The Doring River, Alone – Day 1: Out into the Wilderness

The Doring River has its source within the Swartruggens Mountains, about 25km north east of Ceres in the Western Cape, South Africa. In a little valley to the south of a mountain called Kwarrieberg at an altitude of 1437m and west of Saalberg at 1362m. From here the river flows north east through the Ceres Karoo, then more north and slightly west as it wraps the base of Northern end of the Swartruggens Mountains and then north again. More than 100km later it heads west through the Cederberg to join up with the Olifants River and then finally into the Atlantic Ocean. Note that this is a different Olifants River to the one shown on my site in the past.

The Doring has numerous tributaries that all add up to produce a solid, medium volume river. While the gradient is nothing to really write home about, it can produce some big rapids when conditions are right. But this is not a river for testing your skill or your mettle; it is about going out into a remote and beautiful place and just experiencing unspoilt nature the way it was supposed to be. This was exactly my aim.


To be able to paddle a river on your own one either needs to be able to hitch hike back to the start, or walk/cycle, or have a driver. Because the put in is quite remote the possibility of hitch hiking back could potentially mean a day long mission, or longer. I considered this but then thought that I would only resort to this if I really had to. Walking was not an option and neither was cycling. The bicycle would be stolen at the end and possibly even the car at the start. To overcome this obstacle I got my mom to drop me off at the put in and then she would fetch me a few days later at the end. Without her, this trip would not have been possible. So thanks mum!


The sun coming out on the way up.


The outlet of the Clanwilliam Dam. This is on the Olifants River.


We left before sunrise on Sunday the 21st of September and took the long drive up north. About 3 hours and 250km later we found ourselves at the put in. This spot is shown on the road atlas as Doringbos, a tiny spot on the R364. This is where the small dirt road crosses the river to the north east of Clanwilliam. The drive in had been very interesting and the scenery quite remarkable. The Cederberg is an amazing place and also a Mecca for hikers and rock climbers. To quote directly from -


“The Cederberg is famous for its spectacular rock formations. The best known are the Wolfberg Cracks, Wolfberg Arch, Maltese Cross and Stadsaal Caves. These rocks are composed of sandstone and shale formations of the Cape Supergroup. The formations were deposited between 500 and 345 million years ago.

Some formations such as the Bokkeveld Group are rich in marine fossils such as trilobites, brachiopods and crinoids. (Please remember that all fossils are National Monuments, protected by Law, and may not be disturbed or removed).


The Cederberg gives its name to the Cederberg Formation, a narrow shale band that is locally referred to as "Die Trap" or in English "The Step", because of its characteristic manner in which it weathers. The harder sandstone and quartzitic formations such as the Peninsula, Nardouw and Witteberg tend to form the higher mountainous areas, while the softer shale formations such as the Bokkeveld and Cederberg form fertile valleys. The Cederberg's spectacular rock formations result from a number of factors including the flat lying nature of the geology, well defined fracture and jointing patterns, chemical composition of the rocks, climatic conditions and time.”


So there you have it; something interesting!


There was a narrow, single track bridge crossing the river and some sort of small establishment on the far side. The terrain was quite barren and dry but the river flowed broad and strong underneath the bridge. I took out my boat which I had already packed to the hilt with all sorts of clobber and got dressed into my gear. My kayak was unceremoniously dragged to the water’s edge and my mom took a final photo of me. I made sure she left ok and then got down to doing my own thing.


The view at the put in.


Adrian Tregoning at the put in and ready to rock. Photo by Anni Tregoning.


There I was, alone next to the river. Ahead of me lay 68 km of river which I could negotiate at my leisure over the next four days. It felt great to be there at that point in time, there was nowhere else I would rather have been. Without hesitation I put on my spraydeck and pushed into the chilly water. When I had first checked the level on the internet there were 145 m^3/s of water going down at the take out. This was quite a bit of water and I was very pleased with the flow. It could have been far worse. As I drifted into the first ripples of water I peered back at the bridge as it got smaller and smaller. High up on the river right bank a figure stared down at me and I waved. He returned the gesture and I then knew I was leaving civilisation for a little while. It was a good feeling.


