River 9: The Sahatandra

With a few days left before we needed to be back in Tana for our flights we decided to head towards the popular Sahatandra. There is an in-use railway that runs alongside a large part of the river giving the option to paddle for a few days before trying to get a non-passenger train back to the put-in, however we decided to paddle a one day section with easy road access.

We camped in a car park in Perint National park next to the vehicles and spent the evening cooking a feast on a large fire. The car park turned out to be quite a noisy place to sleep with lots of dogs around as well as being close to the railway line.

Cooking evening food

Cooking evening food

The morning started with rice, jam and bananas before setting off to put on the river. We spent a while driving around trying to work out where was best to put on. We found new road that we thought might allow us to do laps, but it was still under construction. By late morning we had decided where to put on. By this time one of our 4×4’s was a bit broken and needed to go to get fixed meaning that we had a long time to spend on the 10km section.

The bridge that we decided to put in at

The bridge that we decided to put in at

The section stared with low volume and low gradient rapids before we reached some low log bridges that added to the fun.

Calum enjoying being stuck on a bridge

Calum enjoying being stuck on a bridge

The morning continued with some low volume rapids and some small interesting drops.

One of the more interesting rapids before lunch

One of the more interesting rapids before lunch

Having got a good amount of distance covered we decided to stop for lunch. Since we knew we had to wait for the vehicle to be fixed we had a leisurely, long lunch break. Being a one day section, we had packed good food in to our boats. After our extended lunch break we headed off for what we thought would be a relaxed afternoon similar to the morning. It soon became apparent that the second half of the section had more gradient and was much more exciting!

Josh boofing walled in ledge

Josh boofing a walled in ledge

As we continued, the river gorged up with some magnificent rock formations. Quite a bit of portaging was required due to the syphony style of the river however there was also some great runnable sections.  It felt like it needed more water, however if it did have more water it would be terrifying!

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One of the many rapids with interesting rock

Narrow channel that we decided to portage

Narrow channel that we decided to portage

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One of the less chossy parts in the gorge

After a while the gradient started to decrease and we soon reached the take-out. We were greeted by Matt and Rado who had walked along the railway line and towards the river. We walked up to the railway track and along it to get to the vehicles that had not been able to go any further due to a broken bridge.

Walking along railway

Walking along the railway to the vehicles

Bridge near takeout

Broken bridge near take-out

River 6: Upper Ivondro Multi-day

After paddling the Ikopa we decided to head East for some more exploratory paddling. We headed towards a 150 km section of the Ivondro. Being a first decent as well as longer, steeper and more remote than what we had already done we were very excited. We started the mission by spending a night in Ambatondrazaka. The next morning we bought supplies for 8 days on the river (expecting to take about 5 days) and started our day of off roading attempting to get as close to the river as possible expecting to have to walk the last part of the journey.

Broken bridge - one of the many challenges we faced on the road.

Broken bridge – one of the many challenges we faced on the road.

Late in the day after some exciting driving we had managed to get within a kilometre of the river. We sorted our kit in Ambodifano before a local man showed us through rice paddies and jungle paths to the river. Covered in mud, we put on the river just before sunset in hope of getting to a rapid to camp next to, but ended up running out of time and camping next to still water and accepting the mosquitoes that accompanied us. This river was already feeling more remote than what we had already been doing with the sound of lemurs (very rare) and no local people in sight.

Leslie traveling the last part of the journey to the Ivondro by foot.

Leslie traveling the last part of the journey to the Ivondro by foot.

The next morning we were up at sunrise and started the day with the usual sugar with rice. Soon after getting on the river we reached our first rapid – a three part slide ending in a smooth sloping boof. This was soon followed by our first portage, simply climbing over the rocks as the river went through them.

Sam at lip of sloping boof

Sam at lip of sloping boof

Some chilled rapids followed before we reached a steeper narrower section accompanied with a bridge over the river. We eddy hopped a bit further down before reaching a fairly significant horizon line. A 5 meter drop with a chossy lead in followed by a smaller drop below that we couldn’t yet properly inspect. The 5 meter drop was good to go so we fired it up. The smaller drop below was very undercut and had a rock backing up the hole so we decided to give it a miss, portaging.

Calum boofing 5 meter drop above portage

Calum boofing 5 meter drop above portage

Sam on same 5 meter drop

Sam on same 5 meter drop

Easier rapids followed accompanied with plenty of flat water. Late in the day we reached a manky syphoned drop followed by a narrow slot with a tree branch in it. We portaged and set up camp on the rocks – a good day followed by noodles and a fire. The next day started similar to the previous, early sweetened rice and on the water early, but this time we were expecting a day of flat water. We got what we were expecting and uneventful morning of making progress on the flat followed by a lunch break (noodles and biscuits) followed by more flat water hoping to get to the start of the super steep 40m / km section of the river by the end of the day. By 2pm we had definitely reached the start of the steep, faced with our first tricky time consuming portage. This took about 2 hours moving boats and abseiling. We paddled the next rapid and set up camp.

