THE FastDrak canoe race on the weekend was cancelled due to the unusually low water levels in the Mzimkulu River.
But the organisers of the N3TC Drak Challenge Canoe Marathon on 23 and 24 January have reassured paddlers that they have contingency plans in place to safeguard the hugely popular two-day canoe marathon.
The El Niño-driven drought has hit the Southern Drakensberg hard and, despite regular summer thunderstorms, the depleted groundwater level has ensured that little of that rainfall has translated into run-off into the major rivers, leaving the Mzimkulu at its lowest level in nearly 30 years.
With the popular N3TC Drak Challenge attracting close to 1 000 entries each year, the race organising committee from the Canyon Kayak Club has stressed that they have a number of options under consideration, should they be needed.
“We continue to get regular storms, and our weather forecasting models point to more of these on a regular basis between now and the end of January,” race committee chair Barry Cole said in a statement on Saturday.
A cloudburst on the weekend left one of the tributaries of the Mzimkulu in flood, and for the first time this summer the river showed signs of rising.
“Let’s never forget what happened in 2013,” said Cole. “We were preparing for a low level start, and a storm on the Friday night left the river in flood. The year before we raced a low first day, and a Saturday night storm sent the river up a metre. The reality is that we will only make a final call on the race format just before the race because storms can, and do, have a major and pretty quick impact on the river level.”
Cole said that four times in the race’s 22-year history the start has been moved downstream to the Trout Hatcheries because of low water conditions, and the shortened version had been well received by the paddlers.
Alternative courses might include repeating sections of river that are better suited to low water paddling, bolting on flat-water stages on some of the picturesque local dams that are close to the Mzimkulu, or incorporating sections of other local rivers that are in better condition for paddling than the Mzimkulu on the weekend of the race.
“While this has been a dry summer for paddlers, who usually spend much of the December holidays tripping and playing on the Mzimkulu, let’s never forget that the negative impact of this drought for the paddlers is insignificant when compared to the devastating effect it has had on the local farmers, who are really battling to cope with the drought.”
Paddlers hoping to enjoy the N3TC Drak Challenge have started a viral social media campaign insisting that #Rain MustFall.
— Gameplan Media.