Umzimkulu River – Waterfall Section, High Level Blast

After our epic little Injusuthi trip it was time to get on the water again. Well, maybe not everyone and Dave had to unfortunately sit this one out as he had no boat! I felt for him and wished we had a spare boat for him to at least use as the level was looking very good.

Luke Longridge and I were joined by Ernest Vosloo, Chris Barichievy, Brendan Bosman, Adrian Vroom (aka Aqua Man), Neil O’Leary and Everd Vermeulen.. It was a full house of paddlers and usually one could take a play boat or river runner down this section but because of the X-Fest we had all brought creek boats. Oh well, it would be fun anyway. The weather was warm, the water level high and the section only about four or five kilometres long. It was sure to be a fantastic little trip.


Brendan Bosman below the three meter.


The very first drop is a river wide drop of around three metres high. There are a variety of different lines to choose from but one can run almost anywhere. If you haven’t been here before then I recommend a quick scout to see what is happening. There is the odd nasty spot along the waterfall, with a span of probably more than a hundred meters, and a couple of notches in the lip which could ruin your elbows. Luke went first with my camera and this was a very kind gesture indeed. He had never run this section before but of course it was nowhere near his paddling ability. Before we went down I told the guys to run about ten to fifteen meters from the left bank as that was the best spot. Somehow they all went much further right. It wasn’t the best spot to run it. I don’t know why they went that way. But in order to be sure that the camera would get all of us, we seemed to just follow the first person and dropped down steadily. I believe even at higher levels there is no suck back at the base and at this reasonably high level it was nothing to be concerned about. There were no mishaps and we continued down.


Everd Vermeulen on the 3m drop.


Ernie Vosloo (aka UndaG E) on the first drop.


Neil O'Leary dropping down.


Neil and the famous helmet that received a billion comments in Facebook! hehehehe.


Adrian Tregoning running it last.


The next few rapids are quite fun and seeing as though I had only run this section twice before at low levels it was a real pleasure to enjoy some wave trains and I hardly ever hit the bottom of the river. What a change too! There were a couple of waves that one could catch on the fly and even the Solo managed a surf. There is no scouting required for the average boater and we had a blast just cruising down and enjoying each other’s company, laughing and joking in the rapids and just having good old fashioned fun.


The next major rapid worthy of mention is the so called Rock Slide. At this level it wouldn’t be much of a slide but should have been pretty good. I’d seen a video once of someone getting hammered at the bottom at a level even lower than this and wondered what it would be like now. Seeing as though Luke had taken the previous photos I volunteered to run first, without scouting, and take pictures of the others running down. How brave? How kind of me? How modest... I was feeling confident that day and enjoyed the run down, making it perfectly. I blew my whistle to indicate that I was still alive and well. There were some rocks where I could clamber out and I did so, getting into a good position to take a couple of photos and indicated that I was good to go. From where I stood I could see a head or two in the eddy. Everyone had reasonably good lines and even though I was taking against the sun the effect is not too bad. I could have silhouetted the paddlers a bit more but decided to brighten them up a bit. I’ll post both versions of one shot. Which do you think works better? Some lighter shots on the persons’ body are nice to at least see some detail and/or facial expressions!


The main line on the the rapid known as Rock Slide. Photo by Adrian Tregoning.


Another option on river right. (There is another option on the river left channel too) Photo by Adrian Tregoning.


Brendan Bosman entering the maw. Photo by Adrian Tregoning.


Adrian Vroom (aka Aqua Man) emerging from the soft, fluffy hole at the bottom. Photos by Adrian Tregoning.


Luke Longridge on the entry. I could have left them all similar to this but I highlighted the paddlers' bodies a bit for a better effect. The same photo, and the rest of the sequence is shown below, edited differently though. Which do you prefer? Photo by Adrian Tregoning.


Luke Longridge going deep with the small Fluid Solo he borrowed from me. Nice run Luke. Photos by Adrian Tregoning.


