Sunday, January 27, 2008

Inxu River, Transkei - South Africa

Tyler Brandt gets the Inxu 50' in the heart of Transkei - South Africa

Approaching the whitewater of South Africa one’s mind will wander with the details of a country so vast it's hard to remember that you're in a place nicknamed the Dark Continent. Approaching from the west, our own journey into South African rivers began as Namibian desert was replaced by a windy Cape and pristine ocean. It would be an unplanned route through a diverse part of Africa. Our destination was to be the rivers of the Transkei.

Once a designated homeland during South Africa’s harsh apartheid, the Transkei still remains a place where time and beauty are about as relaxed as the dotted tribal villages laying beneath the Drakensberg mountains. A two week exposure to some of the most unknown rivers in the country with a perfect setting and good friends.

The Inxu was paddled once before back in 2006 when Adriaan Badenhorst was beginning to make the Transkei a permanent place called home. Coming from a life spent on South African rivers, Adrian found SA’s final chapter for whitewater exploration on his new doorstep.

Near the town of Maclear the tributaries of the Umzimvubu fall from the high plateau through unseen gorges. Although many sections and other rivers remain to be explored, the Inxu has all the characteristics of a serious classic. A relatively easy shuttle puts you paddling along tranquil grassland before entering a quality boulder strewn gorge and eventually two bomb drops of 50’ and 35’ respectively.

Basso - Inxu 35'

Adriaan and a friend would have the perfect flow to claim the big falls there own, but at the end of a long day everyone in the first decsent left the second waterfall downstream for another day. So the time would arrive nearly 2 years later when our group would make the claim.

The Inxu would not go down without at fight from the rain gods who were playing water levels away from the season and leaving us waiting in wonder. In the end we became somewhat battered and wishing for a higher flow that would not come. And so we paddled under sunny hot January skies with some boneyard sections and tight lines on the falls.

A sincere thank you goes out to Adriaan and his new wife Angela for the awesome hospitality in their soon to be famous highland adventure destination. For more information leave your guidebook at home and just go to where South Africa becomes the Transkei.

View Inxu River (IV-V) in a larger map

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Nile 2 Zambezi - An African road trip

Davey O'Hare in a safe place on #9 Zambezi River - Zambia

Two of the worlds most impressive rivers are found in Africa. But anyone who has attempted to make the journey to both The White Nile of Uganda and Zambia’s Zambezi in one go will soon realize they are huge distances apart from each other. An expensive airplane ride can eat up those miles in a matter of hours and is the common cure. But should you be lucky enough to make the haul across 4 countries and 2000 miles of potholes and mud ruts by car, you will lose yourself in an epic journey that makes kayaking only a portion of the whole adventure.

From Uganda we made bold decision to drive west around Lake Victoria and into the small country of Rwanda. Although this would be a shorter distance on paper, this route would eventually land us in remote western Tanzania, where roads became dots on the map - 4x4 African style.

In the beginning the drive was beautiful and paved nicely, going up into Ugandan hills until we reached the terraced hillsides of Rwanda. Here there were people everywhere including all over the road. Rwanda has one of the highest population densities in Africa and it definitely felt like it. But we should have not taken the pavement for granted, once into Tanzania nice roads vanished into dirt ruts and soon became an 800 mile thrash along Lake Tanganyika. Definitely off the beaten path.

For most of the next 4 days our sturdy Toyota Hilux was holding its own in full time 4x4 as road became legendary with stunning scenery, steep rock crawls, and nasty deep mud pools. As we climbed up and over one small mountain range, we got introduced to the meaning of "the wet season" as mother Africa decided to send a crazy tropical rain storm our way… as if we didn’t have enough to worry about. As with most storms here in Africa when it rains, it rains with authority and our road became a small river in a matter of minutes.

After a low point of thinking we would be stuck forever in the African outback, the road began to improve during our final push to the Zambian border. On our way we crossed the Malagarasi River, beautiful and ready for a multi-day expedition if you don’t mind….Hippos! One of the biggest obstacles holding back the majority of river explorations throughout, Africa are these gigantic aggressive beast who love to hang out together in flat water.

Zambia! Once on the Great Eastern road, we rejoiced in potholed pavement for the next 1000 miles and pushed long and hard to Livingstone in Zambia’s southwestern corner. As one of the 7 natural wonders of the world plummet from the countryside and into the gorge below it was refreshing to know we had arrived before the river had yet to go past ridiculously high levels. This year the river is on its way up quickly but is still providing some of the best waves in the world.

Nico Chasing - still a permanent Zambezi resident with plenty of airmiles on #8.

With the immediate possibility of the White Nile falling victim to damming, the classic Zambezi gorge represents no man’s land, a border into the abyss which separates two countries. Perhaps a dam one day far far away, but until then make sure you make the trip to one of the greatest pieces of playable big water boating on the planet.

Michelle Basso trying to settle the beast

View Zambezi River (IV-V) in a larger map