The Ash River

The Ash was a tiny little stream until the Lesotho Highlands Water Project began to feed water into it. This had resulted in a river that runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Water flows from Katse dam in Lesotho to the Muela hydropower station and down to the Muela tail-pond dam. From here it goes underground through a four and half meter diameter pipe for 37 km until it reaches the Ash River Outfall. The outfall is a concrete channel structure built on a gradient so as to slow the water down. This obviously reduces the energy of the river and the destruction it wreaks on the banks of this once tiny river. Several weirs have been built to reduce the energy even more. Luckily there is enough gradient to provide us with at least some excitement at a couple of places.

The Ash has banks that are made mostly of clay and are eroding constantly. Some rapids may become easier, others more dangerous. Many trees have been cleared by the flow of the water and by people cutting them down. One should always scout rapids before bombing down with a group of people just in case.

Exit from underground.

The Ash River Outfall.

A smart looking tongue of water right below the outfall.

Paddlers used to put in at the outfall but now have to put in further down on river left below the massive weir. No rapids are missed. Only a stretch of flat water anyway.

The first part of the big weir.

The second part. This is where the put-in is these days and one must pay in Clarens to gain access.

Joe Carter running the first drop a few hundred meters below the put-in.

This rapid has a tree on river left that must be avoided. (not the one visible in the picture)

The same rapid from above.

A typical view of the first section of the Ash.

Allesgevinden (Everything Found) The beginning of the slalom course.

A nice play hole used to exist here but now there is only a rock shelf ending in a foam pile. This is one rapid that had changed quite a bit.

The slalom course ending with a rapid known as Allesverloren. (Everything Lost)

Allesverloren. The big mound of water on river right is caused by a large, ugly rock.

Allesverloren from above.

Allesverloren at a very low level.

When they conduct inspections and/or maintenance the water is shut down to only a tiny flow or completely off, depending. The big rock on river right which has caused some problems for some kayakers. I believe the rock on the left hand side of the photo was blown up by the army. This photo above is fairly old and courtesy of Grant Morshead. Very recently Kallie and Cameron attacked this rock with a hammer and managed to removed about a foot, foot and a half off the top. Thanks guys.

When the first bridge is encountered a nice rapid known as Fish Pond is found. This rapid has caused many swims, broken paddles and injuries. Fish Pond is very narrow and the water runs through nice and fast. Starting off with a small hole under the bridge, there are powerful eddies on both sides and after the first little drop is another very powerful eddy on river right. The water in the middle section is around three to four meters deep so no worry about hitting the bottom. The water then gets shallow very quickly as it enters onto the slide. The slide terminates in a rather broad hole. This hole can hold you in a kayak and has surfed a ‘croc’ (2-man inflatable raft) for about an hour, but you will swim through without any problems. This may change in the future with a change in water levels. The slide itself has a lot of water flowing over it and if run on the right, you won’t even touch the bottom.

The view looking down at Fish Pond from the bridge.


Looking back up at Fish Pond.

The slide leading into the hole at the end.

The middle section of Fish Pond.

Fish Pond at a very low level. From this photo one can see how deep this beast actually is. This photo courtesy of Grant Morshead.

The next section to the second bridge is pretty boring and uneventful. Watch out for tree blocks though. There is a very broad section where the river is super shallow and following this is another weir. This weir has been shot several times before but has a severe suck back.

The weir after the first bridge, the middle section of the Ash.

Shortly after this weir is a rapid which is sometimes there and sometimes not. The first time we ran through the rapid was there and very similar to the first drop. The following time there was hardly even a small ripple. The time after that someone had barricaded the end of the pool above where the rapid should be. This caused the rapid to be there once again.

Just before the second bridge is a small weir comprised on a heap of boulders. Run this one on the right. Within a hundred meters after the second bridge is another small drop. Run this one on the left or right but not in the middle. Left hand side is the usual side. There is an island in the middle and you will get pinned or hurt. Scouting is from river left. On the right is a lovely barbed wire fence, its purpose to prevent scouting by paddlers! A word of warning… farmers love paddlers around these parts. Just be friendly and avoid conflict.

The first drop below the second bridge.

The section from the second to the third bridge is much longer than the first and middle sections. This is probably also the best section. There are many more rapids and I have included a couple of photos of a few of the rapids as they are encountered.


The entrance to the class 5.

