The Pure Orange Expedition Summary
12 January - 17 April 2009
Solo, source to sea traverse, photo and film expedition, documenting landscapes and current timeline of the Orange River of Southern Africa by Rob Wilson.
Upper Orange - Letsa´ la Senqu to Aliwal North
Distance - 0 to 736km ( 736km )
Elevation - 2917m to 1298m ( 1619m )
19 days ( 1 hiking / 1 rest / 17 paddling )
Middle Orange - Aliwal North to Upington
Distance - 736 to 1691km ( 955km )
Elevation - 1298m to 795m ( 503m )
26 days ( 4 rest / 22 paddling )
Lower Orange - Upington to Alexander Bay
Distance - 1691 to 2461km ( 770km )
Elevation - 795m to 0m ( 795m )
51 days ( 16 stop for high H20 / 1 rest / 34 paddling )
The source in the Drakensberg Mountains at an altitude above 9500 feet was the setting for the start of a 2400km + journey to the chilly Atlantic ocean. The first 40km´s were hiked along the river bank due to very little water. The rural landscape of Lesotho with little infrastructure and peaceful people was a calming influence for the first weeks on the water, even with the low water levels.
The Orange River watershed drains approx. 77% of Southern Africa´s land area and combined with the expected annual highveld thunderstorms, water levels went up soon after departing Lesotho, making distance and progress a realistic formality. But, by the time on reaching Upington, the only city on the banks of the Orange River, progress was delayed to water levels reaching 900+ cumecs. The most technical sections of the river lie for a few hundred kilometers below which includes the river near Kakamas and Keimoes reaching across to 4.5 km in width and the Augrabies Falls and its 18km, class 5+ gorge.
Joined by Ine Skjørten and Brett Pomario at Blouputs for 2 weeks was a welcome addition to solo life. A good time to talk and express.
The last few hundred clicks was a blur of extreme heat, barren landscapes and the odd association with moving life in the Richtersveld desert.
Whilst wading through the ankle deep mud to the beach, the sight of flamingoes at the estuary mouth were the cherry on the cake to a personal 96 day journey of simple & pure accomplishment.
All images, copyright of Rob Wilson, Ine Skjørten Wilson & Elizabeth Wilson / PLANET RIVER
The Pure Orange Expedition Journal
Anticipation 7 January 2009
Party is over kids ! The annual 1 week reunion with friends, family and "bubbly and beer" has come to its end . Am sure you all had a good 1 .
This is the first instalment of my updates for the PURE ORANGE expedition . Once on river I will be sending updates on adventures to my mom , Elizabeth , who will then update my website and drop you all a mail to let you know.
A 32hr marathon mission a few weeks back with a friend resulted in a 200m chunk of rope being stashed at a particularly impressive waterfall. On the return drive i had this great feeling of “ GAME ON ! “ . Nice 1 for spotting the descent-line, Brett.
A shepherd, his dog, 5 cows, a lamb and 2 donkeys 10 January 2009
Molumong Lodge is where I am at. A 1423km drive from Cape Town over the last few days has landed me at base-camp where I have just spent a relaxing weekend with my family at the Lodge.
They depart in 2 hours ... whew! Which leaves me sad, but also happy to get my journey finally under way!
The current plan is to depart tomorrow on an unknown drive upriver to where the first road crosses the Senqu. (Note - Which has happened courtesy of information from Derek Alberts, owner of Molumong Lodge) I will have to stash the majority of my equipment with someone in one of the villages. I will then ascend the first ±40 kms of the Senqu with my guide, Jakob. He reckons 2 to 3 days hike. The first section of the river is unnavigable by boat due to its small size and low volume.
Water levels are looking good, with daily thunder showers to replenish.
Looking north up the Senqu valley yesterday while taking in the view from a nearby hill, Ine and i were approached by a shepherd, his dog, 5 cows, a lamb and 2 donkeys. The language barriers provided us with little else to do but greet each other with a smile, followed by a minute or two of comfortable silence as we all gazed at the rolling hills. We all then made eye contact and burst out laughing. Shortly after he waved us goodbye and continued on his way to the village below.
I feel very comfortable and happy already here in Lesotho. The planning and preparation is over - I cannot wait ‘til tomorrow.
A big hug and thank you to my Mom and Dad for 2 many things to list, and doings and support; Ine for making a long journey from Norway to be here for the last week; Jean and Simon for making the trek from Joburg to be here the last two days; Brett, for the last 6 weeks; and to all who have supported me thus far. I hope that you enjoy the updates.
Coffin Monday 12 January 2009
I share a room with Jakob who is having a buttered roll with the pot of supper he has cooked. Oops, just can’t stomach the thought of food, maybe I will get into it
We arrived in the village a few hours back after a pretty long day. Derek Alberts was my chauffeur to Orange River Waypoint no. 6 (thank you, your knowledge of the region and the time you took out to get me up here is super appreciated). A solid 4x4 experience - it rained and the road was literally fucked! The plan had been to drive up to the village of Blood Berg but the Senqu was flooding and no way to cross with the vehicle
Jakob and I waded across and ferried the gear to the other side, walking up the hill to Orange River Hoek where we hired 2 mules - and their owners - to carry the gear. Two young men volunteered to carry the kayak for 50 bucks each.
3 hours later, we arrived in Thoteng, dropped down, had a smoke.
I quickly repacked and left the kayak and 90% of my gear with the village chief. Jakob and I headed north up the Senqu valley, walking for another three hours until I called ‘qame over’ for the day.
Jakob has just told me of an incident that happened during the day: There was apparently concern in one of the villages that we passed - they thought there was a funeral on the go - that my boat was a coffin, and that I was the gravedigger, from the way that I was carrying my paddle!
The Source 13 January 2009
Three o’clock, wake up to round up some horses and depart 5am. Arrived at source at 4pm and returned to our previous night’s camp site at 7.30pm
At a small village, Tebelong, saw an old Toyota. After my walk up to the source, was clear this was the furthest any vehicle had been. How it even got here is amazing in itself. It sits guarding the front porch of a house, and is the hang out spot for the village chickens.
My hands and knees are killing me right now what with the horse ride and river crossings, hugging steep contours, trying to keep up with Jakob and our horse-rental guide!
Had a few moments on the way up and down with thoughts of running the top section. However, the weight of my boat and gear definitely has its drawbacks.
Perhaps I will return some day with a light boat - start a few clicks down from the source. It will need a lot of rain but could be a wicked class 5 section of endless white water ... one day!!
The source itself is hard to explain - hundreds of little rivulets pouring out of the side of the mountain. The mist rolled in, so was hard to capture images of the area.
I am on my way!
How many things? 14 January 2009
3am: Alarm bells hit the head - toilet paper, buckets - open both ends!
5am: Get up feeling weak. Where’s the nearest GP?
6am: Pass Ha Seromo, our last two night’s accommodation. But, still another 1½ hours walk back to Thoteng - kills me......
7.30am: A concoction of medicine - Voltaren tabs, for lower back; big green tablets to control vomiting and diarrhoea; and a Reuterii tab to get the good bacteria back in again!
8.30-11.30am: Eyeballed by the Thoteng village during repack to get back on the river.
Midday: Finally.......on water!
2pm: Met two guys at river crossing where Derek dropped Jakob and me off. One asked if he could borrow my river knife to fix his car. After 15 minutes of hacking at plastic - the car started!
4pm: Found a camp next to flowing water, not too high up - although close to water level. Going to go and tie up boat while I think about it!!
7pm: Blackened new pot. Haha! 1599 kroner and titanium pots are just like any other pots!
9pm: Writing this update and checking out the map for tomorrow.
Dogs and fishes 15 January 2009
Started getting into some kind of a routine.Got so many dry bags and have to get them into some kind of order.Got off a little later than I wanted ... but all good.
Got chased by 2 dogs today after surprising 3 boys fishing in the river. Dogs jumped in the water and swam after me for two bends!
I was paddling like a muthafucka to get away from them - adrenalin deluxe!
River dropped last night but still continual moving water all day. Had to keep an eye out for the sand banks and am well aware that we need some more rain or it could be a drag - no kidding!
Got a few bites on my first fishing excursion using grasshoppers. The local guy whom I helped take his hook off the rocks was using crab meat. The water is clearer now with no rain. Small trout are for the taking!
Beautiful weather for paddling.
I have been catching people by surprise. Some kids run to me and some run away. Even the horses and cows check me out as I go all the way past.
