Deepdale Gorge – Unadulterated Pleasure


Flowing freely without any dams from source to sea, the Umkomaas River is a super river to catch when the water is up. With the legendary Mike Pennefather as my only company on the trip it was bound to be one to remember. Having written before about Deepdale Gorge on this site I won’t go into too much detail this time round. There are some really sweet photographs for you to enjoy though. As for paddling it this time round, scroll down…

I took a quick drive down in the rain, on my own, on the Friday morning. I arrived fairly early at Highover where the weather was overcast with a slight drizzle and the river was looking pretty good. It seemed to indicate about 1.6m on the bridge. After some peanut butter rolls, a tin of sardines and some beers I hit the sack. I woke up at about 04:30 and checked out the river. It had risen a little and I just knew it was going to be a really good trip. In fact, every trip which is one on a river, is a good trip! Mike arrived and because most of the vehicles at Highover were bust and the car which was to take us had just broken its fan belt, we got a driver, Duane, and he would be driving Mike’s car back. The river was sitting at around 1.7m then.


The level when I arrived, looking downstream from the birdge just above Highover.


Some impala at Highover.


Water level on Friday late afternoon/evening (left) and the level at 04:45 on the Saturday (right).


Early morning level! Looking really good. Taken at around 04:45 from Highover.




Waiting for Mike with our original transport in the background with a bust fan belt and a friend coming past to investigate.


The drive up was a quick one with Mike, the rally driver, behind the wheel and we soon had our boats loaded up. I would be in my large Fluid Solo and Mike in his dad’s small Solo. Luckily it was holiday time and all the kids were hanging around so Mike organised us some porters to carry the boats down, like usual. Why suffer when help is only two ten Rand notes away?


Mike loading his small Solo while our porters eagerly watched the proceedings.


Mike in a brief moment of madness; trying to scare our porters.... Nothing unusual.


The level looked great and Deepdale Falls looked quite runnable on the right drop. Even the left drop had some water going over it although the entry was still quite bony. Hmmm, we couldn’t motivate ourselves but resolved that we would come down here for the sole purpose of running the falls. Removing all the overnight gear and all the rubbish inside the boat is just too much of a hassle so we left it. Of course it would be bloody scary and it’s far easier to just put in below the falls and enjoy the rapids downstream than to actually face them.


The right line of Deepdale Falls looking very runnable.


Mike making the payment to our humble porters.


Deepdale Falls as viewed from the put-in.


We stopped at The Ledge and got some photos as well as the drop below that. Next up was Lunch Time rapid and the boof on the left was open this time. I’d run it once before and the other two times I was there it wasn’t possible to run that line as it was too low. I wasn’t feeling particularly confident about that line on that day at that time so I considered some other options. Mike decided he would do it first so I took some photos. His line was hundreds and I then had a change of heart. He came back to man the camera and I stuck a sweet line, also making the boof perfectly. It’s a pity that he took a different camera angle but it’s still quite sweet and something different. It is definitely one of the most satisfying little drops that I know of to run. But be warned. If you mess up the first little one foot drop you can get severely hurt. And don’t mess up the boof. It is very shallow on the landing and there are also exposed rocks on the left. What a fantastic drop! I’d add that one into my top ten of ‘fun to run rapids’.


Adrian running The Ledge. Photos by Mike Pennefather.


Mike getting ready to run The Ledge.


Mike running The Ledge.


Mike on a drop just downstream of The Ledge.


Ninja stroke on a shallower than expected lip. Photos by Mike Pennefather.


Mike running Lunch Time rapid on the boof on the left.


Adrian also running the same boof on Lunch Time rapid. Photos by Mike Pennefather.


From here on are many, many more rapids before Short Drop is reached. There are some longer rapids too, some of which hold a few surprises. I know most of them and even though Mike had a rusty memory from too much time spent not paddling in the UK, he still managed very well. We passed a couple of mean holes and at one point managed to skirt one which would have eaten us. Mike had only boated about three times in more than a year so was a little anxious about the slightly high levels but luckily his skill was obviously still there and he styled almost everything.


The view looking downstream from the confluence of the Elands River. Note the clearer water in the foreground.


The Elands at a good level too.


Mike at the confluence. Note the browner water at the top of the photo.


