Donnerstag, 17. März 2011

Retrospect: Christmas in Batoka Gorge (Zambia/Zimbabwe)

After chilling on the White Nile, Uganda, for a few weeks, I decided to head south with Rachel Curtis (NZ) and check out the Zambezi River. Arriving in Livingstone by plane was a spectacular view! We were both hanging out of the window trying to get a glimpse of Victoria Falls and all the white water in the gorge. Even from the plane, the river looked pretty big…

Victoria Falls (Photo Matej Fabianek)
Finally in Livingstone, we teamed up with a crew from Slovakia and Nicco Chassing at Bundu Adventures and started planning the logistics for the multiday trip from Victoria Falls to Lake Kariba. In air-distance, the shuttle through the bush is only about 300 km, but the dirt roads are really bad and turn into rivers if it rains. Nicco ran the shuttle with his 4x4 truck and a motorbike while the rest of us prepared the gear in town. The Lower Zambezi has flat sections with lots of crocks and hippos and we were all really happy to get two gear rafts for safety. Early in the morning, we put in at the Boiling Pot, just downstream of Victoria Falls, or the Mosi-o-Tunya (the Smoke that Thunders) in the local language. Ahead of us was 50 km consisting of some of the world’s most fun white water to paddle before sunset would set in. The water level had been coming up a lot the last days and the pour over “boof” in Stairway to Heaven (nr 5) was coming up. This rapid is a lot of fun, but the big crock living in the pool just downstream had scared the shit out me a few days before, so I didn’t dare to do the hairy boof line. 

Nini at Stairway to Heaven (photo Matej Fabianek)

The big surf wave in Midnight Diner (nr 8) was up and most of us had a lot of fun getting beatings in the Star Trek hole. Commercial Suicide (nr 9) was next up and I was very happy to portage after seeing one of the guys swimming out of the big hole…

Peter at the wave in nr 8 (Photo Matej Fabianek)
Nina & Peter at Commercial Suicide
Peter Scherfel in Commercial Suicide (Photo Matej Fabianek)   

It took us half the day to do rapid 1 to 25 and we still had a lot of white water to cover in small play boats. At some places, the gorge walls are about 100 meters high and the temperature raised to 40 degrees in the afternoon. As we scouted The Narrows, a tricky, powerful channel with lots of big whirlpools, I did a big mistake standing too long on the same spot. My boots actually melted on the black rocks…
We were all pretty tired when we decided to put up the camp, but still not too tired to enjoy the wine around the bonfire in the dark. Sunburned and dehydrated I put out my sleeping bag and fell asleep in the sand, only to wake up a few hours later by the moving flash lights in the dark. “Nini…. It s 5 pm already, we have to pack up and leave!”

Batoka Gorge camp (Photo Matej Fabianek)

Upper Moomba had a fun, almost creeky line with rocks on the river right, but Lower Moomba is a mandatory portage. We pulled the gear rafts up on the Zimbabwean side and were met by very helpful, native fishermen. At Chibongo portage, we put up a rope system and lowered the gear rafts down the big rapid.

Portage at the Zimbabwean siden
Chibongo portage (Dam Site)
Chibongo (Dam Site)
With Nina Halasova at Damsite (Photo Matej Fabianek)

In the afternoon, we got caught in a big storm and had to eddy out because of the strong wind. The temperature dropped fast, and believe me, it is not very comfortable to get icy hails on your burned to death shoulders. At the same time, my eyes started to feel really painful and I slowly lost my vision. The exposure of strong UV rays the past days had given me a mild form of snow blindness and I curled up in the gear raft eating pain killers, trying to protect my eyes from the sunlight. 

Zambezi! (Photo Matej Fabianek)

The next day, my eyes felt a lot better and my vision was back. We had finished most of the bigger rapids the day before and as the gorge opened up; we tied the kayaks to the gear rafts and started rowing. Flat water on the Zambezi is very flat, almost like big lakes. If you think the rapids are the big hazards on the Batoka Gorge, you are very wrong. Hippos are considered the most dangerous animal in Africa, and we constantly scouted for their bulky bodies. During the day, they hang out in the river to cover up in mud to keep their skin from being burned by the sun. Our biggest fear was to separate a family group of hippos. They are well known for attacking boats if they feel threatened and with their up to 3 tons, a raft would be an easy match. A few hippos followed the gear rafts for a little bit, but luckily, they were all very gentle and sweet hippos.

Scouting for hippos

At the end of the day we were all happy to reach the final camp, a remote lodge in the bush. Having a cold beer watching the Zimbabwean sunset was definitely not the wrong way to finish the trip!
Only 11 hours back to Livingstone at the back of Nicco’s truck through the bush… 

Zambian dirt roads...

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