Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Paddling in winter

I've had two successful paddle outings recently. 

The first was a two-day trip on the Vaal River, almost from my doorstep, with Celliers. Our boats have been gathering dust and we've been a bit all-work, no-play for weeks. It was time to get out to celebrate our products.

I've never been on this section before so it was a revelation. I printed off Google Earth images so that I could follow along and really get a feel for our location - twists, turns and distances on rivers can be a blur. It was spectacular!

Day 1's section of about 15km was mostly flat sections with clumps of islands, channels and class 1 rapids. There was only one class 2. We stopped, got out, scouted, chose our lines and then hit the water. It was a piece of cake on my trusty Marimba.

Day 2's section of 13km was all flatwater but the hills of the Vredefort Dome area made up for the lack of excitement on the water with the move lovely scenery.

We had good sightings on both days of fish eagles and Goliath herons and even a big likkewaan (monitor lizard). 

We paddled for around 4hrs each day, enjoying the sights along the way. We camped on a small island in the late afternoon, setup and got to enjoy the last of the day's warmth. I'd packed a home-made hearty soup, which we heated and ate for dinner before dark. By 18h15, we were in our tent with plush sleeping bags, warm jackets, beanies, headlamps and books. Like this, you don't feel the cold.

We had a leisurely morning making tea, coffee and instant oats for breakfast before packing up camp and our kayaks. We were in no rush with only 13km ahead of flatwater and our pick-up at 2pm.

We had spectacular fish eagle sightings on this section and a lovely warmth. To our advantage, this trip was a few days before the real cold set in. 

Celliers last paddled this section more than 20 years ago. It was my first trip down here and I'll definitely be back. If you're looking for exercise, it can easily be done in a couple of hours. If you're looking to have a break, the two days is superb.

I made a 2:30 video with photos and two video clips.

My second paddle outing was on Sunday afternoon. 'Top Section' is a stretch of whitewater above town. The water level was up on Saturday but unfortunately it was down again on Sunday but we still decided to go anyway. I have only done Top Section three or four times and this was my first time taking the right-hand channel.

I paddled my Pungwe whitewater kayak. I got in quite a bit of paddling before lockdown so my skills have much improved and my roll is getting more solid in current. But in the cold winter water?
Before going down the weir (there is a 'slide'), I did a roll. I figured that it was worth a planned dunking to get it over with rather than a surprise dunking in a rapid. I was very pleased that the brain freeze wasn't as bad as I'd expected and that my dry top and spray deck had kept me warm and dry. This was good for my confidence - to know the bad is not really as bad as I'd imagined (which is usually the case!).

Start of the section - weird in the background. That's me in the blue kayak.

I did pop a Valoid before heading out. Generally going straight down river is no issue for my weak sea stomach but any kind of playing in rapids makes me queasy. I find the whole experience is better with my equilibrium chemically balanced so I'm getting in the habit of taking a tablet at least 30 mins before getting on the water when I paddle whitewater.


On this outing it was me, Gideon, Celliers and Ruben. Gideon and Celliers have paddled this side a lot and there are loads of channels and options. At such low level, everything looks different and the paddle was very crunchy with lots of rocks. We had to get out only once when a channel was obstructed by rocks, we snuck under some low branches and I slithered my kayak over barely-covered rocks. 

It was stunning and I loved it. Looking forward to the next one.

Winter in all its glory.

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