Every year I make a pilgrimage to the Dwars River. The bad tempered ugly duckling of the Western Cape of South Africa is very seldom paddled - probably because one drives right past the much better Witte River on the way there. With the Witte’s clean water and long, continuous rapids free of strainers it makes one wonder why anyone would go to the Dwars with its well known polluted water, ugly strainers, intimidating top section and water level depending, unpleasant hike out. On this particular day the Witte was too low, and Justin Abrams had flown down from Johannesburg for a few days so we had to go and paddle at least something.

Leon Pieters arrived at my house and we jumped into my car and took the long drive around. The Bainskloof pass was experiencing road works and was blocked from one side, so we drove through the tunnel and around, the long way. Here we met up with Johnny Heatlie who would make up the fourth person to our outing.

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View from the road down to the waterfall. To the left of the drop, that’s the cliff we climbed for each run. The other, more dangerous ones are further left, all the way up to the railway line.   Dwars_09_August_2010_008_E1 copy

Johnny smiling, and on the way to the river! Dwars_09_August_2010_009_E1 copy

Stopping for a shoulder change.  Dwars_09_August_2010_018_E1 copy

At the start of the tunnel. Large green Fluid Detox on the floor. The green boat standing upright is a medium Fluid Solo.  Dwars_09_August_2010_021_E1 copy

At the end of the tunnel.  Dwars_09_August_2010_022_E1 copy

Looking down at the Dwars. Too low to really paddle it.  Dwars_09_August_2010_032_E1 copy

Part of the mission in.  Dwars_09_August_2010_033_E1 copy

Hiking down a side crack to get to the river.  Dwars_09_August_2010_039_E1_CR copyJohnny approaching the lip of the waterfall before climbing out to scout. A very easy fall to run, but watch the hole on the lip if you’re a beginner. One person has done it upside down already I’m told.


The river level looked very low but the falls runnable, so we parked at the Ceres Golf Course and started hiking along the railway line. Luckily this line is no longer in service. Instead of the bushwhacking and portaging that normally ensues we decided to hike along the line until we got close enough to the river to decide whether we could run the top stretch or only the waterfall. The tunnel was interesting to walk through and it has a long bend which makes for a weird walking experience in total darkness. One just stumbles through and feels the gravel interspersed with steel under your feet and you know you’re still on the tracks. Then the fabled light at the end of the tunnel and you’re out. From here we could see how low the river was and decided this would be a waterfall only mission – which would still be good fun anyway. We found a place to lower our boats and clambered down after them, using tree roots, branches, not much skill and lot’s of luck.

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I went first, going too vertical but I’d make up for it :) Photos by Leon Pieters. Dwars_09_August_2010_055_E1 copy Dwars_09_August_2010_056_E1_CR copy Dwars_09_August_2010_057_E1_CR copy

Johnny Heatlie with his run, sweet. Photos by Leon Pieters. Dwars_09_August_2010_065_E1 copy Dwars_09_August_2010_066_E1 copy Dwars_09_August_2010_067_E1 copy Dwars_09_August_2010_069_E1 copy Dwars_09_August_2010_074_E1_CR copy

Leon Pieters stoked with his run! Very nice. Dwars_09_August_2010_078_E1 copy Dwars_09_August_2010_079_E1 copy Dwars_09_August_2010_080_E1 copy Dwars_09_August_2010_081_E1 copy Dwars_09_August_2010_082_E1 copy Dwars_09_August_2010_084_E1 copyJustin Abrams coming through easily enough too.

