Kaaimans River – In Flood…

It had been raining incessantly for almost two days. With my motivation beginning to increase with regards to paddling a river it was time to summon the troops. Joe Kotze was the only person I could convince so we made it simple and decided we’d quickly have a little one hour paddle on the Kaaimans River and then a lekker braai with fat, juicy, Northern Cape steaks afterwards. How wrong we were to be. Read on for an awesome account of this river!

I arrived at the take-out and had a look at the bridge. The river was flowing strongly over the bridge and some idiots were standing knee deep, on the bridge, with an inflatable raft. The type you’d buy for kids at a toy store. It looked very high and I pondered the intelligence of climbing onto this river. I had no idea how broad the river was upstream and how much water it could handle. Judging by the flow at the bridge it looked like a hell of a lot of water. Just then, a cameraman from the SABC came down to film the bridge. As he stood next to me I began to realise that this was perhaps not a good idea. I shook the cobwebs from my mind and trudged back to the car, determined to find out first what lay between the heavy folds in the mountains behind me. 


Driving towards George on the N2.


The low level bridge at the take-out. Some of the water is also going under this bridge.


The camera man from SABC...


Just then my phone rang and it was Scott Reinders. He called to let me know that he would not be joining me and was in crutches with a torn calf muscle after being pulled into a siphon on another river a few weeks prior. Jeepers, creepers! That sounded like any paddlers worst nightmare and after the conversation I sat in the car in silence, thinking. It was still a while before Joe arrived and I thought how lucky Scott had been. With thoughts of siphons and death drifting through my mind I vowed to be extra careful that day.


Joe arrived and we got his father-in-law to drop us off at the take-out. From the put-in we drove towards George on the N2 and then after the split where the N2 continues to Mossel Bay we went straight into town. There is a turn off for Kraaibosch Estate and also Kraaibosch Manor and then at the traffic lights next to the Pine Lodge, turn right. There is also a white sign with black hand writing on the left saying Saasveld Campus in small at the bottom. It is now called the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University which is the main writing you will see. Go straight until you hit the river. Pretty simple. The road is small and winding and I took my girlfriend down the road a week later to have a look at the river at very low levels to compare. It made for a pleasant drive too. Further along the same road is the put-in for the Silver. It’s actually the old road between Knysna and George and there is an ancient national sign that says so.


When we arrived at the river it looked high. I had never been there before but even a fool could have told you that this river was pumping. There were some tourists hanging around and they watched the proceedings in horror as we readied our boats to climb onto this beast. Still I felt that it wouldn’t be too bad at all. It looked manageable. The weir was nice and retentive but I knew I would punch it. I had only one concern. Joe was in a small Fluid Flirt and he was weighing in at about 76kg. Not an ideal combination for a river that is high. I wasn’t either too sure on how good Joe was but he does live near to the Orange River and had been to the Nile before. I had paddled with him once before on the ocean and he seemed capable. With that in mind I hoped all would go well.


The level we had (left) looking downstream of the bridge and a very low level (right). It usually looks like the photo on the right and then of course it is not possible to paddle the river.


Our level (left) and a very low level (right).


Our level (left) and a very low level (right).


The run down is only 4.4 km long and it drops from 100 metres above sea level to sea level. The last 1.1 km is totally flat, so only 3.3 km of the distance is whitewater. This gives a nice average gradient of about 30.3 m/km. Not bad at all! Of course at the time I didn’t know this useful little bit of information.


I pushed into the water and paddled forwards to clear a tree before stroking hard to clear the hole at the weir. I made it through but suddenly realised that eddies were in short supply. I found one about forty metres down behind a rock and some grass. Joe came through the weir and joined me. We agreed that I’d lead and already then I was glad that I had brought my Solo with and not my Nemesis. I felt sorry for Joe in his play boat and knew it was going to be an interesting ride down to the sea.


