Pumphouse Weirs & Rapid
The last major obstacles on the Umgeni are the pump house weirs and the rapid. The first pump house weir is a barely noticeable drop down a chute in the centre of the river and the second one, 50m later is a significant drop. The take-out for the portage is between the two weirs on the right and is short and flat with easy access points.
The decision to "shoot pump house" must be considered carefully. It can either save you a minute or two or potentially end your race. Although the weir is high and challenging, the rapid that follows directly afterwards is your biggest challenge.The 2nd Weir consists of an initial drop and then a sloping gradient bottoming out onto a wide concrete base. It has to be shot slowly to avoid damage to your boat as you are essentially dropping onto concrete and not floating. It can only be safely shot on the left side either against the diagonal wall or straight down in line with where this wall ends. In high water it is also possible to ramp the diagonal wall and slide down on the far side of it.Head for approximately 9 m from the left side.
Look for a barely noticeable "V" or kink on the top of the spillway. Use it as your reference point.
NB Make sure you avoid the lip at the base of the weir as this will cause damage to your nose. Rather be too far left if you are unsure, than hit the lip.
Pump House Rapid
Shooting the big weir lines you up into the approaches of Pump House Rapid. NB: This rapid has very different charateristics and hydraulics in low and high levels.
In very LOW water your first challenge is a 3rd weir under a low level bridge. The approach is very narrow and there is a bridge pillar directly in the centre of the channel that you have to avoid. Although the weir is not very high it has a strong stopper, a strong suck-back and a very powerful side-wash from left to right. Go right of the pillar and paddle hard. Be careful not to point you nose anywhere right of centre otherwise you will be washed into the massive boulder on the right which is slightly undercut (see "how not to" pump house video). Once past the undercut boulder pick your way down with the intention of exiting the rapid on the right.
In MEDIUM and higher water this stopper becomes washed out and is less of a problem. The challenge then becomes to safely get from the left bank to the right bank whilst avoiding the boulders and pour-overs obstructing your path. Again plan to exit the rapid on the extreme right but be warned that simply "going with the flow" will land you in trouble. Speed and decisive steering is recommended.
Safety First: Pump House Rapid is made up of rubble and boulders that were dumped into the river during the construction of the new bridge. Although the gradient is not very steep, the current is powerful and fast. There are boulders to avoid in positions that they would not normally be in, had the rapid been formed naturally.
This rapid is deceptive and it demands skilled boat handling. We recommend NOT to attempt it unless you are competent in controlling exactly where you need to go.
There is also the option to portage the 2nd weir and put-in half way down the rapid on the right bank, directly after the low bridge. This shortens the portage and skips the tricky top section. The lower part of the rapid is much easier to navigate from the right bank as you do not have to cross the main stream. The time advantage however, of this approach is marginal and a swim here is not safe.
On a final note, there are still metal re-inforcing rods protruding from concrete blocks littering this rapid. These can hook you up and the opportunity for foot entrapment is greatly increased. Be careful at all levels.
Pumphouse Weir & Rapid - Medium Level