Kloofing is a variant of hiking which involves mostly walking, swimming and jumping your way down a river. Here in the Western Cape we have quite a few options such as Elandspad, Bobbejaanskloof and Suicide Gorge. Kloofing differs from hiking in quite a few respects and this article is about those differences.
Of course, the main difference from which everything flows is that you are going out to get wet. The whole point of kloofing is to get wet, very wet. And that means that waterproofing is what you need. You need to waterproof your pack in such a way that it will not leak after being thrown into water from cliffs, used as a flotation device and generally submerged in water.
The most expensive option but one worth having if you are going to do more than one day’s kloofing in your life is a Sea to Summit Dry Pack. It is worth remembering that no waterproof pack or sack is ever going to last a lifetime. Inevitably friction wears off the waterproof lining. But since most people only kloof once or twice a year, a Dry Pack will last quite a few years. The advantage of the Dry Pack is that it is easy to open and close, requiring no more than a couple of rolls of the top and clipping the ends together. You should also match the size of your pack to the size of your Dry Pack. For serious kloofing (e.g the 5 day Wit Els) you really need to waterproof your equipment very well. In these case using a dual layer is probably advisable. So you would use an outer Dry Sack as well as several smaller inner Dry Sacks. It is important to remember that waterproofing takes up space (there is always trapped air, no matter how well you compress your packs) so take this into account when packing, effectively you must pack less into the same amount of space. This is quite a challenge when you are doing a 5 day trip.
Cheaper alternatives are plastic bags but remember that they tear easily and are rarely waterproof for long. So if you are using them, be sure to double layer (in other words make sure you have two layers of plastic). If your waterproofing leaks the first and most immediate effect is that your clothes will absorb the water and your pack will become incredibly heavy. Any unsealed food will be ruined by water and equipment such as phones, camera’s etc will suffer a sudden death. The rule really is don’t bring your phone or any sensitive equipment unless it is hermetically sealed and can take being thrown off 16 meter cliffs. Possibly the best suggestion if you don’t have a phone like that is to take a low cost phone (with airtime) and place it in a plastic container with other sensitive equipment (like your first aid kit), place that in a Dry Sack and hope it survives the trip…
Because you are going to spend a fair amount of time in water you will need to wear shoes. Personally I recommend socks as well. The socks prevent water friction and also the inevitable sand which gets into your shores rubbing your feet raw, a most unpleasant scenario. Any shoes you wear should have good traction because in slow flowing rivers the rocks are often very slimy and incredibly slippery (leading to a great deal of falling into water). You can buy shoes with drainage which I have never actually tried out but might be worth a try. Any shoes you use will also suffer an amazing amount of damage so try and use older shoes. I find that when your feet slip on rocks there is quite a lot of bashing of your feet and ankles on underwater rocks so I prefer to wear quite heavy Hi-Tec shoes and socks that cover my ankles and are quite thick. The wet socks do weigh your feet down but I find it a small price to pay for protected ankles. Boots are not a good idea for kloofing as they are too heavy.
For clothes wearing a swimming costume and tshirt is fine. I wear a hiking synthetic tshirt (a First Ascent Duoflo) which I find drains and dries very quickly. (For scouts, have a look at the HiTec factory shops like the one in Access Park in Kenilworth. HiTec factory shops are relatively cheap and scouts get a 15% discount). Cotton shirts are probably the worst option as they retain the wet and a light breeze will quickly chill you when you are not actually in the water. You can still kloof in one but you might want to take it off at lunch time so that you are actually warmer. Be sure that your costume will not rub as you will be walking in it all day. Board shorts are fine.
There are a couple of safety rules in kloofing. The first thing to understand is that kloofing, like hiking, is inherently a risky thing to do. Accidents are fairly rare but they do happen. So have a good first aid kit and make sure that at least two people in your party are trained in first aid. As scouts we should also play scenario’s, the “what if” so that if the “what if” does happen you will have a good idea of what actions to take. Don’t wait for the accident to happen to you, be sure you have an idea of what the correct actions to take are when an accident does happen.
So the rules:
1. Never, ever dive into a rock pool. Always, always jump, feet first. Broken legs are very different from broken necks. It is impossible to judge the position and height of rocks under the water and you can easily hit your head on a rock if you dive. I personally know a person to whom this happened; he is now a quadraplegic.
2. Never do a jump until you have assessed the pool underneath; by which we mean climb down into it and make sure there are no underwater obstacles. Often there are shallow rock shelves to one side or the other (A good example is at the pool at Die Hel in the Groot Winterhoek). Jumping onto these is a good way to spend the next few weeks in hospital. There are exceptions to this, as in Suicide Gorge where there is no option but for most kloofing, someone needs to climb down and make sure. Also remember that rivers move so what is fine one year is not necessarily fine the next. If the jump makes you too nervous, don’t do it.
3. Always have a first aid kit and know how to use it and what you will do if something does go wrong.
4. Make sure you can swim.
5. Don’t let your party string out. It is easy for the last person to slip and fall without anyone noticing. Always and continuously make sure that your party stays together and you know where everyone is.
6. You are going to spend a lot of time in the sun and get a lot of reflected sun off the water. Wear a hat and use sunblock often. Sylvasun is great a helping to prevent sunburn although it will not stop you burning so you need to use it in conjunction with sunblock.
That’s the basics of kloofing. Enjoy!!