Joe had been told by friends that the river was small and crappy and someone else had also told me that it’s just a boring little river. I guess it probably is at low levels but at high levels it certainly is quite fun. Perhaps fun is the wrong term to use on this specific occasion. Because neither of us knew the river, we had to take it a little slow. I didn’t mind paddling ahead and the rapids held few surprises. Strainers were a real problem though and if one tried to skirt the main flow you would be in for some nasty surprises. The occasional hole needed to be punched or perhaps even skirted but other than that the going was fine. Fine for me in my Solo but not so fine for poor Joe in his Flirt. Being so heavy in such a small boat he flipped over several times in the rapids. With so much water though he didn’t touch the bottom and all was good, luckily.


Joe Kotze on an average rapid in the beginning.


There were plenty of rapids and we boat scouted all of them. Nothing too hectic but some got the old heart beating for sure. The action was almost non-stop with some fast flowing pools punctuating the white torrent. We were getting our monies worth; there was no doubt about it.


I had remembered reading about a siphon halfway down and suddenly we approached a mean looking horizon line. We climbed out on the right and waded through the water, under some overhanging branches, across some slippery rocks, through some more water and finally to the rapid. It was a juicing rapid for sure. I had sent Philip Claassens an sms earlier and he had warned me to portage the siphon rapid. Now looking at this drop I wasn’t sure if this was the rapid in question or not. I peered down from right above the drop and realised that going in there would probably result in death. It seemed to be a really narrow crack in the rock with a lot of water going through.


The siphon rapid, which is actually well before half way. There is a line at the top of this photo which you can probably see. One mistake though and you'll be killed in the narrow crack at the bottom.


For a long time I looked at the rapid and wanted to run it. Joe wanted to portage it and realising that it was only the two of us, I decided I would also just portage. In any case, I had looked for far too long and too many doubts had crept up into my mind. There wasn’t really a pool below the rapid, I didn’t know what lay further downstream as it disappeared into the next rapid and there were loads of strainers, everywhere. Swimming here was not even an option.


Using ropes, we hoisted the boats down the roughly four metre rock embankment and then I joined Joe at the bottom. He stood on a large rock in the water to have a better look at the rapid and then called me to quickly join him and bring the camera. Where he was about to stand, curled up in the standard snake position, was a nice, fat puffadder. He had almost stood on the damn thing as it lay there, well camouflaged amongst the many branches and debris deposited there from the recent heavy floods. We poked it gently with a stick and only its tongue flickered. Clearly the poor snake was freezing cold and not going to go anywhere fast. I guess it was waiting for sunny days to warm it up again. We left it well alone as the bite from a puffadder will cause the flesh to deteriorate for many years afterwards even. It is a truly horrible bite from a snake that will never move away and relies solely on its camouflage.


Below the siphon rapid.


The puffadder at the siphon rapid which Joe almost stood on. Brrrr!!!!!


The siphon rapid as viewed from below, with the snake in front of my feet! The crack in the rock on the left is the siphon. Trust me, it is a LOT narrower than what it looks...


From that vantage point I was glad I had portaged the rapid. The slot was super narrow and I’m not sure if a human body would pass through there, surely not without breaking a lot of bones. The line on the left looked quite runnable but because of the warnings to portage this rapid, there must have been something more to it. Who knows? One couldn’t tell at that level but it looked bad. If my line was messed or if I somehow ended up in that slot it would be tickets. With thoughts of Scott floating in my mind I knew I had made the right decision. I didn’t want to experience any siphons first hand!


With that we climbed back into our boats and headed off, paddling through a thick pocket of foam. On some of the rapids we encountered on our journey we had eddy hopped down very carefully. I would seek out an eddy, then paddle into it and have a good look downstream. I’d then motion for Joe to join me and using this method we could carefully pick our way down.


The very next rapid was an interesting one. We ended up on the left side and the eddies weren’t too large and few and far between. The speed of the water was quite something and it’s a pity we didn’t have a video camera with us. The photos don’t quite do it justice. I think what really made the trip a little nerve racking was the fact that neither of us knew the river and what lay ahead. We still weren’t certain if whether or not we had actually portaged the siphon rapid and didn’t want to miss an eddy and end up running it. We began hopping down and it was working well. Joe seemed to be on full alert and clearly this river was above his means. I reckon if he’d been in a creek boat or something a little longer, with more volume and less aggressive edges he would have managed a bit better. The Flirt is a good play boat but obviously not the tool for this job. His safety was a concern for me and I tried to make the trip as safe as I reasonably could. I didn’t want him to swim anywhere and I wasn’t very partial to the idea of swimming either! In fast flowing water like this with so many strainers around it wouldn’t be a smart move.