The so called ‘class 5’ rapid is a short, powerful and very dangerous rapid. Whether it is class 4 or 5 or 6 who cares. The standard grading system sucks and I much prefer the Addison Scale anyway. This rapid certainly is pretty dangerous. It has been run only a few times on the left and the main run on the right has been run on purpose only by Steve Fisher. If this is incorrect please contact me so I can correct it. I say on purpose because the first time I ever ran this section was with Phillip Claassens, Dave Peak and Carl van Wyk. We had never done this section before and were in a fair hurry as the wind was blowing, along with rain making it a bit unpleasant. Our drivers drove back to Fish Pond as we left the two guys paddling the ‘croc’ at the second bridge. They later reported that the level was much higher then and the water was touching the little inclined wooden step ladder on river left. We were mostly unaware of the increase in water level, having never paddled this section before.

Eddy scouting all the rapids we entered a big wave train with several diagonal waves. The river turned left into what looked like a very serious rapid and it was too late. There were no eddies at this water level and we committed straight away. Phillip was the only one to complete the rapid upright. The rest of us all ran the worst part upside down and I believe the increase in water level was our savior. That and a whole bag of luck. I remember hitting the cushion wave at the beginning of the rapid and going over. Immediately I tucked up and set up for my roll. Anticipating a massive beating from the rocks I just held on tight and hesitated, not knowing how the rapid looked or what lay ahead. Not touching anything and only hearing a roar of water, I decided to roll. I felt my stomach tighten as I descended down the final drop. Looking back, Dave and Carl were following my lead and also upside down. Dave was washed to river left and got a little stuck in a super powerful eddy. Carl came through still upside down and we were expecting to roll over a corpse but he was still there. A little shaken but none the worse for wear. I will never just go bombing down around blind corners anymore without looking out for the nearest eddy. A lesson learned for all.

The left run of the ‘class 5’.

Looking down at the end.

Another view.

The entrance is guarded by this slightly undercut rock…  

…and a cushion wave in front of this. The rock in the bottom left hand corner has a siphon going through it.

The cushion wave viewed looking back upstream.

A rapid a few hundred meters below the ‘class 5’. There is a play wave at the end serviced by an eddy on river right.

The ‘2 meter’ waterfall.

This waterfall can be run but has a nice suck back. The right is a bit dodgy and the left end is not really an option. It feeds strongly into an undercut rock on the left, along with some roots from the trees. So somewhere in the middle then. There is another rapid immediately below the ‘2 meter’. Further along is also a weir that is gently sloping. It is followed by a slide and into a nice foam pile. Scout before hand. At higher levels the foam pile is reported to get fairly big below the slide. We usually run the weir on river right and then one can catch the eddy on river right. Below this is another longish rapid consisting of waves and the odd pour over. Nothing too serious.

The weir with the slide.

Below the weir is this rapid.

A few more rapids follow before the end. Somewhere closer to the third bridge is a rapid that starts with a weird wave at the top that is perfect and follows into a nice rapid. The vast majority of paddlers end here and I would imagine there are a few rapids after this bridge all the way to Saulspoort Dam. The third bridge is a tarred road, (the R711) the road from Bethlehem to Clarens. The other two bridges are dirt roads but both easily accessible. We have left a vehicle at the third bridge unattended before and it was fine. Doing this is obviously at your own risk though.

Carl and I set up the camera on the road during a quiet Sunday afternoon as we wait for Joe to hitch a lift back.

BY: Adrian T.

Photography by: Adrian Tregoning, except where stated.

This article is not really meant as a guide, so don't blame me for any errors. If you'd like add your own description or photos of this river then please contact me. Thank you.

>>> Final Note <<<

On weekdays the water flows between 25 and 37 cumecs. The higher flows being in winter. On Saturdays and Sundays the water level is almost always less and flows of about 20 to 25 cumecs are more usual. Levels fluctuate throughout the day and depend on electricity demand. Before the Muela hydropower station was built Lesotho had to purchase their electricity from South Africa. South Africa now pays Lesotho about 15 million Rand per month for the water flowing into the Ash. This water ultimately ends up in the Vaal Dam. The are 4 major phases to the Lesotho Highlands Water Project and the end result will be 70 cumecs being delivered to South Africa, with indefinite plans to pipe the water underground directly to the Vaal Dam. If that happens then the Ash will be no more. Seventy cumecs would also put enormous strain on the banks of the rivers involved in transporting the water down. Time will tell what will happen to the Ash.

