The Ash River – mid week fun


The 21st March, the day after my birthday, and also Human Right’s Day was an especially good one this year. Usually a Wednesday would mean sitting, staring with strained eyes at a computer screen but not this one. The freezing waters of the Ash would be a refreshing way to spend the day.

Waking up before at 04:45 was not exactly the way I envisioned spending my public holiday but for paddlers I suppose its part of the game. Jeromy, Adrian Vroom and Dave Joyce would be meeting up at my house. My car’s CV joints were screwed and Vroom’s clutch was almost totally gone. We decided to take my mom’s car and just suck in the extra fuel it would use. It turned out to be more economical than I thought using only about 16 litres per 100km on the way there and a little better (13l/100km) on the way back. I drove a touch slower on the return journey. I guess I was under the impression that it would be much worse.


We were in Bethlehem some 245km later at and I think around 08:15. A solid breakfast at Wimpy and then the other group arrived from Parys. We left them there and took a turn past the outfall. David and Jeromy had never been and it was interesting to note that the water was brown! The once clear waters coming down from Lesotho were now brown. Unbelievable. Check this gallery for some photos of how it used to be, click HERE and for more information on the Ash click HERE.


We paid our R25 each at the Maluti Lodge and got the key for the gate. The put-in is below the big double drop weir and at least this cuts out the irritating paddle across the little dam that is directly downstream of the outfall.


Craig Eksteen from Whitewater Training, would be providing an instructional trip for Dave and Jeromy, while the rest of us would be tagging along and providing back-up, if needed. If you are new to kayaking, want to improve your paddling or nervous about an unknown river and want to be in the company of people in the know then give Whitewater Training a buzz. I’m sure they’ll be more than willing to help you.


With that said we made our way to the bottom of the weir and once again the temperature of the water amazed me. It must be around the seven degree mark and this is freezing for a river in South Africa! Brrrrr. The first drop went down without a hitch as did a couple of the others. Finding the odd surf wave on the way. Just above Fish Pond are two rapids Alles Verloren and Alles Gevinden. I think that’s the way there are spelt and there is a confusion as to which is which. In any case, the first drop is simple with a shallow wave there and then drops gradually into the second one which is noticeably larger with a very big rock in the middle. Neels led the way and I bombed on down a way behind him. I hadn’t run this drop in a while and because of the rock I took a line to the far right. The river had changed since I was last there and I paddled down a small notch on the far right and into a nice hole with a beautiful eddy pushing into the hole and protected by a large rock. Not a good place to be. For a couple of seconds I remained half in the hole, half in the eddy but managed to extricate myself out of this rather precarious position.


Neels and I waited at the bottom for the other chaps and I think Ernest, Dave and Ruan hit the rock square on. I heard a loud bang and then the paddler typically disappears and emerges to the right. Not a pleasant experience. This rock used to much larger but the army blew much of it away and Kallie Zwahlen and Cameron Macintosh also attacked this one with a hammer during a shut down of the water and managed to remove a couple more centimetres. At least no one got injured.


Next up was the notorious Fish Pond and Neels, Craig and Vroom ran it without scouting. This is an intimidating rapid and they had run it loads of times and sometimes it’s better to run without scouting. Less scary J.


I had a good look and watched as Ernie went for his run. He had a bad one and was obviously trying to find some fish in the pond and ran it upside down the entire way. He almost rolled on the slide and hit the hole still upside down. It worked him for a couple of seconds but surprisingly it relented quite quickly. Feeling nervous about it I climbed into my boat and had a perfect run. I had only run it once before and have seen people get hurt here. Carl van Wyk managed to bust his paddle and get some stitches straight through his helmet. His helmet was crushed at the back! That day I decided not to run it and the trip was terminated as we went off to the Medi Clinic in Bethlehem.


Vroom and a few of the other guys ran it again and old Aqua Man was not on form! (Check out the video under galleries of Aqua Man styling it). I decided to run it again but this time was not as lucky. I rode again on the eddy line in the ‘pool’ between drops and ended up at the end of the eddy on river right. The water pushed me against the rocks and I braced hard on the left for a few strokes. Realising I could not hold it I threw my weight over to the left and rolled nice and fast, removing skin off of my knuckles. The slide came up and I punched the hole at the bottom again on the right, in the corner. A close call and some adrenalin for sure. Fish Pond is fast and pushy and a really good rapid to practise getting your mind right. I’ve been afraid of it for a while but after these two runs feel far better about it. No doubt that it can still dish out a beating and it never fails to deliver every time we are there. Dave and Jeromy decided against running it. Probably a better idea. It’s far better to regret portaging than not to regret portaging...


Ernest looking for fish...


Ruan Fourie running Fish Pond nicely.


Adrian Tregoning, Fish Pond, first run. Photos by Dave Joyce.


Adrian Tregoning, Fish Pond, getting it wrong on the second run. Photos by Dave Joyce.


From this first bridge to the second is fairly boring. There is one drop, I forget the name, a weir and another weir consisting of a heap of boulders where one bounces down. The weir is quite serious, about three metres or so and a killer suck back. Neels, Craig and Ruan all ran it with no hiccups. I decided against it as did everyone else. To be surfed in there is not something I’d like to do.