As I drifted down the swift moving water I hardly paddled and just listened. The little waves slapped rhythmically against the hull of my heavily laden kayak as it drifted easily in the current. There were unseen birds all around me and only their sound broke the relative silence. The gradient dropped to produce only a moving current and I reveled in the lack of sounds. No cell phone, no internet, no radio, no cars, no people talking, nothing. It was absolutely perfect. I just sat passenger on this magical carpet ride and soaked in my surroundings. There was nowhere else on earth I would rather have been. Complete silence like this is hard to come by and I pitied the people out there that never get to get to experience. In fact, I briefly wondered about the empty and meaningless lives that so many people lead. Do they really enjoy life? Who knows? I certainly do not care and am a firm believer that everything in life that happens to you, good or bad, one can only attribute, or blame yourself. As these random thoughts left my mind, the river took a left bend and the first rapid along with it. It was just simple wave trains and nothing to get excited about. I had never been to the Doring before so this was all quite new to me.


A thick catepillar next to the river.


I knew I was making good progress and because this trip was spread out over four days I would have to be sure of where I was on the river. I had printed out six screen shots from Google Earth and plotted a point every ten kilometers from the put in right to the end. At each point I also put on the corresponding coordinate. Trying to remember how many left and right bends you’ve been through can be confusing so this is why I did this. I had an old GPS that my dad gave to me many years ago and it was perfect for the job. It gave me my position and that was all that I needed. In fact, seeing as though I was heading roughly west all of the time, the lines of longitude were the only thing that really mattered. I’d watch the minutes and seconds and estimated (with great accuracy) where I was. It was my plan to paddle quite far the first day, a little less on the second, less on the third and then a short bit on the last day.


Flowers. (be prepared for more....)


As already mentioned, my boat was heavy. I had packed in an awesome tent (Mountain Hardware Hammerhead 2; before I get an e-mail asking), a Thermarest, sleeping bag (First Ascent Adventure Light), sleeping bag inner sheet and an inflatable pillow. That took care of my sleeping arrangement. Because that sleeping bag is really tiny and I was camping in winter, I also packed in a First Ascent down jacket which I was reasonably sure I would be using to sleep in for warmth. That sleeping bag is so small you could fit it into the back of the smallest of play boats, with ease. It is really great and serves the purpose well for kayaking as well as for hiking and camping trips. I’ve got warmer sleeping bags but like this combination, even for hiking. It makes packing a lot easier. Apart from the down jacket, I also packed in one t-shirt, one long sleeved vest, one pair shorts, two pairs of boxers, one pair of track suit pants and a waterproof jacket. Looking back, I didn’t use the waterproof jacket once. Perhaps I should have packed in a thick pair of socks instead, next time.


I like this shot.


For safety, I took along a split paddle. It’s a three piece and I shoved in one half on either side of the seat (next to it) and the middle piece easily fitted into the back. I then also had my standard stuff that included two pre-sewn slings, a prussic, a length of tubular tape, knife, two spare carabiners and two pulleys. Then I also had a twenty meter throw bag and another carabiner attached to that. When I normally go paddling, I always paddle with that arrangement. Most people are surprised when they see me packing this in. But then again, most people I know don’t even paddle with float bags! As this was a solo trip, the throw bag would only be used to extract the boat, should it become stuck, and should I be able to reach it. One can think that the chances are slim of being able to use it to extract a pinned boat single handed, but one never knows. Rather safe than sorry. I’d rather deal with the extra safety stuff than sit somewhere, stranded, and wish I had taken a few more cumbersome items along.


More flowers. Who would have thought you'd find such awesome flowers in such a hot and dry environment?


I was wearing decent rivers shoes (Teva’s) but also packed in a pair of Crocs just in case. They are very light weight and I shoved these to the tip of the tail of my boat. The soles are really thick so I could walk for a long time if I really had to and use them in case I had to walk out. They’re also handy around camp and help keep the thorns at bay. While paddling I had wetsuit shorts, normal shorts, a Helly Hansen long sleeved vest and two thin fleece jerseys. The air was hot, but the water cold. Always dress for the water conditions, not the air. In case I did have to walk out for whatever reason, or was perhaps forced to remain in one place for longer than anticipated, I took along several other items for just in case. These included enough water purification tablets for more than fifty litres of water, a solid (Windmill – from Delta) lighter, as well as matches, a full first aid kit, space blanket, GPS and the maps I spoke about already in this article, a Swiss Army knife, a much larger fixed blade knife, a brain, cell phone which would probably be useless for most of the time, a Petzl head torch as well as a larger torch that is charged with a motion/capacitor setup. Ok, the two torches is a bit of an overkill I know. Then I also had the small MSR Pocketrocket stove and two gas canisters. I’ve got the Dragonfly as well but for a short trip like this, the Pocketrocket is really small and takes very little space. The only reason why I took two canisters was because I didn’t know how long the first one would last. Then of course I also had a pot (with lid and removable handle) as well as a dish to eat from, the dish I never used either. My eating utensils consisted of a small stainless steel tea spoon (courtesy Nationwide), and then a plastic table spoon and a plastic fork. Now this is odd as there is nothing wrong with my hands and I’m quite adept at using them to shovel food into my mouth. But still, I packed these items in anyway.


