Sunday 22 November 2009. At 05:55 I was woken up to a television that must have been approaching maximum in terms of volume. Who knows why?! But it was incredibly annoying! We got up, ate breakfast which consisted of eggs and noodles and as per usual, it was really good. I fed my little cat, Lucky, under the table and gave him half my egg; the poor little thing. There would be no chance of losing weight on this trip, or so we thought. I think I lost about 5kg if memory serves me correctly. Some of the other guys more. We left at 07:30 and headed back on the long drive to the Batang Sangir which we had first descended the previous day for more action.
The ‘lower’ Batang Sangir would, amazingly, not be a first descent – the only one of the trip. It has been rafted once before, but not kayaked, and one of the members on the trip was unfortunately killed; although, technically the incident actually occurred shortly after the Sangir flows into the Liki. Either way we knew very little about the river. Only that it wasn’t as steep as the section we had done the previous day so we were reasonably sure it would go down smoothly. Everyone climbed on except Puji who was not convinced yet about this particular river. The river was still very continuous but not as steep. There was one rapid with a very big hole at the bottom but otherwise things were mostly quite fun and relatively easy going, but still technical enough to keep you awake and some strainers to avoid like the plague. At a suspension bridge we met the drivers and Puji decided to join us. It was a pity that he missed the top section because he would have definitely styled it. And once he joined us at the bridge it was no problems for him on that day, or any of the other days after that too!
Hugh du Preez. This is on the lower section which is easier than the top section. Good fun! Photo by Celliers Kruger (Celliers' camera) Sigit ‘Billy’ Setiyanto with a sweet run. Photo by Celliers Kruger (Celliers' camera)
‘Billy’ having fun! Photo by Celliers Kruger (Celliers' camera) Hugh du Preez cruising through. Photo by Celliers Kruger (Celliers' camera) And that concludes the lower section. The rest of the photos are from much higher up…
After more rapids and fun we joined up with the clear green waters of the Batang Liki and paddled down a short distance to a take out spot on river right. It was weird to see how the brown waters from the Sangir joined up with the Liki and how prominent the dividing line was. The Sangir flows from a lake and it is reputed to have a large dragon that lives there. When he moves around a lot the water turn brown. It is strange though, because all the other rivers flow quite clear, so maybe he is there… The Sangir also held its water nicely through the trip while the others dropped a lot, as they obviously depended on rain. At 11:30 we got out. It was hot and the air still. Andrew and Hugh wanted to return to the upper reaches of the Batang Sangir to conquer more of it and they were insistent I go with. The knowledge of what had happened to them the previous day, that the river was very steep and serious and the beating Hugh had received made me dubious of joining these two paddlers on another mission even higher up – I was not keen. We drove up, finding a local guide who knew where to go and after much deliberation and uncertainty Andrew just threw my paddle off the back of the pick-up truck, grabbed my shoulders and said, “You’ve been paddling really well, and we need you!” Maybe that was what I needed to hear, some sort of confidence booster if you will, so I decided to join in on this next adventure. Or as my good friend Luke Longridge would have said, time to HTFU – harden the f*** up. Hahaha. Agus also decided he would join us and so the four of us set out to go a little higher and claim more of this amazing river. The other four paddlers were not keen on joining.
The walk in was quite serious. We went down a small but steep and slippery path and then over a section which looked like an entire field of old banana trees had been thrown down onto the ground. On the other side of the valley the path mostly ended but we had our local guide whom we had found, and Billy (Sigit) who were cutting a path through the jungle. Have a look at the pictures to see exactly what I mean. It was hot, humid and full of, well, jungle!
Eventually the river got louder and there was a point where the boats had to be lowered down to the river by means of a throw rope. The little path continued a short way upstream and then suddenly, we were next to the river. It was an eerie place to be. The river flowed cool in the thick, hot jungle. It would have been very difficult to scout anything and the swift flow of the river meant things would happen fast and it was quite narrow up here. I felt a bit nervous but glad I had joined in on the trip. I knew it was going to be interesting – I wasn’t wrong.
Andrew’s helmet with a visitor. Photo by Andrew Kellett (Andrew’s camera) A local taking logs down a steep hill with a homemade sort of go-cart! Pretty cool :) I love the casual smoke he has in his mouth. Photo by Celliers Kruger (Celliers' camera)
The guide at the top cutting the path. Then ‘Billy’ following up with me on the right in the green helmet, and Hugh to the left. It was good fun, but hot work climbing up here! Photo by Andrew Kellett (Andrew’s camera)
The first few rapids were all fine. It was fast but we managed to all survive. It was intimidating though, no doubt about it. Agus was the only one in a play boat but being a light guy, and also very fit and strong he managed extremely well; my hat off to him. One particular rapid which had beaten Hugh when the river was a touch higher loomed up. Of course only Andrew and Hugh had run this before but they told us about it while on the fly. It ended with a pourover and we casually went down with me following Hugh. This is usually not a good idea on any river. Following Hugh, that is. He went over the edge of the pourover to avoid the right line which missed it but was guarded by a fierce hole but the edge was quite dry. He teetered a moment and then I came charging up behind him, boofing hard and almost landing on top of him. Then I managed to do a nice stern stall in my large Solo and was shortly flipped over. After a quick roll I came up coughing, having swallowed a little water, good times! I believe Andrew will have that on video. Speaking of which, we are still eagerly awaiting it!!! :-)
There was another big rapid which Hugh ran first to get downstream and Agus and I were told of the rough line. Andrew went next to set up for video and photos at the halfway point and that left the two of us alone at the top. We knew it was serious and could obviously not see anything as the rapid was steep and probably more than a 100m long which actually, is a lie, because there were no pools and it just kept dropping anyway. We both felt nervous. I ran first and charged through, having a clean line while Andrew took some close up video which looked great afterwards. There was an eddy on the left which I managed to get. Agus came through next and also had a styler run, joining me in the same eddy! After that there was another serious rapid which we were able to actually scout, thank goodness. Andrew ran first, cracking out an awesome run down the middle. Hugh was next and went a fraction left but still had a really great run too. My turn was next but I wasn’t feeling the main line so I decided to go the soft route and take far right. I charged hard and messed up my line anyway, almost knocking poor Andrew off the rock where he going to take a close up photo! Oh well, next time! Agus came through after me and took the far left line. It was a solid line and a hole almost stopped him but he made it nicely!
