All the way to Hope Town.

After a well deserved rest day, that was spent getting equipment cleaned and sorted for the rest of the trip, I decided to tackle the rest of Lake !Gariep. As Marianne had already paddled to the dam wall, she was not going to join me, it would give her an extra day of rest. I set off fairly early, just to find that the GPS batteries are dead. I had to find my way across that mass expanse of water on a technique called 'sight and go'. Did not do badly as I did not get lost. That night we stayed in a lovely farmhouse not far from the river. The wife heard about us and just offered us accommodation out of the blue. The next morning we were given 'lunch packs' that lasted us two days! From Lake !Gariep there are no sandbanks, just bed rock. After we learnt so well how to read sandbanks, the information was useless. We found ourselves having to negotiate class 2 rapids. The insight I got in the Botanical Gardens came in very handy. Listening to the river became second nature. At the waterfall we got out to have lunch and admire the small but strong fall. We realised that the water levels were rising and rising fast. As there was a nice grass bank, we decided to pitch camp for the night. Soon the water levels has risen so much that the waterfall just ran flat. All night long the water levels were running at full level. The next morning the water only started subsiding sufficiently for us to launch right next to the main fall in a small eddy. The little gorge one goes through is breathtaking. We pushed on to past De Wet's Drift where we found a nice (me only) grassy embankment. I managed to curl myself up and around the grassy patches in such a way that I had the most comfortable sleep in as many nights. Unfortunately Marianne did not find the uneven ground so comfortable and had to contend listening to my snoring all night. The following days were on of those, where we were gaping at the beauty around is not stop. The mountain sides were of perpendicular down to the water. Glistening black basalt, radiating the heat with the water so clean we were drinking it directly out of the river. By lunch time we were in the first dam of Van Der Kloof. We were back on 'sticky' water. We managed to find a lovely black gravel bank in a small bay. Van der Kloof is mainly a gorge with steep hills down to the water, thus finding a little gravel bank with red ants is a small piece of paradise. Found that Tabbard keeps red ants at bay. That night I slept without the fly sheet and admired the Milky way in all its splendour. By lunch time the next day I realises that Marianne was taking bad strain. Thank goodness for Topo maps. I managed to find an exit point close to a small road. Leaving Marianne behind, I hiked out to go and find help. Initially I started of for Doornkloof when I remembered Ethel telling me that the ranger is not there. I then headed for Elandsfontein. In the process I had to scale an eight foot gate. Managed to find the farm forman, who just happen to be old varsity friends with Mike Horn; SA adventurer extrodonaire, who walked 12000miles around the Arctic Circle! Abie got the radios crackling and soon the 'rescue' team was underway. We found Marianne unscathed by the Puffader that was blown out of the tree she was sitting under. Under strict instructions, we were taken to the weekend farm(!) of Dr Spies with an open invitation to stay as long as we like and help ourselves to what ever we like. The next afternoon Ethel came through to pick us up. In Van der Kloof we were showered with hospitality from the guest house we were staying in and Ethel, who runs Woukies. Want good service, good food and great company, go to Woukies. We stayed 2 full days in Van der Kloof, with the day at the farm, we had a 3 day rest period. With all the things we saw and did, it felt like we were there a life time. Tuesday morning we set to water again. It was a days kayak to Orania. Again the river was clear bedrock. I got stuck on a submerged rock and ended going belly up through a rapid. About 10km from Orania, it was time to call it a day. It was physically not possible to continue. We found a farm labourer who very kindly came to our assistance and gave us a lift (36km by road) to Orania. We barely had time to set up our tents, when we were whisked off to the local radio station as guests of a program. Heavy weather had come in and the temperature dropped significantly. After a very late super, we had no time or inkling to shower and just crawled into our sleeping bags for a fit full sleep. We got off to a rather late start after a scrumptious breakfast and massage. It was going to be a short day of kayaking as Hope Town is 50km down stream and we were going to do it over 2 days. I got 'directions' to a bush camp right next to the river and we headed there. Although it was basic and rustic, at least we had a place to cook food and beds to sleep on. The owners also gave us very good information on the white water in that area. True to its name, the first rapid, shake-rattle-and-roll, did just that to me. Belly up I went again. We were advised to portage Marcel's monster and although the long drop looked bad it was very negotiable. Unfortunately, trying to portage Marcel's monster, Marianne's back went into a spasm that rendered her virtually immobile. Thank goodness for the GPS and my very good friend, Anette, she could locate us and the nearest farmer to come and help us. It also just so happen that the farmer's mother-in-law owns the guest house where we were offered a place to stay. He kindly offered to take us into town, although I had to do the driving! He did not think is good manners that one of us ladies will have to sit on the back, so he sat on the back! I did not know that such gentlemen and chivalry still existed. I also realised it is time to take a hard realistic look at what we are doing and what is still to come. Based on what was becoming the tendency and the progressive difficulty of the river, I decided to call off the kayak expedition. After Hope Town there was Hell's Gate to portrage then a 35km gorge with some class 2 & 3 rapids. If anything goes badly wrong, there is no real escape route and before Marianne suffers permanent damage, it would be better to stop. I was devastated, although I knew that it was for the better. Trying to cope with this sudden change, I got the idea to get my bicycle and follow the river as close as possible by cycling it.