It threatened with rain earlier but turned into a beautiful red sky night - shepherd’s delight!
Floating Camera 21 January 2009
I am 15 foot above the water line on a sandy beach, camped out under a rock overhang, almost a cave. The weather has been threatening. It rained around me this evening - good for the creeks. Water coming out of every creek and side stream - each one just a little - but in total plenty of water around.
For a change, there is no wind and I am sitting outside. I have a Ziploc candlelight going that the moths are loving - and then hating!
Did another good 40 clicks today - am well happy. Woke up this morning battling for motivation. Thanks to the river and its steady flow, motivation returned. Got stuck again two or three times on sand banks, but dragging back to the channel was never too far.
Boys fishing on the banks had groovy gum boots with chains on to rattle and dance with - must be cool at their age.
People around are still wearing blankets, although I am starting to see more westernised attire along the way. Kids still run and chase me (sometimes for a kilometre or more) or beckon for me to stop. If I had to stop for everyone, I would still be 100kms upriver! Feel awkward about this sometimes but I’ve also got to keep moving. A wave and a smile is normally enough.
I am impressed with my waterproof camera housing after its first swim - down the biggest rapid so far. Huge relief that the camera is fine - although my heart did stop a couple of times - but it floated beautifully. Looking forward to seeing the footage.
I was acting quite cool above the rapid - haha!!
Camp 9 22 January 2009
I hear men and women singing in the distance - makes me think that I will be hearing and seeing more people now as I go along.
The river was busy today with several ferry points and weirs. The A3 road ran close to the river on the second half of the day’s trip.
Gone are the blanketed people of the Lesotho HIghlands, the western culture is more evident: in the clothes; brick houses with tin roofs; and a different lifestyle. Upriver, cultivation and herding are priorities. Other kinds of business flourish here. At Thabana Tsoana, shiny cars that run on the tarred A3 are parked outside the shop.
A delivery truck reverses up to the ferry boat delivering medical supplies - to be ferried across to a waiting Landcruiser with Tebellong Hospital emblazoned on its side.
The ferries are government boats leased to individual owners - a great system.
The wind howled this afternoon; a storm in the north sucking fresh air into itself. Got the edge of the storm, and had rain for about 45 minutes.
First rapid for the day - got out and scouted around - got the ticker going for sure - it was siphon city, but a pretty clear run on the right. Bit later, also ran a super cool weir down the fish chute in the middle - had two guests in my boat today!
Moved out of the awesome canyon I was in last night to rolling green hills flanked by peaks in the background.
Am thinking may make it to the confluence of the Senqunyane tomorrow, Paddled from 08h00 to six thirty pm today.
Camp 10 23 January 2009
Haha! - did not make it to the confluence of the Senquyane today - ended up being a short one distance-wise.
Left camp at about ten. First section was flowing flat pools with funky rapids and then into the canyon - steep walls. Decided to have some lunch and get some fresh water pumped in from the entrance of a creek flowing into river.
Back onto the river. Was busy filming while passing giant boulders, when all of a sudden the river closed down and disappeared under a giant rockfall. A quick scurry to the nearest eddy - phew! ... and then an hour and a half portage over a boulder garden!
The boat is a pig to carry - it was my first portage thus far.
A bit later on there were people fishing at a ferry crossing. Watching a guy swimming his horse across. He yelled and shouted and threw rocks at it to get it to make it across.
Heavier bush and now, thorn trees along the river. The hill sides look alive with the movement of the beautiful lush green grass.
Windy night tonight.
Today was a sharp reminder of taking things one day at a time - plans can change quickly!
Quthing Monday 26 January 2009
I began my journey well stocked with food and provisions. Creeks with pure water kept me hydrated and i had rarely ventured out of the river valley. But it was time to charge all batteries, get some fresh food , make coms and take some time off the water. The town of Mt. Moorosi was my planned choice to get all these things done. I arrived at a ferry crossing and met a man by the name of Willy - the official ferry oarsman. He spoke excellent English and after a chat and looking at maps he suggested I rather go to the town of Quthing.
A great town to get things done. I even found an ATM at the top of town to draw some needed cash with my plastic. The 4+1 taxi is the way to get around; the A-Z cafe is where I grazed two steaks (not too sure what animal they came from), but they tasted outta this world.
I had now moved into a western-influenced town. Gone were the blanket and gum boot subsistence folk. In was snappy dressing, cell phones glued to ears, businesses wheeling and dealing. There’s a lot of competition between businesses. I left there having a good laugh at the music competition: every store/shop/street vendor has some kind of stereo and speakers, everyone competing for big sound. Well, they got it right, the sound is big . Volume buttons and knobs were all maxed and cranked to just past their intended cut-off levels - speakers shaking and vibrating themselves to early retirement . I am not too sure if it was just me at having being out so long in only nature’s sound, but I got blown right outta town by the sound.
A reminder - there is another world out there with people doing their stuff - to not get too caught up in my own little Orange River world .
Flood warning 29 January 2009
January 29th I woke up to a stunning sunny morning, got up at about 4 am, after spending 2 days tent-bound. Passing storms would go on for 2 to 3 hours then break off for ten to thirty minutes. Then the next thunderheads would roll over and do their thing all over again. I slept and ate a lot during those storms - it was a good unplanned rest and refuel of the body.
I got off to good start - paddled about 5 kms to the confluence of the Telle and Orange rivers where the border crossing between south-west Lesotho and the Eastern Cape province of South Africa is about 3 kms up the Telle river. Did a quick scout up the shoreline and it looked good to go, there was just enuff H20 to drag/haul my kayak and gear upriver and even paddle a few hundred metres in some deeper water. Arrived at the Telle border crossing at about 09h30. 1 of the easiest crossings I ever did at an international border. Stamp out ... walk across bridge ... stamp in.
The gentlemen on the RSA side did have to have a quick discussion - I was a unique case of border travel. I think they thought it would be cool to do something new and could find no reason why I should not cross. Officials from both countries stood on the Telle river bridge river to wave me off .
I paddled about 3 km's down river of the Telle River confluence, stopped to eat a tin of tomato sardines and a half loaf white bread, and also to make coms with family as I could see a cellphone tower a couple 100 metres away in the town of Palmietfontein.
I am about 5 mins away from getting back on H20 when I get a text from my sister: FLOOD WARNINGS. I take a mental note and get on the water - a good flowing section for 2 to 3 hours - then the river starts slowing down into a long pool. I think to myself: ‘Is this where the flat water begins?’ I arrive at the end of the pool and i see why the flow lost its speed . The confluence of the Cornet Spruit on river right is a crazy, manic, wild, turbulent flood of mud, water, freshly uprooted trees, plastic bottles, cans, aerosol balls, exploding waves, sand banks breaking off, farm fertiliser, sheep and goat faeces. You name it, it was coming down the Cornet Spruit.
Jean, you were bang on the money, sister.
The Orange had lost its flow for a short section due to getting dammed by the bigger flow running in across at a 90 degree angle. I found camp shortly after - time to get off the river and re-evaluate what’s coming up. The river rose another 3 feet overnight .
A challenge 30 January 2009
It started off with a well-executed run down a weir 200m after camp the next morning. The weir was ugly and burly huge, but a wide entrance tongue on far river left rocketed me down a steep chute through 2 exploding waves.
I had woken up with renewed purpose and a new project - to keep moving with the flood - but in a cautious and smart frame of mind. Rivers in flood are generally accepted as no-go zones - the margins for correcting error become exponentially narrower. Going solo in flood would be regarded as outright stupidity by many folk. I agree and disagree . I am a kayaker who enjoys a new river experience - its what puts my skills and abilities to the test, concentration levels are performing at peak and there is an attainable goal ahead. I have to accept my confidence in myself, not second guess my strengths, and trust and believe 100 percent in my ability and equipment.
Big brown chocolate conveyor belt 1 February 2009
I travelled for approx. 300 kms on the swollen river. It dropped a little each day but has been absolutely fantastic.
I have seen giant whirlpools with dark chocolate in the centre eye; 10 feet-high creamy sand banks collapsing into the river; trees careering into caramel and tan rapids and then disappearing; choc milkshake foam piling up in the eddies; and deep downwellings and upwellings of cocoa.
It has its negatives for sure: all my gear was covered in layers and layers of dried silt, it got everywhere. The daily search for fresh water becomes a priority. The dropping river leaves a deep layer of fine sediment on shore and camping becomes a muddy knee-deep experience.
