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, and Trevor Sheehan 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.
The Pungwe Gorge, Zimbabwe
As Trevor and Dodgy Dave drove North back to Zambia, our team of three was reduced by a third, leaving only Dave and myself to help support each other both on and off the river. Chris Cragg had convinced us we needed to kayak the Pungwe Gorge, an epic class V section of the Pungwe on the edge of the Nyanga National Park. So we set off into the Zimbabwean bush.
Supposedly it was an hour hike to the river. By the second hour of hiking through the bush, we decided we were going the wrong way. It’s a funny thing to know where a river is, to the point you can see and hear it, but not be able to access it. We ultimately had taken a wrong turn and needed to backtrack a kilometer or so with our fully loaded kayaks. Eventually we made it to the put it; all said and done it took us close to 5 hours of hiking. After pushing our way through fallen trees, endless Kite Spider webs, and as many thorn bushes as there were trees, we ate a lunch of peanut butter and honey.
As with just about every other river we had paddled thus far in Zimbabwe, the Pungwe was very high. None of our beta was very relevant. Dave and I put on the river around 3:30 in the afternoon, with close to 6 km to get to the spot we wanted to camp. We made it just before dark. We made an agreement to run conservative due to the high water and lack of rapid and hazard knowledge. By the end of the first day, we were working like a smooth running engine; it was a thing of beauty. At camp we pitched our tents and made a small dinner of instant noodles and powdered soya before passing out in our hammocks from exhaustion.
The next morning we awoke to a troop of baboons jumping through the trees around us. As we packed our boats, two men came walking through the bush. We were in a national park and these guys didn’t look like rangers. Most likely, they were poachers going to check their traps. The second day was a fair bit easier, for a bit until we reached the dewatered section of the Pungwe. It was roughly a 6km portage in the beating sun. Carrying a fully loaded kayak is something special, weighing in close to 80-90 lbs. It’s never as easy as you tell yourself it will be. Eventually, to my everlasting shame, I decided to drag my boat because I was so tired.
We reached the power station, where the water was being put back into the river, and I looked down at my boat to realize the hull had been shredded. Whoops! I almost cried for making such a foolish decision to drag my boat. Time was not on our side and we still had close to 20km to get to our takeout. I had to do some fairly substantial field repair on my kayak, removing the seat and laying Bituthene, aka tar tape, on both the inside and outside of the hull. The powerstation down was the section we had done with Trevor the week prior. This time is was noticeably higher.
We made our way downstream with almost no incident, portaging when necessary and scouting where we saw fit. After finishing ‘Bernie’s Section’ we paddled through the valley. The beauty of the valley was out of this world. Absolutely brilliant! We found ourselves at the takeout shortly before dark. We had a driver pick us up and take us back to Chris’s place. The next thing to do would be to fix my boat properly. That would wait until the next day, we were very tired.
We spent the next few days trying to relax a bit and help Chris with some rafting trips he had going out. I was able to fix my kayak adequately enough to be paddle-able. The main issue I ran into was the heatgun I had brought with me was wired for a US outlet at 140mhz and all of the African outlets were wired at 240mhz. This essentially meant the heat gun would run too hot and overheat itself in a very short about of time limiting the effectiveness for plastic welding the boat back together. I made due and made it work…not my best work, I should add.
We were now in a holding pattern in the Honde Valley. Relaxing when we could, helping with rafting trips, and kayaking. The afternoon rain storms seemed to move in like clockwork. We would sit and watch these epic thunderstorms move in from Mozambique and come crashing down on us. The Aberfoyle Lodge had received close to a meter and a half of rain in the last month! An insane amount of rainfall. We paddled a few more times on the Nyamangura at varying water levels over the next week or so. We had made plans to go to Harare with Chris in order to catch a bus to Johannesburg, South Africa. The day before we left for Harare, we got to paddle the Nyamangura at the highest level we had seen it. Suddenly this low volume steep creek had teeth! It was quite brilliant, very fun and technical steep creek boating with a bit of push to it. We paddled through torrential downpours and enjoyed every second of it. It was a beautiful way to finish the Zimbabwe leg of the kayaking trip. The next day as we drove over the Nyamangura, on our way to Harare, the creek was full to the bank and in the trees. We drove away from the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe with the rain on our heels. It was a beautiful thing. It was time to go to the city and continue the Summer Rains Tour. We would be in Harare for about a week making arrangements take a 20 hour bus ride south to Johannesburg. It was time to keep chasing the rain.
Stay tuned for more Summer Rains Tour episodes soon…
Authors Tyler Houck and Dave Wells 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.