Umtamvuna – Northern Most Transkei Border River

Ever since I started kayaking and read about the Umtamvuna River in Celliers Kruger’s book, I had wanted to paddle it. There was always a certain aura surrounding this river and it intrigued me for a long time. I would read the description again and again, perhaps in the hope of picking up something that I had missed before. When people spoke of it, I listened. The warnings of difficult and dangerous rapids had conjured up images in my mind and I could only dream of paddling that river about three years back. My lack of skill and the fact that I knew very few other paddlers kept me from going there for quite some time.

The Umtamvuna River forms the northern border between South Africa and the former Transkei region. The Great Kei River forms the southern border and the word Transkei itself means area beyond the Kei. The Indian Ocean falls to the east and the Drakensberg Mountains encapsulate the area to the west. The ‘Transkei’ as such doesn’t exist anymore but was an area that the National Party Government formed in 1959 as part of a [email protected] scheme to create one of eight different homelands in order for them to achieve their ‘Separate Development’ for South Africa’s different races. The Transkei, as well as the Ciskei, was an area set aside just for Xhosa people. I won’t get into the politics of all this nonsense but it became a part of South Africa again on 27 April 1994. Since then nothing has really happened. There are many problems in the area that are preventing movement forward some of which I will mention so as to educate you, the reader, a little more.

 

The people there have been given many promises by our government, almost all of them false. They were promised tractors; none arrived. In 2003 they were promised fences but none came. Their livestock is left to graze in communal areas where they are vulnerable to disease. This is just one of the many issues that the local people face. The 50km belt running from the Great Kei River to Port Edward is an area with high rainfall and tests on beans, sunflower, citrus and many other subtropical fruits and several other vegetables are capable of very high yields. Many rivers flow in this area, the soil is of very good quality and the winters are quite mild. Yet this oasis for farming remains untapped. Corruption and financial mismanagement at a municipal level are some of the severe problems that are still crippling this region and provincial leadership appears unable or unwilling to tackle these mounting problems.

 

The main river in the region is the Umzimvubu (or Mzimvubu as it is officially known as). This is South Africa’s third largest river and the Mzimvubu basin covers an area of 20 000 km². Rainfall is between 700 and 1500mm per annum and the total runoff is an estimated 2 900 million m³. Quite a massive amount of water and only about 33 million m³ is used with the rest merely flowing into the sea. From a paddler’s perspective the area is super rich with many world class rivers and there is a wide variety to choose from. Access is mostly with 4x4 vehicles if one can find a road. From a farmer’s perspective the area is booming with potential yet no significant dams exist. That is, until relatively soon.

 

Roughly R28 billion will be pumped into a massive project where they plan to build several dams in the area. Nine potential hydro-electric sites are being investigated by Eskom, four of which would require very large dams. The total power would be over 2000 MW, more than that of Koeberg nuclear power station (in Cape Town) at 1800 MW. It seems they have set aside 25 000ha to 35 000ha for forestry which alone would mean an annual income of over R100 million and 7000 jobs created when the whole picture is looked at. 40 000ha of land is available for irrigated crop production with the potential of bringing in R620 million and then another 346 000ha of dry land crop production being able to provide a further R1.5 billion a year. Livestock is another element to consider and it is estimated to bring in R1.2 billion with the potential of 300 000 jobs within 10 years. They plan to reintroduce the beautiful Nguni cattle back into the area for various obvious reasons, if you know the breed. At the moment agriculture is only subsistence in the region with very little infrastructure so one can imagine how radically the area would change with the building of these dams. From the people’s perspective it should be mostly positive news for them. From a conservation (and kayaking) point of view dams are bad news and this pristine area would be altered forever.

 

But the road to building these dams is still a long one. So I suggest you get down to this area and hit it hard in the meantime. There are still many first descents waiting and the guarantee of an adventure. One of the main stumbling blocks is that almost all of the land is communal with no official papers stating who owns what. The whole chief system is proving to be a problem in this area and if local elites continue with their selfish interests then the projected future will remain a pipe dream for some time still. Let’s see what happens in the coming months, and more than likely years.