Sand, Sand, Sand oh and mud

Months of preperation is over. We have already spent 4 days of kayaking. From here onwards it is one way to the sea, God willing. All the late nights spent doing map work, marking the river in 1km intervals then calculating the GPS points and getting only a few hours sleep was fixed by a lovely two night stay at the Riverside Lodge in Aliwal North. We were spoilt beyond what we could manage. We could never eat the amount of food they were prepared to sponsor us with. However, when anyone is in Aliwal and does not go and have a Venison Pie at the Riverside Lodge, you will miss out big time. If you are not a big eater, hopefully you have someone to share your small portion with you. Even the small portions are big.

Over and above being well fed, the lodge staff and management went out of their way to be of any assistance they could help with. Ben, Gawie, Jana and Lappies really did a great job accomodating us. The two days we spent there soon felt more like a week. Unfortunately we could not spend a week, we had a schedule to keep to and a long river to tackle. Wednesday morning Lappies and his helpers took us down to the weir where they reckon was a good point to launch. Well my heart nearly stopped. There was this tiny eddy next to a massive whirlpool and stopper wave. We had about 2 meters to get the kayaks going in the right direction once we pushed off or we would still be spinning like a front loader.

Trying to load the kayaks and explaing how the inflatables work and convince the small group of people that all the gear will fit took some doing. Soon all was sorted and we said our goodbyes and pushed off. Passing the Riverside Lodge, a number of people had gathered on the patio to wave us off. Once under the N6 bridge it was just us, the river, silence and the unknown ahead. Soon we realised that there was no relaxing and enjoying the scenery too much. Sandbanks. Every now and then a shout would break the silence: "sandbank to the right keep left!!" But there were also those moments when there was this quiet very firm "shit sandbank!" This normally happened when we could not spot the shallow submerged sandbank and just got stuck. In times like this one had to get out and push or pull the kayak over the sandbank. Care had to be taken with the firmness of the sand under foot. It is very easy to step into quicksand.

