WW kayaking guide to rivers in South Africa

Beat-down Sunday

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Jeff’s rapid on the U1 of the Sabie river can dish out on the day.


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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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Sabie / Section U1 / Mpumalanga / South Africa

Sabie River – Upper Sabie (U1)

Sabie River – U1
Grading IV-
Levels / gauges Sabie @ Emmet (Inkomati)Low – 7 to 14Medium – 15 to 25High – 26 – 30

Pumping – 40

Put-in 25° 2’22.20″S ; 30°57’35.63″E (Get permission from  25° 2’30.43″S ; 30°58’7.20″E)
Take-out 25° 1’48.56″S ; 31° 1’32.31″E (Get permission from Induna Adventures)
Estimated time 4 hrs
Length 10km
Gradient 12m/km (Longish flats)
Portages Yes (2)
Hazards / Notes Logs
Fun factor 3 / 5

The U1 is the classic run.  The run starts at the take-out of the U2, alternatively you can get lower down and cut out a large part of flat water (grade 1 rapids).  Get permission for the put-in from the coffee shop across from Induna Adventures.  The put-in at Siphon falls is flat for about 3km.  The alternative put-in cuts out about 3km of flat, but you need a high clearance vehicle to get down to the river and even a 4×4 if the it is wet.

This section has changed in terms for bang for paddle time since you cut-out the section from Tanamara Bridge (now part of U2 section).  The better part of this section is the middle 3km.  The first rapid worth mentioning is similar to lock-stock-and-two-smoking-barrels.  The rapid ends just above a waterfall that you need to portage so set-up safety at the bottom of the rapid.  The rapid is easy to scout from the right and also to portage.  Get out immediate after the rapid on the right and portage past the falls.  If the water is high one can run a rocky line that drops into the pool below the portage waterfall (about 3 to 4m high).  Get in at the pool below the waterfall and run the drop below.   The drop below the portage is good to go and you can launch into the pool right at the top of the drop.

After the first portage (about 1km downstream) there is rapid marked by a weir that channels water to the left.  The weir does not stretch the whole width of river, so as you are coming down the main channel, get out on the island in the middle of the river and scout the rapid from there.  There are a couple of channels, but the common one taken is to the right of the island.  It is a fast shute that continues into a horse shoe drop.  At high levels the drop after the horse drop forms a natural weir.  It can dish out a beating if you are too relaxed.  You can easy skirt it on the sides or shoot the shallow channel on the left just before the drop.

The next portage is marked by a flat rock in centre to left of the river (about 6km in from the U2 take-out).  The river main flows to the right and forms a waterfall which lands on rocks.  At high flows the flat rock forms a large island with most of the water running right to the waterfall and some water running left to form a steep gutter run.  The main channel to the right consists of four drops in total. The first being un-runnable since it lands on rocks.  Portage down the middle and check out the last three drops.  There are lines open on all of these, but scout the second drop (below the waterfall falling onto to rocks) properly.  The last two waterfalls can be run by getting into the pool below the second drop.  The eddy surges at medium to high flows.  The line is either to the right cutting back to the centre of the run or from left to centre.

The last 3km is flat with small rapids.  Check with locals for hippos or crocs on the last 3km.  Take-out is at the confluence of the Mac-Mac, Sibaan and Sabie rivers at Induna Adventures.

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Sabie / Section U2 / Mpumalanga / South Africa

Sabie River – Upper, upper Sabie (U2)

Sabie River – U2
Grading IV+/- (V- for high flows)
Levels / gauges Sabie @ Emmet & Sabie @ Sabie (Inkomati)Low – 7 to 14Medium – 15 to 25

High – 26 – 30

Pumping – 40

Put-in 25° 3’45.73″S ; 30°54’28.27″E
Take-out 25° 2’22.20″S ; 30°57’35.63″E
Estimated time 5 hrs
Length 8.5km (7.4km)
Gradient 20m/km
Portages Yes
Hazards / Notes Logs
Fun factor 4 / 5

The U2 holds water well and is a good bet if water is low in the area.  This section can be paddled in mid winter with flows of around 5m3/s.  High flows for this section is considered 25 to 30 m3/s and things start getting a bit more interesting at flows higher than 40m3/s.

