22 October last year I managed to enjoy the Witte had a super level with Corné van Daalen. But because it was raining quite hard and with the level rising we didn’t really stop and film anything except for three rapids as we didn’t want to get too high a level as the river can rise fast, so we kept paddling to try stay ahead of it. But in the end we filmed the drop above the 30m slide, the slide itself, and Double Drop, where I experienced some luck…

The run was really great, possibly one of the best times I’ve had down there. I was in the large Fluid Detox and the first time paddling the boat in some difficult whitewater. I felt a bit nervous before setting out but the boat handled really well – in fact it exceeded my expectations. It certainly punches holes better than any other boat I’ve paddled. When things are going well and you’re on line and stroking the boat is awesome. It goes where you want it to go. However if you’re a bit sleepy the edges can sometimes catch you out, but it’s definitely not an edgy boat, just a bit less forgiving than the Solo, as would be expected. Double Drop I decided to run but went too far right on the entry. The boat slid down and I landed on the lip of the second drop, and ended up doing the bottom holes sideways and through pure luck I flushed through! Lucky day for me!

The next rapid almost got me and with the rising levels I perhaps underestimated the Two Teacups rapid, still telling Corné, “don’t worry, this one is fine.” The first drop caught me out somehow and I ended up surfing the hole a bit. This is not good, as there is a 1.5m drop right after that, followed by a 20 to 30 metre slide. To make matters worse there are two siphons between the top drop and the 1.5m and I had zero intention (or choice) for a swim. I got out of my situation and bombed down. As I reached the bottom I looked back to see Corné stuck in a similar position but next the left siphon and hanging on. I think my heart stopped – I was at the bottom of the rapid and he was stuck in the middle at the top, it was bad. But within about 5 seconds he pulled himself off and got down safely. Ironically, Peter Ridgway had done the exact same thing about an hour or so before us (without us knowing at the time) paddling with another group. But he had been roped out but put the rope in his mouth, fell over and Andrew Kellett gently pulled him away from the siphon before he dropped over the next drop upside down. The rope in mouth part ended badly with a missing tooth, two or three others loose and a broken gum, something like that. A close call indeed and a horrible injury. I think Peter said soup was on the menu for a while.

Corné styled the run on every rapid but somewhere near the end we must have both been getting a bit tired on the easier rapids and let our guard down. Punching through a hole the eddy line must have gotten me and flipped me over super quickly. I felt myself being pushed into a small undercut and my paddle was hitting a rock but I was not moving. After a few seconds I managed to get upright and away from the wall and saw Corné coming past too, also upside down. Unfortunately he swam - I’m not certain what part of the rapid got him. We finished off the river without further incident and headed up. The river has risen quite a bit during our trip down and was really noticeable now as we looked down from the road. It was definitely the highest I’d paddled it at, although others have paddled it a lot higher, and I mean, a lot. We saw Andrew Kellett at the put in and he had already run the section twice and now tried to convince me for a third run as no one wanted to join him. I chickened out. Guess I forgot to have a cup of concrete that morning!

But this article isn’t about the 22nd of October, it’s about the following day. Within 7 hours (roughly quoted from Peter Ridgway) the Witte will go from full flood to a nice level where the infamous rock is just under the water. The next day the sun was shining beautifully and the rock was about 10cm out of the water. Not a perfect level, low, but still good. We had a good crew consisting of Corné van Daalen once again, Abrie Swanepoel, Johnny Heatlie and myself. It was set to be an excellent day on the river with some truly awesome people!!

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The famous rapid with the rock in the landing. Can be a tricky devil…  Witte_23_October_2010_005_E1 copy

Abrie Swanepoel – as always, smiling!!! Witte_23_October_2010_012_E1 copy

On the way up, looking back at the easier bottom section.  Witte_23_October_2010_017_E1_CR copy

Somewhere on the top section, which is super.  Witte_23_October_2010_025_E1 copy

The rock at the put in. Quite low, but it can actually be paddled even lower.  Witte_23_October_2010_026_E1 copy Witte_23_October_2010_027_E1 copy

Corné van Daalen getting whipped up on the wall rapid.  Witte_23_October_2010_031_E1 copy Witte_23_October_2010_032_E1 copy

Johnny Heatlie coming down too.  Witte_23_October_2010_037_E1_CR copy Witte_23_October_2010_038_E1_CR copy Witte_23_October_2010_039_E1_CR copy

Adrian Tregoning on the same rapid. Photos by Corné van Daalen.  Witte_23_October_2010_044_E1 copyAbrie Swanepoel also flying through. Photo by Corné van Daalen.

