Blyde X-Fest 2007

To hold an extreme kayak race in the world’s third largest canyon is quite something. To be privilege to this is something I just could not miss. Even though water levels were low, because of the drought, the canyon provided us with enough water to hold a successful event.


The Blyde or Motlatse Canyon as it now known is up to 1000 meters deep and 5 km wide. The largest vegetated canyon on earth this place is amazing. Providing year round water, mainly because of the dolomites along its upper and middles reaches, it also has one of the highest freshwater catchments for its surface area in South Africa. The canyon starts at the confluence of the Motlatse and Sefogane (previously known as the Treur) Rivers.


Most people are not aware that they have changed the name of the river to the Motlatse River and also the Motlatse Dam. The name Motlatse is a Pulane word for ‘river that is always full’ so I guess that is quite fitting. The previous name of Blyde came about when a group of Voortrekker women were camped on the banks of a river waiting for their husbands to return. They had gone out to scout a route to the coast of Mozambique. When it seemed like they would not return, they called it the Treur River – meaning River of Sorrow. But when the men eventually did come back they called the river beyond it the Blyde RiverRiver of Joy. (A nice little story indeed) J



The fauna and flora in the Blyde/Motlatse Canyon is extremely rich. There are more than 100 mammal species, including 20 carnivores, 335 bird species, 94 reptile species, 34 amphibians, 33 fish species, more than 200 butterfly species and almost 70 different spider species. There are also around 2000 plant species – more than the entire Kruger National Park!!!

One can now appreciate the sensitivity and importance of presvering this wonderful place and also the fact that this is probably the most expensive river in South Africa to paddle. One needs an APA qualified guide on your trip and also a ferry waiting on the dam. In bygone days it was possible to paddle across the dam but I suppose they are scared kayakers/rafters (clients!) would be munched by the many crocodiles and hippos in the dam. This would be bad for tourism. J 

Friday the 9th of March, Luke Longridge and I took a leisurely drive down to the canyon. My worst ever drive was the first time I had paddled the canyon. I almost hit an owl in the road, a family of bush pigs, which decided to cross as I came roaring down at 120 km/h and also a slightly annoyed ‘gentlemen’ who decided to shine a two million candle power spotlight in my face after I forgot to dip my lights once he passed. No, this time the drive was mild. Only one porcupine which scared the living daylights out of me and we had to brake a bit for it as it hobbled across the road. Very strange creatures to see crossing a road.

Finding the farm was simple and the short dirt road down to the water wasn’t bad at all. A couple of rowdy kayakers were hanging around the bar including the fabled Grant Morshead (Morsie) and his equal, Ryan Cousins (Cuzzie). This was going to be an interesting trip. We paid our monies and got stickers to load the boats with as well as insulation tape for our race numbers, as well as the program for the weekend. Hmm, truck leaves at 05:00 Saturday morning, ok well, wait, what time???? Five in the morning. WOW. Well, that’s what everyone said. This was going to be interesting. Hehe, but you have to get an early start if you want to paddle in the day time still.

My alarm went off at 03:45 but I decided to carry on sleeping. The lack of reaction from my roommates meant a few more minutes sleeping in. I lay there half awake until about 04:10 when I got up and we started to get ready. Shortly after 05:00 we left in the truck which was suited for a game drive seating plenty people. All our gear was in a separate truck. Chris Huddle had organised it fully. It was pitch dark and a little chilly.

The drive to the put in was slow going and took around two hours. An attempt was made to purchase some chocolate-chip cookies for old Morsie but unfortunately shops were in short supply and their operating hours didn’t agree with our early morning activities. The sun came up but didn’t help as we descended into the canyon and into the shadows of the mountains.

Coffee and tea were served at the waters edge as well as some sustenance. A safety talk, waterproof camera housings set-up and we were ready to hit the water. The group would comprise of roughly 17 or 18 kayakers, a number of people in crocs including two guys from Super Sport, a professional photographer, a paramedic and all the other guides, time keepers, organisers etc.