Matt portaging first rapid that required abseiling.

Matt portaging first rapid that required abseiling.

The next day after our morning rice we soon reached a massive horizon line. This drop was a manky 15m drop followed by big class 5+/6 rapids. Less than 1 km in to the 6 km very steep section we were starting to realise that is going to take us a long time! After realising the small paths on the left through the forest weren’t going to get us very far without a huge amount of time and effort we decided to abseil over the rock slabs on the right of the drop. Jacob went down first to scout the portage of the rapids below – we had found a way to portage so modified the abseil to use three throw-lines so we could retrieve the line and started lowering boats and abseiling. Portaging below the big fall was also time consuming to move on the steep slippery rock. After a whole morning of portaging we eat some food on a rock slab and dried some of our camping kit in the sun (It rains a lot at night in the rain forest).

Second abseil portage

Campbell abseiling to base of 15 meter drop

Big portage from below

Big portage from below

The afternoon consisted of a lot more paddling, continuous difficult rapids heading down in to a big gorge. Near the end of the day we found our self in the middle of the gorge above an unrunnable section full of syphons. Camping options were limited, however following a difficult must make (I almost didn’t make) ferry we had some food and sleep on some large boulders.

In the morning we woke ready to portage on the rocks that had become slippery during the overnight rain. Portaging the last part was more tricky, so Matt and Leslie decided to run the last drop. Following this the rest of us decided to climb up a bit and absail in to the eddy below. That morning we continued down to a large rapid with big holes and many syphons and undercut rock. Campbell, Jacob and Leslie decided to run it the rest of us tried to portage on the left before heading back up stream and portaging on the right which required climbing though narrow gully under the rocks. A few more rapids before reaching a large rapid in to a manky 5 meter waterfall. We decided to end the day by camping before portaging.

Leslie charging big holes

Leslie charging big holes

We had now spent 2 days only moving about 5 km! After a night of rain we started the day portaging the waterfall. Some of the team deciding to paddle the big rapid below it resulting in a swim after some time in a hole and some deciding to walk the rapid. The morning continued with some fantastic big rapids. One of which was a massive slide Jacob went first and following a good line on the slide got caught in a powerful boil at the bottom against a wall but managed to paddle out after a while. Leslie went second, exact same line, exact same boil, paddling out was less successful so decided to part with his boat to make an exit. After watching this, the rest of the team decided they would give the slide a miss this time.

Jacob styling big slide before beatdown in boil against wall

Jacob styling big slide before beatdown in boil against wall

By lunch time it was starting to feel like the gradient was decreasing and we were near the end of the steep section. We were not entirely correct – after some fun grade 3 / 4 we reached a massive horizon line. We were at a 25 meter un-runnable drop that ended in a cave-y pool. Since we were now out of the gorge locals were around and indicated that we could pass by following a track over the hill. We started the tiring walk on the narrow, steep mud track. Just before sunset we arrived at a small village where we bought a large quantity of bananas and were offered a room to stay in and rice with noodles. It was impressive that packets of noodles, and packets of biscuits could be bought in a village a three day walk from the nearest small road. We took this opportunity to dry our kit and buy supplies since it was looking like we could run out.

Unrunnable 25 meter fall

Unrunnable 25 meter fall

In the morning we worked our way back to the river having be told that there were more waterfalls downstream. The first fall we soon reached was a slide in to a cushion wave on the lip – the start of a great day! The rest of the day had lots of great drops and rapids and the portages were straight forward. Near the end of the day we reached a big waterfall that we portaged before camping… In the morning many of the team were regretting portaging it, but walking back up to run it was decided against to save time and effort. At this point we were all very tired and low on energy – a diet of noodles and rice for many days is not good!
The day continued with some world class rapids, however at this point we were often choosing the easiest option to get down stream. If a rapid was easier to portage than run we would often portage things that were good to go. Likewise if portaging was difficult it was tempting to run stuff that we probably wouldn’t choose to run otherwise. One of the highlights of the day was a massive slide in to a big hole with slots either side of the slide – a big hit at the bottom!

Leslie on slide in to big hit

Leslie on slide in to big hit

By the end of the day we had reached easy rapids and flat water and tried to get as much distance covered as possible before ending our seventh full day of paddling on the river camping on some grass at the back of a small sandy beach.
We woke up to heavy rain and had a slow morning before a day of flat water to the end of the road. Despite there being more gradient and potential for more good rapids below we took out here and drove 5 hours to Tomisina to eat lots of food.

All happy to have completed the 8 day descent and at the road

All happy to have completed the 8 day descent and at the road

Blog post about us heading back to paddle the lower road side part of the Ivondro to follow!