More flowers.


For water, I took along one liter and then would use purification tablets (the ones from Cape Union Mart) to do the rest. I took along a Platypus bottle which folds up nicely and takes almost no space. The one liter bottle is used during the day and then when I set camp I fill the Platypus bottle twice with the one liter bottle and pop in two tablets and let it sit for ten minutes. One tablet for one liter according to the stuff I use. The capacity of the Platypus is about two and a half litres. This way I don’t waste space in the boat as it folds down to almost nothing. With that said, I had to put the stove and two canisters up behind the bulkhead up front. I could have fitted it into the back but the dry bags I was using didn’t utilise the space as well as they could have. They need to be larger in diameter. The Fluid Solo sure can pack a lot of stuff though!


Well, now you have a rough idea of most of the equipment I packed in. Quite a bit of stuff that is perhaps a little unnecessary but at least I was covered for most eventualities.


Another great shot.


The first couple of kilometers were plain sailing and while the rapids were small, they were at least not that far from each other. The water joining them moved quite swiftly and I really didn’t need to paddle very much. All I had to do was sit back and relax, this was the life. Perhaps a beer in hand I hear you say. No. What?! Yip, no booze. You will be very surprised to note that I did not take a drop of alcohol with me. I decided that on this trip I would remain totally natural, if I can call it that. Another reason is alcohol dehydrates you and in this type of hot environment the intake of liquids to keep you hydrated is very important. After a day of paddling and being in the sun a drink would go down well but I find that often one just doesn’t drink enough during the day and then it is easy to feel a little ill later on. South Africa can get very hot and taking enough drinking water with is always a priority. And in any case, my boat was loaded up with loads of other goodies which probably weren’t that necessary but I’d rather be safe than sorry, so packing in a few drinks would have been tight. There was little doubt that portaging with the boat was not a real possibility. Luckily the rapids were all quite runnable. I had just over twenty kilograms worth of gear in the boat, and that didn’t include my split paddle, paddle, Pelican case with the digital SLR or any of the paddling gear I was wearing.


Smaller, finer flowers.


Drifting down I saw hundreds of Dassies (Rock Hyrax) on the rocks around me. They were almost my constant companions on this trip and I’d always catch them in the corner of my eye as they scampered for safety. These little beasts spend their lives running around steep, rocky hills and cliffs. They cannot maintain their internal body temperatures as well as other mammals so spend a lot of time in the sun, or huddling together for warmth. They are amazingly fast and dexterous as they run over impossible terrain. They have several sweat glands which secrete something onto the pads on their paws. This gives them unrivaled grip. Their kidneys are good at retaining water and this allows them to live in areas with little precipitation, such as this one. Dassies look like massive guinea pigs; cute little buggers. I would see them throughout my trip, without fail. I also saw loads of Pied Crows. It was so odd to see them out here as one usually associates them with the city. But here they were, out in the wilderness. One wonders what makes some crows chose the city over a life out here in the open; surely the rubbish which humans leave lying around. What a shame, I know which crow I’d be.


They're all over the place! :-)


These were a little different.


Early on I encountered a very wide rapid that was almost totally blocked off with trees. And when I say trees, I mean, ALL thorn trees. The word ‘doring’ is the Afrikaans word for thorn. Maybe that has something to do with it. It didn’t look good and had a diagonal type of rocky boulder field heading through the trees on the right. Every channel was blocked off with trees. I kept heading left and weighed up my options. Portaging through the bush didn’t look like a prospect filled with fun. But getting caught up in a strainer could be lethal. Near the end of the shallow island was a small sneak line and I managed to get through without getting stuck or hung up in the thorns. It wasn’t the safest of options and I vowed not to do that again.




Classic yellow. I'm no flower expert, but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy them.