I moved to the right and motioned for Joe to join me in the small eddy. He arrived and I looked down and considered some options. The rapids dropped down and a little left with some ugly trees in the river. I spotted a one boat eddy on the left and paddled towards it. From here on there was nothing further but it looked, how to put it, semi-alright! I told Joe to come and I peeled out and paddled strongly so he could take my place. There were holes and rocks as well as some trees to avoid but I made it. There was a small eddy on the left bank behind another tree and I looked up to see where Joe was. Within a few seconds he appeared and it was absolute disaster. He had just flipped over and headed directly to a large tree that had broken at about mid trunk and the top lay in the river. It wasn’t brisling with branches but was dangerous enough. Joe managed a fast roll and had enough time for one hurried stroke before he went to the right of the main trunk, over some branches and got stuck at the bottom. Bloody hell that had been close! Luckily his head was above water and he managed to free himself without too much stress. He joined me and announced he was ok.


The very next rapid lay only a few metres down and again the slow but careful process started of me trying to find eddies and making sure that the line wasn’t too crazy so that Joe could follow. I got above the real start of the rapid and Joe joined me in the eddy. I ferried over to right above a long and narrow gully where some water was flowing and climbed out onto the bank. Joe crossed the current but didn’t quite make it. I was a couple of metres away securing my boat onto some bushes and rocks and quickly made my way back to him. His paddle was on the rocks and he held on with all his might in a push up position with his boat right over his head. It was a desperate move to not be pulled down the drop on his part and I managed to help him onto the island as quick as I could.


On our own little island on the Kaaimans.


Downstream of our island.


So there we were, on an island in the river with some action just downstream. From here I couldn’t make out how bad it actually was. I didn’t look easy but I thought I’d be ok. Joe took one look and decided to portage this one. The only problem was it wasn’t very easy to get off of our island without going down into the rapid below us! He walked through the bushes that were in the water and eventually to the top of our island where he stood, next to the bushes, in almost chest deep water. He had to get upstream in order to get to the river right bank. From here he made another dodgy move and swam, with his kayak and paddle into a table sized tuft of grass with a bush on it. From here he stood in water above waist deep and tried to climb into his kayak. These were tense moments and after about two failed attempts he gave up. There was only one more option for him and that was to make a longer swim, all the way to the right bank and run the risk of getting stuck in a strainer, foot entrapped or swept into the rapid. Joe had some serious determination and he is a physically strong chap so he made it quite easily actually. Still, it was a dangerous move and I was glad to see him make it.


From the right bank he carefully walked along the steep sides and got down to where the rapid was. The going was tricky and I didn’t like the look of that walk. I was glad to be on the island and not be walking along the river like he was. One slip and he would have been in the water again. Using hand signals from about two hundred metres away I had a very rough idea of what lay ahead. I could see an eddy from where I was standing and hoped that I would make it there. Joe motioned that I must make that eddy so I assumed something dodgy lay below that.


The view that Joe had looking downstream from where he stood taking the photos of me as shown below. Photo by Joe Kotze.


I got back into the boat and Joe stood with my camera that he had taken with him to at least get some footage. I ferried across the gully thing again and bombed down. Because the river was broad here the run started off quite bony and I boofed off of two rocks on my way down, making my line nicely. Once past a certain point there were two waves with a lot more volume and the second one spun me a little. I corrected my angle and finished off the last one foot drop and then paddled very hard to make the eddy on river right, just below Joe.


Adrian completing a long rapid that lay below our island that we climbed out on. Note the vast amounts of foam. Photos by Joe Kotze.


