50 Years of Umko 1966 - 2016 1966 - 2016 - Page 30

and coordination of the sweep teams nowadays, working closely with Rob Davey and a dedicated KCC team in Mike Vehbi, John Evans, Mac Mahone and Hugh Murrell, assisted by KNCU safety officer Andrew Lake. Umko normally has a lot of offers of help but the enthusiasm dies away for the other races. KCC normally puts about twelve to fifteen safety people on the water at the bigger rapids - No’s 1, 4, 5&6 and 7 - with a sweep team following behind. Other safety factors include the availability of helicopters and medical personnel; meticulous checking of who enters, who finishes and who withdraws is another nerve-wracking part of running this challenging event. You certainly don’t enter the Umko thinkin g ‘nothing can go wrong’ and in the end, all who decide to do the race accept the risks and quite rightly undertake not to hold the organisers responsible for any mishaps, losses or tragedies, signing an indemnity accordingly. The tradition of never missing a race for 49 consecutive summers should continue with the onus firmly on paddlers to decide whether to participate or not based on their own assessment of conditions, their fitness and their abilities; “When in doubt, keep it out” is good advice in life generally. Many paddlers who have entered and then decided on the day not to race have come back in subsequent years and enjoyed completing an Umko when they felt more confident of their capabilities and happier with the water level. That, and portaging a rapid you are not confident of shooting, are wise decisions. “And to those who believe that adventures are dangerous, try routine: it kills you far more certainly.” anon Almost unnoticed during the debates for the start to be (or not to be) at Hella Hella, the KCC committee ‘relented on the rule which had previously prevented woman paddlers from entering the race’. 1982 would see the first woman in a mixed double and in 1983 would see the first woman finishers in mixed doubles. Of course since then ladies have done what ladies always do: Paddle the race in their own way, in K1s, K2s and K3s - and beaten many a man along the way. Their stories make fascinating reading, as they joined the rites of this secretive tribe deep in the Umko Valley. Fifty Years in the Valley Year /s Start Days Overnight Party Finish Distance km 1966 - 1968 Josephine’s 3 Riverside Mpompomani Sea 113 1969 - 1973 Hella Hella 3 Josephine’s Old Camp Site Sea 1974 - 1981 Josephine’s 2 Old Camp Site Sea 113 1982 - 1983 Hella Hella 2 Riverside Goodenough 130 1984 Hella Hella 2 Old Campsite? Old Buck? Mpompomani 103 1985 - 1987 Hella Hella 2 Riverside Goodenough 130 1988 - 1989 Josephine’s 2 Mpompomani Goodenough 98 1990 - 1991 No programs 2 1992 Hella Hella to Josephine’s 2 None - paddlers found own accommodation Sea (from Mpompomani) 74 1993 Hella Hella 2 Josephine’s Riverside 68 2009 - 2015 Day 1 Josephine’s Day 2 Hella Hella 2 Hella Hella (not compulsory) Day 1 Riverside Day 2 Josephine’s 68 4 races - No ‘71 race 145 The Four Long Years This latest “reverse” format has proved very popular with most organisers and paddlers, facilitating organisation and logistics, eliminating the remotest sections of the valley, reducing costs and enabling a much greater portion of the spend to go to local people. No longer is food bought in Durban and schlepped into the valley. Nor is it stirred with an old pickaxe handle. Local people cater for us, and do so well. Owen Hemingway was overheard groaning after one good meal, “This is the first race on which I have gained weight!” For paddlers the race is shorter and the toughest section of the course is now on the second day when they have ‘found a lower centre of gravity’. More are likely to finish and those who break up do so further into the race. Now its: ‘I broke up in No.1, over halfway into the race’ rather than ‘I broke up in No.1, less than 1% into the race’. Broken boats now also more often get taken home for repairs! Up-country paddlers have a shorter journey home, starting in Richmond rather than in Umkomaas, and the prize-giving venue is close-by and on most people’s route home. Most importantly, the overnight campsite spirit, camaraderie, horseplay and wisdom continues! Although - whisper it - the camp is indeed now accessible to “hangers-on, scrambler motorbikes and girlfriends”, some of who may already have “soothed the fevered brow” of an Umko paddler or two! Another drawback mentioned is that the last day being on the tougher section means broken boats and walks are now more likely on the day people have to get home, so up-country paddlers who take a hike may get home very late. Mind you, ‘twas always so. A walk in the Umkomaas valley is seldom a short one. But at least the Umko - and its most challenging paddling section - has survived. And thrived. So 2016 will be the 50th consecutive summer of the Umko. No summer has ever been skipped. There was no race in calendar 1971 as the race was moved to March ‘72 - later in the same summer. One strange format took place in 1984: Shortest race, Longest day. It was the shortest Umko up to then at 103km, yet it had the longest first UMKO 50 Years 30