Below is a copy of the flows that we had when I took the photos for this article. They were taken from the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF).

Date              Time   Head (m) Flow (m³/s)

2005-07-31 06:00 0.930 18.031
2005-07-31 06:12 0.930 18.031
2005-07-31 06:24 0.950 18.681
2005-07-31 06:36 0.960 19.010
2005-07-31 06:48 0.970 19.341
2005-07-31 07:00 0.990 20.010
2005-07-31 07:12 1.000 20.348
2005-07-31 07:24 1.030 21.375
2005-07-31 07:36 1.040 21.722
2005-07-31 07:48 1.060 22.423
2005-07-31 08:00 1.070 22.777
2005-07-31 08:12 1.080 23.133
2005-07-31 08:24 1.090 23.491
2005-07-31 08:36 1.100 23.851
2005-07-31 08:48 1.110 24.214
2005-07-31 09:00 1.110 24.214
2005-07-31 09:12 1.130 24.946
2005-07-31 09:24 1.150 25.687
2005-07-31 09:36 1.160 26.060
2005-07-31 09:48 1.150 25.687
2005-07-31 10:00 1.150 25.687
2005-07-31 10:12 1.140 25.315
2005-07-31 10:24 1.140 25.315
2005-07-31 10:36 1.130 24.946
2005-07-31 10:48 1.120 24.579
2005-07-31 11:00 1.120 24.579
2005-07-31 11:12 1.110 24.214
2005-07-31 11:24 1.100 23.851
2005-07-31 11:36 1.100 23.851
2005-07-31 11:48 1.090 23.491
2005-07-31 12:00 1.060 22.423
2005-07-31 12:12 1.030 21.375
2005-07-31 12:24 1.020 21.030
2005-07-31 12:36 1.020 21.030
2005-07-31 12:48 1.020 21.030
2005-07-31 13:00 1.020 21.030
2005-07-31 13:12 1.010 20.688
2005-07-31 13:24 1.010 20.688
2005-07-31 13:36 1.000 20.348
2005-07-31 13:48 1.000 20.348
2005-07-31 14:00 0.980 19.674
2005-07-31 14:12 0.970 19.341
2005-07-31 14:24 0.960 19.010
2005-07-31 14:36 0.950 18.681
2005-07-31 14:48 0.960 19.010
2005-07-31 15:00 0.970 19.341
2005-07-31 15:12 0.970 19.341
2005-07-31 15:24 0.970 19.341
2005-07-31 15:36 0.970 19.341
2005-07-31 15:48 0.960 19.010
2005-07-31 16:00 0.950 18.681
2005-07-31 16:12 0.950 18.681
2005-07-31 16:24 0.940 18.355
2005-07-31 16:36 0.940 18.355
2005-07-31 16:48 0.930 18.031
2005-07-31 17:00 0.930 18.031
2005-07-31 17:12 0.940 18.355
2005-07-31 17:24 0.950 18.681
2005-07-31 17:36 0.960 19.010
2005-07-31 17:48 0.980 19.674
2005-07-31 18:00 1.020 21.030
2005-07-31 18:12 1.060 22.423
2005-07-31 18:24 1.120 24.579
2005-07-31 18:36 1.170 26.436
2005-07-31 18:48 1.210 27.961
2005-07-31 19:00 1.240 29.127
2005-07-31 19:12 1.260 29.915
2005-07-31 19:24 1.280 30.712
2005-07-31 19:36 1.280 30.712
2005-07-31 19:48 1.290 31.113
2005-07-31 20:00 1.290 31.113
2005-07-31 20:12 1.290 31.113
2005-07-31 20:24 1.300 31.517
2005-07-31 20:36 1.280 30.712
2005-07-31 20:48 1.270 30.313
2005-07-31 21:00 1.260 29.915
2005-07-31 21:12 1.240 29.127
2005-07-31 21:24 1.230 28.736
2005-07-31 21:36 1.210 27.961
2005-07-31 21:48 1.190 27.194
2005-07-31 22:00 1.160 26.060
2005-07-31 22:12 1.130 24.946
2005-07-31 22:24 1.110 24.214
2005-07-31 22:36 1.100 23.851
2005-07-31 22:48 1.060 22.423
2005-07-31 23:00 1.040 21.722