 

Recently I had the opportunity to go down and paddle this river. We expected the water levels to be quite high. The Western Cape was experiencing severe floods and even other parts of the country were receiving a fair amount of rainfall. There was an excellent chance that the level would be a medium to high level. With thoughts of a flooded river we drove down to St Michaels On Sea. The almost eight hour drive down is a long one but is well worth the effort. We wouldn’t have any problems with the shuttle as Wihan had taken his girlfriend, Lee, along and she would spend the time sun bathing with the kids while we would be hard at work on the river.

 

Due to unforeseen circumstances we could not leave at 13:30 and only left at after 17:00. We arrived shortly before 01:00 at Marius’ house. Even at this time of night the air was warm and quite unlike the interior. It had been a very long drive indeed but we were pleased to have made it there safely. No major incidents and I think we only saw one accident. Not bad at all.

 

The following morning I woke up with Wihan buzzing around the house at the crack of dawn as is usual with this early bird. After much procrastination, Marius and I eventually climbed out of bed and got ready for the day ahead. We drove up to the put-in and I was feeling rather nervous. The road had patches of water on it and it looked like they had had recent rain. I had visions of large, brown waves and a swift flowing river in front of me and it wasn’t doing any good for the nerves. As one drives off from Port Edward on the road to Ezingolweni, there is a water purification plant on the left hand side. Wihan and Marius know the man in charge whose name now eludes me but he can talk the hind leg off of a few donkeys they tell me. They had called him before the time and he doesn’t mind in the slightest. To the right of the main entrance into the plant is a road and we followed this down. The going is slow but quite scenic as we drove through some rural villages. This is the northern most border of the Umtamvuna Nature Reserve too. Initially we came to a pump station and knew we had driven too far. We drove back a couple of metres and found the small road that descends to the river. Warning: if you don’t have a 4x4 vehicle then don’t drive down here. You’ll need the ground clearance and the ‘road’ or better yet, path, is steep in places and very rocky. There are also some muddy spots so if your car is not up to it then it’s better to walk down the roughly five or six hundred metres down to the river.  

 

The level we were greeted with that morning - quite low.

 

The level Wihan and Marius had a while back - high. Photo courtesy Marius du Preez.

 

The put-in. With one large Expedition Solo about to be born into the big, wide world.

 

Marius with the successful birth of an Expedition Solo.

 

The surrounding area was green and lush and the river in front of us looked a traditionally South African brown. There was a quiet pool there and it was hard to tell as to how low or high the river actually was. Wihan and Marius both said it was quite low but should still be quite good. Down at water level I felt a lot better and far less nervous. It’s weird the way that happens to me so often during a kayaking trip. I am more nervous before the trip than when actually on the river running any of the rapids.

 

Marius had ordered a new Fluid Expedition Solo and we had brought it down to him. He gave birth to it on the banks of the Umtamvuna and another yellow monster was born. It’s just as well that Marius is actually Dr Marius du Preez (seriously) but there were no complications anyway and the birth was an overwhelming success.

 

We milled around and sorted out our stuff and then Lee drove off with the car. Wihan is extremely sensitive about his cars and it looked like he was keeping a beady eye on the proceedings happening on the hill above us. I still made a joke or two and we mocked him a little about it. But the trust was obviously there and everything went smoothly. We divided the tent and because I had the only Solo without the hatch, I got the poles - which wasn’t actually a bad thing at all. The three of us had a safety talk and I reviewed the hand and paddle signals as well as the standard procedure we would be using. The other two guys were competent so I expected no problems whatsoever.

 

The three of us slipped into the cool, brown waters and I actually expected the water to be a little bit warmer. But it was still quite warm and a dry top wasn’t really necessary although I wear a short sleeved one with a long sleeved rash vest underneath most of the time anyway as protection from the vicious sun.

 

The very first rapid revealed what was I wasn’t expecting - the level was rather low! That first rapid made me feel nervous all over again as I had just spent a couple of days on the Zambezi. Oh no, rocks! What should I do?! Hehehe. I could feel the buggers scraping on the bottom of my boat and they took my boat to places I didn’t really want to go to. I knew it would take a couple of rapids to get used to the type of paddling that I actually started in. Within a few minutes I was back to normal again. Paddling nicely and feeling good about being on the river.