Downstream it looked interesting and I climbed out to scout this one rather seeing as though I had the option. I joined Joe and he also looked at the rapid. It wasn’t too hard so I opted to run it. Joe decided against running it and said he would portage this too. It was alright and I eddied out above the next little drop. The Silver River came in from the river left side and it was absolutely juicing. At the confluence with the Kaaimans was a small rapid in the Kaaimans itself. Then a two foot drop coming out from the Silver, then a two metre drop on the Silver and further up a double drop that looked to be around ten metres high in total. Unbelievable! It was a river I want to run but just not at that level! It would have been nuts as well. I waited for Joe to come down and took some photos of him. From there we paddled the next pool and came to a solid horizon line with a rapid turning blindly left.


The Silver at its confluence with the Kaaimans River. It looks really good!!! Check out the double drop at the top...


Joe finding a spot to climb back onto the river.


Joe paddling the simple rapid at the confluence with the Silver River.


We climbed out to scout and it turned out to be an island, actually several islands because of the high water levels. There was a bit of water running around on the left through some trees and we tried to make our way to the right. We walked through some thick bush and lots of drift wood that lay there from the severe flood that had happened not too long ago. Then we came to another bit of water running through and because Joe had left his shoes in the boat I went first. It was fairly deep and the thought of meeting more snakes or being swept into some strainers didn’t appeal to me. I turned back and said we’d try the side channel instead, Joe agreed. It was tight, going through loads of bushes and dropping down but was runnable.


I went first and it was far faster and steeper than I had anticipated. Good fun actually! Joe came down and managed fine too. It was a wild ride with branches hitting our faces! Around the bend we got to the bottom of the rapid which looked so mean and actually it was good to go. But without scouting it we couldn’t be sure of how it looked and you’d be crazy to paddle down anything blindly. Time was beginning to tick already, hence my decision to just paddle that side channel, and we were on the river for much more than an hour already. Probably around two to two and a half hours and it was supposed to take about an hour to paddle the entire stretch!


We paddled a few more rapids and then came to another horizon line. A large boulder sat in the middle of the river and from were I was I could see a cushion waves and some strainers on the upstream side. It looked dodgy and we wondered if this was the siphon rapid. At that stage we still weren’t sure yet. It was supposed to be around halfway and I knew from my 1:50 000 map on the computer that the Silver came in around halfway. Joe decided to portage and walked down on the left. I waited on the bank for a while until eventually he could get a good look. Using some more hand signals I think or rather, hoped, that I understood what he meant. I ended up paddling around the right of the rock which wasn’t the intended signal from Joe but I managed. I hit a rock side on and glanced to my right. There was a big horizon line and I stroked hard to paddle to the left, just below Joe.


The last rapid before the Bubble Machine Gorge. When you see this rock in the river then eddy out on the left before the next rapid. It is reasonably easy to make the eddy but also easy to miss it...


Looking down into the next rapid below I couldn’t see much except that it looked like a solid class 4+ drop, possibly even a 5. The right side had vertical cliffs and my side looked to be near vertical. I scrambled along the river bank for about four metres and then turned back. I thought I should rather try and meet up with Joe first as it wasn’t a good idea to split up without a plan.


I half walked, half climbed up the steep river bank and ascended for about forty metres through some slippery terrain covered in leaves and earth. Then I traversed through the bush for a while and then down a small and wet gulley. All the while I called Joe’s name and blew my whistle a few times. I heard no response. After about ten minutes I got to where Joe was but he wasn’t there. How could I have missed him? Because I had seen the rapid and terrain below I knew that if he tried to portage along the top of the cliffs he would be in for a portage of several hours through very thick bush. In fact, that option probably wasn’t even an option.


I managed to find a route at water level and soon found a small piece of blue plastic on the rocks. Ah ha, he must have gone this way! I scrambled and fumbled next to the river and came out back at my boat and there was Joe. He hadn’t heard my shouting but had heard the whistle. Not having a whistle on him he couldn’t return the signal.