Garbage is highly visible and is a reminder of the world outside and its ugly side - a topic I feel strongly about, but am unable to see an early solution in the 3rd world.
I travelled through an aloe-studded Glen Canyon - a section I ran about 9/10 years ago on a commercial trip over 5 days. This time I did the section in a day, speeding down the crazy river, hardly recognising anything except the surrounding countryside. There were 2 pushy rapids but the rest was totally washed out. I managed a day of 60 km.
The following day I comfortably travelled 83km with the steady push of the larger-than-life river, destination Aliwal North. After a resupply, T-bone steak and 2 ice-cold Black Labels at the Riverside Lodge, it was back to the river.
At first commercial farms were in view, then into an area of nature reserves and conservation. Eland, bushbuck, springbok, hartebeest and wildebeest are the spectators. Although they don’t generally stand and stare like the domesticated animals. Filming and photographing them has been hard when moving quickly down the 100 to 200m wide river. They spot me from miles away - the 4m long bright yellow boat sticks out - and because they are wild they move off ... before things become problematic for them.
One animal i did not want to see was a Cape Buffalo - they are listed in Africa’s Big 5 for a reason! I am well happy no encounters.
A great game to play whilst floatin’ the Big Brown Chocolate Conveyor Belt through the flats on a flooded river is Water Golf Frisbee - there is no short supply of plastic bucket lids - I found hundreds of them. Targets are: floating trees -10 points; drinks bottles - 20 points. 100 points for plastic on plastic e.g. another bucket lid; subtract 5 points for every miss on selected targets. I never got over 20 points ... but the world record has been set ... beat it if you can.
Big flat H2o 5 February 2009
The Big Brown Chocolate Conveyor Belt spat me into the Gariep Dam - South Africa's largest inland water mass.
It was an eventful 2 days crossing the 37 year-old man-made dam.
The first 10kms still have current, and several gaps I travelled through also had moving water. The lake is currently just over 70 percent full - the rocky shoreline with tons of driftwood scattered along its shores shows the evident high-water mark as about 10 foot higher than current water level.
Ants are everywhere - charging around over the scorched rocky shorelines and islands. Huge flocks of Egyptian and the larger spurwing geese rise into the air on my arrival near their nesting areas along shore. Parents of youngsters try to lure you away with that fake broken wing trick of theirs, flapping along the surface as though in distress to distract you from their nests. Islands of goliath heron nests with pale blue eggs, catfish rising to the surface poking out their flat bony heads to get some fresh air ... or look around or whatever they do. The heat and shimmer off the large water surface with its high evaporation rate, gives a hot sticky humid air about the place.
I stayed at 2 campsites along the way - Oviston and here at the Gariep dam wall. Great to have some hot showers and facilities to clean up my silt-laden gear and body. I have also been fortunate to have my parents come visit me here for 3 days. Got some great goodies to add to my food supply, caught up with the world via internet and had a few cold ones to remind me of the great taste of beer.
A lake this large also has its dangers. Surrounded by a hot semi-desert area with strong winds, and high evaporation in these summer months, the length of the dam creates a huge fetch as the heat rises during the day, the wind picks up speed and by late afternoon the waves are 2 metres high with winds at gale force, followed by lightning storms with hail and heavy rain. It can turn a trip on the lake into a nightmare. It is essential to get your paddling done by early afternoon.
On my paddle from Oviston to the wall I headed out westward to a group of islands. I stopped here to have breakfast and take a rest after an early 12 km paddle. Debating over the map to take a short cut through the islands or follow the original river around the islands, I chose the latter as it was only going to be about 2 kms extra. About 15 mins after I left the island, heard a sound ... unnatural ... stopped paddling and had a look around. By pure chance noticed movement on a spit of land about 5 to 6 hundred metres north of me.
Slowly paddling closer saw 2 people ... 1 sitting, the other waving something frantically. I arrived to find a couple who looked like they had slept there last night ... they had ... and it had not been planned . They had been fishing the previous afternoon in their 18 footer with 35hp outboard and had decided to head back to Oviston when the wind started picking up. Turns out that the weather changed rapidly and they decided to gun it back in the huge swell. The man told me it took 3 waves - the boat was totally flooded, floated for about an hour as they hung onto it ... then sank.
They swam for 3 hours in the dark to get to shore and hugged each other all night to keep out the cold. I brought out the breakfast again and we all tucked in - strong bittersweet tea did the trick for sure and a few biscuits with peanut butter added to the little light-hearted jokes of being in serious danger the night before. I can’t even begin to imagine what they went through.
A quick call to my mom (gotta love cell-phone reception at a time like this) to get some contact numbers and we had a boat there within an hour to pick them up. Fortunately it was a beautiful calm day, so I headed over to the nearest island and chilled out for an hour with some fishing to steady the mind.
An awesome tailwind for the last 5 kms sailed me into the Forever Resort’s sheltered bay ... where I watched a fresh storm start building out over the Gariep Dam .
Am currently at the 910 km mark and I cannot wait to get out on the water and get right into a fairly lengthy portage around the 100m-high wall first thing Monday morning.
Bring it on ! ....... 1 paddle-stroke at a time, 1 hour at a time and 1 day at a time ... some interesting challenges ahead, but lets talk about them ... when they get done .
Valentines Day 14 February 2009
It was good to wake up and hear raindrops on the tent - I thought I would sleep in and take the day off - but by nine o’clock the sun came out in its full glory and blasted me out of the tent. Yeah!!
Hung out all my gear to dry and checked water level. I still had some water above normal flow so decided to get going - I wanted to stop off in Orania to check out the town and then move on.
I ended up paddling past the town because of the dense vegetation on river left and decided to just keep going. I ran a weir in the fish chute and a good rapid just below, and on for about another two kilometres when I noticed a camp site. Made a quick decision to stop and check it out .
Walking up the grass bank, I met two guys going fishing - Wally and Gerald. Anyways, they said the town was not far off. I jumped on the back of Wally’s scooter to the grocery store and then he gave me the full tour of the town - it was awesome.
He rode ... I shot photo and video on the move: what a pleasant little town. Corn, koring and pecan nuts are the crops, sheep and cattle the livestock.
It has received bad press due to the nature of its ‘whites only’ inhabitants. But, if it suits them ... then, well, let them be. I only met friendly helpful folk.
Bridges and rapids 15 February 2009
Great day on my mom’s birthday - had a chat with her on the river just after departing.
Made a good distance - approximately 50 to 60 kilometres. Great flow all day - river was up in the morning after the rains and was back to its usual orange/brown colour after the turquoise green release of the Vanderkloof Dam.
Noted that the names on river right hand are in English and names on river left shore in Afrikaans.
Went under four or five bridges today. Secured the camera in its waterproof housing on bow and look forward to seeing footage of several good Class 3 rapids. Yeah!
Finally moved into dry weather after the last two weeks of storms ... rain, thunder and lightning. I could have paddled for ever today - amazing how rapids and good flow get the motivation going.
Bird life was incredible ... bee eaters all along the shore ... and I even saw two owls at dusk.
I went further than planned - when the going is good ... go with it! Boat handling in bigger water is tricky - got to keep the momentum otherwise boat stalls and loses control easily. I have a lot of food supplies with me, which also slows me down.
Looking at maps this evening, gets me excited for the next two days ... could be a sweet ride.
‘Take it easy’ - the song in my head today. I had paddled from eight thirty this morning until 6p.m. I am freaking knackered but happy knackered - will sleep like an angel. Mom - love you and happy birthday!!
No rain, no bites! 16 February 2009
Departed the ant crazy camp at about 08h30 - heavy dew on the tent. Freaking ants everywhere - crawling all over me while I was waiting for the tent to dry.
Yeah! Awesome boating day. Rapids all the way - a few slower pools, but always the rapids to get you going again. The biggest rapid run so far - an entry curling wave in to a boiling drop and then through a tight gap, which would have destroyed my boat if I had gone through sideways. I gave a big air punch on exit !!
Most of the river flowed through black calm water and stone and eroded basalt - potholes with smooth pebbles. The surrounding land is harsh and dry - little shade, with hot, hot sandy beaches. The landscape has also flattened out - wide views of the horizon.
There is evidence on a sandy beach of commercial river trips. I saw a zebra briefly and four hartebeest.
