50 Years of Umko 1966 - 2016 1966 - 2016 - Page 70

Hot and humid with the sky clouded over. Onwards they battled through the tall grass. “I kid you not, the grass was over head height. There were no paths so we had to bulldoze our way through and with no vision we relied on the rumbling roar of that mighty river to guide us. So we cut the corners towards the river which we came across at each twisty turn and there due to the erosion of the bank (those cliffs) we had to swim to the other side - again and again. I cannot tell you how many times we swam that river. Not a hut or path or any escape route in sight.” Darkness fell. No stars or moon due to the overcast sky. This was true darkness......nothing, no light at all. “We could hardly see our own feet. No joke”. They had to just follow Dan’s new nose. So walk, swim, walk, swim.” At last a light in the darkness! Up there on the hill!” Dan confesses, “By this time we were really tired and the little rumblings had begun over anything and everything. Whose fault it was we’d lost the boat . . . anything. And we were debating the prospect of settling down for the night as the prospect of swimming the river in this darkness was really daunting. Not to mention downright dangerous. “Well that glimmer of light put new vigour into our tired bodies and we headed towards it, tripping and stumbling over rocks as we climbed and at last....a settlement! Two rondavels to be exact. We shouted out joyfully at those sitting around a small fire (that was the great light) to warn of our approach. “Imagine our amazement when we were greeted by a bevy of about five or six bare-breasted African maidens. Imagine their surprise to see two halfdressed and decidedly ragged pale chaps approaching out of the darkness. Friendly greetings, shy laughter, a little dancing. The menfolk are all away working in the cities and they tended the ‘farm’. And yes we could rest . . . and YES they knew where all the other people who passed in boats were and could take us there!” How far we asked? Not far. Just around the next bend. Our hearts dropped . . . those of you who have been given the “just over the next hill” as directions will understand. There is always another hill. “So we set out - lots of laughter and dancing maidens leading the way. This would be their event of a lifetime and a story told over and over. The ladies used simple candles held in front of hotel-type white saucers which reflected the light forward as torches to show the way. “Miracle! The campsite really was just around the bend and it was not long before our guides had led us down the hill to the riverside and there it was: Camp fires, smell of food and the whole gathering out to greet us. The reason for the big turnout was the lights from our guides’ torches. Light where there shouldn’t be, looking like car headlights where there was no road. “By now it was about 22h00 so Ron and I had been in the bush for close on ten hours. And there was still one small problem......the camp was on the other side! So after goodbyes and friendly hugs and thanks to our guides you guessed it: One more swim!” Chris Wade - a five hour walk to the coast “We had, by our standards, a good first day of the marathon and Brian Grant and I were going well on the second when we approached “The Waterfall”. The river was at a good level and we had heard about the side channel down the left. When we got closer there was the channel and we paddled into it. It did not take long before we realised we had made a big mistake! On the short final drop back to river level our boat called it quits and we then had a five hour walk out to the coast. The punch line of this episode was Rob Stewart looking disdainfully at UMKO 50 Years us two amateurs and saying “Guys, you would have had a better chance by going over the main waterfall”. Mike Frizelle’s walk with ‘luxury overnight stop’ “Everyone knew that if you broke up you had to walk out on the right hand bank but the boat was too badly damaged to swim it across the river and my mate China van Schalkwyk refused to part with it, so into the wilderness we trekked. Hour after hour we scrambled through thick bush with boat on shoulder in the February heat, heading - we hoped - in the general direction of the main road and Richmond. Our sisal-secured juice bottles were long empty and we had not seen a living thing since we had left the river. Still China would not part with his craft so forward we bashed. It was now midafternoon and we had been off the river since about 9am. I was so thirsty that I took my shirt off and wrung the sweat into my mouth (probably not so smart but desperate times call for disparate measures). I told China that if he wanted his wrecked craft he would have to carry it himself. Sensibly he abandoned it. We had absolutely no idea where we were. “Late in the afternoon the bush started thinning out and eventually turned into grassland at the top of a plateau. In the distance we could see a farmhouse. I was hoping it was not a mirage. Just before dark we knocked on the door and were greeted by a very surprised farmer. After all, what were two canoeists, paddles in hand, doing at his front door so far from the nearest river? “They were about to leave for the Valentines Ball in Richmond but offered us accommodation for the night, lent us clean dry clothes and got their cook back on duty to prepare us a fantastic meal. I even managed to bum a packet of cigarettes from them, it was like waking in paradise after a bad dream.” Some ride horses on their ‘walks’ Pete Peacock and Roger Collinson went on a pre-Umko training trip from Josephine’s Bridge to Goodenough’s. They joined Tony Scott and Paul Chalupsky. Pete remembers: “Our K2 was not yet finished so we borrowed an old K2 from some nurses for the trip. The boat was just not up to the water and it flexed till it just wore out before Riverside. We had to pull out. It was raining and Roger stayed with the boat as I ran off up the mountain to find assistance. I eventually reached a cash store but due to the wet weather, muddy, impassable roads and a series of broken half-shafts there was no vehicle available to fetch Roger.” The store keeper was extremely helpful and offered Pete a horse. But what about my mate? he asked, and How will I even find him? and How will I find my way back in the dark? So a second horse and a guide were provided. They duly rode back down to Riverside, arriving in the dark and rode back to the store with Roger in the pitch dark. “The kindly owner gave us a bed and a lift back to Maritzburg in his pickup truck early the next day.“ And some just don’t walk ‘course rumour has it that if you carry enough weight you can be lifted out of the valley by helicopter, avoiding any tiresome walks - the Umko equivalent of black Mercs with blue lights not stopping at traffic lights. Right, John Oliver and Han Ardenne? ‘Course they’re just rumours . . . some would call them “hemingways” . . . According to John the way it went down that day was thus: He paddled past Josephines in an Accord; He flew back to Josephines in a chopper; He swam back to his boat, then walked back to Josephines in size 11 Adidas carrying his boat. A unique paddle / fly / swim / trudge quadrathlon! 70