We decided to have a look at the big rapid below us and made our way carefully along the steep left bank. At the very top was a massive hole and I knew Joe would not punch this hole. If he attempted this rapid he would be creamed. It dropped after this hole into another ledge drop and then through what must be a tight boulder garden at low levels. At these levels there weren’t any exposed rocks. The right side was a bit of an option but the wall on the right looked dodgy and could have been undercut, given the nature of the surrounding rock. There was also a piton rock at the top and another hole to contend with. We didn’t scout further but decided right there and then that we would have to find a way to portage this rapid. There was no point in me trying to paddle it as rescue was impossible to set up because the river bank is all above the rapid and involves some climbing and we still didn’t know what lay beyond the next corner. In fact, just below this rapid was another ledge drop with a massive cushion against the wall and a hole that didn’t look like a good time. It was better to stay together as there would be no guarantee that I’d make the rapid successfully or even be able to get back to Joe.


The start of the gorge and the rapid we portaged.


Joe sending an sms before we started our hectic portage. Luckily we had signal at this spot.


We each took our throw bags and tied them to our boats and roped them around in the water until they were just above the entry to the rapid. From here we made a big team effort to hoist the boats and move them up and around. It was hard work, the rocks were slippery and the clock was still ticking. One slip would have meant disaster. After a boat was hauled up the person at the top would first have to find a place to safely balance the kayak before the next one was hoisted. The terrain was not ideal for portaging to put it mildly. This was turning out to be an intense portage.


After a few metres lay a vertical bit that we would have to climb. Things were not looking good at all. I hated this type of situation. Rock climbing in my paddling shoes, which didn’t have much grip, on damp rock, next to a raging rapid wasn’t my idea of fun. My hands even sweat now as I type this and think back to that day. I went back to fetch our paddles while Joe figured out how to climb the roughly four metre vertical face. When I got back he was surprisingly up. Using our throw bags we got the boats up. Now it was time for me to do some climbing. I don’t have a big fear of heights (ok, maybe a little) but climbing like that, on that day scared the crap out of me and I wouldn’t want to do it again too quickly. I did it because I had no other choice except for walking back and up onto the top of the ridge and face dragging my boat through almost impenetrable bush for perhaps more than about two kilometres. Even then we didn’t know if we could get back down to the river so we left that as a last option. I should have removed my pfd to get my centre of gravity closer to the rock face but taking it off didn’t seem like a good idea either. I made it to the top and felt relieved to have made it.


After what must have been a good forty five minutes from the time we started portaging, we arrived at a shallow rock shelf about five metres above the rapid and near the end. From this vantage point it looked a lot more runnable but rapids often look smaller when viewed from above. The rocks in front were vertical again with no option of climbing up them. It was a terrible predicament to be in.


We walked on the slope with extreme care and looked around at the options. There weren’t many. I saw a chance that we could climb up from a step in the rocks on the left and traverse across but I wasn’t sure. We couldn’t get back down to water level from where we were. Joe climbed up and I don’t know if he was actually scared but I know I was very scared about that option. He got up and looked at the other side. He came back and stood at the top and said it was too steep and vertical on the other side. Joe came down and at that time I had never felt that screwed before. There was no chance that we could climb down the way we came. We had to go forward. I couldn’t believe how we had gotten into the situation. I asked if there were any trees up there and he said yes. I told him to go up again and we’d hoist the boats up. We’d then climb down, if possible. We just had to.


After getting the boats up I had to face to climb. I was super afraid this time and even shaking. Somehow I held it together and made it to the top. It was a small area and there were a couple of trees. I looked down and made my way to the edge after descending about four metres. There was a vertical cliff that looked overhanging and seemed to land on a sloping rock that then sloped all the way down to some more rocks, just below the end of the nasty rapid but still above the ledge drop with the massive cushion wave.


I told Joe we would loop his throw rope around the tree and he could then climb down. He did this and I prayed that the bloody rope would be long enough!!! We couldn’t quite see how high the cliff was but it looked around four to five metres before it reached the slope. I had a sling with my but I knew it was just a little too short to make a seat harness with. We could have abseiled using the classic abseil technique but that would make our already short rope effectively even shorter. Joe proceeded using only his hands and dropped over the edge. I think he shouted something about having run out of rope but he seemed to be standing on the wet and sloping rock. Suddenly he let go of the rope, sat down and skidded down about five metres at full tilt, flying off of a ledge and landing in the rocks. Somehow he didn’t get hurt but lost his wedding ring in the process! It was ripped off of his hand on the way down the slide.