Craig Eksteen on the dangerous weir.


Neels Annandale.


Ruan Fourie.


The dodgy weir.


When one goes under the second bridge the river turns right over a drop called Big Surprise. Neels and I dropped down and I set up on the island for some photos. I prefer running it right but this time we ran left. Right is more volume and there is a nice tongue one goes down but the tree roots there could be very dangerous. Left is more of a sloping drop with a small boof one could do. Reasonably simple for the rest of the group.


The river right run on Big Surprise.


Craig on Big Surprise.


Jeromy on Big Surprise.


Ernest Vosloo (UndaG E) on Big Surprise.


This section has the most rapids and we thoroughly enjoyed it. We portaged the bad class 5+ rapid and had a look at the power station that they will be building there. Pity. Some of the rapids will be lost. Let’s see how long it takes. Below is a rapid ending in a play wave but most of us had about one ride and carried on.


The class 5+ with it's many siphons and undercuts...


Construction work has begun on the power station.


The two metre waterfall came up next and we scouted from river left. I have never run this drop as I know it has beaten some people badly, most notable the infamous Adrian Vroom and a couple of other good kayakers. Ruan said to me, “no, leave your boat there, you’ll run it.”

I thought about it for a second and decided to leave my boat and have a look. The drop was sucking back properly and the level very high. We estimated about 40 cumecs that day. Neels ran it first, followed by Craig. Both were good runs and Ruan and I decided to do it too. We both made it and enjoyed the rapid below. There are two holes just after each other and the first one lifted both Craig’s and my bow but didn’t flip us. The others portaged around and while we waited I looked up at the drop. Sure was glad I didn’t mess that up. Just before running the drop Vroom had told me how he got worked for about twenty to thirty seconds in his boat and then decided to punch. He swam in there for close on 3 minutes! Philip Claassens gives me the low down:


I ran first and got out half way down before the next set of drops. The problem was setting up safety at the right spot. If you did set it on the left bank you would pull the swimmer into the cave and the trees all the way to the left bank. The right bank seems like the best option as you have a clear view of the crux and can pull the swimmer out of the suck-back (I feel that is the top concern in that rapid and to pull them away from the left bank). There was no eddy to pull Adrian (Vroom) in and thus once he was pulled out he had to take it like a man down the rest of the rapid.  An entrapment is a real danger on the lower part, but every sport has it's risks.  Brendan bagged Vroom, while I anchored.  When he was out of the suck and down the rapid I followed in my boat and being high winter flows could only get to him about 200m downstream and then help him to the side another 250m down. That drop isn't as black and white as it seems and to make things a bit more interesting is the lead into the drop with a bit of a bulge at the top that slows you down.  By the look of things it was only Craig getting the boof perfect and it was because he was in a creeker. 

Nice drop to run, nothing like a bit of consequences to make things interesting. 

They had to shut down the water to get a tuber out on the right where it smacks into that rock.  Unfortunately the girl involved did not make it.”


So there you have it. Not as easy as it seems and with severe consequences. Think twice about running it and also if what boat you’re in. You need speed, like in a creek boat, to clear the drop…

 I don’t blame him for not wanting to run it again.


Neels on the two metre drop.


Craig Eksteen.


Ruan Fourie. Photos by Dave Joyce.


Adrian Tregoning. Photos by Dave Joyce.



There are a few more small rapids below this and also the big sloping weir with the slide after it and some nice waves and holes below that. We all ran that without scouting and no problems. Some small rapids and then one more which was good fun and then we came up the bridge. It had been an excellent day and everyone was smiling. J Thanks to all the guys for an amazing day and also to Gus and Damel for doing the drive around.


Whitewater Training provides all types of training and can organise a trip for you anytime, anywhere. Check out Dave Joyce’s take on the day:


“I recently joined Craig from Whitewater Training for an instructional trip on the Ash river. I am new to the sport of whitewater kayaking, and wanted to have someone with a bit of knowledge to 'check me out' in some real rapids. There were eight of us on the trip (only 2 of us were not accomplished paddlers), and I had not met any of the guys prior to the trip, one thing that I noticed immediately was how friendly and accepting everybody was of a complete stranger, and a newbie at that. >From the outset, it was apparent that the name of the game was FUN, without forgetting that safety was the number one priority. Craig gave us a quick briefing, and it was onto the river. Instruction took the form of paddling along chatting and practicing various techniques between the rapids, Craig's knowledge, skills and easy going manner meant that it was easy to ask questions, and try different things along the way, if he saw us doing anything incorrect, he pointed it out and watched us try things, giving any other relevant advice or alternative ways of doing things. At the tricky sections we got out and scouted, and he used these opportunities to explain aspects of reading the water and recognizing any potential hazards. We were on the river for over 5 hours, and I have to say that I was learning most of that time without realizing it. It was a great day out, hopefully the first of many more, and something I can recommend without hesitation.”


Thanks again J 


By: Adrian T

Photos by: Adrian Tregoning unless otherwise noted. Thanks to Dave for taking some photos with my camera too. Shot.