 

The first couple of rapids were quite easy; shallow and technical, but easy. Separated by calm pools the going was a little tough in the beginning. There were some long flat pools that were warming us up very nicely but I didn’t mind too much. I had scoped the river out on Google Earth and knew that the first couple of kilometres would be reasonably flat and that the final four kilometres would be totally flat. The river forms a sort of a lagoon where it then ends its journey and pours into the Indian Ocean. This meant that the average gradient that I had calculated would, in reality, turn out to be steeper than what it indicated because of the totally flat section at the end and the reasonably flat section in the beginning. Mathematics ladies and gentlemen, it’s so easy! (A lecturer used to preach that to us ad nauseam.) hahaha. I always knew years of studying maths at school and then even more of it afterwards would pay off somewhere along the line.

 

The first rapid we got out to have a look at was a kind of a double drop. Because we had climbed onto the river at around half past seven that morning and because we were also doing the stretch in two days and because I’m so obsessed with getting lots of photos on any trip, we stopped frequently at any rapid that looked like it would make some good, or reasonably good footage. It is important to remember of course that pictures can be deceiving and either down grade or upgrade any river. I prefer to show plenty of photos so that a clearer picture can be painted and hopefully motivate people to go out there and paddle the river or to explore and find their own runs. Too many blogs show only one or two photos making the river appear far more hectic than what it actually is and not painting a clearer picture for the audience.

 


Adrian running the double drop. Photo by Wihan Basson.

 

The double drop showing some of the surrounding scenery.

 

Marius du Preez on the double drop.

 

Wihan Basson on the second part of the double drop.

 

The top part of the double drop at high water. Photo courtesy Marius du Preez.

 

The bottom part of the double drop at high water. Photo courtesy Marius du Preez.

 

At this point in time I’d like to deviate totally from the topic to share with you what it takes to publish an article like this. First off the photos are downloaded to the computer. Bear in mind that my computer is quite slow so all these steps take at least fifty percent longer than what they should. But hey, I didn’t pay for it and got it for free from insurance when they bust in and stole a whole bunch of stuff. Then I’ll look through the pictures and copy and paste the ones I think are good or have potential to become improved to another folder. Each and every photo is then taken under a little post processing. Some photos are cropped, some changed from landscape to portrait, some the other way around and some just cropped a little for better composition. Most have their colour balance and contrast/brightness adjusted and then sometimes the colours slightly improved and/or saturated. When taking photos in the whitewater environment the extremes of contrast given the environment can make it challenging to expose correctly. I will sometimes create a duplicate layer of the image, then encircle an area that needs adjustment (if it’s overexposed) and then downplay it a little to reduce to burning white that I’ve had in so many of my images. I’ve only recently discovered this little trick. I’m no professional but I think the effort is worth it. If an image is poor to start with then there is no hope. Of course it helps to be using a good lens in the first place and to keep it clean (and dry) at all times. These images are then saved at full resolution. I then create another folder where a duplicate copy of the images exists and then I change all of those photos to 500 pixels wide one by one as my automatic image resizer program can only resize to 496 pixels and not 500, although it can do 600 with no problems. As this is the size you are seeing right now.

 

Now that I have all of my photos nicely edited and resized I create a new folder through the ‘backdoor’ of my site and begin to upload them, one by one. This is a very painful process and can take a long time. During all this I have to come up with a story that is (hopefully) enjoyable and not too long winded and boring or not too short and uninteresting. Writing the story is sometimes easy to do when I am in the mood or sometimes it can take a while and I often research a few facts (as in the case of this article) and that takes more time.

 

Once that is done I create a new piece of ‘content’ for my site and copy and paste the text in. Then I have to place each and every damn picture one by one and this is the part that really kills me. Each time a separate window is opened and each time I must go to the correct folder as it doesn’t open on the last visited folder. Then I choose the picture as well as its location and then I have to write a little description underneath each photo. That is about it and an average article probably takes more than ten hours per article to complete. An article like this, with so many photos and a large amount of text can easily take more than twenty hours of my time. So how do I get so much time? Well, you’ve got to make time. I never watch any television so that alone allows me to spend more time here. At the moment I am on an extended holiday so I have a lot more time. When I was still working it meant late nights at the computer and a little sacrifice. But I think it’s worth it and even though it can sometimes be a bit of a mill stone I actually enjoy the writing and the end result is quite good most of the time. Judging by the positive and encouraging e-mails I get the people out there really love the articles and the photos. So I guess I’ll just carry on with what I do.

