50 Years of Umko 1966 - 2016 1966 - 2016 - Page 17

The first 1965 trip started with them all meeting on the Easter weekend at the Richmond Hotel from where they were going to proceed to Josephine’s to sleep under the bridge before setting off early the next morning. Charles Mason takes up the story: “We met a local farmer in the pub and over a few beers he kindly invited us all back to his farm for dinner and to sleep the night. This offer was gratefully accepted and at 9pm we all followed him in convoy to his farm. However he had obviously not sought nor obtained government permission as when we got there his irate wife told us in no uncertain terms that she did not think his offer was appropriate and suggesting we leave forthwith. We all suddenly agreed among ourselves that Josephine’s Bridge actually seemed a far better idea, despite the light drizzle! DAY ONE “It continued to rain the next day, but nothing could take our minds off the beauty of the valley with its magnificent cliffs and continuous rapids. Anyhow, we had cut neck and arm holes in fertilizer bags for rain jackets, so rain was not a big problem. For all of us it was our first venture down this stretch of river so we had the delicious long-necked uncertainty of not knowing when we would encounter difficult rapids or the dreaded waterfall. Our craft were mainly ‘Bird Dogs’ but now with fibreglass decks and built-in waterproof hatches. They were heavy, but ideal for the purpose of tripping with all provisions on board. The first camp was on the north bank a short distance below Captain Honk’s Rapid and above Riverside Store (Rob Gouldie’s Fishy Fish Store). A leisurely start the next morning took us past the store and - apart from a few native kraals - our last contact with the outside world until the lower reaches approaching Umkomaas village and the coast. Early campsite scene above Riverside store (after a wet night) Barry Willan, Colin Wilson, Hamish Gerrard, Peter Hammond, Tank Rogers & Charles Mason DAY TWO “That day took us to an as-yet-unnamed (and we didn’t know it then, but soon-to-be-named) rapid where we camped on a small grassy bank under a large overhanging rock on the south bank. Old hands by now, we set to our camping chores with gusto: A fertilizer bag (without holes) would be filled with river water and propped up between rocks to allow the silt to settle. 17 This would serve as the basis for the tipple of choice: Brandy and lime juice. Mixed at a sufficient concentration it served to: • Disguise the look (it was a similar colour to river water); • Disguise the taste (you added brandy until it did); and • Contribute meaningfully to conversations related to the deeper meaning of life. Deep discussions: Colin Wilson, Charles Mason, Dave Cobbledick & Hamish Gerrard on the south bank at Old Buck Rapid (Sept 1965). Peter Marriott took the picture. DAY THREE “The third day dawned bright and clear. However the deep Umkomaas valley results in the sun at that time of year only reaching the river after several hours of daylight. On our trip this meant we had leisurely starts in the mornings. Below that campsite and the unnamed rapid the river took a sharp turn to the right and headed in a southerly direction towards Mpompomani Rapid about an hour’s paddle downstream. Paddling past a big island on our left the riverbed was occupied with a huge rock shelf that extends almost to the island in the centre of the river. This forms a natural weir and at certain levels, a strong suck-back wave. Peter Hammond misjudged the strength of the flow and got sucked into the wave. Thrown out of his boat he managed to escape the stopper wave only by diving deep (fortunately, in this instance, he had no lifejacket!) and being pulled downstream by the underwater current. His boat, however, was held fast. Neither he nor any of us were prepared to swim or paddle into the wave to retrieve his boat so we did the next best thing and sat down on the bank and waited for the river to release it. This it eventually did, but only after 30 to 40 minutes of being churned over and over by this giant washing machine. It was a lesson in the power of water and the importance of knowing that “you can dance with the river, but you must learn the steps”. A tribute to the boatbuilding skills of Peter Marriott came when we inspected the boat: It was still intact and no water had entered the watertight kit compartment! “Some umfaans on the bank told us the name of the next big rapid, saying it was named for the sound of the boulders rolling underwater when the river was full. “Mpompomani”! We continued downstream with the river making its gigantic left and right turns as it carved its way down the huge valley, at times almost turning back on itself. Kingfisher Falls came without undue incident and we did what I am sure all paddlers do when witnessing UMKO 50 Years