Warren Mackenzie, Gordon Bridger, Vaughn Steven K3 – ‘Follow the Cows’

The following happened to our trio at this year’s Umko (2015)

Warren Mackenzie, Gordon Bridger and Vaughn Steven from Florida Lake Canoe Club took part in our first ever Umko and attempted to do it in a K3. Day 1 was plain sailing not a scratch and no swims, we were pumped and felt proud of our Day 1 achievement.

Day 2 arrived and sadly this was another story. We started off strong and coming up to the approaches we were forced to take a right of centre line due to the speed of the K3 in the fast moving water and the K2’s in the right hand side line. We hit stopper after stopper and at one stage the K3 just simply flipped over and we were all three flung out. The K3 rapidly filled up with water, hit a submerged rock and wrapped behind the driver’s seat. We swam to the side and began repairs on the K3 debating whether it was possible to continue. Once the repairs were done we were back in the K3 and on our way. We soon realized that the steering had been damaged and portaged No.1 after repairs. We hit No.2 like pros but at No.3, the K3 gave up in the last stopper. The front paddler was up in the sky and the K3 was finished. The Sweeps caught up with us and we climbed up the cliff to get past the rapid and into the pool below where we ferried the broken K3 to the other side of the river.

The sweeps told us to walk about 200m into the bush and we would find the road that we could walk back to Hella Hella. There was no way we could not get the K3 through the dense bush so we stripped the K3 of pumps, cables, repair kits and paddles, and hid the shell 2m above the water level in the bushes. Then the long walk began, we could not find this road that was 200m away and leopard crawled and ducked through dense bush for 90 minutes with no success. We opted to stick close to the river and go up river. We then ran out of river bank to walk on and only had a 100m high cliff in front of us so decided to cross the river at the cliff, I tucked in my splashy, ran like hell and swam across the river. Gordon attempted a javelin throw with our paddles only to see them caught in the current and washed downriver. The pumps were thrown and simply sank to the bottom. The repair kits were thrown, one floated and was recovered but the one with the brand new GoPro sank to the bottom.

We spotted some cows and the theory was that they must have a home that they go to and we started looking for paths and footprints that we could follow. We eventually found an empty quart beer bottle that we took as proof of habitation, we followed a sort of road up river, the weeds got taller and denser and the gradient was getting steeper. We met up with five cows and they seemed to be getting nervous as they walked ahead of us, eventually they came to a standstill at a wire farm gate, with a cattle kraal beyond it. This gave us hope that we were nearing civilization. We ended up at a lodge – we went to the first chalet, nobody was home. We filled up our water bottles, helped ourselves to the left over coke in the fridge and went for the reception. Reception was closed seeing it was now 13:30. We hit the road again without a single vehicle passing or a human in sight. An hour later we arrived at Hella Hella bridge – our very relieved second Kurt Loggenberg came running towards us with three bitterly cold beers which went down very well. He had been fielding calls from the wives and race organisers looking for us.

Our start was at 8:30 the morning and we arrived back at the camp at 14:30 that afternoon and the walk out the valley of 9km took us 3hrs 30mins and cost us a K3, a GoPro, 4 paddles, repair kit and two sets of pumps. We will be back next year.

Author: bewilderbeast

It's about life, marriage, raising kids, paddling rivers, travel in Africa . . . re-posting thoughts written over decades - at random, I'm afraid.

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