I decided to run first and lined up. My line was fine but as I went over I felt myself going a little too vertical. I landed quite vertical but not over, and rolled up. Ok, not the best of runs but it could have been worse. Johnny came down after me and had a sweet run. We decided to run the drop in pairs and once down, Leon and Justin would be at the top and raise our boats up with the rope, and then throw the rope back down to us while we climbed up the roughly 15m high cliff. Not exactly something I look forward to but it went off ok and was quite easy. Naturally, one slip and its going to be messy…

Next up were Leon and Justin. They were fine and no problems at all. I decided I would do my best on the next run! Climbing process reversed and we hauled their boats up. Time for another run. This time I charged out and went for the boof, but went too hard. Oh, did I mention I was paddling Fluid’s new large Detox? Well, I was, and the hull is very flat. A fantastic boat, but not ideal for boofing 8 metre, low volume drops. I realised my error and leaned well forward, the boat made the classic BOOF sound and I felt a lot of impact. All good though, except maybe a stiff neck, and luckily I was leaning forward on impact. I’ll rather break my nose than my back. Johnny came down behind me and this time disappeared for a bit before surfacing. Leon and Justin came through again with Justin taking some awesome footage with his GoPro HERO HD camera on his helmet. Once up again Leon contemplated the far left line. For ages he looked at it and we tried to convince him but eventually he just ran the normal line again. We had all had two runs, with Leon having three but decided to call it a day before the light caught us out.

Dwars_09_August_2010_097_E1 copy Dwars_09_August_2010_098_E1 copy Dwars_09_August_2010_104_E1_CR copyAdrian Tregoning boofing it. Photos by Leon Pieters.

Image1GoPro video still from footage that Justin Abrams was taking, with Leon standing taking photos.

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Johnny with his second run.  Dwars_09_August_2010_122_E1 copy Dwars_09_August_2010_123_E1 copy Dwars_09_August_2010_125_E1 copy

Leon on number 2. Dwars_09_August_2010_130_E1 copy Dwars_09_August_2010_131_E1 copy Dwars_09_August_2010_133_E1 copy

Justin on his second run, this time filming nicely.  Dwars_09_August_2010_138_E1 copyLeon doing number 3.

For our climb out we tried a new line. Hoisting boats up to the cliff, we sent our monkey man probe up, Leon Pieters. He was wearing some 5.10 canyoneering shoes and did an amazing but dangerous climb out with no ropes, except the one he was carrying to hoist our boats up. Later, Leon said that without the shoes he would never had been able to do the final bit on his own. Justin also monkied his way up to and joined Leon leaving Johnny and I at the bottom, clipping up boats while the other two hauled them out. I think Johnny dislikes heights more than me and went first, using the rope to haul himself up as the rock was wet in many places. This was actually pretty stupid stuff to be doing and we all agreed that we’d use another route next time, or at least bring a climbing harness! He had a tense moment but eventually made it up. I was next. I managed to pull myself up the rope and get up over this bulge, but damn it was super sketchy. At the final crux I could see what the problem was, it was quite tricky. Justin had helped Johnny and he was there for me too to help get me up. Jeesh, rock climbing without ropes is way scarier than paddling off small waterfalls!

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Leon halfway through the climb. No ropes, vertical.  Dwars_09_August_2010_159_E1 copy

Justin with the purple WRSI helmet giving me a hand on the final crux. Yikes. Dwars_09_August_2010_162_E1 copy

Johnny looking as relieved as me to get that climb over with. It’s quite high from here, maybe 80m or more.  Dwars_09_August_2010_165_E1 copy

Looking down at the river in the late evening before heading home. Dwars_09_August_2010_166_E1_CREL copy

Just before reaching Bainskloof pass, looking back. Dwars_09_August_2010_171_E1 copyFrom Bains looking down. Sunset on a great winters day. It was a good day!

Back up next to the railway track there was only one thing motivating us to walk back, the bar at the golf club and warm food. We hiked back and knocked back a single drink before driving home. It had been an excellent day out with an awesome group of guys and although we didn’t do much paddling, maybe 30 seconds worth or so, with about 5 or 6 hours of missioning, it was all very worth it.


Here is the video that Justin Abrams made of the trip!


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Photography by: Adrian Tregoning unless otherwise stated. 
Words by: Adrian Tregoning.