I lowered the boats down to him and did the abseil myself. At that stage I wasn’t too nervous about going down the rope as I knew that nothing would get me off of that rope. My forearms are pretty strong and I wasn’t planning on letting go. The rope was sopping wet and didn’t provide much grip as it was pulled so small with my weight hanging on it. I climbed down not half as scared as I was climbing up the bare rock and landed on the slippery slope. I carefully left the rope and pulled slowly on the bag end to ‘untie’ it from its loop around the tree above us. It came down onto me and I threw the rest to Joe. He came up the slope and helped me down the slope to prevent another accident. His slide down there had been really, really lucky and he could easily have broken some bones. Down at river level I felt a lot better to have made it around. Joe wasn’t keen on getting in there as it was basically into the final bit of the rapid. He climbed over the rocks next to us and said there was a way down.


The view of the rapid we had portaged. Perhaps it doesn't look too bad but we still didn't know what lay around the corner and the hole at the top, river left of the large rock in the middle concerned us. You can only see a tiny bit of it in this photo.


With that we climbed over the next portion, using our ropes again. Down the other side was a slippery slope but we could make it down. There was a small rock to balance the boat on and Joe held my boat for me while I got in. We knew it wouldn’t be a problem for him when it was his turn and I wouldn’t be there as his boat was a lot shorter and the tail wouldn’t rise up on the rock. It would sit easily there. Thank goodness for that.


The ledge drop looked quite nasty but I told Joe it was nothing and that I would show him the line. I wanted him to feel confident on running the drop and I knew how important the mind was when running rapids. I honestly thought it wouldn’t be that bad and I guess it wasn’t really but the lip was deceiving from upstream. When I planted my boof stroke I realised that it wasn’t a clean drop and just poured into the hole! The nose of my boat dropped into the aerated water and I sank into the hole to about the top of my head. The boat got pulled back and I got into a side surf position. It worked me for a few seconds and then I got window shaded. Something smooth and slimy was touching my forearm and my back was touching something. Immediately I thought of a log in the drop but rolled instinctively. I fought to stay upright as I did not want to go over again! There was a small but very powerful recirculating eddy and it was blocking my exit from the hole. I fought with it and managed to stay upright. I threw in about six or seven long and powerful backstrokes on my right side and reversed into the cushion wave. At that stage I was just using what felt right and on any other occasion I would never back paddle into something like that but it felt right and I thought it would spit me free. The current grabbed my boat and spun me so I was facing upstream. With some more strokes I was free of the hole but not safe. I wonder if there was a log jammed into the corner and also how close I had come to getting caught up permanently in there. I shudder to think back!


The ledge that grabbed me and worked me for a bit. Photo taken before I went down. Too bad I paddled the camera down and my time in there wasn't captured. Potentially undercut given the nature of the rock and the fact that the cushion wave is smaller than what it should be.


The view just after the ledge drop with the cushion wave. Note how the river turns to the right and from here we could only what lay ahead. Note the cliffs on both side of the river... Be sure before you climb onto this river at a very high level.


Joe holding my boat before I paddled the ledge drop below.


There were no eddies and no place to climb out to set safety for Joe after the ledge. The river flowed quickly along and turned a ninety degree right but I eddied out on the left, above the drop. Below me was another rapid but I focused on Joe now. Looking back at the rapid we had just taken two hours to portage made me feel good about the decision. Had we run it and swum our boats would and probably even us would have gone down this next rapid!


Joe decided to take another line and ran it on the far left, scraping over the lip and easily making it. Obviously there wasn’t much water flowing over on that side and no hole. I wondered why I had run for the meat. He joined me and we scouted the next rapid. Immediately he decided to portage but I told him it probably wasn’t possible. We had a look and it wasn’t possible to portage this one! The rock slopes were too slippery and steep.


One last look at the rapid we portaged as viewed from the very next drop. A must-run rapid.