Hugh du Preez also with a fantastic line. Andrew Kellett with a really sterling line. Photo by Adrian Tregoning (Andrew’s camera) Me with a terrible run, almost hitting Andrew off a rock! Photo by Andrew Kellett (Andrew’s camera)
The river dropped some more and we got to what we were told was the final rapid on the bend; another beast. And this one we could not scout! Oh boy! Above it Agus and I caught an eddy, right above a serious strainer. It wasn’t a proper eddy and we had to keep paddling to avoid going into the logs behind us. Hugh joined us and I hurriedly asked him what the plan was because we’re right at this strainer. He asked, “What strainer?” and so I shouted at the one right behind us and he smiled and said, “Oh.” It was a moment I can only describe as a Hugh moment. We had a brief laugh and then got serious. Andrew had gone down halfway but it was hard to see him for a while. At last he motioned we go down and because of the nature of the eddy and our position now I was up first. My heart was beating fast and I felt quite nervous. As I peeled out into the fast current I looked down at a steep rapid chocked with boulders and big holes. It was the kind of rapid I would always scout. In fact, 99% of people would have scouted but I guess we didn’t have too much choice in the matter. Things were happening fast and I paddled hard while Andrew videoed, giving me the thumbs up as I peeled out. I managed to somehow charge to the left bank just past halfway and did not go all the way as that is where the real ugly stuff was lurking. I bounced out of two eddies as they were too small and managed to get the third. Hugh also joined me suddenly but the eddy was too small and out we went. Now we were almost touching boats and got swept into the maelstrom with Hugh right in front of me, blocking my view. Hugh knew where to go but I did not. I saw a monster hole looming up and managed to punch it. Another hole appeared directly afterwards and I tried to change angle or tactic but it was too late, I was one a half metres right of Hugh and obviously this wasn’t the correct place to be. The hole engulfed me entirely as I corrected with a left stroke to compensate for my desperate ferry angle as I hit it perpendicular. I managed to punch the hole but it stern stalled me and over I went. Because the rapid kept dropping immediately I was in for some fun and I knew this could hurt. A rock hit my helmet quite hard, then another on my one shoulder and then two more hard hits to my head. Swimming was not an option as I would almost certainly lose my boat and that would end my trip. I rolled up immediately and was immensely relieved to see that I was almost finished with this rapid and seemed quite safe. There was a final smaller hole to avoid and it was mostly over. At that time Agus had already gone more right of where we had gone and was getting the beating of his life in that same hole which I had managed to get through. He was beaten for perhaps 30 seconds or more and then came out, swimming.
Me in the green boat after I just rolled up from my underwater excursion… Hugh on the right in the red. Agus not in the photo but to the right of Hugh getting a monster beating. Photo by Celliers Kruger (Celliers' camera) Andrew coming down, having a short surf on a wave and climbing out to take more video footage. Photo by Celliers Kruger (Celliers' camera)
Hugh heading downstream to run the section we’d done before. Photo by Celliers Kruger (Celliers' camera) Andrew also heading down further. Look at those river banks. Photo by Celliers Kruger (Celliers' camera)
Now this rapid is on the left bend which we could see from the wooden bridge at the put in for the ‘normal’ section of the Sangir which meant that downstream from here was just one big, long rapid. He HAD to get out to avoid a very long, painful and potentially life threatening swim. There were strainers just downstream which obviously had to be avoided! Hugh shouted that I must get out my boat but it was pointless because Agus flushed past so quickly there was no time to reach for my bag once I jumped out. Hugh clipped into the boat and by luck it caught an eddy on its own. Agus managed to get out quite easily on the left and I stayed with him, as did Hugh. Andrew had gone down on his own just in case. Eventually we paddled down to the bridge. Agus and I had had enough of one days paddling and so took out here, while Andrew and Hugh decided to head downstream and continue the normal run for the third time this trip.
We had lunch at the same place we had eaten before and that was fantastic. I really miss that food. Then we went home. Supper was dried/overcooked fish (which is probably safer anyway) and some more chicken and rice. It was delicious. I felt fantastic after my ‘shower’ and took it easy. A young man interviewed Hugh for a newspaper and Hugh really enjoyed it, talking a lot, as he often does. It had been a good day for sure with great people! The river had tested my skills and in the end, all had gone well. But I thought about it for a long time afterwards. Reflecting on what had happened and how good that river really was. There is no doubt that is will be a star attraction to this area and soon people from around the world will be lining up to enjoy the steep, technical rapids which this awesome river has to offer. At 22:00 I drifted off to sleep. Tomorrow would be yet another day in this paradise known as West Sumatra.
Photography by: Adrian Tregoning. Unless otherwise stated.
All Words by: Adrian Tregoning.