I have entered an area of heavy commercial farming. It sounds as if they are still busy now at night; I can hear trucks tipping rocks and the beeping of reversing vehicles, but it could also be a diamond mine. I had passed what looked like a mine at Kameeldrif, which was an ugly sight after being in the wilderness.
I cooked early this evening and tried to catch some fish with peas from the tin, but they were too soft and just fell off the hook. I then used some of the Woolies biltong my mom had brought to Gariep. Still caught nothing but it was a fun evening.
Have set a night line and will check later ...
Wild west town 17 February 2009
I am camped on a river bend just above a weir and opposite the pump house to Douglas.
It was a cooker today - 37° - I am expecting a lot more of that over the next two weeks - in fact, all the way to the end.
This is the area known as Bo Karoo (upper Karoo). ‘Dis mos mielies’ was the sign on the road to Douglas. Mielies, koring, watermelons, pumpkins are the crops on the land.
I had paddled from eight thirty to midday and then hummed and ha’ed whether to go into Douglas. It was worth it - I had just climbed onto the bridge, stuck my thumb out ... the first car stopped. Double happy!
The driver dropped me at a place where I bought a new fishing rod. Coming out, I heard lots of shouting and noise. Just down the road was a stadium with a schools athletic event - midday, 37°! Unbelievable, running a 400 or 800 metres in this heat - guess it’s what you are used to!
Douglas is situated between, and supports the farms on the confluence of the Vaal and Orange rivers. A wild west town of note!
I had a chicken mayo sarnie at the Saloon pub/restaurant. ‘Cow girls are forever’ was one of the posters on the wall. Yeah - I liked it a lot!!
I would like to say thanks to Tebogo of the South African Police Force who gave me a lift back to the bridge after I had walked for two hours in the heat. I just walked out into the middle of the highway - there was the cop van - yeah, it stopped.
This evening, I celebrated the halfway point of my trip with two peanut butter and honey sandwiches and 3 beers ... a bag of liquorice allsorts for dessert.
Vaal confluence 18 February 2009
I got to the confluence at 10 this morning - no wind and the humidity is super high with random storms around, 36°. A great cloudy morning keeping the sun off the body but all to clear later.
I had a good river with a weir and rapids at the start of the day. The pool headed north into the confluence was long with a big swell and waves ahead.
At the basic camp site on the confluence, I met a fellow named Isak - we shared a few cigarettes while I chilled for half an hour and took photos and video. The river then headed south and I floated on the swell for an hour without making a stroke. The Vaal River was coming up with lots of weeds and debris.
I got stung twice by a hornet as I headed up a kloof looking for a shady spot for lunch. Got a text message from my sister, Jean, that the Gariep was now at 103%, and overflowing, so expected to get some of that overflow in the next couple of days.
The river level was great ... high, but not too pushy and I looked for flat stretches to keep me moving.
Have camped high for the night as I don’t know how much water is going to come down from the Vaal/Orange. Also, an early dinner as I can see a storm building up around, though no rain yet.
Fireflies are attracted to the red light of my headlight - they waltz over the tent, following as I move my head working.
Chased by atom bomb storms 19 February 2009
A shower of rain at five and I thought I would be taking the day off, but it stopped soon after and I was on the water by eight.
Beautiful fun section through Vaalkrans. Huge flocks, 200 plus, of Egyptian and spurwing geese along the way.
Long, long flat pools after Vaalkrans ... 5,6,7 kilometres long ... making me wonder sometimes: ‘What the fuck am I doing here?’ A part of the journey that has given me good workouts, opportunity to check out the scenery and also time for lots of thinking ... thinking about what I want to do with the rest of my life ... thinking about what to do with all this writing, photos and video.
Whenever, I get too pensive on these sections, I remind myself: I am the paddling machine - Yeah!!
I travelled much further than I expected - there is a good flow, even in the flood and I am really fortunate to have these water levels. It would be murder with low water, I think. The cloudy weather was also great again today - temperature in the low thirties.
I watched a storm build up behind me until it grew to Hiroshima proportions, racing ahead of it to get to camp. 15 minute mad dash to set up camp and just sat down for tea when it came pouring down. Lucky again!
Big diamond mine on river right, with a sign: ‘Environmentally friendly zone’. Yeah, whatever, the place still looked like Beirut.
Another, hot sticky evening after the storms - the humidity levels are cranked up high. While making dinner caught two yellowfish with my wonder bait that I bought in Douglas.
Storm chaser 20 February 2009
Started off the day relatively slow to let gear dry. Water level was up a few inches. The day was all flat water except for Class 1 rapids on the bends, and huge reed channels.
Was amazingly lucky and fortunate through three storms - the first at eleven o’clock - it was just ahead of me, so decided to have an early lunch and see which way it was headed. Down river it went - whew!
I had even considered setting up camp for the rest of the day, but now was time to go. The second incident was a weave through two storms - lightning was close - but I took the gap, and made it.
Number 3 ... at about 4p.m. I spoke to two farmhands who said this was a big one coming, but without thinking about it too much I decided to go for Prieska - I knew I had water, food and about four and a half hours of light - it would be an awesome push after already seven hours on the water. The monster thrust behind me all the way .... I made it!! I found out later that it dropped between 75 to 105 mm water - a record rainfall since 1986!
The pink-sky approach to Prieska was an unbelievable end to a big session on this grand Orange River.
I will be here for a few days to rest, resupply and chill for the weekend. But, I am already looking forward to getting back on the river.
Lekker way to end the day ... steak and a few Black Labels at the Riverside Restaurant.
Orange View - camp 35 23 February 2009
Woke up early with the dawn of a new adventure day. Had some things to do before departing Prieska: a photo mission at the church and the 1900 British fort on the hill overlooking town. Was pretty sad to see the state of the fort and surrounds - litter that’s been there a long time .
On my way back through town to get fruit and veg, looked for some flip-flops because the african heat has won again and turned my 100 dollar river sandals into 4 pieces. They don’t wear flip-flops in Prieska , but you can get ‘crocs’ - In any design and colour.
WARNING !!! ‘Crocs’ are part of a worldwide domination conspiracy to get us humans to all do the same thing, these are the 1st subtle stages of the clone process........... be vigilant, be smart and be uncool and dont wear this excuse for a shoe!
Anyways, headed back to my campsite to meet Marcel the ‘bird-man’. He gave me a ride down to the river to launch, told me all about his breeding of an Amazonian species and selling them in Dubai. I asked if those were the same birds which woke me each morning. We had a good laugh at that.
Took it easy on the water today, stopping twice to let storms go by. Had lunch at a farmers water pump and played the wave game with a couple of shy kids, whose parents were out on the lands working. They wave, I wave back and so it continues .
Flat water all day. Unexpected cliffs along the way - brown and black bands of rock, twisting and turning along the river right shoreline, with hundreds of wasp and hornet nests, daring me to get out.
Camped on a huge green lawn opposite a farm called ‘Orange View’. Can tell from where their farm house is positioned that they have a grand vista of several kilometres up river.
320 cumecs 25 February 2009
Long soaking rain through the night. Had a running battle packing with the 1000 000‘s of ants who made camp in my most of my gear. They sense the water is coming up and I just happened to be the highest point.
A fair-sized swell had picked up on the dam with the afternoon headwinds, and what I initially thought would be a relaxed 20km flat-water paddle for the day, ended with me arriving soaked and pretty knackered. I think I got some interesting shots from the waterproof housing.
I definitely chose a rainy year for sure, and something tells me there is more coming. The lady who runs the campsite here at the Boegoeberg Water Reserve confirmed my thinking earlier in the day. The water is currently at 320 cumecs. She says it is going to double by Friday.
Scenarios, game-plans, mind spinning a little with thought of bigger water coming. 1 day at a time - we’ll see when it comes and where I am.
The campsite here is great. R30 to have my own football-field-sized lawn with plenty of shade from the sweet-thorn acacias, berried syringas and weeping willow. Only other people around is work-crew busy with a new coffer dam below the current wall.
I met a fellow about 2 km’s upstream camping. He was just checking on his 6 fishing rods cruising around in his underpants, with a body that has seen more sun than a breakfast raisin. He comes here for 6 weeks a year and just fishes, although he was a little concerned as the higher water level was dragging his lines into the water grass.
I had no luck with the fishing either, so opted for the hammock instead .
Under the bridge 27 February 2009
Am camped under the bridge at Groblershoop, cos there is f--k all campsites with the higher water and the ever consistent lining of the rivers steep sandy shoreline with reeds and thorn bush. Could be up for more limited camping all the way to Augrabies.
