WW kayaking guide to rivers in South Africa


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Some carnage from 2011/2012. Music by Rage Against the Machine – Bulls on parade


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Ash River / Freestate / South Africa

    As / Ash River

As / Ash River – Clarens

Grading III+ mostly (Bridge / Slide / Waterfall is IV)
Levels / gauges Ash @ outlet from Katse Dam (Upper Vaal)

Flow is fairly constant with the following guides:

10 – 20m3 is considered lower flows.

20 – 30m3 is normal flows.

30 – 40m3 is high (normally in the winter)

The lines don’t really change for the different water levels.

Put-in 28°26’22.09″S ; 28°23’51.18″E
Put-in at Bridge Rapid 28°24’54.82″S ; 28°22’30.64″E
Take-out 28°19’43.27″S ; 28°22’36.14″E
Estimated time 4-6hrs
Length 17km
Gradient 5m/km (rapids with large pools)
Portages 3
Hazards / Notes Weirs / tree / slalom gates / collapsing banks
Fun factor 3 / 5

The Ash / As River (we’ll stick with Ash) is part of the Lesotho Highlands Water Transfer Scheme to supply the mining rich rand area with water.  This means that there is generally a steady flow of water in the river.  Winter time tends to have higher flows since they use the tunnel to produce hydro electricity.  The river is pretty much runnable whole year long (except if they are doing maintenance on the infrastructure and tunnel).  This feature makes the Ash a nice fall back to have for paddlers based in the Johannesburg and even KwaZulu-Natal midlands area.  The Ash is probably known best for three things: Cold water (by SA standards), timely beatings on Fish Pond and parties in Clarens.

The description is based on the put-in from the outfall tunnel.  Get-in by shouldering your boat and taking a walk along the right of the river from the parking lot to the pool below the first set of weirs.  The first paddle will be over Boston Dam to the next weir.  This is the stepped weir and you can either portage on the left or right side.  The weir has been run from top to bottom.  The first weir is shallow at the bottom so don’t try it.  The next one can be run by launching into the turbulent pool between the two and the running down the steps.  It isn’t really common to run this and easier to just portage it all and get in at the pool below.

The first real rapid starts about 200m downstream of the stepped weir.  Everything is runnable, but lookout for fallen trees.  The banks are constantly changing and this can cause trees to fall across the river.  Normally everything is pretty open since commercial rafting takes place here and you can see a hazard from far away.  Allesverloren can be identified by slalom gates.  It is one of the longer rapids on the section and starts out with a wave entrance (surf-able, but shallow).  The next rapid is Fish Pond or Bridge-rapid (marked by the bridge passing over the river at the entrance of the rapid).  Scout the rapid from the left bank.  This rapid has given many a gumby nightmares.

From Fish Pond you will get to a weir that stretches over the whole river.  Do not run this and get out on the right or left to portage.  After the weir there are a couple of smaller rapids until you get to broken weir.  This was low water crossing, but has turned into a shallow sloping rapid which you want to stay upright for.  Following the broken weir you will get to Big Surprise (400m from broken weir).  There are lines on river left and right with the more common line on the left.

The next portage is the start of the hydro plant.  You have two options here.  See how much water is being diverted from the river to the hydro system.  Basically if the horse weir on the left is running over proper, then you have the option to portage on the left.  If it is bone dry over the weir, take out on the right and put-in after the hydro channel flows into the river again.  Watch-out for the hydro intake and keep clear of it all of the time (man-made syphon).  If the not much water was being diverted, then carry your boot on river left past the next rapid (boulder choked rapid) and get in at the pool.  (Hydro plant will be on your right).  Paddle the set of rapids that leads into a flat section.  The flat section is about 200m long and forms an S-bend. This leads into a 2m drop.  Scout the drop from the left bank.  Take note that there is a nasty undercut on river left and that a lot of water pushes into this.  If you decide to run it, make sure to set up safety and boof it.  The line centre and/or centre left.  The rapid below has a shallow hole.  Guys that portaged on the right above the hydro plant will join the river below this drop and rapid.

There are no more portages from here.  The only other note worthy rapid is the slide.  It consists of a sloped weir that leads into a long rapid filled with some nice holes.  The rapid can dish out, but likely there is a large pool at the bottom.   Carry on to the take-out where the main road crosses the river (take-out river right).