I kept at the front, wanting to stay away from the crocs as if one doesn’t keep a following distance and they get stuck then it is fun and games. There were quite a number of us on the river but we made fairly good time, considering the amount of people. I would imagine with more people attending the event in the future it could be a problem. The trip was relaxed and we took it slow. The rapids are pretty easy and the lines not too challenging. The gradient of the river is only about 11.1 meters per kilometer. At higher water there would be some big holes and pourovers which would provide some excitement and would need scouting without a doubt. Some drops would become quite pushy too. That’s just my humble opinion.


Adrian Tregoning. Photo by Luke Longridge.


Poachers Corner claimed a few victims but nothing serious. Log Waterfall was run by a couple of people but not our guide, Christo. He ran the drop once and got sucked into the siphon. His body jammed into it for quite some time, fully underwater, and eventually he started blacking out and then his body relaxed and he was shot out of the siphon like a pea shooter. Luckily he’s still alive to tell the story.


Log Waterfall. Neil O'Leary right on line.


Luke Longridge in the Flirt and Bura below Log Waterfall.


Adrian Tregoning on Log Waterfall. Photo by Luke Longridge.


Ernest on Log Waterfall. (UndaG E) Photo by Luke Longridge.


Log Waterfall is a rapid that is not very hard to run but holds the highest of consequences. It consists of about a two foot drop with the siphon on the right and DIRECTLY after the drop. This drop becomes retentive at higher water. The line to run is coming from river right, through a small gap and keeping your line diagonally across the top of the drop to run it on the left, away from the siphon and then finishing it off through a few boulders. At this level not a problem. Some of the runs weren’t the best and I really cringe when I see people running rapids like this when they don’t make a clean line. Not that tough but if you mess it up you could end up in a watery tome. I never want to be on a trip when you have a body to deal with but I suppose every person must know their own limits and don’t rely on safety or your mates to get you out of trouble.

A couple more rapids and we were at Alleys Staircase. This would be the first rapid where some racing would take place. Races were two people against each other, with a very relaxed atmosphere. My run was good and when I got to the bottom I looked back and realising I had won, stopped paddling to catch my breath and took a gentler paddle to the rock which we had to make contact with to complete the run. My heart was pounding in my chest. Breaths came in and out as fast as I could. That was the first time I had ever done an extreme race and it was actually quite good fun. I have never been one to compete but this was really damn good fun. Most guys had good runs with hardly any carnage. With higher levels there are some nice holes that form here.

I expected the race format to be an elimination method as most races are, but not here. They would be totaling the times for three to four races and even though I had the fastest time after the first race I kicked myself for not paddling hard, right to the end. Oh well.


Alleys Staircase.


'Oudts' firmly in the lead on Alleys Staircase in his small Fluid Solo.


'Oudts' still on Alleys Staircase.


Ryan Cousins with the whole chicken they lugged down the river! Photo by Luke Longridge.


The action on the banks at Alleys Staircase. Photo by Luke Longridge.


More action at Alleys Staircase. Photo by Luke Longridge.


A couple of more interesting rapids and we came up to Mark’s Drop, a super short but sweet rapid with two options to it. Running river left is a sloping drop or running river right over the little two meter drop, called the Terminator. This rapid was the stage for the second race starting a couple of meters above, running the drop, across the pool below, through the natural weir and touching the rock where the time keepers were parked.

This time it would be a race against the clock. The reason for this is they didn’t want to rescue more than one person from the weir in case there was trouble. Everyone was fine with no one getting into trouble. Only one close call when a croc flipped above the drop and the swimmers almost swimming over the Terminator. My run was not the greatest. I underestimated how much the flow would pull towards the Terminator and ended up too right above Mark’s Drop. The rocks scraped under my boat and slowed me down quite a bit, almost getting stuck. I don’t reckon my time was too hot. One of those things then.

