50 Years of Umko 1966 - 2016 1966 - 2016 - Page 47

water above the start. My old friend Neil Blue assures me there is absolutely no truth in the rumour that he hid his boat in the undergrowth below No.1 and that the wounds on his legs, which he claims are from stinging nettles, were self-inflicted. These old boys will do anything to get off a raging river. To those who did not make it, bad luck.” Not many paddlers have completed every Umko they have started. Even those that have know their perfect run could end at any time. Charles Mason has come very close. He won the very first Umko, entered and started every one of the 49 races held so far and only failed to finish one: His 5th in 1970 when he broke at the old No.8 rapid and walked out, as so many have done before and since. This glimpse of Charles perhaps once having been human allows him to talk in normal fish-and-chips-type company. Rob Bournelange has started 43 and finished 42, missing out in the Approaches on what would have been his 40th! Chris Watts started 34 finished 32; Colin Copper Simpkins, now ‘SG’ of Canoeing SA and One-Percenter Extraordinaire according to many officials, has started 30, finished 30 and won two. Rob Davey has started 37 and finished 37. Novice paddling Our novice was supposed to be a sweep. It was his first-time-ever No.1 to 8. Just before the start he got press-ganged into the front seat of a K2 (his partner couldn’t reach the pedals!). In reply to his yelp for help “Where do I go?” everyone said “Speak to Rob Davey!” So Rob spends ten minutes saying When you see the cliff on the left, that’s No.X. Keep left then right. And so on. Surely a Crash Course? Yet our novice made it through all the rapids (only dinging the boat in No.4 and portaging 5&6). He got to the end “having had the most fun I had ever had on a river.” Stuart Clifton pays tribute to “the ‘spirit of the Umko’ and to those veteran paddlers who have paddled this wonderful valley who are keen to share their experience and knowledge with others”. He does advise, though: “Make sure the paddler whose knowledge you choose to soak up has at least a tinge of grey hair, and at least ten Umkos under his (or her) belt.” Well, Rob definitely has more than a tinge and more than ten! Salvage A t the KCC meeting after one of the higher-level races Peter Gladwin announced he was selling his boat for only R5. All ears pricked up until he explained the lucky buyer would have to salvage the boat at the bottom of Arthur’s Rapid! After the Floods The big floods had radically altered the river, and sorties were arranged to have a look. One of the first was a chartered flight in a six-seater plane from Virginia Airport up the Umgeni, then up the Dusi to PMB, then across to the Umkomaas valley at Hella Hella and down the Umko to the sea, noses against the windows gazing down in awe at the flooding rivers. Mark Conway ‘bagsed’ the front seat for the flight but wasted the best view by peering into a brown paper packet a lot of the time. A company of redoubtable Kingfisher Comrades Caruth, Mountford, Mellor and Bland headed off to trip the “new” river. Geoff Caruth writes: “The summer of ‘89 saw our arrival on the Hella Hella bridge to trip to No.8 and ‘twas not the summer heat alone that made the sweat trickle down our spines. The river was flowing strongly - a good 4ft by the old standard, and 47 mindful of the many stories of drastic changes since the floods we entered the river with fluttering hearts and disturbed bowels. “No.1 itself had changed little but with a sharper drop in from the left. The waves down the centre were as brutal as ever and concentration was the order of the day. The pool below No.1 gave us time to admire the magnificent valley with its pristine bush and sheer cliffs, but our admiration time was limited as the new Umkomaas had its first surprise in store for us not thirty seconds down the drag. Hugh and Graham led the way into what we remembered as the “Bubbly” before No.2 and promptly disappeared over a big drop into an equally big hole. Pete and I followed tail-walkingly through the new hole. “We all got out at No.5&6 and stood high on the rocks that loom above this breaker of boats and hopes. To me 5&6 embodies the spirit of this brooding wild section of river and remains the ultimate test of skill and luck. After much debate the singles paddlers decided to attempt a sneak on the left. Things didn’t go according to plan and we both got dragged into the main stream with Pete skirting a high twisting wave and narrowly avoiding a swim but yours truly ploughing into same and biting the dust. No.6 is not a pleasant place to swim.” As the road to Riverside was out of commission the 1989 Umkomaas started below this stretch of river at Josephine’s. Geoff’s thoughts back then: “In some respects this is a good thing as the Hella Hella - No.8 section is now definitely the most technical non-plastic stretch of water in the SA Canoe calendar and as such would probably have demolished half the field (two out of the three boats on our trip would not have made the first day). But he added: “Yet Hella Hella is part of the great Umko tradition and hopefully the section will be included next year.” Exploratory trips are arranged before every marathon. Brian Whiteford’s trips “back in the day when paddlers knew where Goodenough’s Weir and Gully were, were planned without GoPro, YouTube, Google, Garmin, Internet, ‘MyRiver’ website or any cellphones to call for help. It was all trial and error”, he says, “and speaking to the pros Charlie Mason, Graeme Pope-Ellis and anyone else who would help was the only way to find out what lay ahead.” “I started doing trips from No.1 to No.8 before each Umko marathon and eventually in the mid-90s the group got so big (about 30) that it was impossible for everyone to stay together and be shown the lines, so I put together handdrawn sketches of the rapids and explained the lines before we took off from Hella Hella. The tripping got so popular we moved the date of our annual trip to Boxing Day so a few paddlers from the Transvaal could come down and join us. I have included a scan of a sketch and a few photo’s of the trips. The sketch is of No.2 rapids as it was in the early 90s.” UMKO 50 Years