 

Right, back to the story…

 

So there we were, at a little double drop that had a bony entry with two, half metre drops separated by about three or four metres of water. It looked reasonably easy and I went for it first. The first drop had a hole which turned out to be more powerful than I anticipated and I was quickly awoken. My line was spot on though running the second drop a tight line on the right. The other two had similar lines and there were no mishaps. There was a small siphon on river left but at this level it obviously wasn’t a problem unless you had ‘cleverly’ decided to sneak the main run, then it could be an issue.

 

We ran a few easier rapids and then came to one where we just saw rocks. Wihan’s spray deck was super tight so he opted not to scout and relied on Marius and me to explain the line a little. It was very bony and after one drop landed directly into a rock. I tried to explain this with hand signals to Wihan who got the picture and ran far left. It was a bony line in the beginning and then the rapid finished off a little better. Even though the river was very low at least there were some steepish rapids which made it worthwhile.

 

Wihan on the next steeper rapid.

 

Adrian on the same rapid as above. Photos by Wihan Basson.

 

The same rapid from upstream and downstream at a high level. Photos courtesy Marius du Preez.

 

Another random rapid at a high level. They had over 100mm of rain the night before for the level to be this high. Photo courtesy Marius du Preez.

 

From here on we paddled many more rapids, some better than others. Some would be short and uneventful while others would be steeper and quite long. I could only imagine how lekker it would be to have some more water flowing down here. The scenery was just absolutely spectacular and I would say that it is the best that I’ve seen in South Africa in my kayaking so far. The valley sides are bristling with thick, tropical jungle type bush and where there isn’t bush, there’s a vertical cliff. On many rivers in South Africa there might be a short gorge section with cliffs for a kilometre or so but here the gorge just carried on and on and on. It was unbelievable. Kayaking has taken me to the most beautiful places I’ve ever come across and this river is no exception. If you have the time and skill then a trip down here is really worth it. Some people crack it in a day but I would find that too much of a rush and a real waste.

 

At one particular rapid we dropped down a one foot drop and on the left was a big, horrible siphon. It was not visible from upstream and someone could easily paddle into it, especially with more water. I peered into it as I paddled past and thought it was too good to miss not being photographed. So I walked back and got a few snaps of it from a higher vantage point. When I got back to my boat there was a large butterfly flying around me. It seemed rather curious as to this green, plastic hulk lying in its domain and took great interest in the boat and in me. Eventually it flew into my boat and perched itself on the ropes holding the back band into place. Its wings were green and turquoise irregular shaped blotches with a black colour filling in the background. Towards its abdomen were two tiny red spots and it had two long filaments which extend out of the trailing edge of the wings. Quite large actually and I don’t think the photo does it any justice. I’ve seen far better butterflies but they’re so difficult to take photos of as they usually never stop and land. And when they do, it’s with their wings tightly closed!

 

Awesome scenery and also many caves in the cliffs all the way down.

 

A bad siphon on the left hand side. One of MANY we saw on this river - watch out.

 

A beautiful visitor in my boat!

 

When we finally found the need to eat something we stopped at a little two foot drop. The drop itself was super bony and a reminder as to how little water was flowing down but the scenery and company really made up for that. There was a sneak line on the far right but the rock next to the bank looked a little dodgy. Wihan went first and had a nice line. It didn’t look too bad so Marius and I went down and roughly emulated Wihan but without the extra tail action at the end.

 

Lunch spot.

 

Downstream of our lunch spot.

 

Wihan running the rapid at our lunch spot.

 

The river carried on and the scenery remained magnificent. We did not see a single human being and not even a sign of human existence in this pristine gorge. At one stage the river dropped down smartly with some excellent rapids passing through an area with large rocks and a couple of monster siphons and undercuts too. At high water I would recommend anyone to avoid the upstream side of any rock on this river like the plague.

 

Standard Umtamvuna scenery.

 

After a few more rapids we came to the confluence of another river coming in from the right hand side. A few metres downstream is a one metre, river wide drop. We paddled this one, then the two or so rapids after this and then there is a calm pool with a beautiful beach on the left hand side. This would be our camp for the night. We arrived early and I think the time was about 13:30. The Umtamvuna Nature Reserve is on the left side of the river and they did ask that we do not camp on their side but seeing as though we’re an environmentally friendly bunch and the fact that we were camping well below the hundred year high water mark we didn’t think this would be a problem. No one, except for anyone reading this, would know anyway. We burnt only wattle trees on the sand and kept our camping as low impact as possible.