Then Short Drop at last. It looked fine from the top so I opted not to scout it at all. Mike walked down with the camera while I waited. I knew the line roughly so bombed down, boat scouting a little. The hole at the bottom was larger than I thought and it almost, almost stopped me. I resurfaced on the back wash and managed to stroke away, a close call indeed. I had underestimated it. Mike walked back up while I got into position with the camera. He took a different line and opted to boof the top pourover on the right. It almost got him and with a fast brace and some luck he made it through. The bottom hole he punched on the far left and skirted the meat of it after seeing me almost getting caught. Another great run on a sweet but short rapid.


Adrian running the last hole on Short Drop. Photos by Mike Pennefather.


Mike running Short Drop and almost getting stuck at the top.


After a few more rapids we arrived at the narrower section. We were expecting some action here and climbed out to take photos. Somehow though there wasn’t much action and we seemed to be in between levels. We took a few photos but there was nothing to write home about and after this we paddled down to a good camp site. Better and more downstream than the one that Neil, Dave and I stayed at the previous trip.


Adrian at the beginning of the narrow section. Photo by Mike Pennefather.


Deepdale Gorge in the narrower section as we like to call it.


Mike running one of the last rapids in the narrower section.


A broader perspective of the above rapid. Big rocks! I love it!


Adrian about to push off backwards into an eddy. Photo by Mike Pennefather.


Adrian on the one of the last rapids on the narrower section. Photos by Mike Pennefather.


We arrived really early and gathered some firewood. It hadn’t rained all day long although it did look a little threatening. This time round we paddled some beers down. I had bought a dozen in Richmond the day before and told Mike to take four for him and I’d also take four. What a splendid idea! It was the first time I had paddled down with some beers and it won’t be the last I can assure you… We were loaded with safety gear, split paddle, a full on tent, beers and all the other necessities but the tail of the Fluid Solo holds everything with ease. What a pleasure to pack the boat and it still performs very well and has room for more! Even that small that Mike was paddling swallowed an impressive amount of gear.


After the beers and some food Mike went for a sleep outside in the long grass. I headed to the tent and also had a lie down. Then I drifted off into a beautiful, deep sleep. Shortly before dusk I woke up feeling refreshed. The fire needed attention and I stoked it up again with more logs and woke Mike up. We felt fantastic after the sleep and were really enjoying the peace and quiet and of being so far removed from civilisation. It was incredibly relaxing and for a change I felt totally relaxed. For someone who hasn’t experienced an overnight trip with a mate in a place where there are no other signs of human existence and the only other sounds is your own breath, the rapids in the distance, the constant hum of insects in the air and grass around you and the birds flying high above then it is impossible to describe the feeling fully. If you haven’t ventured into letting your kayaking take you into some remote and beautiful spots for an overnighter because of work/time/wife/kids etc constraints, then I highly recommend something like this and making an effort. Doctor Adrian says it will give your body and mind exactly what it needs. Clutch out and throw yourself into neutral every now and then. It’s a good idea to take 15 minutes of your day, everyday, to totally still your mind and think of nothing in a quiet place where you can’t be disturbed. Try it. It works wonders.


Camp site arrival early on. What's that at the right hand side of my boat lying in the grass....?   :-)


Mike posing - Yes ladies and gentlemen, Hansa Pilsener. Support the beer that supports you as a kayaker!


Adrian relaxing early afternoon at the fire, keeping warm. Photo by Mike Pennefather.


Our awesome camp site in the middle of nowhere!


Need I say more. Photo by Adrian Tregoning. Writing by Mike Pennefather. Nicely done Mike!


By about 21:00 we were very tired and hit the sack, again. A few rain drops fell from the sky but nothing too hectic. Just as well I had brought my old faithful tent. I got that tent for Christmas 1992, somewhere around there, and it still serves me quite well. Quite impressive I must say.


The following morning arrived with sunny, blue skies and not a breath of wind, perfect for photographs. and Mike and I decided we’d paddle with no dry tops for the day. Lathered up with factor 40 we hit the water and made our way down. Mike needed some African sun on his white, ‘Pommie’ skin so that would hopefully combat the ‘Powder’ look. The level was still good and the rapids really good fun. We boat scouted all the way down and managed to also get in a few photos of two other rapids before Long Drop.


