The Summer Rains Tour
A team of Wet Planet guides, both past and present, embarked on a journey to Africa for the winter. Tyler Houck, David Wells, Trevor Sheehan, and friend Sean Eddington explored remote regions of southern Africa, focusing primarily on the eastern highlands of Zimbabwe. They discovered new stretches of river allowing them to claim “first descents”, gathered water samples for a global micro plastic study, while documenting all their adventures and explorations. They spent time kayaking the Zambezi River – Africa’s endangered river, as well as many other rivers in South Africa and Uganda, hiked through mountains with kayaks on their backs, building shelters out of tarps, and now, upon their safe return, they are proudly sharing their experiences. They are epic, and thankfully all missions were successfully accomplished. Read on.
Chasing the Summer Rains on the Zambezi River
It was the rainy season and the commercial rafting companies were on the verge of cutting off the rafting trips on the 1-10 section of the Zambezi River in Africa. Rapids 1-10 were the largest of the daily commercial section and none of us had kayaked the Zambezi at this high of flows.
We decided we wanted to do an overnight trip from rapid 1 to the proposed Batoka dam site 40km downstream. When completed, the reservoir would be the second largest man-made lake in the world that would submerge the Zambezi canyon up to rapid number 5.
Our plan was to kayak the Zambezi to the dam site and camp at rapid 21. The night before we put on the river, the Nyami Nyami (spirit of the Zambezi) decided to test us. It rained harder than it had during our entire trip to that point. The Zambezi rose 2 more meters (6 feet) above its already high level. Hiking down to the put-in at the base of Victoria Falls, the frothing river was a milky brown color. With sweat dripping down our backs and faces, we put on the river.
Number 4 was the first rapid that really got our nerves going. While all the lines stayed relatively the same, the rain had made the river features substantially bigger. The rapids grew with intensity as we made our way downstream, rolling up to those familiar but considerably larger horizon lines. Everything seemed to have moved downstream about 50 meters. We portaged Number 9 that day, then continued down to Rapid 21.
We stood in awe of an amazing sunset and glorious moonrise before the rains set back in. As the rain became vicious, we all set up our bivy sacks under a tarp and settled in for the night.
Dave was having a hard time trying to sort out his new bivy. Around 1 AM, he jumped out from the suffocating Gortex sack in sweaty frustration. “Guys! There is a small animal circling us! I don’t know what it is, but it’s about 6-8 inches tall! It could be a bird, but I don’t know!” As he climbed back into his bivy with the rain intensifying, a small house cat jumped into his sack. Our beast of the night wasn’t a lion or crocodile, but a small house cat. Classic.
We woke up the next day to find Benny Marr had woken up extra early to paddle down and meet us. The 4 of us continued down through the Zambezi Narrows, Choemba (where Trevor saw a croc of adequate size), and the Upper and Lower Moemba Falls. We took out at the Batoka Dam site.
As much as we thought we were in shape, the brutal hike out of the Zambezi canyon showed us otherwise.
We arrived panting and sweating at the top of the canyon rim we were met by the legendary Johnny Synder, aka Johnny Rama, an all too cool rock n roll kayak OG. He was excited to test out his newly purchased Land Rover and we were stoked for the lift.
As we cruised towards Livingstone, we were hanging off the sides of the Rover, like adolescent country boys in a pickup truck, staring into the setting sun of Zambia. We were on top of the world.
Stay tuned for more Summer Rain Tours episodes soon…
Author Tyler Houck has worked in the whitewater industry for the last 12 years, beginning in West Virginia, where he guided on the Shenandoah, Potomac, and Cheat Rivers before moving to the Pacific Northwest to work for Wet Planet Whitewater. He has kayaked class V rivers and guided in Ecuador, Nepal, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. He spent the winter traveling through Southern Africa as a part of the Summer Rains Tour, exploring rivers throughout Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Swaziland, and Lesotho. You can check out the Summer Rains Tour on Facebook: Summer Rains Tour and on Instagram: @Summer_Rains_Tour to find out more about their adventures in Africa and to see what they’ll be up to next.