Underberg - A perfectly placed Drakensberg downpour has dramatically eased the
pressure on the organisers of the Drak Challenge on January
23-24 after months of dismally low water levels in the uMzimkhulu due to the ravages
of the El Niño fuelled drought that is gripping the country.
With eight days to go to the 2016 race, the popular two-day event - which usually
attracts a field of close on 1 000 paddlers - had a dismal entry as canoeists
watched the daily river reports in disbelief.
On Tuesday night a thunderstorm close to the Lesotho border above the
Drakensberg Gardens hotel brought the level of the river up half a metre
though, news of which has triggered a deluge of entries.
“Three days ago the race committee met to agonise over options if the river
remained at the desperately low level that it has run at throughout the
summer,” said race committee chairperson Barry Cole.
“Lately we had consistent
rains but with the water table having been so low, they have had no impact at
all on the river until now.”
Cole recently even sent out a cautionary email to paddlers countrywide advising
them that the race was considering a wide range of options, even possibly
postponing the event.
“Then we got this Perfect Storm!” said Cole.
“We hardly had any rain in Underberg itself but it all fell in that exact
catchment area high in the mountains and, for the first time this summer, the
whole river has come up!” he added excitedly.
Cole stressed that there were still ten days before the race, during which time
the river levels could change significantly. “At least we feel now that
postponing or cancelling the race is off the table!” explained Cole.
In 2013 the race was gearing up for a shortened format from the low level start
at the Trout Hatcheries when an unnoticed late night thunderstorm high in the
mountains left the river in spate - the highest level ever since its dramatic
flood debut in 1994.
“The weather can change so fast here in the Berg that we have to be prepared
for any possible river level,” said Cole.
Cole added that there was regular rain forecast on an almost daily basis in the
final build-up to the race, which would ideally sustain the excellent current
river levels being experienced on the uMzimkhulu.
“We know how quickly the uMzimkhulu can empty and how fast it comes down in
Cole said that on Monday, January 21 the race committee would make a preliminary
call, in all likelihood confirming that the race will be held on Saturday 23 and
Sunday, January 24 as planned.
“The final call on the race course will be made on Friday afternoon or, if it
really storms overnight, on Saturday morning,” Cole added.
“This region has been very hard hit by the drought and all the farmers -
livestock, dairy and the wide range of crops - are all struggling in the
“As a region we are all passionate about making sure the paddlers have an
enjoyable weekend in and around Underberg and Himeville during the Drak
Challenge, and the possibility of having to postpone or even cancel the race
was just adding to the gloom in the area,” he said.
“While this rain hasn’t broken the drought, it has definitely improved the mood
in the Underberg and Himeville community.”
The race also doubles as the first leg of the International Canoe Federations
Classic Series, which combines the world’s most popular river marathons under a
single global umbrella.
More information can be found at www.drak.co.za