Luke and I walked back to run the Terminator. The drop is very sweet and is on the video. I lost my balance on landing and had to do a quick brace. Luke said he was going to freewheel it so I waited at the bottom in my boat. I saw his line was well right and prayed he wouldn’t do one as there is a rock on river right! Luckily he remembered about it and decided against a nice face plant. The natural weir was alright and no one had any experiences with it this time.


The Terminator.


The Terminator.


A croc on Mark's Drop. Check out the yellowfish in the above picture. Chris Huddle pointed that one out. Pretty good timing.


The racing and the cloudless sky was beginning to take its toll. We moved on down to Gutter and Curtain Falls where the third race would be held. Two kayakers against each other and away we went. Gutter is very narrow and the possibility for carnage was high. Luckily no one came short and everyone cleared the hole at Curtain Falls. This little beast has almost killed more than one person and at this level it still carries a bite. At higher levels it is really bad and unless you are confident in your boof, don’t bother running it.

My run against Ernest was a good one. I managed to just get the holeshot but he was on my tail. I threw in about 8 or 10 consecutive, hard strokes on the left as he was pushing my bow to the left. Just before Gutter he eased off a little and that was that. Had he not it could have been very interesting for both of us.


Curtain Falls.


Curtain Falls action.


Directly after Curtain Falls is a magic little pourover type drop. I saw how retentive it was and warned a few guys to boof it. Ruan didn’t manage a clean boof and got worked in there for a little while. He threw quite a few ends and provided us with much entertainment. With people gathering around but having missed the action, Ruan decided to go in AGAIN. What a laugh. A few more cartwheels and some more window shading ensued. He consequently won the freestyle award! J Nice one. The man has balls.


Adrian Tregoning on AmaGlug. Photo by Luke Longridge.


After this comes AmaGlug and was the scene of some action. A swim or two and Bura even managed to dislocate his shoulder. Ouch. Luckily it popped back and he painfully carried on to the end. The fourth race was cancelled and I’m sure everyone was relieved. The day had been long but awesome. A couple of more fun rapids and we were at the dam. We waited for about an hour for the ferry and eventually it came.


The view from the ferry looking towards the entrance of the river to the dam.


Ernie relaxing on the ferry.


We weren’t allowed to swim to the ferry because of the crocodiles so we had to paddle. I took a leisurely paddle up to the ferry. Getting on was a bit of a mission without any help. I put my paddle up on the transom and carefully stood up. My kayak went under the boat but my body could not. In I went. Damn! The captain got a little stressed and told me to jump in now. Haha, old George had been spotted about 10 seconds before about 40 meters away by Craig. I climbed in, not too worried but still a little concerned. It felt good to be on the boat intact anyway.

Let me quickly explain about George. He’s a crocodile who calls the dam his home and has a keen interest in kayakers! Thanks to a couple of locals, no names mentioned J, he has been fed fish several times and used to come in very, very close. After a good couple of times he became very bold and actually touched some kayaks… Luckily they don’t feed him anymore and, hopefully, he has lost some interest in us. When an almost 4 meter beast comes looking for food from you, you better be ready!

The ferry drive back is damn good and thanks to Hunters Extreme we had several ice cold ones ready for us. With spectacular scenery, good memories, sore muscles and a dop in your hand, you can’t go far wrong. Another day in Africa J


Our accomodation. Very nice.


I celebrated with a fine bottle of KWV!!!!


The Port went down well with an amazing view from the camp.


First place finisher Craig Eksteen.


The difference between 1st and third was something like 1.5 seconds, a close finish!

Second place to 'Oudts' - Christiaan van Oudtshoorn.


Third place to Adrian Tregoning.


Adrian Tregoning.


The drive back.



Check out the following video: (8 minutes 37 seconds)

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A big thanks to the sponsors, namely, Hunters Extreme Energy, Fluid Kayaks, Goya Gear, Whitewater Training, Salon Finesse and Blyde Canyon Adventures!





For more information and photos click HERE!


By: Adrian Tregoning.

All photos by Adrian Tregoning unless otherwise noted. Thank you to Luke Longridge for his contributions.