 

The view just upstream of the confluence with the river coming in from river right.

 

Adrian with a super boof a few metres below the confluence. Photos by Wihan Basson.

 

Adrian just downstream of the confluence and the camp site just behind the rocks on the left. Photo by Wihan Basson.

 

Marius with another sweet boof.

 

The beach there is huge and an excellent spot to camp. We explored the area and took great interest in all the spoor we found on the far side of the beach. Baboon tracks, various types of small antelope and even a spoor which, given the size and shape, makes me believe it was leopard spoor. That would be expected though considering the thick bush, large amount of baboons, which we had also seen earlier on in the morning, and the remoteness of the area. We collected as much dry firewood as possible and Wihan prepared a nice fireplace complete with rocks encircling it. The tent was also pitched as the weather didn’t look great and then we were done. There was nothing else to do but relax and take in the fantastic surroundings.

 

We had paddled down a one litre of Old Brown Sherry and Wihan and Marius were disappointed with me because I had left behind the second litre! The following day though they admitted that a second litre would have been a bit much. Ha! So much for old and wise hey guys? Hehehe. For an overnighter we were very organised. Well, some more than others. I had paddled down a pot and a stove to cook my dinner, so to speak, and also a few other luxury items such as a Therma-Rest inflatable mattress. Oh how that one always makes people jealous! Hahaha. Marius had paddled down a small grill which he rested on top of the fire with some cheese griller sausages that complemented his meal of smash. I had one of those Back Country Cuisine bags; classic beef curry was the flavour. All one has to do is boil water and then put it in the bag and leave for ten minutes. After that, dinner is served! It’s not exactly the cheapest meal but quite satisfying given the circumstances of being out on the river and also there is no thinking involved in making it.

 

We made camp early and with the sun shining a little.

 

Marius (left) and Wihan (right) enjoying some coffee on our small piece of paradise.

 

Some spoor in our camp which looks like leopard to me. Although it could be brown hyena given the small claws present. But the toes aren't that elongated as they should then.

 

The Umtamvuna in all its beauty! One of the finest places I know.

 

Marius sitting in thought amongst the incredible surroundings.

 

The rain came and went towards evening and then once night fell it came down a little more. Luckily we were huddled inside of Marius’ tent but it was quite warm and cramped in there. The three of us aren’t exactly the smallest of people even though Wihan and Marius reckon I’m so short because of a photo that Lee took where I was standing in a ditch making me look much shorter. Ja Wihan, I’m taller than you anyway! Now and forever… Hehehe. At some stage in the tent I got sand in my right eye and we had Marius injecting water into the eye to try and flush it while he held my head down hard. I can’t stand anything going near my eyes and normally eye drops are impossible to get in. Eventually we left it and sleep did not come easily.

 

Our campsite late in the afternoon.

 

I just couldn't decide which photo was better... So I put up both. What do you think?

 

After a long night of sleeping on my mattress and thoughts to my tent mates without mattresses it was time to climb out of the tent. The morning looked superb with the sun shining beautifully; the day before it had been overcast the entire day. This would be good news for photos. The first half of our trip had been disappointing water level wise as well from a rapid point of view with only a few being a little exciting. I wondered what the day would bring to us and I honestly didn’t have high hopes of much action. How wrong I was.

 

We had a small cat visit our camp in the night and its spoor was clearly visible in the sand that had been washed smooth from the rain during the night.

 

Early morning at the camp with the sun shining. The confluence is at the top of the picture. Above the one metre drop on the right.

 

After breaking down camp and covering the remaining bits of the fire with sand and also scattering the rocks we had built up around it, we headed off. The first few rapids were fun with a steep wall towering up on our left as the river took a large sweeping bend to the right. There were some small rapids with calms pools and then a steeper, longer rapid that we really enjoyed. There was another pool, another drop, one more pool and then a small drop resembling a mini Ski-Jump as in Thrombosis Gorge. The huge rock on the left made for an interesting camera angle providing me with an opportunity for an aerial shot. Wihan went first and styled it. It is such a pity that it is so time consuming to edit and resize and upload and then place each and every picture. I’ve got so many more great photos that I’d love to throw up but already this article is getting a bit full. I went next and then Marius. We didn’t have any problems and because Wihan still had the camera he took more of us as we did the next two rapids. With my agitated eye I wasn’t doing badly at all. (Later my eye swelled up and only recovered a week later! Not much fun I can assure you...)