We made it the first day to Goedemoed as planned. However the information that we were given regarding beaching close to the Weir was a bit dicey. We were nearly over the weir wall when we had to back paddle fast and still we could not find the docking area. So we paddled back up stream about a kilometer to were we knew there should be a faerm, according to the map. I climbed out and withing 50cm nearly got sucked into quicksand. Nevermind walking on water.... Made my way up to some workers houses and they directed me to a farm about 2km down the road. Got there, just to find out that the farmer had gone to town. As I turned to make my way back down to Marianne, a worker called to say the farmer is on his way. I explained our situationa and asked if they could help us get around the weir. Without hesitation, they agreed to be of assistance. We went back down to the river to portrage everything up to the bakkie. Although it was a short distance, it is hard work heaving all the gear and kayaks onto a steep sandbank then carry everything about 100meters. I then asked if we could just camp on the lawn then get back in the water the next morning as it was getting late and I did not want to put them out too much. Of course, typical to farmers hospitality, they refused that we camp outside and insisted that we make use of one of their many bedrooms. Thank goodness we did. Later that night a violent thunder storm broke out. The house even took a bit of hit. Might not have been too pleasant out in the tents.

Next morning Ben took us down stream past the weir and rock ledge and helped us to get going again. Offcouse there was no nice jetty or easy launching place. We had to climg down a 1,5m sandbank with a small strip of firm sand to pack the kayaks before pushing off. By now our knowledge of sandbanks have increased tremendously. So there were a lot more "Sandbank to the left, keep right!" and a lot less "Shit, sandbank". We could predict the flow of the river much better. Although everytime we stopped for tea or lunch, we would seek out a sandbank. The river banks were to densely covered in reeds, to make a docking. The beautiful willow trees are either standing on high sandbanks or in the water, thus shade when we take a break is nill. Mud when we get in and out of our kayks are plenty.

We were offered accomodation for the second night, however to find the farm would be tricky as the enterance to the bay to the farm is overgrown with reeds. There was a strom brewing and we were already tired, so we decided to pitch camp on a lovely sandbank infron of the Tussen die Rivier Lodge. That might sound a bit odd, however, there was a deep channel of the river between our sandbank and the river bank and the river bank is covered in dense reeds. Soon we were in for some fun. For starters, my collapsable basin, decided to collapse full of water in my tent (the water is suppose to keep the basin in shape) Once I had that dried out a blasting wind came up. I realised something was wrong with Marianne's tent and went out to help her and forgot to zip my tent. The next moment it was dust flying everywhere. Once I got back in my tent, everything was covered if fine river sand. Later when I got to Marianne's tent so we could cook supper, everything was covered in sand. She was trying to keep her tent down, and I mean everything. Although we could hear the thunder, the storm just brushed by with a few drops of rain.

Next morning the sun was smilling at us when we set off again. We would reach Lake !Gariep and then we would really have to work hard. No nice litte flows to carry us along. We were averaging 10km/h and we were to drop down to 5km/h and less. Comming into the lake we had all kinds of conditions. From small waves to mirror like water. I never understood what kayakers meant by smooth water being sticky. I soon learned on that first day back on the lake. If there is no small waves, it literally feels like one is paddling through goo. It feels like the kayak just will not move. We beached at the entrance corner to Jarcana Bend. Instead of trying to make a collapseable basin stand to have a rinse down, I went for a sunset swim. It was awesome. The water was warm, the sun was a deep dark organe and the mountain sillhouettes had already turned black. Soon the Milky Way was out and so intense that poor old Orion even became obscure.

We planned to be in Oviston on the 6th as it was Terry's (Marianne's husband's) birthday. Although we set of earlier than other mornings, the going was very slowly. Thanks to the GPS, it was easy to negotiate our way around the lake. Although Marianne was sufering from severe muscle exhaustion. Which is understandable: she can not use her back like one should when paddling, due to a number of fusions in her spine, thus she uses her arm muscles more. However she does not have chest muscles to assist because of masectomies because of breast cancer. But she is tenacious and a fighter and will keep going. I was concerned about the injuries she could develop because of this. Terry was going to meet us on the lake, however we could not spot him and we just kept going. As we came through Broekspruit Bay, I noticed what seemed like a sailing yacht up a head and started paddling with everything I had to get to them. Using my whistle, I tried to get their attention. The yacht made its way to me and I asked that they please go and look for Marianne as I reckoned she needed help. Luckily she was only about 500m behind me. Marianne, then hitched a lift with the yacht. As they drew up next to me, they invited me to hitch as well. Soon Marianne and I was sitting back in our kayaks, on tow attatched to the yacht with a beer in hand, chatting to Jaco, Theuns and Deon. They pulled us all the way to the headland of Seekoeigat, just as the Oviston Tower comes into view. From there it was a 5km across the Venterstad Bay to get 'home'. I paddled up ahead so that I could call Terry to bring the car down.

