Zambezi – Day 5, Five Freewheeled and Nine Tamed, Almost
The following morning we felt really hung over. Right, so maybe hung over doesn’t describe the feeling quite enough. We were close on death, awakening with dehydrated brains and regretting taking maximum advantage of the booze cruise! Now the puzzle pieces were shifting together as I fully understood why it was called the ‘baboon cruise’. With only about an hour or two to get ready for the start of our multi-day trip, things were not looking good. The next three nights were to be spent under the African stars so it was time to get our ducks in a row.
Throwing ourselves into top gear we did our best to ready ourselves for the day ahead. Luke and I ate some greasy breakfast at Fawlty Towers. It was tough to force down some bacon and eggs into a stomach that wasn’t keen on anything but some love.
Somehow, we managed to get our act together and loaded our gear into some dry bags and jumped onto the Land Rover to pick up two more guys, Norbert Nottenkaemper and Sebastian Kuhl both from Germany. So the two South Africans, the two Dutchman, the two Germans and our guides (English gents) would be taking this next leg of journey together. Quite a mixture.
On arrival to the boiling pot we paddled to the right side of the river and already I flipped over in the current doing the ferry to the far side. Things were not looking up and my brain had a heart beat of its own! We walked along the bank to get upstream of number 1. Then we paddled across until we were right below Minus One. From here we left our boats and climbed along the rough terrain of fallen boulders and walked upstream. What a fantastic place. To be walking in the path of the mighty Victoria Falls. Now, during the low season, only a trickle cascades down between the two Minus Rapids and into a cold pool. Luke and I sat directly under the falls and felt the water come down onto our heads after the hundred metre journey down to where we sat. The sheet of water, although minimal, caused its own wind and we were sometimes hammered with a powerful flow and then other times we were free from the force. My hang over was temporarily forgotten as Luke and I just sat there, not saying much and just absorbing the moment. It is a wonderful place to be and one of those places where only a kayaker can get to. Apart from making a heinous abseil, there is no other way to get where we were sitting.
Minus Two, with the huge pourover clearly seen on river right.
We sat right under this thin ribbon of the beautiful Victoria Falls.
Playak at the Minus Rapids with Victoria Falls in the background!!!
Looking back at Minus One.
The Minus Rapids to the right of the photo and the horizon line of number one just left of the bridge.
The Minus Rapids are placed in a world class setting and only about two hundred metres from where the main flow of Victoria Falls hammers into the ground. To not visit this place on a trip to the Zambezi would be considered a crime. Don’t miss out. They suggest you get there super early to see the rainbow that forms over the Minus Rapids. After 07:00 the rainbow is gone already. Marten and Bart did this before we came up and looking at the picture of Marty bow stalling in front of Minus One would even make old Michelangelo’s mouth salivate from out of his grave.
Luke was having a good look and decided that Minus Two was out of the question. We had a good look at Minus One and I explained the line that I had seen people running on the videos. Both are really serious rapids and only to be attempted by those in the know. The line was there however and Luke was ready to run it. By the time we got back to our boats the others were in the water already and were paddling off. Too late! Oh well, we only live a long day’s drive away so could always return the following year.
I paddled down with some trepidation and made number one cleanly. It’s an easy rapid and once running down shouldn’t pose any problems. From there on we did two and three and then when we got to four I decided to portage. Yup, pretty embarrassing but I was feeling so sick and shaky, I just couldn’t face it. There was no hesitation from my part, only the job of walking along the hot, tricky terrain. The black rocks there seems to absorb every single joule of heat and throw it back at you. At low levels rapid 4, Morning Glory, is reasonably challenging and the right wall just wasn’t looking like a good idea. Marty joined me on the walk, on the left.
Adrian Tregoning on rapid number two, Between Two Worlds. Photo by Luke Longridge.
Marten Lagendijk on number two with a sweet blunt. Photos by Luke Longridge.
The previous day, before we started drinking, I had planned to boof the pourover at five and Luke was going to freewheel it. Now when we were there I opted for a normal line down the middle but Luke decided to give it a go. He paddled strongly towards the monstrous balloon in the river and freewheeled it so perfectly and beautifully no one could believe it. But the photos and video footage tell no lies and his elation was hugely evident afterwards. It seemed to lift everyone’s spirits a little to have witnessed it. Most of the videos I’ve seen of people freewheeling the pourover on Stairway to Heaven either result in a flip or a beating at the bottom. Nice one Luke!
Rapid number 5 - Stairway to Heaven.
Norbert getting it wrong on the entry... oops! Or I could have said he was going for a downriver helix.
Luke Longridge with an amazing freewheel on the pourover of five! He was in a large Fluid Flirt... Nice one Luke!!
Adrian on the hang over line. Photos by Luke Longridge.