 

Wihan with a good line.

 

Adrian with a good line of the exact same rapid, different angle. Photo by Wihan Basson.

 

Adrian on the drop below the one pictured above. Photo by Wihan Basson.

 

Marius on the drop below the one pictured above. Photo by Wihan Basson.

 

Below this were more pools and then a couple of smaller rapids in between. After about a kilometre we arrived at a two and a half metre drop. I think I’ll name this one Cavity Falls (unless it has another name already) and for obvious reasons. Celliers had said that at high levels this drop forms an insanely retentive hole at the base. Now, looking at it I believed him that this drop would be extremely serious with more water. I decided to go first but my run wasn’t fantastic. I took off with a boof stroke on the right but really should have boofed on a left stroke. My boof was a little too strong and with my stern out of the water a little, the boat rotated to the left but I still landed quite flat. I smacked a rock with my boat on the landing, I wasn’t exactly sure where. I managed to stay upright and I guess it wasn’t a bad run but not as good as I would have liked. Because we were taking video and photos on this rapid I got out on the left and walked back to man the camera. Wihan went next, followed by Marius. Wihan had a good run, better than mine I think, and then Marius really cracked out a shanana run with a good boof. Drops with slanting lips are always harder to boof that a drop with a sharper lip but Marius had this one almost perfectly.

 

Adrian running Cavity Falls. Photo by Wihan Basson.

 

Wihan on Cavity Falls.

 

Cavity Falls. This is an excellent example of where the photo took more editing than usual to get the top half less overexposed and to increase the brightness a touch on the underexposed foreground. Maybe I don't have it yet but the photo looks pretty sweet. Using duplicate layers is the trick here. When shooting the original photo one has to choose what to expose for, the top or the bottom. Light or dark?   :-)

 

Marius with a lekker boof!

 

We then paddled under the waterfall and I then realised what I had hit. There was a rock in the landing, just to the right of the where all the water flows. You have been warned. If your boof is not good or your line is off you could come short here. Looking behind the water gave me the heebee geebee’s! There were some logs jammed into the back as well as some more shallow rocks. At higher levels this would form a double hydraulic and if one is sucked behind this drop it may be the last time you see the blue sky above your head. The logs behind the curtain are fantastic strainers and another added element of danger to this rather innocent looking drop. Cavity Falls, not something to be taken lightly at higher levels I’m sure.

 

There were many more small rapids and also some slightly longer rapids and then another interesting drop. We scouted from the right and then I bombed down. This time I styled it and got out to take photos of the other guys. Wihan dropped in, getting  a little unsettled in the slide and then finishing off on the left of a rock which had pinning potential but overall his run was ok. Marius came down next, got some air off of the slide and got pinned on the rock. His demon run on Cavity Falls had now levelled out his score. Wihan had a good laugh in the pool below as Marius tried to remove himself from this precarious position while I snapped away with the camera.

 

Adrian halfway down the quick rapid. Photo by Wihan Basson.

 

Wihan about to enter the rapid above.

 

Marius getting some air on the slide and then getting pinned for about fifteen to twenty seconds on the dodgy rock...

 

From here there were a couple of smaller rapids and then one section which was quite good with longer, steeper rapids. It was a real pleasure and even though the level was low the water channelled nicely here and we had some fun bombing down. A calm pool followed and then quite a rapid larger than anything we had encountered thus far. It had three channels from which to choose but only the far left channel was an option as the others had too little water. We had a look and immediately I didn’t like the entry. It dropped down into a nice pinning rock which you would piton. There was no doubt about it. Then after that it would be challenging, if not impossible to get all the way right and finish the rapid in the best spot. I wasn’t convinced at all but Wihan thought he’d show us how.

 

Wihan walking back from the rapid with the three channels. This shows the middle channel and also how narrow it is. Note the scenery never stops being awesome!