Soon we were home with some refreshing cold cooldrink, some chops on the braai and a chance to celebrate Terry's birthday. That was the easy part of the river. From here to Van der Kloof, it will technically be a little bit more difficult, with another huge lake to negotiate. (pictures will be added later)

Plotting the river

Whenever I plan a cycle trip, I purchase a map of the intended route, add up the distances to see where I will have stop over’s and I am on my way. From Jo’burg to Cape Town it is easy. There is only one road and the towns are spaced out a day’s cycle apart. Through North Western Europe; I had a map that covered the entire area and thus did not give enough detail. Still all I did was write down the names of the towns I would be passing through to my destination. Here in South Africa the towns are roughly 70 km apart. In Europe you could pass through up to 5 towns in the same distance. No need to worry too much about where north, east, south or west is.

One would expect to have less map work when kayaking down a river. The Orange River flows East-West across the country. That is the only route one can go on the river, no detours and as the river flows, one cannot do anything but go with the flow: then why all this map work?

Unlike on the roads, there are no distance markers on the river. If one does not work out the distances kilometre per kilometre, you will have no idea of how far you have come or still need to go. No sign that says: 10kilometers to Orania. Without some kind of distance markers, one can very easily under-estimate what one has done for the day and then fall behind schedule. This can have dire consequences on when the journey is completed, but also raise false alarms regarding one’s safety.

The weirs are marked on the Topo maps, some rapids, one waterfall, no whirlpools and a handful of siphons. Apart from the Augrabies Waterfall, there is another 5 smaller (10 – 30m) waterfalls along the river. Marcel’s Monster, the Hubbly bubbly, Hells Gate and the Ritchie Falls, for example, are not marked on the maps. The only information is what one can find from websites that make reference to them or speaking to people, like Robbie Herreveldt, that has kayaked the non-commercial portions of the river. Then one can get some guestimate of where some of these danger points are. Knowing where you are and how far to go before getting sucked into a whirlpool can mean the difference between life and death.

As whirlpools and waterfalls are not marked, it is critical that one has to literally study the map with a magnifying glass. Whirlpools can be found in areas where there is a sudden narrowing in the river that is not caused by sand banks. Like the entrance to a gorge or a gully. The force of the water flowing into the narrow area stays proportional to the amount of water flowing out. However, because of this force, the sudden ‘blockage’ caused by the narrowing banks, causes the water to whirl back on itself. If the water level does not increase, one can get stuck in a whirlpool for a couple of hours before the whirlpool belches you out, when the equilibrium is reached by the water flowing out through the narrowing. The worst I heard was of a kayak stuck in a whirlpool for two weeks!

Waterfalls or potential waterfalls are identifiable by contour lines that cross the river. These are not so easy to spot. When one looks at the Augrabies Waterfall, it is very easy to see the contours crossing and very close to each other. Thus indicating sheer cliffs and the falls, however the other 5 falls could be 1, 2 or 3 contour lines not so close to each other. If info is available on the web or from a farmer along the way, the distance markers can make it so much easier to find these falls and make plans for portaging.

Another useful preparation one can do is to work out the navigation points. This comes in especially handy when crossing dams the size of Lake !Gariep or Van der Kloof. As this mass expanse of water, does not run in a nice straight line, it is very easy to take the wrong turn and end up in a dead end bay. A lot of time can be wasted trying to find the right line to continue or climbing kopjes to see where one is suppose to go. Some of this wasted time can be saved by marking navigation points on the map up front.

