The Umkomaas River Canoe Marathon could very justifiably hold claim to the title of worlds greatest rough water river marathon. At most water levels it probably holds neither fear nor trepidation for the closed cockpit big water plastic boat aficionados but ask an average paddler to race a fibre glass kayak through sections of grade four rapid and the finish line smile is worth a thousand words- and a thousand words is what most Umko finishers end up talking in order to calm the adrenalin on the post prizegiving drive home. There has always been a mythical aura that seems to hang in the air over this particular valley, particularly palpable at the start of the days racing and dispelled by the winds of relief on crossing the finish line. This seems to scare some but challenge others – and what a challenge;
Held towards the end of summer for 44 years (after the first five races were held in December) to maximize river flow, the race answerable to nature alone. If nature is holding back her tears, competitors struggle in a low water technical river, while in her fury she can raise the level to a point where the entrants have to sit and wait for the flood peak to pass.
Being able to experience riding down such a super tube is a privilege known only to few. The truly wondrous scenery all but floods one’s mind with life’s ethical questions. Surrounded by nature at its prime surely clears the mind and floods the senses with wonder. The cliff faces, the mountainous topography and the lusciously vegetation bedecked gorges are just some of the sights reserved for the paddler only.
For the knowledgeable (discerning), the appearance of exotic and in many cases invasive vegetation such as Mauritius thorn, wattle, pine, gum, sesbania and the new boy on the block moon vine is a great disappointment and the fields of cannabis, a sorry testimony to the ravages of the ongoing (burgeoning ) drug trade.