The view from our tent the following morning.


A fuzzy friend chilling in the long grass next to the tent.


Mike running a rapid fairly close to Long Drop.


Adrian at the bottom of the same rapid as above. Photo by Mike Pennefather.


Adrian on the next rapid. Photos by Mike Pennefather.


Long Drop itself was looking good. The siphons were working nicely and under water now and not very obvious to someone who has never seen it at a low level. A maize of boulders littered in the river bed makes for a hazardous passage. The drop to the right of the really big rock on the river left was now open and we had a look at it. Mike climbed onto the rock to look down while I opted not to and scouted a little from the bottom. He said it looked tricky but we’d be fine. Everything else looked good to go and Mike said he’d go first.


For a change he looked a little nervous and I don’t think his scout had left a strong impression on his mind as he seemed unsure. I directed him with hand signals to show him the line and confirm what he was probably (hopefully) thinking and he had a good run, stopping to look at me on two occasions. My turn was next and I had a really sweet run. He bottom hole was really powerful and my boof was there but perhaps I landed a little too left or perhaps my boof was poor. I got a little bit of tail action but the boat returned to the horizontal in a predictable manner and that was that. Many people think that it’s flat from here on but there are still some really, really super (and long) rapids further down! Too bad we’ve never taken any photos there.


Mike Pennefather running the infamous Long Drop rapid.


Adrian running Long Drop. Photos by Mike Pennefather.


A stern warning to all paddlers about Long Drop: Do not run the chute on the far left at high levels! See photos. At low levels it is not runnable. There is a rock in the landing of the drop there that resulted in Celliers Kruger recently being pinned totally underwater, resulting in a near drowning and a buggered knee. A very close call indeed! I’ve run this line before and I know a couple of other people have too but rather give it a miss and take a different line (my personal opinion). It’s weird how quickly accidents can happen, even on water very familiar to one. Just before paddling the Kaaimans River this December I spoke to Scott Reinders on the phone and he too had a close call; getting stuck inside a siphon, boat and all, on another river. While I was waiting in the car waiting for Joe to join me that day after the phone call, I thought about that incident a lot and it really got me thinking. One never knows how close you can be to making a fatal error and often, things are not what they appear. Be safe out there and take care!


The potentially deadly chute at an even higher level than this article shows, as indicated by the red arrow. We ALL ran this line that day but luckily nothing happened. Some guys were in playboats. I shudder to think...


The bottom pourover can be seen on the right on the picture. Photo taken at a lower level than this article shows.


A zoomed in shot of the above photo showing the exposed rocks that almost ended the life of one person... Be warned.



We got some more photos of another rapid not too far down as well as at the natural weir. We ran the pourover on the right of the meat as the chicken run on the left was getting a little old. At high levels one cannot run in the middle as you will get absolutely creamed and more than likely swim. The rest of the way was easy and we enjoyed the last couple of kilometres down to the camp.


Another rapid about two drops below Long Drop.


Mike trying his best to get some air off of the wave! Quite a good attempt I reckon given its size and good form on the recovery back to an aggressive position.


Adrian on the same wave thing. Photo by Mike Pennefather.


Two very important items!!!!


Mike boofing to the right of the meat on the natural weir. A far safer and less deadly option.


It had been a really super trip; great water, awesome company! Yes, it seems you read that a lot on this site but I guess I’ve just been really lucky lately. The trips seem to almost be getting better and better. Fun, Fun, Fun! We took a drive back to Mike’s dad’s farm and relaxed at the fire. It was a fine setting indeed to conclude two awesome days of paddling. As for paddling Deepdale Gorge on the Umkomaas River at a good level only one short sentence can really describe the river – unadulterated pleasure! No dams on this one ladies and gentlemen, only a free flowing beauty of a river.


Our friend leaving after he almost sampled my Solo with his beak and Mike chased him away!


The mighty Umkomaas River just upstream of the take-out.


The following day we would hit the Umkomazana. A river you won’t hear about too often. Stand by.



Photography by: Adrian Tregoning, unless otherwise stated. Thanks for taking the photos Mike!

Words by: Adrian Tregoning.