50 Years of Umko 1966 - 2016 1966 - 2016 - Page 49

Why the Numbers? When this stretch of river was being pioneered in the 60s the number and frequency of big and biggish rapids made the allocation of specific names problematic. Some had original names - eg No.2 was called Tegwaans’ Nest Rapid - but when floods swept away the tree that held the big Hamerkop nest it joined the numbered rapids. No. 5&6 was called ‘The Esses’ because of the zig-zag course needed to negotiate it at certain levels. After a certain young paddler (who later became President of Canoeing SA) had several early canoeing career problems, swims and boat losses here it was also called “Robbie’s Special” by some, though not often by President Stewart himself! were well out of sight at that velocity of water. Over the falls we went, reorganised our spray covers which popped on impact and paddled around the first kink after the falls right up to Oscar and Lee who had just re-entered after portaging. After a wide-eyed double-take, they took off with us right behind them all the way to Gully. We followed them over “the drop” which is an option to the right of Gully, only to find them swimming through the rapid below where we narrowly avoided their mess. Oscar and Lee came home in a helicopter - their boat missing and never to be seen again. Colin Simpkins and Sean Rice passed us on the flat with one km to go. No prize for second place but Oscar’s expression had made it all worthwhile.” Tripping And Training Robbie Stewart: “I remember an occasion when we were tripping Hella Hella to No.8 and I dropped into a big hole in the approaches to No.1 and who should be at the bottom, upside down, but you Rowan (Rasmussen) in your pale blue slalom boat! I was convinced that I had killed you. We managed to get your boat (or what was left of it) to the side but there was no sign of you. I was surprisingly upset at the thought of losing my best mate and was thinking of how I was going to have to break the news to your Mom. Anyway you pitched up and luckily our driver had not left Hella Hella, so you did not have to walk all the way to No.8.” Rowan: “I remember that. I built that all-fibreglass slalom boat at your place and a visiting English paddler taught us how to Eskimo Roll in Natal Varsity pool. We must have been the very first Saffers to be able to roll. But that day, swallowed in the gnarly maw of No.1, new to the art of rolling and with the back three feet of the boat smashed off, I abandoned wreck.” Kingfisher Falls in High Water Kingfisher Falls - often simply referred to as The Waterfall - is usually portaged on the left. At high water levels an overflow channel runs around the left of the falls and paddlers have tried to negotiate this rare option (sometimes unknowingly) to avoid portaging the falls - usually unsuccessfully. Only one successful negotiation is on record: By Robbie Stewart and Rowan Rasmussen in the 1972 flood year. They got through with only one brief hop-out-and-push. The waterfall has been successfully shot in plastic tripping craft. In the very first marathon Ken and Barry Willan had thrown their sealed ski over the cliff, then jumped in to join it, clambering on in mid-stream! It is of course the scene of one famous accidental negotiation (as told in Chapter Seven). Less known is the fact that it has been deliberately shot in a race in a K2 - and successfully so! Tony Scotty Scott tells us: “The waterfall was normally portaged on the left. Another option was a narrow chute on the left of the falls which cut the 150m scramble in half. In one race Malcolm Hall and I were in second place by two minutes behind Oscar Chalupsky and Lee McGregor. Before the start of the day we managed to hitch a ride on the TV helicopter to check out the sneak chute. We decided it was a no-go because of a rock that was hard to miss. Standing on the rocks at the top of the falls I was stupid enough to suggest to Malcolm that the falls themselves might be shootable. I should have known that Malcolm’s answer to these kinds of questions was always the same “Down the Centre Mrs Venter”. We jumped in to see if there were any obstacles below the drop. There weren’t. “The next day we kicked off two minutes behind the leaders – who 49 The waterfall has been successfully shot in plastic tripping craft In the marathon one is allowed to portage any rapid, each paddler decides for himself whether he feels confident enough to shoot a rapid or not, but only within the wider river course. No overland portaging is permitted as a means to shorten the route or gain advantage, as you will remember the original aim of the Umko was to be a paddling race, all the way. and High water! The next chapter is dedicated to the highest year so far, the biggest flood in the forty nine year history of the race . . . UMKO 50 Years