Josephines Bridge to Riverside

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[Thanks to Anthony van Tonder for the contribution below]

Hi Guys,

The section of the Umkomaas River from  Josephines bridge to Riverside does not get paddled as often as the upper section.  As a result it is more difficult to get familiar with the sequence of events on this section of river, and to know where you are and what to expect next on the river. Over the years I have compiled the description below from memory after doing the race, then confirmed and edited the details with subsequent repeats of the race, and it is now fairly complete and accurate.  What I have called Yellow Cliff rapid may have another name. Blue Movie rapid was named by Owen H because of the noises people make when unfortunate enough to be swimming down it. It may also have another name.  Other paddlers who are still unfamiliar with this section of river may find this useful. 

Umkomaas Canoe Marathon - Josephines bridge to Riverside

There is straight forward paddling most of the way to St Elmo's, but about half way to St Elmo's, between the Duma Manzi game lodge on the L bank and the suspension bridge just beyond it, is a tricky rapid with lots of rocks; stay left.

About ten minutes before St Elmo's you pass a very impressive high overhanging cliff face on the left. The old overnight stop at St Elmo’s is recognised by a small rounded hill on the R bank with a small orange and grey rock cliff in front. The willow trees that were here have disappeared. Just beyond St Elmo's is a sharp left bend after which there are several big boulders in the middle of the river requiring agile steering.

Then there is a long loop to the left and back with T-Junction Rapid just before the apex of the loop where the river bends right. Stay as far right as possible at T-junction to avoid being washed into the cliff. It is easier to do so in a fuller river.

Pass Ufudu Mountain on the right with big red cliffs up high, then on a long left bend the river splits to form an island. Take the left channel. Where this channel starts to curve right again to rejoin the R channel, take a narrow sneak channel between the reeds on the left (sharp left turn to enter). This sneak is only possible in a fairly full river. If you have to continue down the main left channel instead, it gets quite wild where it rejoins the R channel.

Then there is a repetition of two similar sequences of events (creating a confusing sense of "déjà vu"): -

First sequence: -

a) The river bends right at the apex of a loop where there is a big rock promontory on the left bank with a lodge high up on top. A long rapid curves around to the right with big cliffs on the left and several channels branching off to the left at intervals. Stay right.

b) This leads into a steep wild rapid with a right bend at the bottom.

c) Pass African huts and cows on the right bank.

d) Then you come to Red Cliff rapids (false Yellow Cliff rapid): - this is a series of benign rapids followed by big red cliffs on the right bank, notable only because it looks misleadingly like Yellow Cliff rapid when approaching it.

Second sequence: -

a) The river bends right at the apex of another (shorter) loop where there is another big rock promontory on the left bank (but no lodge on top).

b) Then very shortly afterwards is a steep wild rapid with a sharp R bend at the bottom and a big boulder in the middle requiring a quick decision whether to go L or R of the boulder (usually R of the boulder in high water, L of the boulder in low water). (This is Arthur’s Rapid, a favourite stop for the helicopter with the film crew).

c)Pass African huts and cows on the R bank.

d) Then you enter Yellow Cliff rapid, which is long and gets wilder as you go down. Stay left of centre watching out for rocks on the left. It finishes in a pool with big yellow cliffs on the R bank. There is a tendency to swim at the last drop into the pool. (In a very wet rainy season the yellow cliffs get washed clean to a more red colour).

Soon after Yellow Cliff the river turns left into an easy rapid which splits around a small island at the end. Because of rocks on the right one tends to stay left in this rapid. However be sure to go right of the little island at the end because going left of the island leads one into a monster hole...

Then after another minor rapid, at a big bend to the right, is Captain Honks Rapid, a wild steep and long rocky rapid, curving down to the right. We always used to stay near the R bank here but the rapid has changed and become mean and there is now a nasty hidden shelf or ramp on the right about 2/3 of the way down that is tipping people out of their boats. So start on the right and move towards the centre as you go around the bend. There is no easy line...

Then there are a few minor rapids followed by a stretch of flat water at the end of which is a left bend with a low rocky hillside on the right bank; this is Ledges rapid. There is no good line. Pick a gap between the rocks towards the R side and hope for the best and bang down over and between rocks into a fast flowing and quite wild channel. One can sneak this rapid on the left when full but it is still rocky and nasty. It probably makes sense to portage this rapid (on the left).

A few hundred meters further on you can see a drop ahead where the river turns right. The river splits, and you can paddle down either channel. The L channel drops down earlier and more gradually and is longer and quite wild and curves around to the right and rejoins the R channel at the bottom of Blue Movie rapid. The R channel stays high for longer then turns left down Blue Movie rapid which is short but steep and nasty. Watch out for the big rock in the middle. This is usually shot on the left, but R is better when there is more water.

There are several minor rapids from here to the finish on the R bank at Riverside where there is a suspension bridge.