It is done by placing the baseline of the compass in the direction you want to go. Then align the north indicator with the magnetic north needle. The degree of variation between the baseline and the north needle gives one an indication in what direction one should go. Off course for this to work, one still has to know where one is in relation to the map. Thus one must be able to position oneself to the environment to ‘read’ the correct navigation point.

Once the entire distance is marked out in 1 kilometre intervals, it is then marked with 10 kilometre markers. This helps to see at a glance a bigger picture of distances covered. Placing the longitude and latitude values at these points also make it useful in case of an emergency. Thus if help is required, the closest GPS coordinates can be given immediately.

But I have 70 1:50 000 Topo maps. It is not possible to carry this amount of maps. The maps must still be cut down to useable sizes and pasted together as there are a number of maps that only have a small portion of the river on them. Before this is done useful information like nearest farms, towns, roads etc must be marked on the portions that we will be taking with.

A lot of preparation work upfront that can save a lot of time whilst on the river. For now we do not have GPS’s, but still good old map work comes in handy when the GPS is out of battery power or fine tuning locations and distances.

Once all this information is collated, a schedule can be worked out on how long it will take to get between towns and complete the journey.

The Orange and the Crocodile

In the Crocodile you might find Oranges, but in the Orange River there are no more Crocodiles. So what does the two have in common, apart from being two main rivers, the one being the longest river in South Africa, the other the main feed of the Limpopo?

Sunday past (10/01/10) I visited the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens. As we criss-crossed the little stream, which is the upper-reaches of the Crocodile River, I would take some time to indentify Eddy’s, Haystacks and Pillows. No, I had no dream of frolicking in the barn. These are some of the effects one encounters on a river.

An Eddy can be found wherever there is an obstruction in the river and while the river flows around it down stream, below the obstruction the water flows upstream. Eddy’s can be used to ‘sit’ on the water, without drifting down stream, to take a break. Pillows are an indication of a submerged rock that causes a slight upwelling of the water, best avoided by either going left or right. If the rock is shallow, one can get stuck on it. If it is deep, and the river is fast flowing, it is followed by turbulent water downstream that can result in a dunk. Haystacks are formed where there is a drop in the river bottom. The first waves that are formed the drop are referred to as Haystacks. The steeper the drop, the Haystack will be higher to huge. Apart from indicating no obstructions, they can provide a nice splash and maybe a dunking.

Once I could identify these phenomena, I just had to magnify them 1 000 000 times to ‘see’ what I would be facing on the river at times. Rather scary. I realised the most of the time it will not just be the physical excursion required to paddle the kayak, but there will also be a lot of mental work involved: looking, assessing, deciding and acting and all of this happening in a short space of time. Even if we do first scout the rapid or obstructions from high on the river bank, things look very different at water level. Knowing how the water flows and acts is critical as it can mean the difference between staying in one’s kayak or going for a ‘swim’. It can also save one’s life.

Later we felt very energetic and followed the Geological trail to the top of the waterfall. This is where my blood just turned cold. I have often followed the trail to the top of the waterfall only to enjoy the view. This time it was to test a critical sensory. When wilderness kayaking, hearing/listening is very important. One has to listen to the river. A rapid, weir, whirlpool or waterfall can be heard long before it is seen.

Standing at the top of the waterfall I was looking at the little stream flowing o so gently. Listening to the ripple, then I tried to hear the waterfall. All I could make out was a faint background rush. The ripple was louder than the rush. If I did not know this area, I would have had no idea that just meters away, this little brook plunges over a 76meter waterfall as I could not hear the crash of the waterfall!

Even though we will not encounter a waterfall of this proportion (the Augrabies is completely by passed) the importance of listening, looking and scouting is vital to identify the other 5 smaller waterfalls on the river.