Umkomaas River – Hella-Hella to Josephine’s Bridge

This is a classic piece of river for both K1-paddlers and whitewater kayakers. The section forms the start of the annual Umkomaas marathon and contains the biggest rapids any K1-race is held on. For the not-too-competent K1-paddler this might be an eye-opener, and it is recommended that this section is tripped a few times before racing on it, and preferably at a low level.

  • Ideal for: K1, kayak, croc
  • Grade: 3, 4 at high level
  • Length: 1) 14 km 2) 26 km
  • Duration: 1) 3 to 5 hours in a kayak, depending on water level and the time spent playing. 2) 3-5 hours in a K1.
  • Type: Pool-drop
  • Put-in: Hella-Hella bridge
  • Take-out: 1) Umko Whitewater Rafting camp.
  • 2) Josephine’s bridge.
  • Dam controlled: No
  • Permits: Arrange with Umko Whitewater Rafting at take-out, who also provide shuttle drives.
  • Commercial operators: Umko Whitewater Rafting, Duma Manzi

Map Umkomaas Deepdale

The major rapids are numbered from 1 to 8, with House-rock rapid thrown in between 6 and 7. It’s not easy to count them, as some of the unnumbered rapids are almost as big as the numbered ones. The action begins right after the start at rapid nr 1, and it might be a good idea to walk back if you don’t feel like running the first rapid. The rapids are fairly long with some big holes and boulders to avoid. No’s 5 and 6, which are actually one long rapid, have a distinctive pinnacle rock at the top right in the middle of the main channel. This rapid should be scouted from the right, and most K1-paddlers should rather opt to portage it. Alternatively when the river is not too low a chicken run can be taken on the far left. If you’ve made it this far you will probably manage the rest of the rapids.

For kayakers this is a good section to hone river-running skills. The scenery is pretty, like on most Umkomaas sections. The river goes through a deep valley and huts of the local people can be seen on many of the hills, adding to a truly African experience. A couple of nice playholes can also be found along the way.

Below no 8 the rapids get smaller and further apart, and most kayakers prefer to get out here. K1-paddlers may find it worthwhile to continue down to Josephine’s bridge, thereby making the shuttle driving also a bit easier for the seconds. The section from nr 8 to Josephine’s is also a popular section for less experienced paddlers, as it provides lots of excitement without being scary.

Commercial rafting has taken off big time on this and the next section. The water level on these lower sections has proven to be consistent enough to warrant full-scale operations, and clients dig the easily accessible trips.

This river description is taken from my book “Run the Rivers of Southern Africa”.
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