There were three options. Left, around the hole at the top and then a hard right and down. This would have been pretty tricky because of the rock above the hole. Middle, through the meat of the hole but I wasn’t sure how easily it would be punched. With my large Solo yes, but with Joe’s small play boat, no. I wanted to demonstrate a line to him and not get eaten in a rapid and leave my friend at the top of the rapid in a bad mental state. Right was a small window but the ferry looked tough. We weren’t sure and again I wondered how this would turn out. I walked back to my boat and considered the far right with the ferry. From this angle it didn’t be too hard and I positively affirmed to Joe that we would easily make it. Deep down I wasn’t that sure he would make the line but it was a straight one down after making the ferry and that meant if Joe flipped at the first hole he would be in the main flow and that wouldn’t be too much of a problem.


Because we hadn't brought any food with and no water I drank some water from the river. The hours spent on the river and also portaging had taken its toll on the both of us. We had to get to the end soon. I peeled out, made my ferry, dropped down through a small window in the hole and finished the rapid. At the bottom of the rapid the foam lay almost one foot thick in places, covering my entire boat. The walls of the gorge had closed in, forming a box canyon and I prayed that there wouldn’t be anymore must run rapids. If there were, we would be screwed. There was a tiny eddy on the left where I could see the rapid from and I waited for Joe to come down. He made the ferry, dropped down into the hole and made the entire rapid upright. It was a huge relief for the both of us.


The must-run rapid.


The river was only about four metres broad here and the water as black as the night with white foam that was everywhere, covering our boats. It was an eerie experience and one I will never forget. We could hear the next rapid as the sound reverberated through the box canyon’s wall and if you weren’t religious now was the time to convert!


Luckily a conversion wouldn’t be necessary and with some relief it was possible to scout this rapid from both sides. We got out on the right and the rapid looked interesting. Joe wanted to portage but the right of the rapid ran straight into a badly undercut wall. We paddled across the calm pool above the rapid and looked from the left side. There was a waterfall that fell into the river and more rapids just below the rapid we were scouting. They were not portagable and not scoutable either but looked ok! From here I paddled down on the left, getting a little stuck once. Joe followed down and we were good to go into the abyss.


Looking back at the narrow gorge we had just paddled out of. The foam inside of the box canyon was about a foot and a half thick in places.


Looking towards the next rapid that we ran on the left.


The last rapid in the foreground and the final rapid in the background of the Bubble Machine Gorge. Awesome waterfall coming in!


The rapids that came next looked alright from a distance and even though quite straight forward had some big holes, waves and a big rock in the middle. We ran right of this and I made it cleanly. Joe came down next and I can’t even remember his run now but he made it down. We paddled below the waterfall as if being baptised and this marked the end of the main run and also, that we would live to see another day.


Just after these rapids was a hammock on the river left, in a cave like pocket in the side of cliffs and the end of the gorge. I think a fitting name for that short but intense gorge would be the Bubble Machine Gorge. The foam created from those rapids is quite something and unlike anything I’ve ever seen on any river. I’ve seen foam on various rivers in some places but nothing like this. Unbelievable and unreal!


There were a few small rapids again with some strainers and holes as the river dropped down a little until the final 1.1 km of flat water but it wasn’t anything like we had run already. We paddled past a house and I knew the adventure was over. We had indeed reached the flat water. What an incredible relief to have made it down in one piece! I cannot describe to you how we both felt and shaking hands with Joe was the best thing ever. 6 hours to paddle 3.3km of whitewater was the longest I’d ever spent on such a short distance by a long shot. It had frightening at times, funny at others but generally very taxing mentally and we had learnt several valuable lessons that day. One thing is for sure is that we didn’t get to braai our juicy steaks but I’ve taken a rain cheque on that one. Next time Joe!


Joe giving the Double Thumbs Up on making it out in one piece!


The second set of houses just before reaching the bridge at the N2. The low level bridge is about 200 hundred metres below the N2 bridge.


Joe in his small Fluid Flirt. An awesome boat but not ideal for a river like this. And not ideal at 76kg! Never go creeking in a play boat. He has an overthruster fitted to the boat in case you were wondering what the bump was in the deck.


The bridge at the take-out. The level probably dropped the most during our long portage of the one rapid. These rivers drop quickly and also rise very fast too!


