Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Five-day expedition down the Umzimvubu

In April I flew down to South Africa to meet up with fellow Fluid Team paddlers to paddle the Umzimvubu river in the Transkei. It was a chance to meet some more of the team, for all of us to get together and throw around ideas about new designs, get feedback from current designs, have some fun and show off the boat of the moment - the Detox!

-Celliers, David and I may have over shopped-

I flew into Jo-burg where I was met by Celliers Kruger and David Arnaud - the owner and the team manager of Fluid. Unfortunately my bags didn't come with me, and after a few hours waiting for the next flight to come in they still hadn't made it. So the next day after delaying the start of the trip me and David went for a quick paddle on the local run to test out the carbon Nemesis while we waited for my bags to be delivered.

-The Transkei and the Umzimvubu-

After a six hour drive we met up with the rest of the crew at The Falls Backpackers, right in the sickest paddling area of the Transkei. 12 in all we hung out and packed up our things and got ready for the 5 days of paddling that lay ahead. A long drive with 12 of us crammed into 2 bakkies we got to the river.

-Medium Detox in action, pilot, Andrew Kellet-

No one really knew what to expect on the first few days, maps seemed to suggest a decent gradient, but with low levels we had a pretty cruisy time. Everything was read and run except for the odd exception, but the were plenty of fun grade 3 rapids, and it was just awesome to be in good company on a long multi-day in the middle of an amazing place


Days were spent paddling, evenings spent cooking and swapping stories and nights spent looking at the southern cross and wondering whether it was going to rain and get us wet (for those of us not in tents).

-"So you're saying we're in South Africa?? I don't believe you!"-

-The pack approaches the falls-

For me the highlight of the trip came on day 3 when we made the waterfall. Me and Polly got a start ahead of the group so we could go get some shots of everyone else coming in. As we spent some time exploring everyone was unanimous that they weren't running the main drop. It is big and was definitely pretty sketchy at the levels it was running - maybe with more water it will look more appealing.

-Local women at the falls, the one on the right just got back from the spa-

-The big one - tricky lead in, will go with a bit more water-

So someone had the plan to lower the boats from the cliff and for us to walk around and pick them up - only problem the walk was about 2km!!

-Hugh Du Preez styling the mank-
Above the big drop were a couple of smaller little chutes - Hugh eyed one of these up - though it was pretty manky and no one else was keen. I on the other hand figured there must be something else to all of this. And whilst half of the group prepared for a portage on river left I grabbed Scotty Reinders and waded and jumped from rock to rock over to the right side. Over here we found a nice smaller waterfall, a little boof and a rock slide to end on. The beauty of it all was even if none of it was runnable it was easily portaged.

-Yep that's a waterfall. Photo Adrian Tregioning-

I took a little while checking it out. It wasn't that it was very big but it had rocks on the left half way down and on the right at the bottom. So you didn't want to mess it up. Me and Kellet got ready to huck.

-Kellet fires it up-

Andrew Kellet had a sweet line, getting turned sideways a little at the lip but managing to pull it back around and land straight. Some nice shots of the Detox in action right there...

-My turn, Photo Adrian Tregoning-

My turn next and I also got pushed a little sideways, however I didn't get it all the way straight at the bottom. I landed a little over rotated, but right where I wanted to away from the rocks and had a nice soft landing so all good on that one! Nice to hit some steeps again after a long time in a playboat! After we ran it Phil also fired it up, landed rather flat and put a big dent in the boat. After our progressively worsening lines everyone else left it be!

-Celliers looks up at the falls-

-The big man himself Celliers boofing the Vubu-

Next up after a spot of lunch by the falls a little boof. And then to the last slide. The slide after a quick scout looked runnable, but after closer inspection wasn't too great - a bit more water and it would be sweet but at this low level no one was keen. So we just threw the boats off and jumped off the cliff instead. Yeee Haaaa!

-Better to lower these with a rope eh?!-

Oops, what I meant to say was that throwing the boats off was a great idea until we tested the theory with young Scotty's boat and hit a rock and split the stern, sorry scott. So ropes it was!!

A nice little jump off the cliff and we were back on our way. Our 3rd day on the river we only paddled about 4km - as opposed to 40+km on days 2 and 4, however after the fun of the waterfall we decided to relax on a nice island we found, sip a little whisky and enjoy the night.

-Andrew Pollack cruising the rapids-

To be perfectly honest with you I think the above photo is from day 2, or maybe day 4, probably not in the right place, anyway it was one of many fun little rapids that kept us entertained on the way down the river allowing the group to reform and check on how everyone was doing. Often if we were paddling for 40+km we would be spaced a few kms, everyone in little groups, those at the front looking for lunch / camp spots and those of us filming and taking photo's waiting at nice rapids for the rest to catch up so we could get it documented.


I took this photo whilst still in my sleeping bag. Time was around 6am, morning after the waterfall so day 4. From under my tarp I see a funny glow, peek out and see this awesome sight. With my watershed bag at arms reach I managed to fire off about 4 shots before the colours faded into white and the land got brighter.

-Eee Orr-

After a 20km paddle before lunch on day 5 we stop where we think is the take out. If we miss it we have to paddle to the ocean. Fuck that. Anyway we had a long lunch, the drivers aren't coming to pick us up. They are coming. They're not coming we're staying the night with no more supplies other than a packet of smash. They are coming? You're sure? Yes. Ok we're on. Let's take photo's of donkeys and local kids with shit on their faces and drink some beers!! Happy days Umzimvubu Expedition 2010 success! Sweet river, awesome crew, awesome boats, cheers Celliers/Fluid and everyone else on the trip!!

-"You got any soap mister?"-

-Local kids in the Transkei-

So the next mission for me is Kenya, although I was supposed to get there today or at least be on a bus and I'm not as I have stuff to do here in Uganda. So fingers crossed the God's of rain will be kind and grant us a little more and I'll maybe get there in the next week or two for some steep creek action.
Other than that I had a bit of a play with the blog and turned it from green to orange. What do you reckon? Let me know - will @
Cheers and Beers!

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