50 Years of Umko 1966 - 2016 1966 - 2016 - Page 19

such a sight for the first time: Like Livingstone, we stopped and marvelled at the power of so many cumecs of water thundering down into the deep gorge below. At the time the waterfall was known by paddlers to exist but it was still unmapped on any official maps.5 “Our third campsite was next to another unnamed rapid (to be named No Name Rapid in time to come!) in a well-protected glade of trees. This camp became the scene of a tragedy: The river rose half a metre and washed away some beers we had placed in a rock pool to cool down. Despite a careful search, we never did find them. Dave Cobbledick, Peter Marriott, Colin Wilson & Hamish Gerrard on the south bank in the Whirlpool area (Sept 1965) DAY FOUR “A relatively short paddle the following morning brought us to the weir. At this point luck played a part in our recce of the river and the valley: We met Ken Goodenough, local pineapple farmer who had driven down to the weir to collect some staff members who lived nearby. He would play a major part in helping us find campsites and vehicular access to the riverbank which we needed in order to organise a multi-day marathon race on this river. Ken had lived in the valley for fifty years, knew the local Tribal Chiefs and Indunas and had been the government census officer for the Umkomaas valley from the coast up to Riverside store some years prior. He was just the person we needed at this point! He was also interested to hear about our trip and our adventures upstream and listened to our idea of establishing a race, readily agreeing to offer whatever assistance he could. Assistance that would prove invaluable in setting up the race to come. On to the river mouth at the sea. “I had heard of Rob Gouldie’s trip and his activities at the Lido Hotel in Umkomaas. So when I phoned the manager and he agreed to provide us with lunch on our arrival I was not surprised when he made one strict proviso: No boats in his pool!” “Driving home that Monday afternoon I was elated. We had successfully completed a ‘blind’ trip down this challenging and exciting river and in so doing had proved the viability of a Kingfisher multi-day marathon to rival ‘that other race’. This ticked the first box in our critical path analysis. Our 19 chance meeting with Ken Goodenough gave us the key to ticking the second box: riverbank access. The future of ‘The Umko’ looked bright.” Overland In The Valley “Quite soon after this trip Barry Willan, Hamish Gerrard and I met Farmer Goodenough at the Umkomaas railway station early one Saturday morning in Hamish’s old Gunston Orange Landie. His knowledge was vital, as we had no maps.5 We headed upstream on the south shoulder of the wide valley to a point fairly close to the village of Ndududu where we turned right and dropped down into the valley. What a magnificent drive, steep cliffs above us on our left and deep descents on our right. The road was under construction and we passed a camp with heavy earth-moving equipment most of which had the brand KOMATSU painted on the side. Only one guess what we named the road! On reaching the valley floor we continued upstream for a few more km’s until suddenly to the right we recognised Mpompomani Rapid! We had struck paydirt! We had access to our second overnight camp and a three-day marathon was feasible! “However, we continued to see how far the road went. Eventually it came to an end quite near to our second campsite on the trip a few months earlier and Ken announced “This is Chief Vela’s Kraal. He is a bigwig in the KwaZulu Legislative Assembly. Come and meet him.” There were many people around and Goodenough established that the Chief was holding court that day. He requested an audience and eventually we were ushered into the chief’s personal hut, which was huge and set in the middle of the kraal. Once inside I suddenly had what I presume were feelings similar to what Piet Retief must have had at Dingane’s Kraal back in 1838. But I needn’t have worried! We were warmly received. I was able to do a little name-dropping regarding people I knew in Zululand which helped a lot. Chief Vela clapped his hands and a factotum appeared with a tray and slid low across the floor, all the while making sure he was lower than his Chief’s eyes. The tray on which were cooldrinks, rock-hard mielies and a bottle of Old Buck Gin was placed on a table while Chief Vela gave us his blessing for our plans to hold a canoe race down his valley. The bottle of gin was then duly flattened and we took our leave. The second box was ticked, gifts of Old Buck Gin became an annual tradition and that ‘un-named rapid’ had its name. At last we could have races on a river where the only time you would lift your boat was to put it on top of your car. The fact that some would put their boats back onto their cars without even getting them wet after one look at the mighty Umko? Well, that’s another story that we’ll get to later! Approval “The announcement of our findings at KCC met with unanimous and enthusiastic approval. The formal approach to the Natal Canoe Union was greeted with a similar response and a date was set: The first three-day canoe marathon on the Umkomaas River from Josephine’s Bridge to the sea would be held on the long weekend of the 16th December 1966.” (Did Charles subconsciously remember that was “Dingane’s Day”?). Arrangements could now start in earnest. Aptly, the big hit song of 1966 was The Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out”. UMKO 50 Years