 

In true ‘Wihan’ style he calmly paddled down and cracked into the rock, causing him to flip. Luckily he made his roll and the water was not going too fast there. Then he ended up going backwards into the spot I knew he would have gone and he went down the first drop backwards. The second drop he also did backwards and then got pinned. For a while he was struggling and his paddle was jammed too. It didn’t look like a good time and I knew getting to him would take a while. After a while he lost the paddle and got free, managing a smart hand roll. As Wihan came up he clutched his shoulder and I knew something was up. His paddle broke free and drifted towards him and he was good to go again, well reasonably good and still alive at least.

 

Wihan getting it badly wrong (which is rare) and managing to hurt is shoulder, loose his paddle briefly, hurt his head and his spine too! Not a good idea to run drop backwards...

 

With my predictions coming to fruit I opted to get in near the crux of the drop on the far right. I seal launched into the water and cracked a rock solidly. I took a dodgy line through a slot thing and lined up for the drop. Wihan had indicated using hand signals that it was good to go before the time so I just casually boofed. As I did so I realised there was a rock in the landing and I smashed my right elbow on it as I landed. Had I not been wearing elbow pads I would have broken my elbow and the pain was still substantial through the pads and it bruised nicely afterwards.

 

Wihan still managing a thumbs up. The drop he went down is on the right.

 

It seemed Wihan had cracked his head really hard. The whole top of his helmet had taken a big knock and dented in a little. His shoulder was virtually totally numb from the experience and apart from his head hurting, his spine also hurt. It just shows how quickly something can go wrong. Luckily nothing worse happened although he looked like he was in pain.

 

Once I was in the pool below I could not see the rock and that’s why Wihan didn’t see it. I climbed out and could see the rock. Then I got into a position for taking photos of possible carnage of Marius coming down but I also relayed the information of the rock using hand signals. He manoeuvred more to the right to avoid the narrow gap I had passed through and paddled down, making sure he was well left before boofing. He managed nicely and avoided the rock. With that we had completed this tricky drop.

 

Marius looking a little concerned after my hand signals explaining the rock and my elbow.

 

Marius missing the rock, luckily.

 

From here on the rapids moved up a notch. I scouted the next rapid for the guys although they still weren’t convinced. So I bombed down and gave a long whistle blast to indicate that I was still alive and well. They followed and we carried on. There were some smaller rapids and then a sweet little one and a half metre drop with a recirculating eddy on the left that sucked back in behind the curtain of the drop. The line was tight but the entry was smooth, flowing water and the landing, although next to rocks on either side was not too bad. Wihan opted for an extreme right line which worked reasonably well. I went next and decided to rather take off a little in the centre and boof with a left stroke which would guarantee that I would not piton into the rock on the left. It worked smartly and Marius pulled the same move.

 

Marius running a tight, far right line.

 

Adrian opting for a centre line with a left boof which worked perfectly. Photos by Wihan Basson.

 

Now the rapids moved up another notch and we came to a particularly bad one which Wihan was thinking of portaging. It had a forty degree angled slide and then a short pool and down a rapid right into a rock that looked really bad. Usually Wihan paddles anything as long as the volume is nice and low but I guess the knock to his body was taking its toll. I decided that I’d probably make the line and paddled down. It was a very tricky rapid and I regret not taking photos here but time was ticking and I made it perfectly, luckily. My shoulder had already been paining the whole day but as long as I was in a rapid I could concentrate and not feel anything. By now it was really acting up, again!   :-(

 

Immediately below this was another tricky one. I didn’t feel like scouting so Marius and Wihan got out and explained the line to me using hand signals and pointing a little. They directed where I could go and they pointed out where I must not go. I had been paddling well for a change so I hooked into it. From the boat I couldn’t see the bottom but trusted their judgement and I managed to paddle it reasonably well. The rapids where now living up to their reputation and I would imagine that high water must be really awesome! The other two came down and I took more photos of them.

 

Adrian running this rapid following hand signals from Wihan and Marius. Photos by Wihan Basson.

  

Marius about to hit the next rapid.

 

Marius on the same rapid.

 

Another short pool and then there was another drop. Wihan checked it out from the right and then said I should rather scout quickly. We had a look and for a change most of the water was channelled into one drop. It looked pushier than anything else we had paddled and I got more excited for this one. Wihan went first and styled it. I followed suit and also had a sweet run. Marius was next and he too had no difficulties.

 

Wihan tackling a slightly more channelled rapid.

 

Adrian on the same rapid. Photo by Wihan Basson.