Journey to Madagascar

On Tuesday, the day before flying we headed to Josh’s house with kit realising we were way over our baggage allowance. After an evening of barbeque and deciding what stuff we didn’t

need to take we gotsleep ready for an early start and to head to the airport. We were at the airport in what we thought was plenty of time, loaded our gear on to trolleys and headed to the Qatar check-in desk. The people working at the desk were concerned that the boats wouldn’t fit on the plane despite th being told about them in advance. After many phone calls we started to check in before being told that we would be able to get on the plane because they wanted to do a random check to verify the payment card which we didn’t have. Finally after talking to someone higher up we were allowed to continue to check in and handed our boats and kit over.  Soon we were on the plane towards Qatar with our boats eating very good airline food. Spent a night sleeping in Doha airport which is huge before getting our next flight to Johannesburg. It was reassuring to see our boats being loaded on to the plane.

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Arriving in Johannesburg we collected bags then headed over to oversize baggage to get the boats. Now we had to head to the cargo warehouse apparently 15 mins driving. As we were walking out of the terminal, we found many porters trying to help which made it difficult to keep our kit together as they grabbed hold of a boat wanting to take it to a taxi. This went on for a while, taxi drivers saying they couldn’t take them. We tried to see if we could hire a truck, but the hire place had none. Me and Calum decided we would see how far it is to walk so headed off without any kit to scout the route. We found out later from multiple people that this was a bad idea and not particularly safe… As we arrived at the cargo offices, Matt turned up in a pickup truck with a load of boats, they had sorted it.   After going through the security we found many people desperate for our business, telling us that they can do it cheaper with Emirates etc, despite the fact they don’t even fly to Mada! After explaining we had already booked cargo we were left alone. A few hours later and another trip to pick up more boats the Cargo was sorted. And the owner of the cargo business offered a place to stay for the group that were due to stay in Mada for a couple of days to sort boat cargo. So Matt, Josh and Campbell headed off to Kerbus’s house after we were dropped off at the airport for our flight to Mada via Kenya with very little luggage.

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After about 48hrs of traveling the advanced group arrived in Mada. Flying in we were excited to see white water. After getting through immigration and buying 60 day visas we met our driver Andry who drove us to our hotel in Mada. Excited and exhausted we headed across the road for some very good value food and grande orange Fanta’s. The next morning we had an amazing breakfast banana fritters, biscuits and coffee. We then headed out shopping for food, Machetes, SIM cards and the few extra items we couldn’t fit in our luggage such as pots for cooking as well as a hat for Campbell!

Meanwhile the other group were still in Johannesburg with Kurbus being fed large amounts of barbecued meat and going shooting.

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The next day, Sunday, the group in Tana spent the morning doing touristy things before heading to pick the group arriving from Johannesburg up from the airport. Apparently our boats had also arrived, but the cargo office was closed. We headed back to the hotel before heading in to town to meet Dylan who has been paddling in Mada for the last couple of months and was back in Tana to fly the next day. Dylan had a load of beta and advice a well as photos and videos that got us super stoked!

Monday we started early, the shop we had been getting breakfast from hadn’t opened so we had bread, honey and Salto’s. We then waited around for our second driver… One group heading off to the map shop while the others went to the cargo area of the airport to try and get boats. On arrival we found that everyone was on strike, so waited all day before heading back to the hotel to try again the next day…

Another weekend in Wales

With university (almost) over for the year, Josh, Matt and Sam got some excellent boating in over the weekend with friends.
Early Friday morning there was plenty of water around, and Josh had to finish an essay due in at midday. While Josh started writing we paddled the Mawddach.

Rhaeadr Mawddach

Rhaeadr Mawddach – we didn’t feel like running it!

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First fall on the Mawddach – Photo by Luke Davies

After a smooth run down and driving the relatively long shuttle (short compared to the length shuttles will be in Madagascar), we met Josh at Beaver Pool. The Fairy Glen had a bit more flow than we would like, so we got on the Lledr instead. The Lledr is an awesome river, the section starts with a small slide before entering a gorge. After a great run it was almost sunset, so we headed towards Josh’s house to eat some food.

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Josh running the walled in drop at the start of the gorge on the Lledr

Saturday morning we expected levels to be low. After finally getting my car to start, we headed towards the Fairy Glen, pleasantly surprised to find it at a good level. We had a few exciting laps!

The next day, with little rain overnight rivers were looking too low at about half 7 to get a run in before Josh headed to work. But with heavy rain forecast Matt was on his way from Nottingham. We met at the Wnion and put on as it was rising fast.

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Having fun on the Wnion

With only a few hours of daylight left we headed towards the Mawwdach. We split in to two groups running the Mawdach, and the Eden which is a tributary of the Mawddach with the same take-out at public toilet falls. The Mawddach was a bit higher than it was on Friday, and racing against daylight made it a slightly less relaxed run.

Josh also got some good paddling in on Monday on the Fairy Glen.

Fairy Glen

Josh in the first gorge of the Fairy Glen – Photo by Barnaby Prees