Relaxed start to the day with slow pack and paddle across river to portage the wall. Portage took about an hour, I helped the time factor with a cheeky run across the top right of the wall into an eddy. An easy manoeuvre, but big consequences if I had misjudged.
I slipped and smashed my 3 boiled eggs on portage whilst reminding myself to write in my notes about loose rock at dam wall portages. Amazing how things happen whilst you think about them!
Almost camped at Rooisand on a hot rocky ledge, but then went for Groblershoop. Cold Coke was too tempting. Scrounged for a place under the bridge to set up tent and then missioned for half hour through heavy thorn bush and over a creek just to get on the bridge. Downed 2 Cokes on arrival in town.
Town was a riot - Friday afternoon and end of the month PAYDAY. A large proportion of the people were well on their way - stumblin’, mumblin’ and bumblin’ with bottles wrapped in plastic hanging loosely from either lips or limp arms. There was a guy selling cd’s who had a sweet sound system and he was giving the beat to keep every set of hips loose. Mothers with the month’s groceries at their feet were circled by dusty kids with lollipop faces. The woman working at the Cow and Chicken Fried Chicken Joint looked like she had had enough of the show going on. Street vendors added colour to the scene with cheap plastic merchandise .
I sat and watched the show for a while until the taxi’s and farmers came and picked up the whole lot ... and then it was quiet.
I got back to camp at sunset, quick rinse in the river, half a fried chicken and 2 beers for dinner and then a fun chat with Ine, wrote this lot and am about to go to Dreamland .
Meer as Genoeg 28 February 2009
Fanie and Magda van der Linde have a farm called ‘Meer as Genoeg’ (more than enough).
Kind of sums up the day quite well. There are more than enough ‘miggies‘. Similar to the little black flies in Canada and the flies on the Apurimac river. There are more than enough reeds and heavy thorn bush - for finding a camping spot is almost impossible.
Lucerne, dates, table grapes, raisins are the commercial crops alongside the river. There are few water pumps. The farmers are supported by a system of irrigation canals which are supplied by weirs slowing the natural flow.
Was super happy to see this clearing Fanie had made at the rivers edge. I had just had a cooling swim at the Grootdrink bridge and was having a quiet laugh to myself at the chances of finding anything at all for a campsite. Not even 2 minutes after I had got back into my boat I saw it. Big time happy days !
I walked up to a farmhouse and met an older lady watering her plants. Her 2 terriers went nuts on the other side of the fence. She calmed them down and we talked. She was beautiful and kind, called me son and held my arm over the fence the whole time we talked. She told me the owner of the property lived next door.
She reminded me of a friend in Norway. Very few people have this ability to genuinely move through personal space and not offend .
The sweet pungent smell of grapes transforming into raisins lay scattered on a cracked cement slab between the farmhouses.
I approached the other house with trepidation cos the lady told me to be careful of the ‘kwaai honde‘. The few minutes spent calling over the fence for the farmer whilst his 2 tan bull-terriers eyed me, growling and gnashing at each other out of frustration, almost got me peeing in my pants. Fanie arrived at the gate - I introduced myself and without hesitation he said it would be all right to sleep on his land. He mentioned he had paddled the section with his son a while back and he believed me that there is barely a spot to camp.
That was more than enough for 1 day.
Weirs 1 March 2009
Up early this morning, knowing in the back of my mind that Upington is not far away (70 km). I had originally planned to take 2 days to get here from Grootdrink. The river had risen about 3 foot overnight and rose another half a foot whilst I was preparing to get on the water. The release had arrived.
A cup of tea and cereal helped me decide to go for Upington. The main deciding factor was knowing that i had 3 weirs on the approach to Upington. I wanted to get past these before the water got too high.
Weirs are tough enough obstacles. What makes these river-wide weirs in this section very dangerous, is that the reeds along shore grow well over the perimeters of the weir wall. There are no eddies to get out and scout . You either hang onto the reeds and attempt to lift yourself as high as possible in your boat and try determine the height, towback and depth and hope like hell they had the good sense to build a fish chute. Or if the river is low and just creeping over the weir, you can ferry/hover above and make a decision. With the higher flow, the fish chutes are the bomb (steep tongue-ride into 2/3 maybe 4 crashing waves). Getting your line is the hardest part. I have also skidded and scraped over a couple at lower flow upriver. Compulsory portages require a sense of humour and a machete to get through the reeds and thornbush.
At Lambrechtsdrif I ran down the fish chute and then stopped on shore and shot an hour time-lapse of the river rising, hoping this looks good later. Then I realised I still had 60 clicks to go and it was 11:15 am. With the water flow so strong, I dipped my blades for the last few strokes into Upington at about 5:00 pm. Have just eaten an Italian pizza at an Irish bar in an Afrikaans city ... lekker bru!
Was plagued today by the miggies (blood sucking spawn of the devil!), and will continue to be for the next few weeks. They wake up and go to sleep at the same time as me. They enjoy the soft bits of skin behind knees, wrists, waistline. They enjoy riding on my hat for miles and then when it suits them, fly behind my sunnies, in my nose, zzzzzz around the ears, then attempt to bite - get waved off - sit back on the hat and wait patiently for the next pissing me off session.
Have arrived at Die Eiland (The Island) campsite. An appropriate name as to the formation of the river in this last and the next 100 km’s. Islands, islands .........
River City 5 March 2009
After several days of covering longer distances and with the river starting to nudge a little at approx. 400 cumecs I arrived here at river city - Upington on the 1st March. On the whole thus far I have been extremely fortunate with my progress. Good water levels, tailwinds, regular towns for resupply and to visit. Conditions have been relatively fair and forgiving.
Due to the persistent storm weather over the central interior and highveld this summer water levels have been above average for approximately the last 1000 km’s. I have seen or been in, on average, 2 storms a day/night. They are short, intense, and shed a lot of water. The areas in which these rains have fallen do not receive rain perennially. The land has little or no vegetation so run-off is high causing flash floods. These tributaries can easily double the volume of the Orange at any time, although at most times of the year you could build sandcastles midstream. The dams upriver and the Orange’s main tributary, the Vaal, are at capacity ...
A resupply with my parents for a few days, and a relax and then I wanted to get out there again, but the water level is up and rising - Mother Nature has decided that I should not enter the Augrabies Falls Gorge just yet.
So ... Mom, Dad and I took a road trip to the falls on Wednesday to go and gauge the flow (see video footage on FILM page). it was pushing 580 cumecs through the falls section. Was awesome to see the power and raw beauty of the main falls and the first impressions on my parents (yeah , i think it took their breath away as well) after we had a beer each and reordered within 5 minutes! The vista was sobering to say the least, but for me the first three rapids looked invitingly menacing (a touch past the 5+ mark). More importantly, my options for scouting and portaging the rapids have been flooded .
Hmmmmmmmm! 11 March 2009
Upington has been walks down to the bridge to see if the level painted on the bridge pillar is at 3 and a quarter yet; on the telephone sourcing river info; coffee shop; laps in the pool; giving my website much needed attention; massage sessions for the shoulder blades; chacos getting remodelled to African specifications; and daily drifting into a haze at about 3 pm when the heat of the day turns everybody into zombies (except the ‘larnies’ with the aircon in homes/cars and offices).
... not exactly like spooning with your climbing partner up at Camp 5 at -40 degrees with a blizzard threatening to blast you off a 2000 m high wall as you wait out a 6 day storm, for the final push to the summit of a Himalayan giant ...
My current location may not be as hard core - the body is happy with the slow down in pace, but the mind still has to stay strong as the river conditions ahead stay the same. There will be my fair share of lugging gear, rappels and getting grilled by the sun; entering an area of exposure to high temperatures; committing decisions; and vistas that few have seen. For me, it will be a unique and challenging experience. There is also a further quarter of my journey that still needs my attention .
The water level as at 10 am on the 9th March is 980 cumecs. The river is now shunting and holding steady. Am well glad I am here in Upington and not inside or at the entrance of the gorge. Nothing like a ‘tight thundering curry klap’ at possibly the toughest section of river. This means my original descent plans must change. Wakey! Wakey!
When water levels are appropriate:
Task 1 - To arrive at the gorge. Which is a tricky section in itself - 120 kms of reed channels through cultivated islands. The man-made canals, low level bridges and weirs that inter-connect the islands are currently collecting tons of river debris resulting in some nasty features being created .