The put-in is at low level bridge next to the Sabie/Hazyview road.  The first 2km is pretty flat and an easy warm-up.  The actions starts with a slide rapid leading into a 90 degree bend to the left in the river.  All the rapids are easy to scout from your boat or jump out and have a look.  The first major obstacle is a log jammed waterfall (3m).  Best way to spot it is when the gradient starts picking up and the river gets a bit more continues in terms of bigger rapids.  When the water is up, watch out not to try and catch the eddy just above the falls since this gets smaller and pushier.  Have a look at the drop.  There are runnable lines and it all depends on whether there are logs or not.  If you portage, seal launch from the side of the rock shelve.  The rapid immediately after the portage is worth having a look at.  The line is towards the right and the shoot back to the left.  Check for logs in this rapid.

From here the section starts being worth it.  The big slide is around half way.  Run on the left or try the gutter run from right to left if the line is open.  The big slide follows into double drop which can dish on the day.  The big rapid of the section is Hugh-twice.  Best way to spot this is for a large boulder in the river (roughly 3m tall).  You can run the first two parts of the rapid and eddy out above the main section to have a look.  Two things to look out for: logs and the siphon on the right at the end of the rapid (set-up safety for this one).

After Hugh-twice there are two gutter rapids that should be scouted on lower levels (both rapids’ line are from right to left).  After the last gutter rapid you will get to a bridge.  Do not use this as take-out since the land owners get pissed-off.  The rapid after the bridge, you need to hug the right hand back.  From here you will get Jeff’s rapid and then Lock-stock-and-two-smoking-barrels.  Set-up safety at the middle pour-over, this can end up in a nasty swim.  Siphon falls has two lines.  The normal line is down the falls on the left and the other is a slide river right when the water is super high.  The take-out is either at Siphon falls or less than 1km downstream on the right.

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Sabie/ Section U3 / Mpumalanga / South Africa

Sabie River – Upper, upper, upper Sabie (U3)

Sabie River – U3
Grading IV- (V- for high flows)
Levels / gauges Sabie @ Sabie (Inkomati)Low – 5to 10Medium – 10 to 15

High – 15 to 20

Pumping – 20 and up.

Put-in 25° 4’26.10″S ; 30°51’2.97″E
Take-out 25° 3’45.73″S ; 30°54’28.27″E
Estimated time 5 hrs(can be done in 3hrs if you know the section)
Length 7.2 km
Gradient 20m/km (steeper sections with middle 4km taking up the gradient)
Portages Yes
Hazards / Notes Logs / Thick tree growth on banks
Fun factor 3.5 / 5

The U3, as it is known in SA paddling circles, is not the popular of the three upper Sabie section probably because of the portage around a waterfall.  There is some pretty good action on the stretch and can be combined with the U2 to make it worthwhile.

Access is easy and along the Sabie/Hazyview road.  Put-in at the low level bridge.  If the water is overflowing the bridge then the water is high.  Best to run this section in a group of three (because of the portage), where large groups can take a long time to portage.

First real obstacle is a weir (about 900m in).  The weir is sloped and can be run, but scout first.  Best place to portage is over the logs on river right.  After this you get to a bridge (900m).  The section to here is pretty flat except for the weir.  The gradient picks-up from here and scout/eddy hop down the rapids.  A fairly steep rapid leads into the portage rapid.  The portage starts on a sharp bend to the left.  The rapid at the bend looks runnable, but after the rapid you are boxed in by the walls and the waterfall follows.  Get out at the 90 degree bend to the left.  Scramble up the cliffs and follow the over grown path along the river.  To get back into the river, follow the river to about 100m downstream on the waterfall itself.  There is a short abseil of about 5m back into the water.  The water is shallow so don’t jump.  If you wade a bit upstream, there is a little island to regroup and have a look at the falls.

Immediately after the portage there is a runnable waterfall (6m).  The drop can be scouted from the left.  Note that the waterfall is a must run and can dish out a hiding if you are off line.

The last significant rapid is a slot rapid.  The rapid is also at a sharp bend to the left in the river.  Scout from the left.  There is a nasty undercut on the left in the last section of the rapid.  If you line-up your entry, you will breeze through the rapid.  Otherwise opt for the dodgy seal launch from the side to portage the rapid.

There are some sweet rapids on this section that can be scouted from your boat.  Most of the logs are trapped above the weir, but take care and have a look when in doubt.  The last 1km is pretty tame and flat to the low level bridge.  Take out is at the next low level bridge or carry on and do the U2.