 

We paddled a few more and then got to a slide. Marius and Wihan wanted to portage but I said I’d show them the line. It looked bony and bumpy but I knew we wouldn’t have any problems. Wihan took some shots and I went down. It was fast and also bony and bumpy, just as I thought. Quite straight forward though. The other two made it easily too and there were no regrets.

 

Adrian running a slide towards the end. Photos by Wihan Basson.

 

The exit of the pool below had another shallow angled slide and then a few more rapids. The character of the river changed a little and large rocks suddenly inhabited the river bed. The drops were of the pool drop type and really fantastic! We took turns probing the holes on the ledge drops as we didn’t feel like scouting anymore and knew that they wouldn’t be too bad. With all the water now concentrated in this narrower section they were a bit meatier but nothing really.

 

After this we came to a fantastic waterfall coming in from the right and Wihan took a last photo here of me and then we moved on. There was a longish pool, one small rapid and then a long paddle of about four kilometres to the end on purely flat, non-moving, very painful, agonising water complete with a small head wind. My shoulder ached now as there was nothing to concentrate on but I soldiered on and realised that at some stage I really should stop and give kayaking a break for three or four months. This winter I’ll probably do that and then just hit the hiking trails as much as possible to keep my incredible thirst for adventure well satisfied.

 

Adrian at a waterfall right before the flat water. Photo by Wihan Basson.

 

At the take-out Lee was waiting for us for over an hour already. She wasn’t too fazed but was getting a little concerned as to where we were. We were alive and well, except maybe for Wihan and I who both had aching shoulders by then. I really hope he hasn’t damaged the rotor cuff muscles in his shoulder as that will take ages to heal.

 

The Old Pont Caravan Park, which is the take-out.

 

Wihan's car at the take-out.

 

The kids having a super time on one of the Solo's.

 

From there we drove back to Marius’ place and then headed to the beach to have some fish and chips at a restaurant over looking the waves and the main swimming beach at St Michaels On Sea. It was a great way to end a fantastic weekend. We bid Marius good bye and headed on home.

 

The view onto St Michaels On Sea.

 

Early on we saw a dude who had just been smoked by a Toyota Avensis and I still thought it unusual when the car overtook us about two minutes prior as it was a sedan and the majority I see are hatch backs. We were doing about 130km/h so they must have been cruising. Needless to say the guy lying in the gutter next to the road had been beheaded in a not so clean way and the panic seemed to have gripped those at the car who had just climbed out and a car passing us almost drove over someone else attending to the Toyota which had a blood covered hole on the top left hand side of the windscreen and some damage to the left side. What a truly horrible way to go and I wish that pedestrians would take more care when running across the roads. I urge everyone to take it easy this festive season and to drive carefully! There are far too many unnecessary deaths on our roads if people would just be less aggressive, exercise patience and drive at the speed limits. I used to think I was very smart doing 170 km/h in a 60 zone on my bike but luckily those days have long passed and I like to think of myself as far wiser and more responsible. Although I still ride, just not quite that fast. Some people however, don’t move on from those dangerous and reckless times and the result is obvious. The more times you hit evens the more likely it is to land on odds. Be safe out there!

 

(Sorry for getting carried away with so much off topic stuff in this article. It happens to me from time to time)      :-]

 

This is my final article of the year two thousand and seven but there are more to come next year! Of course there will be more Zambezi articles to complement the two that have been published thus far and this past weekend I paddled Deepdale Gorge, again, but at a higher level and then also the Umkomazana which is something a little more unusual and not heard of too often. I hope you have enjoyed reading what has been on offer on this site this year. It’s been a super busy one for the site with nineteen articles on the Scandinavian trip and of course many other African adventures. I’ll probably also publish an article on my visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a sort of ‘off-topic’ article if I have the inclination. The pictures, although limited because of their paranoid anti-spy feelings, should be something new and unusual. For now, I’m off to the coast for three weeks to play with my Nemesis and Fluid’s new surf kayak, the Element. Whatever you do, be safe, have fun and don’t work hard, work clever. Cheers, Adrian.

 

    FLUID KAYAKS

Photography by: Adrian Tregoning, unless otherwise stated. A big thanks to Wihan for swapping over with me. Once I have Marius’ photos I will add those because we took some behind Cavity Falls with his waterproof camera.

Words by: Adrian Tregoning.