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New First Descent. Any takers?

Not many dam walls create conditions that are friendly to white water kayaking. The sheer drop and suicidal landings result in kayakers rather avoiding these.

Enter my fetish: The Assegaai River, South Africa.

The Heyshope Dam is high up in the river, and an important reservoir for the region. It has an earth-fill dam wall, which means that the overflow is on a slope, rather than the sheer drop of the concrete dams. Checking out Google Earth reveals an overflow channel with a +-25 meter (82ft) drop over a distance of 264 meters (866ft) ending in a 90 degree turn and another steep drop of +-2.5 meters (8ft) and finally entering the river below the sluices. The descent comes at 3 degrees (1:11).

This run is not for everyone. You can expect to achieve amazing speeds on the run (the easy part). Right at the end it has a sharp right turn followed by steep drop and a hard punch through a hole.

Heyshope dam wall

I’m hoping to bring a bunch of kayakers together in the next few months, once the rainy season starts and will bring you back the footage. So lets have a walk through:

ChannelView

THE APPROACH

Simple. Get your boat into the dam and paddle to overflow point on the dam wall, marked by ominous buoys.

THE ENTRY

On high level, I expect the water will speed up exponentially as you inch closer.

By the time you see this, you are already past the point of no return:

Channel

THE FIRST LITTLE DROP

Nothing major, no whitewater. Just a continuous stream that rapidly accelerates.

firstDROPNEXT, ENJOY THE VIEW

… as the channel narrows, everything speeds up and becomes blurry. In your vision I may still be standing below (like in this pic), a proud 1.85m tall, but now’s the time to remind yourself that its a hallucination. I am NOT standing below, but most probably you will find me on top of the wall below, taking a video clip of your impeding doom. If you get bored, you may do some cartwheels on the way down, I won’t mind.

Channel Zoom

TAKE A QUICK RIGHT TURN

Up to now the run has been quite uneventful. However, things are about to get really interesting! As you reach the bottom, the gradient will drop to zero (which you will probably not even notice, considering your velocity. The channel is beautifully designed to give you a smooth banking at the turn.RightTurn

Take a sharp right turn, and BOOF! Do not screw this up. A swim will probably not be pleasant.

ADMIRE THE VIEW FROM BELOW:

As you boof, take a look to your right, and check out where you came from (not recommended for intermediate paddlers):ViewFrom Below

THE (POSSIBLY NASTY) DROP

Now paddlers of all skill levels should be able to appreciate this view as they descend (same could probably not be said of the landing). The dam level will determine if you see a pretty three step drop, or a chaotic mass of swirling liquid.

TheDrop

FINALLY: THE HOLE

As previously mentioned, depending on the dam level you may not even see this hole. This is the unpredictable part. Will the sluices be open, and create a sucking vortex into the hole upstream and on river left? Will the sluices be closed, and present a peaceful eddy at that spot. Will it be flood levels, with the river trying to smash your kayak against the man made sharp boulder berm on river right, or will it be low levels and create a retentive hydraulic?

The Hole

UNDERCUT

The little undercut is too small (in my opinion) to present a major issue, but it does tell tales of retentiveness. Bring some laxatives just in case.

undercutGRAND FINALE

Now if you made it through the hole without requiring rescue, your final view will look something like this:

grandFINALE

Now for the big question: Is it run-able?

I think so, but you will need above average experience. It surely is a notable first descent to put on your tick list.

Say what, if you are keen, let me know. I am in contact with the government dam operator and will get feedback on the dam and river levels.

WE WILL NEED PROPER PERMISSIONS FIRST! DON’T JUST GO ON YOUR OWN WITHOUT PERMISSIONS AND GET THE RUN BANNED FOR EVERYONE!!!

Once the dam level is up, we organise a weekend and make it happen.

The rain season is coming!!!

by Franz Fuls

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About Franz Fuls

Adventurer Freelance Journalist Photographer Bunny Hugger Engineer January 2014 I depart on a 2,500km eco-expedition called Triwaters Tour. The website link is in my profile. Go check it out.

3 comments on “New First Descent. Any takers?

  1. […] I made a <a< span=”"> href=”http://trailblazerguide.com/2013/09/25/new-first-descent-any-takers/”>mid winter visit, frustrated with the dry season. It gave me a chance to check out the dam wall, and […]

  2. […] The dam wall itself also present an opportunity for the dopamine depraved. Check out this story to judge if you have what it takes: http://trailblazerguide.com/2013/09/25/new-first-descent-any-takers/ […]

  3. […] The post creating the most traffic was a story about a dam wall, throwing out bait to see if anyone would be daring enough to run it in a kayak! Stories with polls also did great, like this one on the preparedness of adventurers for an emergency and analysed risk in adventure, like this story on children in high risk activities. […]

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