I don’t wish to analyse it too much but I’d like to touch on a couple of things. First off, always carry a throw bag. Always! Without the throw bags we would have been forced to either walk off the river entirely or to paddle the rapids if we had paddled down too far and the option to walk down didn’t exist. Take enough water and food. We took nothing because we thought it would be a quick paddle. Carry a sling long enough to make a seat harness, you never know when you’ll need to make a short abseil. Carry a whistle as you never know when it will come in handy. Trying to get someone’s attention by shouting is not very effective, even standing next to a rapid where you can see the other person standing. I use a Fox 40 whistle and I highly recommend you get one too. They are exceptionally loud and I block my ears when blowing it to stop my ears from ringing. Know your own abilities and of the people you’re paddling with and don’t creek in a play boat. Never! And finally, don’t get onto a river that is flooding unless you know the river. Otherwise, hang on and enjoy the ride.


At lower levels the river would be quite fun and reasonably easy. Even though the gradient is decent, there are no major drops and the gradient is quite continuous. Except maybe the Bubble Machine Gorge drops. They would be quite exciting I think. But at high levels, stay away unless you know the river and know what you’re getting yourself into. I feel our decisions on that day were sound and if we had chosen otherwise it may have turned out very differently. Given that we had no idea what was around the next corner we played it safe and even though the portage was extreme, I still have no regrets. When I go back at the end of this year again I will be interested to see how it goes then, probably not half as bad, unless the level is even higher.


The Kaaimans River where it meets the ocean. I took this photo about a week later when the river was very low. When the river is up it turns the sea a nasty brown.


It would make an interesting hike to walk down the length at very low levels and check out the rapids just out of interest sake. I’d just take a tractor tube and a pump to float the pools which cannot be portaged. The scenery is sweet and the rocks and cliffs there would make for some interesting photos. Until another time then!




Photography by: Adrian Tregoning, unless otherwise stated. Thanks for taking the photos Joe and for the good team work.

Words by: Adrian Tregoning.


Additional information added 28 January 2008:


After I published this article I had e-mails from several people regarding the river. One of which was Barry Smalberger. He said the following:


Hi Adrian


Read ur account of ur exciting trip down Kaaimans, and I could certainly identify with it.
In 1985, me & a friend, Dirk Lilienfeld,went down the same stretch of river on inner tubes after heavy rains for 'the fun of it', not knowing the river at all and nearly paying with our lives for it.

When ur in your 20's, even grave danger can look like fun, and u do things that I would not even contemplate now.

We jumped in at the bridge at around 5pm, planning to be down at Kaaimans not later than 7pm. It was hectic, what with all the rapids. holes, strainers, boulders and rocks! Unable to paddle and manouvre, we basically just got swept downriver..adrenaline pumping(stupid, eh!).

Some way down after the confluence with the ?Silver from the left, there was a huge rapid with lots of boulders in the middle which could not be walked around because sheer walls on either side made it impossible. Neither could we walk back, so we decided to edge our way down the left side.. suddenly the undertow just grabbed us and pulled me under a big rock. I managed to grab the rock edge at the water line with my hands, but was now underwater. Try as I could, I could not pull myself out from underneath the rock against the current. Running out of breath, I simply had to let go, fully expecting to be jammed in a crack or submerged branch, and drowning..dragged along the underside of the rock with force, my wetsuit got shredded..seconds later I popped out the other side minus my inner tube and got washed down a big rapid. Can't tell u how relieved I was .. it was almost surreal, like I've entered a second life. Having had the same happen to him, Dirk was already some way down the river.

After numerous rapids and gullies, we eventually washed up at dark at Kaaimans after about 3 hours hours of sheer madness.


Some scary events there! So it seems that the rapid that Joe and I portaged does indeed have a siphon in it. I would imagine it’s the rock near the bottom. It looks like there is some water coming out from underneath. If you paddle this river, watch out for that too! I now have no regrets about portaging that rapid and warn anybody about it. Running it would be risky at high levels, safety is impossible to administer and portaging is very, very difficult! Trust me…