Task 2 - Set up a camp at the entrance to the gorge with 2 days to recce a new route in.
Task 3 - Collect my rope and spend 2 days moving gear into the gorge.
Task 4 - 3 days to paddle/portage/photo/video/live it!
Plan X if river is in flood - am just gonna have to suck it up ... do the BiG portage around the whole gorge (that sound like fun?).
F ----- n, bring it on.
Appreciations 12 March 2009
Thank you very much, Baie dankie, Gracias, Shot, Tussen tak, Enkaliborwa
For the support, help, encouragement, new friendships I have received thus far on my trip:
Mom, my website updates, resupply shopping and things only moms know how
Dad, motivation, getting me to the river and help with gear maintenance over a beer
Willie Bruwer, Water Affairs in Douglas, for the river level updates by cell coms
Tommy Blockland in Aliwal North who raced his car to warn me of the weir
The village of Ha Seremo for accommodating Jakob and me
Bob Jones for covering my insurance
Brett Pomario for space to work, mission to the falls, friendship
Ladies at the Vodacom shop in Quthing for recharging my batteries
Andrew Kellet for valuable gorge information
Owners of farms and land I have camped on
Sister, Jean, and Simon (cold beer in May ... mmmm)
Ine (c ya soon)
Sepetho, guardian of the bridge at Sehonggong
The couple I found shipwrecked on Gariep Dam
Oviston Nature Reserve who reacted promptly with a rescue boat
All the kids in Lesotho along the river for the the laughs
Derek Alberts for the 4x4 experience to put-in
The Brick Factory in Skisazana for fresh H20
Danee’ at Riverside Lodge in Aliwal North for recharging my batteries
The gentleman who gave me a lift into Douglas
Lappies at Oviston campsite
Wally Stinton for the tour of Orania and taking me to get groceries on his bike
Gerhald van Orania vir die geselskap .
Tebogho from Douglas SAP for the ride back to the bridge at Douglas
Samuel Maduma for not giving me too much kak for climbing over his wall - Gariep Dam
Security at Vanderkloof Dam wall for sleeping in and not spotting me climbing your wall.
Terry Sharman for the call
July at Tussen die Riviere Wildplaas for fresh H20
Karen van Om die Oewer campsite in Orania
Moira-Jean in Upington for massage therapy
The farmer on river right at Boegoeberg Dam Wall for letting me climb on his wall
Izak at the Vaal/Orange confluence for the chat and shared smokes .
Ken and Esme in Prieska at the Gariep Country Lodge ★★★★★
Craig and Andrew of Kalahari Adventures for river beta
Team at Panasonic in Upington for sorting me out with a hard drive
The A-Z restuarant in Quthing for replacing the ‘pap’ with more inyama
Willy the ferry-man from Pokane for looking after my gear
Officials at Telle Border (Lesotho and South Africa) for the hassle-free crossing
Tor, my boss in Norway for keeping me in work for a few extra months to earn kroners
Owners of the ‘lapa’ and amazing forest walk at Badfontein farm near Aliwal North
Molinari Coffee shop in Upington for reaffirming my belief in good coffee
Campers at caravan parks for the space, chats and meals
Mickey at ‘Die Eiland’ campsite for accommodating my requests
To all who have been following my updates and progress through my website, enjoy the rest of this adventure ... it continues ...
Decision Time 15 March 2009
Well, tis time to get moving again. The river is calling ... the journey must continue. I have been in Upington City for over 2 weeks now. The river flow is still at 900+ cumecs, but is slowly dropping. I depart Tuesday 17th.
Contacted a few people in the area as to the river conditions between Upington and the Augrabies falls (approx. 120 km’s). The first 3 quarters is largely unknown due to the width of the river. Several people have attempted this stretch with a low success rate. At up to 4.5 km wide at points, the water disappears (not underground, but amongst the vast reed islands).
Initially I did not want to travel this section with the higher flows, but am thinking this may widen the channels and give me more water where it normally spreads and gets shallow. The disadvantage is that I will move a lot faster through tight channels. Several bridges, weirs and canals connect these islands adding further challenges to the natural elements. The gradient through this section is not shy either, dropping 175 metres.
By the time you read this i will be on my way, and hoping you enjoy the updated website. Check out the new photo,video and expedition pages.
I look forward to sharing some more stories with you in the near future.
That was full on ! 18 March 2009
Sjoe! The nerves throughout the day were high strung, but also made me pretty focused. The river surprised me with the nature of its flow - I am always constantly alert to the sound of the river, to the direction of flow catching the few eddies. A couple of times I thought my heart was going to explode with adrenalin.
The first was a mini-gorge/falls I came across - scouted, and then ran. I almost went over about halfway down and then just avoided the rock, which I knew was my main obstacle, in the mid-section.
The other was the section to Die Punt campsite. I looked down through a long steep section: reeds on either side, no eddies, and the river cranking down towards a bridge. I could see that I could go under the bridge, but also that it was pretty steep on the far side. As I got closer, I could see at least thirty hornet nests hanging from the under side of the bridge. I would have to duck! Instant flash - swarming hornets through Class 5 water (no shit!).
The rest of the run was a blur of of reeds, rocks, sharp corners and spray. I remember exiting the run and yelling: ‘That was full on!’
Was I happy to see this campsite or what? Almost hugged the first person I saw.
Scout for descent 21 March 2009
Got up early after a good night’s sleep. The weather is dry and cool at night, which is a relief from the heat of plus 35° during the day. I am also noticing a change in the season with cooler evenings, shorter days, and the sun’s arc getting a little lower in the sky - only an hour or two in the day where the shade is scarce. I am in an area of rocks, sand, 100m cliffs, gullies, sandy riverbeds, polished river stones, waterfalls. Vegetation is tough, hardy, thorny scrub, cactus, succulents, odd patches of dry, prickly grass.
Went for a morning scout upriver and quickly learned that I had taken the wrong channel in. I had suspected it the evening before - suspicions confirmed. However, it did bring me closer to where I had stashed my rope in December - was a good feeling to pick up that bag of rope.
I saw a number of options for descent into the gorge - all fairly high risk - some higher than others, some with obstacles, some ledging. The rock here is either smooth and hard, or sun-baked sandstone that crumbles easily. Anchor points are pretty limited.
I found a spot late this afternoon which could possibly get me in without a rope. Need to check it out. That’s tomorrow’s mission.
Camped up top 23 March 2009
Up at 5:30 a.m., packed away tent and most of gear and took my boat for a 45 minute walk to the descent point. Quick return, and another load. The descent line has shade until 10 o’clock, so decided to set my rope up, with an hour to go.
Have run the rope down the full length of the descent. The descent line is opposite a tourist lookout point known as Ararat, so, got to keep watching ... have only seen one group of three, and that was yesterday ... but they only spent about 15 minutes there ... I think the airconditioning in the camp restaurant was calling them back.
Set up as far as I could, I returned to my base camp next to the river, snoozing, writing, and going for the odd swim to cool off.
I headed over to the descent camp at 7:00 p.m., when it was a bit cooler, with the last load. Set up my tent and am now making comms with my Mom so that you can read this.
The plan for tomorrow is to get up super early and complete the descent between 5:00 and 10:00 a.m. I am looking forward to getting in there and checking out the view from below.
Have a good one ...
Inside 24 March 2009
Wowsers! I got into the canyon with little difficulty.
Several laps with gear and boat, a short rappel and even in the shade I was sweating bullets. I was spotted by two people at the Ararat lookout point. They waved but I carried on loading my boat as though I had not seen them.
Four and a half hours - 6 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. - and I was inside this incredible gorge.
I have an extra 25kg with the 200 metres of rope that I had stashed for the rappel. Did a quick roll to see whether it would be a problem - all good - then paddled across river to look back up to the entrance to the gorge.
It was an unbelievable sight and I was well relieved not to be in that section of the river. I was looking up at a rapid that was steep, wild and unforgiving ... stopped to take some photies and then paddled off to the first rapid for me - the ninth of the gorge.
I was shitting bricks after what I had just seen upriver. But it all turned out sweet with the three rapids that I ran today. They were big ... long ... technical at the top and midsections with holes and ledges, and then narrowing into big exploding waves at the bottom.
I found a rockfall at twelve thirty to stop for lunch and some shade and then ended up camping here.
Enough for the system to take in in one day!
Cereal and coffee for dinner tonight under the gazillion stars.
