With the memory of the dramatic 2022 edition of the race still lingering in their memories, the big field of paddlers entered for the 2023 N3TC Drak Challenge two-day canoe marathon this weekend will have to wait and see what the stormy weather forecast for the days before the race delivers.
Last year the level of the uMzimkhulu River was transformed from a mild typical summer medium level into a raging torrent as a massive thunderstorm battered the Southern Drakensberg on the Friday afternoon before the race. With reports of the river bursting it’s banks overnight, fortunately the river subsided enough to enable the race to get under way from its traditional start outside the Castleburn Resort.
“In the end it turned out to be one of the best Draks ever,” said race committee chair Andrew Barnett. “But it was a close call. We watched in the vehicle headlights that Friday night as the level of the river came close to covering the Castleburn bridge.”
Barnett says that the key to the sharp change in the level of the upper reaches of the uMzimkhulu rests in a small rainfall catchment area around the Rhino Peak in the Southern Drakensberg mountains.
“A thunderstorm in that catchment area will result in a sudden increase in the level of the upper uMzimkhulu,” pointed out Barnett.
The Southern Drakensberg has enjoyed one of its wettest summers in many years and the so-called “Drak Season” of canoeing races in Underberg has seen the KZN Mixed Doubles Champs and FastDrak races held in excellent full river conditions.
Since the New Year the rains have not been as heavy, and in the week leading up to the race the level of the uMzimkhulu has settled back to a familiar medium summer level. But Barnett says all eyes are the rainfall forecast for midweek, and the critical twenty four hours before the race start at 8am on Saturday morning.
“Fortunately we have been through this before and the local organizing committee has plans in place to deal with every eventuality, from a low river to a flooded river on race day,” said Barnett.
“A lot of the local farmers have sophisticated weather forecasting models that are important to their everyday operations, which helps us in our planning.
“We can see rain in the system for the latter part of the week,” he said. “It is just a matter of when, and where and how much.”