Kayaking First Descent

Link to article in DoItNow :- Kayaking First Descent

kayaking whitewater

These days, firsts of any kind are hard to come by. Mountains have been climbed, places discovered and rivers run all around the world. Fortunately though, the world is a very big place and there are still firsts out there for adventure seekers looking for new thrills.

Exploring and finding undiscovered places makes me come alive and that is why I find white-water kayaking so appealing. You get to see places that few others have and go where even fewer are able to get to, due to the extreme nature and risk of it all. There is also nothing like running a technical rapid for the first time and getting all the moves dialled in your head. You are completely focused, the roar of the river drowns out everything so that nothing other than what is right in front of you exists. Your nerves are on edge, but as soon as you hit that first rapid, everything comes together and you become one with the river.

Luckily for me, I don’t have to go looking for new and exciting thrills in far off places as there are a number of amazing rivers right on my doorstep, in the Garden Route, which are still waiting to be claimed.
But it’s not as simple as that because the rivers in the Garden Route area can only be paddled when in flood; this doesn’t happen very often and the timing is random. The water levels also drop just as quickly as they rise. Therefore, if you want to catch one of the rivers at a good level, you need to drop everything and get out there while it’s raining.

Living so close to these rivers has meant that I’ve had many opportunities to paddle them over the last 15 years. And due to the fickle nature of these rivers, not many paddlers have had the opportunity to paddle them, which has allowed me to get in some first descents of a few of the rivers and creeks up in the mountains in the Garden Route area.


My most recent ‘first’ conquest was the Plaat River, which confluences with the Karatara River up in the Outeniqua Mountains.
Having seen some of the technical rapids after the confluence on a previous trip, I have wanted to explore and run this river for a long time. Adding to the creek’s appeal is its location in the valley. By just looking at it I could see there would be a serious gradient drop – something any good run should have. With some good rains and having checked the river levels earlier that the morning, I made the call to go out and explore this creek.

Now, not many guys in the area can just drop what they are doing and go for a paddle. But I am fortunate to have a friend, Eugene Fourie, who is just as keen as I am when it comes to pursuing epic, spontaneous adventures. Making our way up high up into the Outeniqua Mountains, my feelings were very mixed. I felt great excitement but I was also nervous not knowing what to expect or what was around the next corner. My nerves were not unfounded because as we rounded the first bend in the river, I realised there would be no time for a warm up on this river. It started with a bang into a technical steep drop. From there, it never let up with rapid on rapid, never giving you much flat water. It was awesome tight creeking with breathtaking scenery.

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Nerves on edge, senses alive and adrenaline pumping – these are key to keeping you alive.
The river entailed scouting a rapid as far as possible, then running it, eddying out, scouting the next section and then doing it all over again. We were unable to scout a rapid too far down once the river dropped down to cliffs on either side, and where possible at the serious rapids, we would take turns to stand ready at a critical spot with a throw rope, just in case one of us made a mistake. The creek really gave you a bit of everything staying at a steep gradient.

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When we finally got to the confluence with Karatara River, it was still early in the afternoon, which meant we wouldn’t have to sleep out in the mountain on this trip. I also kind of knew what was ahead of us, but this was of no comfort since there were some big, technical rapids waiting for us.

All went well though and with the last of the big rapids behind us, all that remained between us and where we had left our vehicle was a flat-section paddle. However, the closer we got to civilisation the more chocked the river became with strainers, which consisted of numerous exotics that had been chopped down and left in the river. This all made for some interesting channels, which we managed to navigate through and be finished by late afternoon.

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Safety on any paddling trip is a priority, especially a first descent. With this in mind, we skipped three rapids – for now. We will return, but we’ll bring another paddler along should things not go as planned.
It was such a blessing and privilege to have spent the day out in nature and had the thrill of running something new. Thanks to Eugene for taking it on with me because any experience is always better shared.

Warning: Creeking is high risk and most rivers in the Garden Route should only be taken on by experienced paddlers.

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– See more at: http://www.doitnow.co.za/content/first-descent-plaat-river-and-karatara-upper-reaches?