully. They will then roughen up the cartilage and make it bleed. This will cause it to start healing again and this time it will heal in the correct position. They will also cut away some cartilage somewhere else. They reckon it’s called a Bankart repair. Depending on what they find once they cut me open, the entire operation should be done via arthroscopic instruments which are basically small tubes with cameras at the end of them operating with fiber optics. So that means that I will get only small incisions and the scars will be minimal. Hopefully that is indeed the case. A Bankart repair (and something else stated on the document like a shoulder debridgement or something) is a significant surgical operation and they say the minimum time off is 6 months with recovery not being easy. There are many other shoulder operations with far quicker recovery times but unfortunately for me this is not one of them. Oh well, that only makes me more determined and there are plenty of other things I can do in the meantime. I will not let this get me down and will keep my eye on the ball.
All of this nonsense is costing serious money and I kick myself for not having medical aid! Yep, I’m a real idiot!!! Went off it and always just procrastinated joining again... So at R140/minute for a minimum of 150 minutes it gets quite expensive. Excluding x-rays and MRI which is just under R10 000 already and of course all consumables during the operation, the anaesthetist, two nights in hospital etc. which will add up to a LOT more. Lesson learnt, don’t be a *$%(&@ like me!
The last time I kayaked (apart from a short flat water session about 2 weeks after that) was 29 March! It was a sunny day off of Woodbridge Island in my Fluid Element. I guess it was a great way to spend the last day paddling and myself and a chap called Abrie managed to paddle out almost a kilometer amongst some dolphins. It was an amazing experience to be so far out on a wind still day in the ocean. About eight dolphins played around with us, drifting only 30cm from our boats and peering up at us as they twisted their lithe bodies. I’ll never forget that day. The water was an incredibly clear aquamarine colour and we could see the dolphins in almost perfect detail underneath and around us. We paddled with them for about ten minutes. We also spotted a box jellyfish. What a remarkable creature. The species we get is not the deadly one found off the Australian coastline but a little smaller and not lethal at all. Still, only being about 4cm across with tentacles around 60cm long, it was weird (and lucky) to find one just cruising out there, in the middle of seemingly nowhere. Beautiful creature and well spotted by Arbrie. Apart from the lovely day and marine creatures I also managed to surf many waves and that Element is just amazing. I won’t even get into that now as it only breaks my heart. The boat is crazy fast and super loose. It feels like it is floating across the wave and responds to the slightest of edge transitions. The most fun I’ve had playing, ever, has been in the Element.
I can’t wait to get back on the water. It kills me not to be able to kayak anymore. Kayaking is my life and what makes me feel alive! Now it is gone and I feel rather empty and unsatisfied. I need to get back ASAP! But I’ll keep busy and have a few plans up my sleeve. The site also won’t go to sleep and I took photos the other day of Rowan Walpole at Muizenberg as he played around on some sweet waves in his Element. The lighting was bad and the waves not too big but there’ll be more days, soon! The winter swell is here and I ‘met’ a guy called Todd via the internet and organised a photo shoot with him. He paddled my Element between the Inner and Outer Kom on Saturday and the waves were HUGE. Not one surfer even went out there. It was so big that at Sunset Reef guys were being towed in by jet skis. We also hit Thermopylae which is a very rare break in Cape Town right near the harbour entrance. It was depressing not to be able to paddle though I must admit. Stand by for photos of that mission.
When I arrived here I also did a solo hike along the Dwars River to check out the top section up to the waterfall and will post some photos of that one. Then a week later I hiked down the entire length of the Wit River in 9 hours with Rowan Walpole. That article will have loads of photos with the river dry, and with water. I also managed to get hold of an almost two gigs worth of photos from rivers in the Western Cape that most people have never even heard of. As per usual, you’ll be able to see that exclusive content right here so keep checking back from time to time. The Blyde X-Fest article will be done when I can use my right arm a little again.
MORE ACTION COMING SOON!
Sorry these last words were a bit random. I guess I’m feeling a little random at the moment. Looking forward to being able to paddle again with no pain and in full confidence… Until then, I’m out of here. This is nervous Adrian signing out, for now. Cheers!