Scouse trying to get into a whirlpool. These are just below rapid number five. Photo by Luke Longridge.
Adrian bowstalling in a whirlpool... YEEHAAAA. Photo by Luke Longridge.
Six came and went and then seven. Oh no, I couldn’t either summon the courage this time and I was really regretting ever having discovered brandy! I got out on the left with Marty and we both portaged. Conclusion, drinking is evil... I had run Gulliver’s Travels twice before but neither of those runs had been upright throughout and this time I was convinced that I would get even more creamed. Luke was suffering too but I think the freewheel must have cured his hangover and he was paddling very well indeed.
Number eight came up and this is always a winner. I dropped in the made it cleanly and silently through, coming out in a bow stall! I couldn’t believe it!!! Bart had a solid thrashing and ended up front surfing the hole for quite some time. Everyone else had pretty clean lines.
Adrian with a sweet meltdown ending in a bow stall. Photos by Luke Longridge.
Bart getting it wrong! OOPS! Photos by Luke Longridge.
Norbert about to plug in! Photo by Luke Longridge.
Then finally we came to number 9, Commercial Suicide. It was the last opportunity that Luke could have at running this beast and he was amped to charge it. Having run both the diagonal and the pourover lines a few times he knew what to expect. I felt nervous for his sake and we scouted Elbow Rock just downstream of the massive hole at the bottom. It looked incredibly nasty and showed itself on the occasional surge as the rapid seemed to breathe at its own nasty pulse. Luke ran the pourover, went down for a fraction of a second and came up, still upright. He ferried hard to the left, punched through the big hole at the bottom and then WHAM! He started getting beaten in a hole none of us even knew existed. Apparently this hole, behind the massive one is called the hero hole, and a successful run through nine should be finished off here. Hence the name; hero hole. Needless to say Luke did some window shades, a few ends and at least two loops. It looked like a bad spot to be as it was very near to the left wall. In the end, he came out and was massively confused as to what had just happened to him.
Rapid number 9, Commercial Suicide, looking up at the entry...
...and looking down at the huge hole at the bottom. Both photos taken from the same spot.
Luke Longridge about to run number 9. From his position at that time, he couldn't see a thing. Pretty scary entry.
Luke Longridge getting a little worked in the small but powerful hero hole below the final hole but still managing an awesome run of this big bag boy! NICE!
The final rapid of the day was number ten. What a great way to end the day. This one in particular marked the end of potentially the worst hangover paddle I’ve ever had. I usually don’t drink too much. Ok, so the Ash in winter is perhaps the only place where we all go a bit wild, far too often. Maybe it’s the cold water, the cold air, the cold beer, the juicy eisbeins and the hot atmosphere at Friends. Ten was fine and Luke kindly got some sweet photos of us running down. Shot Luke.
Adrian running number 10. Pure bliss. Photos by Luke Longridge.
Marten Lagendijk also on 10. Photos by Luke Longridge.
The river turns right and within about fifty metres is a low ledge next to water level where we got out on the left. We climbed over the rocks and found a sweet beach. This would be our first night out. The raft had been carried down as there was a put in, take out spot very nearby. We put up our own tents and because some of the ‘guides’ had taken their girlfriends with there weren’t enough tents and not enough mattresses. Bart slept that first night on the bare sand, which he assured us was not pleasant. With that said, the foam mattresses that we did have were around 3mm thin (or thick, if you see the glass half full) but seeing as though the glasses were on the empty side I’ll carry on.
Camp site for night one, just below rapid number 10.
Another shot of our site and the tents! Evil tents...
Dinner was a very spicy curry type thing that was on the hot side of comfortable for most of the guys. Way too many vegetables and almost no chicken. Yup, I sound like an old woman. But when I’m paying 400 US Dollars for 3 nights on the river I expect something a bit better than what I could pack into my creek boat in South Africa and crack out in a moment’s notice. We ran out of beer after having only about two to three each. It was great to watch the people guiding us down the river drink and eat all our food. I love it. Definitely something I want to do again.
Our camp site at night. It took me ages to get the right effect. The blue streaks are people walking with their headlights.
Luke and I slept in one tent. Now I’m not talking about a spacious two or three man tent but a tent so small that I could only sleep with my legs straight if I slept corner to corner. At six foot I’m not that tall. So Luke and I squashed in and lay shoulder to shoulder. It probably wouldn’t have been so bad in any cold country where one tends to be tucked into a warm sleeping bag but this is the damn Zambezi and it stays hot 24/7. I actually don’t like body contact at all as it makes me hot so it was extra unpleasant for the both of us. Our stomachs were churning from the food and I wondered what tomorrow would bring.
Words by: Adrian Tregoning.
Next article: Day six, rapids 11 to 25. (Day two of the multiday trip)