The Ash has long flat pools which is made a bit better with the constant flow and the rapids between pools.   The Ash has become a favourite in the dry winter months.  The river is also a great introduction river for intermediate paddler wanting to work on their river running skills.  Don’t miss out on the annual Ash-festival taking place in July every year.

Side note: The Ash River is under threat of damming.  Be active and post pictures / reports of people using the river for recreational paddling.  This will enable the paddling and rafting community to give better opposition and/or influence decision when it comes to the river.

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Sabie-update / Section U2 & U3 – 04/12/2012

We paddled the U3 and U2 section of the Sabie river the past weekend.  Water levels were on the low side (8cumecs), but the whole section was do-able.

There are some logs to take note of.  On the U3 there are logs after the weir to the portage and some sections after the runnable waterfall.

There are still logs in the portage on the U2, but the rapid below the portage (steep little one) is clear.  At Hugh-twice there is still logs at the top of the rapid.  We didn’t have time to clear them.  The line left around the rock to go over the boof on the left is open, however messing up the line will take you straight into the logs.

There are still logs above double-drop, but they are easy to avoid and not really in the way.

We cleared the log at Tima-moon bridge that was blocking the right line at the slide.  The log pushed you into the rock at the bottom, but now the line is open.

There were never really any big surprises with regards to logs, but keep your eyes open at higher levels.

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Bhunya Section / Usuthu / Swaziland

Usuthu River – Bhunya Section

Usuthu River – Bhunya Section
Grading +IV (V) – Grading lower if water is low.
Levels / gauges There is no sure way either than contact with guys in Swaziland.

Possibly dam level on South African Side.

Check rain prediction for area.

Put-in (at four-rapid-gorge) 26°31’57.29″S ; 30°55’39.78″E
Put-in (at slides – you can chose from here) 26°32’36.94″S ; 30°51’20.38″E
Put-in (at tributary) 26°30’2.59″S ; 30°55’2.16″E
Take-out 26°32’10.49″S ; 31° 0’23.31″E
Estimated time 4-6hrs (on proper section)
Length Four-rapid-gorge to end: 12km

Slides to four-rapid-gorge: 9km

Tributary to four-rapid-gorge: 4km

Gradient Proper : 20m/km (steeper sections with)

Slides : 21m/km (slides section steeper)

Tributary: 14m/km

Portages None (some low level bridges on the slides)
Hazards / Notes Siphons / low level bridges on the slide section
Fun factor 4.5 / 5

The Bhunya section of the Usuthu River has become a real classic when heading to Swaziland.  The section contains some solid rapids such as steep boulder gardens, slides, slots and a waterfall (4m).  Scouting will be required and you need to be a competent paddler and lead paddler if you are doing this section for the first time.  Watch for gradient and get out if you can’t see the line down the rapid.  Everything can be run if you are on the right line, but beware that there could be some serious consequences of you go off it.

For the put-in: There are three major put-in possibilities for this section.  The normal put-in is just above four-drop-gorge (more about this later).  This put-in allows for little warm-up before the action starts.  One alternative to this is to put-in on a tributary to the Usuthu (coming from the west).  This river joins the Usuthu couple of hundred meters above four-drop-gorge and gives time to warm-up.  To get to the put-in at four-drop-gorge and on the tributary you follow the MR16 in a westerly direction.  Take the gravel road on your left about 2km from the round-about at the paper mill.  Follow the dirt road and stay on the main dirt road with the river on your left.  After being on the gravel road for about 6km you will get to a split with the proper road going to the right and a more rustic track continues on: If you want to get onto the tributary you need to follow the proper dirt road.  This road will carry-on through a saddle between two hilltops.  As you cross over this, you will see the tributary.  Carry-on with this road until you get close to the river and walk down to get in (about 3km from coming over the saddle).  If you want put-in at four-drop-gorge, carry on with the rustic track at the split.  The river will be on your left.  Keep left all the way along this road for about 2km and walk down the river.

The put-in at the slides, you cross over the Usuthu at the paper mill.  Crossing the bridge, take the first proper dirt road on you right (river will be on your left).  Carry-on with this road for about 10km and finally get to a junction.  Depending on the water level (higher levels it will be possible to get in higher) you can start looking for access points with the river on your right.  To access the upper parts, take the road to the left at the junction.   The road follows the river so check and decide where you want to put-in.

The take-out is at the bridge at the paper mill.

