Underberg - Following the decision to postpone the FastDrak canoe race on the weekend due to the unusually low water levels in the Mzimkulu River, the organisers of the Drak Challenge Canoe Marathon on January 23-24 have reassured paddlers that they have contingency plans in place to safeguard the hugely popular two day canoeing race.
The El Nino-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 Drak Challenge attracting close to a thousand 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,” said race committee chair Barry Cole.
A cloudburst on the weekend left one of the tributaries of the Mzimkulu in spate, 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.
“This year’s situation is unusual, and we are exploring a number of options to make sure that we don’t disappoint the hundreds of paddlers who loyally support this event,” said Cole.
He hinted at alternative courses that might include repeating sections of river that are better suited to low water paddling, bolting on flatwater stages on some of the picturesque local dams that are close to the Mzimkulu, and even possibly incorporating sections of other local rivers that are more paddleable than the Mzimkulu on the weekend of the race.
“We are passionate about this race, the fun and value for money it offers the paddlers, and the major impact that it has on the local economy, and we will do everything in our power to make sure it happens satisfactorily,” Cole said.
“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.
“As paddlers passionate about the race and this district, we are all hoping that the rains we all need are not too far away,” he added.
Paddlers hoping to enjoy the Drak Challenge have started a viral social media campaign insisting that #RainMustFall.
The Drak Challenge takes place on Saturday, 23 and Sunday, January 24, 2016.
More information can be found at www.drak.co.za