There is one more rapid and then the highlight of the section, the five meter waterfall. This beauty is really good fun to run although the hole at the base becomes a bit more retentive at higher levels. At our level it was working but not too bad. Scouting is very tough on this drop and usually we just run it blind. This time was no exception. There is about a span of ten to fifteen metres worth of a clean drop before the water drops into a bad slot; best not to go in there to avoid bone breakage/death. Once the water stops dropping against this wall, which falls away, there is a nice slide which is also a possibility. Patrick Pennefather showed me a photo of this slide in flood and then it looks like a super run! I tentatively asked Luke if he wouldn’t mind running first with the camera so he could get all of us. He happily obliged and I explained the best line to him. “About a paddle and a half to two paddle lengths to the right of the left wall Luke.”


Adrian Vroom relaying information down to Luke.


Well, I think we went too far right and ended up hitting this tricky little notch in the lip which twisted him and he ended up landing upside down. He must have jumped out of his skin when this happened as I had warned him about a potential hole at the base of the drop too. Luckily he didn’t get beaten and everything worked out just fine. Luke blamed me for the incorrect paddle length dimensions but look at some of the photos Luke, I was pretty much spot on!  ;)  Look at my run, spot on... hehehe. Next time hey? Still, a brave man to run that first considering you had never run it and shot for taking the photos! We really do appreciate it. Next time I’ll get some shots of you.


Adrian Tregoning boofing the 5m waterfall. Jeez, my neck hurt after that one. Awesome fun though!


Neil O'Leary all in gold and going for gold. Looking gold, I mean good, Neil.   :-) 


Ernie Vosloo lining up quite close to the notch in the lip that screwed Luke over. Check out the boils in the landing. Some dudes in a Topo Duo broke their ankles on this drop when plugging in. One won't really hit the bottom in a normal kayak though and if you do, it will be very mild. Just don't plug in!


Brendan Bosman with a sweet run on the 5m. Lekker!


Aqua Man had paddled to the start of the slide and was indicating to Luke when we were coming down. This worked out well. Aqua Man clearly had his thinking cap on again. I ran after Luke and approached the lip nicely and threw in a big boof stroke on my right. I knew the landing would be nicely aerated and that the Solo had enough rocker to cushion my fall should I land sitting a bit straight. On the landing I was sitting a bit too upright and the impact was hard. My neck felt a bit sore and later that day I could feel it. Still, it was an awesome boof and I’d do it again any day, just leaning a bit more forward over the deck next time. Everyone else had great runs with no one landing into trouble. This was Chris’ first time paddling any sort of waterfalls and he came over with a really beautiful boof and threw his paddle away after the landing in victory. Nice one Chris!


Brendan Bosman (left) and Ernie Vosloo (right). Good times for all! Check out those smiles. What a great day that was...


Adrian Tregoning lost in thought, sitting near the exit of the pool with a bag, just in case.


Adrian Vroom (Aqua Man) coming in smartly for another radical waterfall run by the master himself. It was a decent run this time!


Everd Vermeulen taking a line waaaaaay further right! Watch out you don't go into the slot above the lip next time Everd!  :-|  That would be bad!


Chris Barichievy with an awesome boof! Nothing like a victory move after running one's first decent waterfall. Nice one Chris! And well captured by Luke Longridge.


The pool below the 5m drop. These were all taken late afternoon, into the sun, except for this one! 


The pool leaving the waterfall exits with some fast flowing water and then one has to make sure to ferry across the current to the right in order to miss some rocks with a large cushion wave coming off of it as the water flows into another rapid. Then there is a pool and when the river starts dropping, watch out! You definitely don’t want to be running the next rapid without careful scouting and safety being set up. If you’re a beginner, take out above the rapid or if you’re more experienced, then paddle down carefully on the left and a large horizon line will be enough warning for you to get out. This is Coopers Gorge Rapid and one which should be respected. It can be paddled at low winter levels quite easily when the level is super low although it can, of course, be paddled at any other level should you have the skill and balls. Be warned though, you have to use ropes in order to get your equipment out and a few mates hauling you out of the gorge would be mighty handy. The calm pool that follows this rapid flows directly to a severe weir that lands on rocks on the left, is fairly retentive, flows into an undercut bank on the left, and then down a waterfall, landing on rocks! You do not want to end up going down any of those. There is more than enough time to pick up the pieces between the hefty rapid and the weir though. Should you decide to run the rapid, watch out for the triangular rock about halfway through at lower levels when it is exposed. It could easily pin or broach your kayak, bending it in half should you be really, really unlucky. At these high levels it was under water but forming a rooster tail. I have included two photos of this rapid at a two different levels, both lower. The pictures and video I’ve seen of people running this were taken at an even lower level than the pictures I’ve shown.