Tributary: The section is about 4.5km long to where you join the Usuthu River.  The slope is mild and easy for a warm-up (about 10m/km).  This alternative put-in a great if you are paddling with a group of different skill levels and you still need to suss things out.  You can get the weaker guys to get-out at four-drop-gorge, if you have a driver.

Slides:  For the slides to work you need a lot of water.  The more the better and it is likely that you will portage four-drop-gorge due to the high level.  The slides are easy to scout and you can actually do this as a separate section to the proper Bhunya Section.  Either scout on your way up to the put-in or while paddling down.  You can take-out where the road (on the right side facing downstream) gets close to the river – after four-rapid-gorge.

Bhunya section proper:  The description for this section starts just above four-rapid-gorge.  Four-rapid-gorge is pretty easy to spot.  The gradients picks-up and the river forms one channel.  There is a lead-in rapid of class II/III right above the gorge.  If you do not know the run or haven’t been down here for some time, get out on the left to scout/portage.  The gorge consists of four rapids.  The first is a steep boulder garden type rapid with some ledges, siphons (exposed at low water) and undercuts.  The typical line is to boof the first two drops entering centre left to centre right, but the line will change with water levels.  The next rapid is a slot.  At high levels it can dish out a beating so have a look before you run it.  Best to scout this rapid from the right-hand side bank.  The two last rapids can join into one rapid at high levels (the pool gets shorter and pushier between them).  The third rapid is a slide with the typical line centre to exit left.  The last rapid is a drop of about 2.5m.  A rock island splits the flow (more at higher flows) and the drop on the left forms an L-shape with the cliff on the left.  Good news is that there is not a undercut along the left wall.  Bad news is that it can get messy if you stuff up your boof.  Low level line will be straight over the middle of the drop.  At higher levels you can go for a line along the leg of the L on the right and then boof in at the end, or take the slide on the right of the rock splitting the flow. The best is to scout this one together with the slide before on the left bank.

The character of the river is short steep sections with longer easy sections in between.  All the rapids are runable; however you will need to scout some of the steeper ones.  After about 2km from the four-rapid-gorge, the river will widen out and start to channel.  Look for where the most water is going.  You are likely to start out right and gradually move to the left.  This section is about 2km long, after which the river narrows again.

There is a tricky rapid at the 6km mark (down from four-rapid-gorge).   It is steep and at low water can be tricky and nasty if you miss your line.  At higher levels a pour over forms in the middle of the rapid.  You will spot it since there is a significant increase in gradient.   Most of the water flows right and seems to flow directly into a cliff wall.  You can either scout this one from the left or right.  Important – the rapid after this has a siphon directly in the main line.  It starts out nice and easy with some slides, but feed directly towards the siphon.  Scout from the left.  The siphon is about halfway down the rapid.

From the siphon rapid, carry on for another 2.5km until you get to a weir (close to the left bank).  The weir is runable, but scout your line downstream from the weir.  The section below the weir can get manky at low water.  About 2km from here you will get to Bhunya falls.  Get out above the falls and scout.  The line is fairly easy, but check at higher levels that you will be able to get past the rock at the bottom of the falls when you exit the pool.  An alternative line is the slide on river right (fast as).  The section from the falls to the take-out bridge is great.  Scout the rapid below the falls from river left.  The next rapid (you can see it from the bridge) is a weir with a line far on the left side.  This leads into the last rapid.  At higher levels there might be some holes, but it is fairly clean with a big pool at the bottom.  Take out on river right below the bridge and scramble up the rocks to the road.

The last section from the falls to the bridge can also be done as a short section and great for spectators.

Best way to know if this section is working: Check latest rainfall, confirm with the local guys in Swazi.  If you are heading to Swaziland you would have done some confirmation of water levels.  If everything is pumping high, either head way up the slides on this section or head for some big volume runs on the commercial section.

Bazooka test paddle

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So I got my hands on a medium Bazooka, the new creek boat from Fluid kayaks. Decided to take it along to the lowveld and paddle the U3/U2 of the Sabie and huck the Elands drops (Dante’s). Will put together a short review of the boat in the next two weeks.

For Dante’s drop. The video shows the lines on a low side of medium level. Note that the set-up of safety below the second drop is super difficult. The water pushes you to the left, but there is an off chances that you can end up on the right. There is a huge cave behind the falls and paddling past the boils can be tricky. You will probably need a safety from the top on the right and then a boat in the water.