I paddled for a couple of kilometers and eventually the river took a sharp left turn with a river coming in from the right and there were some slightly bigger rapids on a straight section. There was the odd hole but nothing too special. On a right bend I noticed a stone house on the river right hand side and peered at it from my boat. It was obviously unused and perhaps a stopover on a hiking trail, or something to that effect. I didn’t stare for too long as a bit of a horizon line was looming up ahead. It looked like a good idea to scout from the river left and so I paddled to that side and got out. Looking back, the right hand side would have been way better as I was far away from the rapid on the left. I walked down and tried to see where the best route would be. There was a hole on the top left, with a pourover just after that on the right, I decided to head left of it, then ferry to the right to miss a bigger hole, down through a wave and then I’d be at the bottom. Even though I have paddled way harder rapids I still felt a little nervous as I wasn’t totally sure of my line. Maybe it was because I was alone but then I realised that in a normal river situation with my mates I probably would have run first anyway and then there wouldn’t have been anyone downstream so actually, this was no different. It was also the first ‘big’ rapid I had encountered and needed to get a feeling of the river. I took the extra time to take a few markers. Note, this rapid is shown in the video in this article. Back at my boat I drank some water and got ready. A brain wave struck me and I decided to ‘secure’ my little waterproof camera to my PFD and take some video footage down this rapid. Using some sticks I got the angle right and made sure the handle was tied in. This would be interesting. I still felt nervous (and I say that on the video) as I paddled up to it. Once I was looking down I felt much better and realised it really wasn’t that bad at all. My line was spot on and the rapid went down quite easily and I had a blast.



The video I made...  :-)


A hole at the top of the rapid.


The wave near the bottom of the rapid.


The view downstream of the rapid I scouted.



The river took a slight bend to the left and then I decided to take a lunch break and check my position. At the time, I had no idea how far I’d paddled. When I checked on Google Earth just now I realised that I had already paddled 18,7km from the start. I had managed that in just less than three hours with only one quick scout. Of course, at the time I didn’t know that but I knew that I would be able to make camp within the next hour or so. When I was at that beach I still wrote the coordinates in the sand and took a photo of it. Yes, I know, I could also have just marked it with the GPS like I did with all my camps but I thought the photo would be interesting. It read: 31°54’25”S 19°07’23”E. Put that into good old Google Earth and you’ll see where I had my little lunch stop and also where the rapid on the bend 1.7 km upstream (east) of it. After a lunch of water and sardines, I was good to go again! I left my beach behind and continued.


The beach at my lunch stop.


Two really tiny little bees. They look like the normal honey bees but are at least half the size.


Two Klipspringers on the rocks near to me. Can you see them? :-)


I found a cool little play wave a little further downstream. I checked my position again and calculated that I must have gone far enough already. It was time to find a spot to spend the night. A few rapids later I got onto a beach on river right and made it my camp. The time then was 14:30. I had climbed on at about 10:15. This camp was 25.3 km from the start. I had wanted to paddle 25 km in the first day as I thought it would take me virtually the entire day. My estimates had been very accurate although it had been much faster to reach this point than what I had thought. I knew then that the rest of the trip I could really take my time and admire the scenery. For the remainder of the afternoon I lazed around in the sun. Taking photos of flowers, relaxing and doing as little as possible. My tent was nicely set up with some large stones keeping the pegs in the soft sand. Strong wind is always a possibility in the Cape and I was not taking any chances.


The rock formations next to the little play wave.


The play wave, with eddy service. Not the greatest, but better than nothing. Too bad I was in a creek boat. Note the thorn bushes.


Interesting scenery.


The view from my camp to the other side of the river.


Supper was relatively uneventful. I actually ate some peanut butter rolls earlier on so was quite stuffed. There was a lonely can of spaghetti and meatballs in a tin so I decided to attack that. The instructions advised to heat it up for a few minutes but I thought; what the hell, I was too lazy to heat it up anyway. The ring pull operated and the can opened. Ta da! Cold ‘meat’ balls and spaghetti was served. It wasn’t actually too bad and I finished the entire can. As I finished that the sun was getting low and I basically sat around and stared at the scenery. It was pure bliss to sit there on my own. I didn’t have to talk to anyone, no eyes on me, perfect. I could do as I pleased, when I pleased.


Most of the gear being pulled from my boat.


Does this really need a caption?


Camp all set up. LEKKER!


Baboon footprints in my camp. The hind leg left and the front on the right.


The sun going down and my lonely little tent next to the river. Wow, what a place!


Sunset from my camp 1.


Once the sun had set and the light faded to nothing, I climbed into my tent. The Dassies were also huddled into their lairs up on the hills around me and some new, strange sounds drifted across the valley floor. Night time was here and still it was as peaceful as ever, the hum of nature just changing a little in frequency. I checked the GPS and it was about 19:15. With that I crept into the sleeping bag and drifted off into a deep sleep. Later on I awoke to relieve my bladder and also to put on the tracksuit pants and down jacket I had packed in. It was very cold that first night. Once warm I disappeared into the unconscious world once again. It had been a fantastic day. Tomorrow would surely be another excellent one.



Photography by: Adrian Tregoning

Words by: Adrian Tregoning.


Next article: The Doring River, Alone – Day 2