2 rapids and a snooze 25 March 2009
Took it nice and slow this morning - it was pleasant, cool in the shade until about ten. Pumped water, ate breakfast and slowly packed the boat ... enjoying the vista upriver. I knew it was going to be a short day as I wanted to spend another night in the canyon. Also, I am stalling a bit as I am meeting Ine and Brett at Blouputs, which is only about 4 kms away, on Saturday.
The rapids today were a bit mellower than yesterday. A move or two on the entrances, but good, fun, roller-coaster stuff - exploding waves, slick entrance tongues, boiling eddies and the odd hole to keep you focused.
I was well satisfied with my descent into the gorge and getting through all the rapids. It was awesome to have been able to run the rapids .... portages would have taken quite a while! It was a good water level for these particular rapids (it would have been pretty good fun in a raft as well!).
I spent the afternoon snoozing under a rock ledge as the mercury slid up to about 37°C. I listened to the reeds rustling in the wind, water getting pushed off the natural obstacles in the swift current, doves cooing in the trees and fish eagles calling to each other.
I am going to be back near civilisation soon - it was a real treat to be in the Augrabies Gorge.
Hanging out at Blouputs winkel(shop) 26 March 2009
A short paddle today to Blouputs - a little confusion with the map reading - the place has developed a lot since I was last here 11 to 12 years ago. A new tar road, new bridge, a new settlement on river right, called Vredevallei, where a lot of farmhands live.
When I got here, I parked my boat (tied to a tree) floating in the shade, and then went for a walk to find a shop to get some food and a much-needed recharge of camera batteries. I filmed and photo’ed a lot in the Augrabies Gorge.
An hour on the road and I arrived at the Blouputs Winkel (store), which is owned by Willie Basson but run by a fellow named Moses. An awesome guy who helped me out with extension leads, cold Cokes, and a beer crate for a chair (although I ended up sitting on, and then catching a nap on the cooler cement floor) waiting for my batteries to charge.
I was there from about eleven in the morning until 5:30 p.m. I then bought some chicken and beers and took the walk back to my boat just upriver from the bridge. Made comms today with my family who were well happy that I was through the gorge in one piece.
Cooked up the chicken, drank the beers and lay down in the sand looking up at the stars while recollecting the week past spent upriver in the gorge.
By 9 p.m. I was fast asleep.
Pirates of the Caribbean 27 March 2009
It was a long, hot day waiting here at Blouputs for Brett and Ine - spent the morning swimming and moving around as the shade shifted.
At about 2 p.m. I had had enough and walked up to the local village of Vredevallei. I had heard that there was a little shop up there, and a cold Coke was calling.
A short 20 minute walk, and I met a fellow named Daniel. He had lost the arms of his sunglasses and had replaced them with rek (a thin section of cut-up bicycle tube). On his back a homemade pack of hessian with a rope shoulder strap - full of catfish he had caught that day and was going to sell in the village. We chatted on the way in - his English perfect - strange to hear in an Afrikaans-speaking area.
The little huiswinkeltjie (house-shop) had a pool table and a few plastic chairs. Sitting down, relaxed, sipping on my Coke, all of a sudden there was a noise from inside, the intro to a movie.
I was invited by the family to join them on the large five-seater couch. I bought another 2 litre Coke, a few bags of chips and the five of us watched Pirates of the Caribbean for the next 2½ hours.
We laughed at the funny scenes, guffawed at the impossible scenes, and all sat quietly through the credits.
Friends 28 March 2009
Was ready and waiting at the bridge to see Ine and Brett.
They were ready and keen to get on the water. Hugs and kisses ... howzits ... smiles ... happy eyes ...
and YAHOO! - we were on the brown 420 cumec conveyor belt, laughing at each other.
Brett was super stoked to just be floating, floating, floating. He kept saying: This all I have to do? I can do this! This is easy!
And it was an easy day.
When you are with familiar people, as you are with close friends, there is no bullshit - you are the closest you will ever be to your true self. Ine was so relaxed - calm and peaceful to be with - so easy. Yeah, yeah.
Great dinner - steak, boiled potatoes and corn-on-the cob. Chocolate for dessert - happy days!
I know the next few days are going to get better and better.
Brett´s birthday 31 March 2009
Cruisy morning - letting Brett choose the time of his wakening - it’s the 39th year of his life.
A double coffee session ... the release of the previous evening’s captured scorpion ... and we immersed in the river before heading out.
Soon after we found some mineral springs and again soaked our bodies - this time in the hot water - cleansing the pores on our sun-hardened skin.
The boating was easy and smooth as we headed south for the day ... paddling, chatting, drifting, silently observing our home of the last few days.
A section through the channel had us searching for a shady spot for lunch. Shade! ... and a variety of good foods spilled out of the dry bags and into our bellies.
More cruisy water for about half an hour and we came across a fun surfing rapid. There was a great campsite on the rocks, so we spent the afternoon swimming, surfing the kayaks ... and Brett’s big fat Thermarest was the boogie board!
We cooked up dinner before sunset, which was good so that we could sit by the fire into the night and talk of past and present adventures.
Brett rode out the sunset on his birthday wave ... Happy birthday, my friend.
Rob and Ine 2 April 2009
Beer heads crawled out of sleeping bags and moseyed and shuffled around the camp from sun up until about 9 a.m.
The local Gravity rafting crew were at the river to see us off. Brett was looking a bit stronger after the omelette and was heading out of camp back to his place and Tania in Cape Town. It was good times for the three of us and now it was me and Ine for a while - to Vioolsdrift.
The two of us had a short day on the water to Ritchie Falls - approximately 13 kms - found a shady camp at the top of the falls.
We did a quick scout of the area, chilled and relaxed in the shade, and swam the hot afternoon hours away. In the early evening we portaged our boats and half the gear, and rappelled it about ten metres down onto a ledge.
We returned to camp - another swim or two - and then an early night on a secluded sand beach with the half moon lit up until the early hours of the morning.
THere is a left channel at Ritchie Falls which looks like a great run at the right levels. But, however, for a fully-loaded sea kayak in pushy conditions it is steep, technical ... with a freight-train of a run ... but .... preferably in a river-running boat, of course.
I will return one day, I hope, for this alternate channel .
2000 4 April 2009
Ine and I worked it today, to get to 2000 clicks ... although I only realised its significance while writing this entry ... I used the number several times throughout the day to calculate distances, but the landmark number didn’t register.
Our 37 kilometres, covered today, was probably about 47 ... zigzagging endlessly through a maze of reed channels. The good part, however, was the constant gradient - it was swift and quick through the channels, would then pour over a river-wide ledge, back into the channels after a short pool ... and then repeat the process all over again.
All day - endless concentration - looking for the flow.
A few times we got slowed up - but pulled ourselves through narrow gaps in the reeds to get back into the flow. With the longer boat, the stern catches over the ledges and requires lots of bow rudder strokes through the channel turns.
We had a big pasta dinner, and there is still lots left over for lunch tomorrow.
A hot, muggy, steamy evening ... a storm brews in the distance. It is far off but I am ready to set up the tent quick, and all our gear is packed away.
Breakfast to go 7 April 2009
Got up out of the sleeping bag at 6:30 a.m., rushed out of camp - we had little shade this morning.
Into a swift current right away and floated down, eating breakfast of oats, raisins, powders of porridge, milk, and protein supplement, and sugar all mixed up with freshly-pumped water.
Three quarters of the day we had swift pools with large reed islands. The ends of the pools had turns to the left or right with good, fun roller coasters into the next pool.
Soon after putting on the water we drifted past a Landrover and another 4x4 camped in a river bed. We gave a happy wave to each other. These were the first of several people we saw today - a fisherman, goat herders, a dark-tanned man in an old commercial rafting canoe ... with sporty paddle to boot!
I also noticed fishing nets in the river today for the first time - made obvious by polystyrene floats secured in an eddy.
We ended the day at 41 kms at a 5-metre-high weir which we were able to run down on the left. We camped on a large, grassy sandbank, with an almost-full moon giving ample light to move around the camp.
It is a beautiful calm evening with storm clouds in the east.
Waitin for the bus 8 April 2009
Ine and i awoke to being soaked by the nights dew . We also had shade in our camp , so had to wait a while to dry gear before departing . An easy mornings paddle with a combination of flat pools , wide fast flowing roller coaster rapids , under the bridge at the busy Vioolsdrif/Noordoewer border post and then greeted by a large layered rock wall of mini Grand Canyon proportions . Then into a wide open vista looking into Namibia of the Tandjiesberge range to the north in Namibia.