From left: Brendan Bosman, Neil O'Leary (gold helmet!), Chris Barichievy, Adrian Tregoning, Luke Longridge, Adrian Vroom (lying down trying to sleep, as per usual) and Everd Vermeulen. Photo by Ernie Vosloo.


Ernie had to have his standard 'dragon' photo. From left: Chris Barichievy, Neil O'Leary, Adrian Tregoning, Luke Longridge, Adrian Vroom (look at his mean mouth...), Everd Vermeulen (trying not to fall into th evil rapid behind him) and of course Ernie Vosloo in the classic stance. Photo by Brendan Bosman.


The entry to Coopers Gorge Rapid. Photo by Adrian Tregoning.


Entry at a low level (April 2005/2006). Mike Pennefather walking in the foreground. Photo by Adrian Tregoning.


The middle part of Coopers Gorge Rapid. The rooster tail on the right is formed by the rock shown in the two photos below. Watch out. This rapid is rated about a class V at most levels, could be... Check out the large hole! Photo by Adrian Tregoning.


Same rapid with less water. Taken in April 2004. That's me on the right with the red helmet. That was day 3 for me on a river, ever! Photo by Joe Carter.


Same rapid with even less water (April 2005/6?). Photo by Adrian Tregoning.


The last part of Coopers Gorge Rapid. Note the calm pool below. It leads to a deadly weir, and then to a bad waterfall. Photo by Adrian Tregoning.


The weir landing on rocks on the left, it is relatively retentive, there is an undercut cliff face on the left after this to which the water flows into. Bad idea to run this beast. Photo by Adrian Tregoning.


The waterfall, which lands on rocks. The side of the weir is visible at the bottom of this photo. Everytime I see Mike Pennefather he talks of wanting to run this waterfall. Don't do it Mike...  Photo by Adrian Tregoning.


Coopers Falls. Awesome! Photo by Adrian Tregoning.


The view back from the take-out. The 5m can be seen on the right and where the mist is, that's the slot I'm talking about. The entry to Coopers Gorge Rapid begins already on the bottom right with 2 small rapids close together. Photo by Adrian Tregoning.


Dave's car being loaded up again. One Solo less after our Injusuthi mission! Brendan Bosman on the right carefully closing the boot. Photo by Adrian Tregoning.


One can paddle further down for several more kilometres but I believe it is quite boring and uneventful. It is recommended to only carry on if the water is high enough. Some less experienced people have raved about the second, longer section. So if you’re interested, check it out. One day I’ll do so for sure.


Dave was waiting for us and we drove two of the drivers around to the put-in so that they could pick up their cars. From there on Dave, Luke and I left to hit the Thrombi X-Fest. Along the way we found a pub where I eagerly got my hands on three Hansa quarts. Oh they went down to damn well after a good session and an excellent start to any paddling weekend. We arrived at our comparatively luxurious accommodation at the Umzimkulu River Lodge where Celliers Kruger, his wife Inke and their daughter Kyla were already accommodated. The double story building wasn’t as large and glamorous as the Giant cabin we had taken on our last trip to the gorge but it was good enough for our purposes. It sure beat camping with the hordes of people across the river and at least some peace and quiet could be found here and decent bathrooms too. Ideal to bring a lady friend to... With some more beers and some Kaptein Skeim we made our way to the tent at the X-Fest and enjoyed a chilled out evening, meeting old friends and chatting. After two days of paddling already, we were ready for the desert. Don’t miss the next article...




Photography by: Luke Longridge, unless otherwise stated.

Words by: Adrian Tregoning.


Next article: Umzimkulu River – Thrombosis Gorge (short section up to the falls), high level. Some super duper photos in this article!