The day started off really well, no problems. Then Corné plugged the first 2 metre drop and dented in the nose of his kayak. This was the first of a few happenings. Several rapids passed and then we got to that rapid which is a two metre drop with the rock in the landing – someone should really name these rapids! Corné ran first, plugged this one too, pitoning hard into the bottom and got side surfed, then window shadowed and eventually once he was flushing, unfortunately swam. I couldn’t believe it. From styling almost the entire river at a much higher level the previous day his luck had now turned with much lower, easier levels. I felt bad for his sake, but let’s be honest now, it made good video footage :-)

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Johnny Heatlie enjoying the carnage…  Witte_23_October_2010_059_E1_CR copy Witte_23_October_2010_063_E1 copy Witte_23_October_2010_067_E1 copy Witte_23_October_2010_074_E1 copy

Corné van Daalen, getting the beat down.  Witte_23_October_2010_085_E1 copy Witte_23_October_2010_086_E1 copy Witte_23_October_2010_087_E1_CR copy

Adrian Tregoning coming through. Photos by Johnny Heatlie.  Witte_23_October_2010_092_E1 copy Witte_23_October_2010_094_E1 copy Witte_23_October_2010_095_E1 copyAbrie Swanepoel sneaking through too. Photos by Johnny Heatlie.

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Corné van Daalen on the rapid we call “Go Right or Die”, opposite to the infamous rapid on the Green River, USA. On the left here, are three very nasty siphons. Stay on your line. Witte_23_October_2010_122_E1 copy

Johnny Heatlie on that same rapid. The siphons go down at the top of the photo, in the middle. If you go left, it might be the last thing you do. One person has gone through already, which is quite incredible, because they’re not that big… Ugly stuff.  Witte_23_October_2010_137_E1 copy Witte_23_October_2010_139_E1 copy Witte_23_October_2010_140_E1 copy

Awesome photo sequence with Corné van Daalen at the back and Abrie Swanepoel up front, and Johnny filming on the right hand side. Nice one guys!  Witte_23_October_2010_147_E1_CR copyJohnny (left) and Adrian (right), enjoy the day! Photo by Abrie Swanepoel.

The day kept rolling by and no further problems. It was a glorious day to be outside with good mates and although the previous day had been exciting, the Witte is steep enough to always give one a challenge and is such a good river! It’s hard to describe just how good it really is, maybe the photos and video do it a little justice, probably not. We enjoyed all the rapids and just kept on and on. Double Drop was fine with no problems, the Two Teacups was quite friendly again and we did the slide part more than once for fun and then after that the river still has a few good rapids but generally eases off.

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Adrian through that same narrow slot rapid. Photos by Abrie Swanepoel.  Witte_23_October_2010_161_E1 copy

Johnny before heading down. Note the background, very typical of this river – boulder gardens all the way! Photo by Abrie Swanepoel.  Witte_23_October_2010_164_E1 copy Witte_23_October_2010_171_E1 copy Witte_23_October_2010_172_E1 copy

Johnny through the narrow slot drop. Photos by Abrie Swanepoel.  Witte_23_October_2010_190_E1 copy

Corné on the lip of Pilkingon Falls.  Witte_23_October_2010_197_E1 copy

Johnny on the entrance of Pilkington.  Witte_23_October_2010_200_E1 copy Witte_23_October_2010_203_E1 copy Witte_23_October_2010_205_E1_CR copyJohnny Heatlie running Pilkington Falls.