An afternoon of cleaning gear and repairing my boats rudder in the shade of Tamarisk and Pine trees at Fiddlers Creek campsite . Ine and i took a walk to Rooiwal shop and met Oom Jan who gave us a lift halfway. Stocked up on supplies for the last time . The evening was spent chatting with raft guides and their guests at the “ Bosbavok “ bar , a traditional potjie prepared by Maudie . Had a few beers with Jana and Francois , squeezed a Tequila down and then a short nap .
Borrowed Francois’ 4x4 to take Ine to the border post at 2:30 am . The bus to Cape Town only arrived at 5:15 am . I fell asleep waitin’ for the bus and hardly remembered driving back to pass out at 6am for a 2 hour sleep .
Was a great time with Ine for the last 12 days . C ya back in Sjoa in a few weeks .
Easter river holidays 9 April 2009
Sun on the tent , and a commercial rafting trip getting ready for their 4 day Orange river adventure awoke me.
4 hot-x-buns , bowl of muesli , 3 coffees and a relay of updates to my mom , quick pack and was back on the water . I paddled between all sorts of river craft of various commercial trips . 2 man inflatables , fibreglass canadian canoes , fibre-glass styled klepper’s , sit-on-tops , sea kayaks all heading north to the Springbok Vlakte on their 3/4 day adventures .
It is Easter week-end here and the river is sooooper busy . The busiest time of the year for commercial trips on the most popular section of the Orange river . Only went 12kms to the Wildthing camp and was greeted by the Aquatrails Ladies (Chavez , Kria and Carrie-Lynn) . Aquatrails is the company i work for when running trips on the Orange . We shared smokes , beer shandies , shit talk and an afternoon in the desert sun .
Caught up with some home-work after the last few days of hectiness . A doze under a tree and got myself prepared for the last haul to the end .
Commercial madness 10 April 2009
Got out the camp of commercial madness before most folk knew they were awake .Dozy rafting guests trying to stuff 40 litres of gear into 20 litre drybags , whilst guides were instructing that less is more .
Headed about 3 clicks downriver to a little known gem of Petroglyphs . Bushmen who had chiselled out shapes and designs into the flat black rocks near prominent rock formations many moons ago.
Paddling through groups of commercial trips and private trippers was well entertaining . Broken canoes , guides swimming after capsized river craft , clunk-clunk of paddle shafts on fibre-glass as tired arms bring boats down the long pools .
I met a group of private trippers in home-made fibre-glass klepper style kayaks with large open cock-pits and wide farings to keep waves out . i met them on several occasions . They were definitely the ‘old school’ group out on the river . An older fellow in the group had made and designed all of their groups boats .
I had been thinking of a full moon paddle and this was confirmed when a group of private trippers arrived at my campsite at sunset . Could not say no , as i knew there was not many places too camp nearby .
Tin of beans and pilchards for dinner , cleaned drinking water and 3 hours sleep before heading onto the water at 1am . I had a spectacular 4 hours on water under a full moon through the Richtersveld mountains . I got pretty sleepy near the end and dozed in my boat floating down a long pool to a spot known as Scratches . I knew there would be good shade there in the morning . i went to sleep for the 2nd time that night .The beauty of this river continues to amaze and intrigue me . i love it .
Getting there .... 14 April 2009
Wow , tis all looking good so far , about 100 km’s to go and plan to meet my mom and dad on Friday 17th . Was originally going to be the 18th , but the lure of the end is pulling me in .
Was a freakin cooker today . Mercury topping the mid 40’s on river , god knows how hot inland .
Amazing how the lure of diamonds will get humans living out here , digging and hope they get the big 1 . The land is terribly scarred with the open-cast mining in the ancient riverbeds .
Harsh , wild , desolate and beautiful ever changing mountain scenery with the river as the life line .
Saw a few vehicles along both sides of the river and am sure hey saw me . I am still undecided how to approach the final bridge which is 12 kms from my final take-out at the Atlantic ocean . Whether i gun through and take a chance , or present myself and ask for permission to proceed to the sea . Either way there could be problems . i am in a restricted area without a permit .
Although i have nothing to hide, i have heard a few stories how tough the security is in this diamond crazed area . We’ll see .
Change in scenery - camp 68 16 April 2009
Was a pretty cruizy day with good strong flow , only touched the sandy bottom a few times today with the blades in the wider sections . i still have a river full of water .
The scenery changed considerably today from the rocky hills and mountains to a wide open landscape of sand dunes and low sandy hills .
The Sir Ernest Oppenheimer Bridge is just visible about 5 km’s down river from where i am camped on a patch of scratchy grass and cracked semi-dry mud .
I have decided to take a chance and just paddle under the bridge . i will deal with security issues if it presents itself . The plan is to get up at 3:30 am for the final push of about 17/18 kms to the end of this incredible journey . i want to get under the bridge whilst the rest of the world is sleeping .
I am avoiding emotions at the moment as their is still a task at hand . Strangely i have no cell coms as i had agreed to make coms with my folks to arrange a meeting place at the take-out . I am sure they are wondering what and where the f--k is their son .
The air is cool , windy and wet here close to the Atlantic Ocean . My tent is already soaked and the sun has just gone down . The Mosquitos are in full force in this swampy ,marshy area and there is a constant droning hum surrounding my tent as they sense fresh blood and stinky river man in their territory .
A dinner of a half loaf bread , tin of tuna and tin of Chakalaka and a few stories from the Roald Dahl book i have borrowed in my tent and now i want to go to sleep , but i cant ..... the eyes just wont close ....
Raspberry Cream Cookies 17 April 2009
With only about 2 hours of restless sleep , I sit bolt upright as my alarm screams at 3:30 am . I then have a few cups of tea in bed and a packet of raspberry cream cookies for early breakfast.
My mind is racing and i try to keep calm by packing slowly and deliberately . Dressing in warm gear i then emerge from the tent to a stunningly surreal sight of drifting coastal fog and a half moon directly overhead . Perfect , i think to myself . I am even whispering to myself to keep sound minimal .
I slide my kayak cautiously into the Orange River for the final time , rinse the mud off my feet and push off shore . I take slow silent paddle strokes for just under an hour down towards the bridge .
The fog is thick and i navigate by keeping the left shore-line just visible on my left shoulder .
Just before the bridge my heart begins to race as i notice giant beams of light from both shorelines lighting up the river , i stop paddling , drifting with the current and hold my breath as i wait for security to storm the scene . I pass through the lit-up area and under the bridge and finally exhale about 100m after .
Nothing happened ...
I decide to drift with the flow for about 3 kilometers . Pulling up to a sandy beach i sit in my kayak sipping on steamy Rooibos tea . I am waiting till 6 am so i can make coms with my parents who i know are driving north to meet me . We make coms and all is looking good as my dad has easily arranged a permit with the diamond mine on the south african side to enter the restricted area at the Orange river mouth .
For the next 2 and a half hours i savour the sights of rolling coastal fog , the emergence of daylight , the intermingling of river and coastal birds awaking and the swampy ,marshy landscape of the river mouth .
I wanted to avoid the physical mouth of the river as it enters the sea as the tide is outgoing and i have about 50 to 100 m of visibility . River mouths can be extremely dangerous with unforgiving currents . I can also hear the surf pounding beyond .I keep to the left shoreline to approach a sand-bar on far river left . About 500m from the ocean i make coms with my parents to ascertain where we can meet each other in the white-out visibility . Unbelievably we are 200m from each other . I notice my dads truck through the fog and we waved joyously at each other .
Whilst dragging my kayak about 500m through 2/3 inches of water and black gooey mud to a suitable spot where i can take out close to the sand vehicle track a flock of about 200 flamingoes ( which , i had hoped i would see ) stared curiously at me and my kayak .
I am here and there at the end of my journey , i can and cannot believe it .
We hugged and laughed , slurped on champagne . i dragged my boat over the sandbar down to the sea and gave it a salty wash and rinse . Did a video and photo shoot . Loaded the truck . I then went down to the wild/freezing Atlantic , stripped and washed 96 days of Orange River off .
96 days and 2440 km of Pure Orange bliss , i am truly grateful to my home river for keeping me safe and allowing me to enjoy her wonders and secrets .
My river journey is complete and this story has just begun ........