Near the end is a strange rapid with a very fun left boof which will try to throw you ninety degrees left, but you should go fairly straight to avoid the pocket on the left, below the boof. A small but messy boulder garden follows and a huge rock blocking most of the river, which you paddle right of. I went first to demonstrate and the others followed. The others came down and Johnny last. The boulder garden caught trapped him and Abrie went up first to assist, I think Corné was right behind him. It wasn’t anything serious and I waited at the bottom, which was only a few metres away anyway. While trying to free himself, Johnny pushed so hard with his paddle that something in his shoulder snapped! The same shoulder that had been operated on the previous year. That operation was the result of a dislocated shoulder which had happened on the very last time Johnny had paddled the Witte!!! How’s that for super bad luck? Truly horrible. They got Johnny out and managed to assist him onto the bank, he was in an enormous amount of pain. I’ve seen dislocations before and it looks like there is a lot of pain but this was something else. We attempted the fabled hold a dry bag and fill it with water trick but because of the pain it obviously didn’t work. In fact, I don’t think that method could unless it was the best circumstances - as in immediately after dislocation with not much pain and a relaxed patient, or maybe one with smaller muscles. In any case, we are not doctors so what do we know?

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Adrian… Photo by Corné van Daalen.  Witte_23_October_2010_210_E1 copy Witte_23_October_2010_221_E1_CR copy

Abrie coming down the entry and hucking Pilkington. Photos by Corné van Daalen.  Witte_23_October_2010_225_E1 copy Witte_23_October_2010_226_E1_CR copy

Adrian on Pilkington. Photos by Dr. Van Daalen.  Witte_23_October_2010_234_E1 copy

Adrian on the sketchy rapid below Pilkington – siphon city. Photo by Corné van Daalen.  Witte_23_October_2010_248_E1 copy Witte_23_October_2010_255_E1 copy

Abrie Swanepoel waxing the dangerous rapid below Pilkington. Photos by Corné van Daalen.  Witte_23_October_2010_265_E1 copy

Adrian further down. Photo by Corné van Daalen.  Witte_23_October_2010_279_E1 copy

And Abrie too. Photo by Corné van Daalen.  Witte_23_October_2010_295_E1 copy

Abrie – Double Drop. Photo by Corné van Daalen.  Witte_23_October_2010_308_E1 copy

Adrian – Double Drop. Photo by Corné van Daalen.  Witte_23_October_2010_319_E1 copy

Dr. Corné aka ‘Emris’ van Daalen down Double Drop. Witte_23_October_2010_331_E1 copy

Johnny – Double Drop.  Witte_23_October_2010_338_E1 copy

Johnny Heatlie, pinned and just after his shoulder went… Not good.  Witte_23_October_2010_339_E1 copy Witte_23_October_2010_339_E2 copy

Johnny Heatlie. The face of 100% pain.  Witte_23_October_2010_343_E1 copy

4 boats on my roof, let’s go! Witte_23_October_2010_345_E1 copyJohnny in drug land with Corné (left) and Abrie (right) giving the thumbs up!!! :-)

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We got out on the river right bank and using a throw bag we pendulumed Johnny across, carefully. Abrie and Johnny hiked up to the road, which luckily was only about a 20 minute hike and although steep, it is a lot worse in other places. Corné and I paddled our boats down to the take out and drove up on his car, as we had two cars at the take out, and one at the put in. Abrie and Johnny took Corné’s car and drove to the nearest hospital. We hiked back down and now had to paddle the other two boats down, using their paddles too. It was quite weird, both of us suddenly paddling small Solo’s with different paddles and boats outfitted for different people, but we managed. Abrie, your boat was not comfortable for me! Haha! We loaded up my car, drove to the put in, got Johnny’s, fetched some Steers (fast food – we were hungry and got Abrie some too) and went to hospital. Things weren’t looking good and he had been given the maximum dosage of some pain killer which was supposed to be top grade stuff but obviously wasn’t working as claimed. Some poor girl had snapped her ankle and was undergoing surgery just before Johnny so he had to wait. I was given the awesome job of phoning Marié, Johnny’s wife, using his cell phone. She answered, expecting her husband and I said “It’s Adrian speaking.” Immediately she got ULTRA worried and I quickly said Johnny was fine but we’re at the hospital with him! She couldn’t believe the bad luck, us neither. We left after she arrived and Johnny’s shoulder was relocated eventually once they put him to sleep. A small surgery to see inside followed at a later date, and then a full on surgery to put him back together again. His shoulder surgeries, excluding the small one to check inside, totals four. Luckily he’s on the mend and should join us on a few fun river trips later on in the season. Us kayakers, why do we do it? Only a kayaker knows the answer… Stay safe.

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