01/03/2013 Friday Night
This little adventure like most, was a spontaneous last-minute decision to take advantage of all the rain we’ve been having over the week. Having purchased a 2 man seahawk inflatable raft from Clark rubber (capacity about 200kg) with aspirations of one day rafting the colo river from west to east it was time to put this raft to the real test. I had previously only tested it on the open waters of hacking river in good conditions and managed to pop it on some oysters. But now it was time to step up the conditions and see what it could handle!
Heading out from home about 7pm, I not quite sure exactly where our adventure was going to take us. With a few ideas of the upper weir on the Hacking River or Helensburgh’s flooded train tunnel running through my head, my housemate Joel and myself collected our gear consisting only of the raft, two paddles and a head torch, and headed out to pick up the rest of the crew.
After picking up two more fellow adventurers Talbot and brother Milton, we finally decided on checking out the weir to see if we could raft down it. Along the way we stopped at national falls to check out a possible future abseil from the falls and found the falls to be in full flood and quite spectacular.
Realising that our sunlight was depleting rather rapidly we continued on into the Royal National Park and came to the weir of McKell Avenue just after 8pm. The weir itself was a wall of white wash! The river had risen substantially and was flowing quickly. We quickly put on our wetsuits and started to inflated the raft. By the time we was ready it was dark.
Reading the capacity limit on the back, doing a quick head count and approximate weight of everyone, we concluded that we were about 130kg over capacity! Thinking that these were only rough guidelines we decided to test how well we would float by launching in the calmer deeper waters upstream of the weir. One by one, by the guidance of my single head torch we piled into the raft. Talbot on the very front, Joel behind him followed by Milton then myself just fitting in the rear of the craft. It was a cramped fit, but lo and behold the raft stayed afloat! Using the paddles we were able to semi-successfully maneuver upstream and back down to the weir. Success!
Having the boosted confidence of knowing that the raft could at least hold our weight we quickly scrambled down (some in the complete dark!) the side of the weir and made our way to the roar of the river on the first bend past the weir. Finding a sufficient spot for launching the raft again into the river proved a bit challenge due to the surrounding tree line, however we managed to find a deep hole where we could hold, load and launch into.
With one final kick off the embankment we were in! The river was moving so quickly that by the time I got myself in we were into the first rapids. Being the only one with a torch it was probably not the greatest of ideas to be seated in the back as we flew virtually uncontrollable down the river.
The paddles proved of no real use as we crashed, bumped, scrapped and tore our way through the what seemed about 2 foot rapids and minefield of debris consisting of lots of low lying trees, submerged logs and large rocks.
Barely managing to control the raft, using my foot as a rudder, we made our way through the first bends and rapids. As some stages I had no control and we ended up going backwards, before going down and being stopped by a large rock. This cause the raft to compress, spilling everyone out. Two were immediately swept down stream whilst myself and Joel held onto the raft.
After recuperating and bailing the water out from the raft we found a quieter spot and relaunched. Joel at this stage managed to find his $10 servo torch which he used at the front to try to determine where we were heading.
After a quiet section we again hit some more rapids consisting of rocks and large tree stumps. As we went through a right hand corner, there was a large stump lodged into the middle of stream. We had no time or ability to dodge and collision was again inevitable. It was a direct hit onto the front of the raft which caused it to lift up. Combined with force of the water and weight distribution in the raft, the back end of the raft continued forwards so that the raft folded over like a hand closing, with us inside!
Fortunately being at the back I was able to see this coming and bailed from the raft before I was swallowed up too. I managed to quickly pull the raft out from the log and found that the others were entangled together underwater. As everyone came up, they all had big smiles and expressions of, “What the heck happened, it was so much fun?!”, whilst coughing up the murky browned water.
We flipped the boat over so that it was upside down and floated on this through the rest of the rapid section before it cleared out again.
Again we piled back into the raft, which by this stage had held its own brilliantly. Having scraped past tree branches, bumped into large boulders and crashed into sharp embankment the only signs of weakening was the outer section had become slightly deflated and misshapen.
After our entrapment and ‘near death’ experiences, the river became wider and flattened out to a gentler pace in which we were forced to kick and paddle. We came across numerous large 2 foot thick trees which had fallen across the path of the river. These made for interesting barriers as twice we had to abandoned the raft and get it to the other side.
Finally after what seemed like an hour, we began to consider how far down we should continue. Having realised that no one really knew how exactly the path back to the car was going to take form we decided that it would try to get the junction of the stream which national falls flows into.
After drifting for a bit further the familiar roar of lots of water rushing over shallow rocks became louder as we approached another set of rapids. Having come through the few sets previously, we thought ourselves to be somewhat prepared for what was to come. But again the river had other plans.
These final set of rapids were by far the largest and longest. They started with a divide in the river, which we chose to go left at our peril. We realised this was not the good option as the corner was a right hander, and the left side we had chosen only had only a narrow gap to get through. We managed to just scrape through the gap and hit the largest rapids we had encountered. The way I positioned myself at the back so that my foot was acting like a rudder meant that I was facing forward and half in the raft. As we went down the first rapid, which seemed about 2-3 foot I was launched head first into the raft and hence we lost control and were spinning and rolling again at the mercy of the river. Holding onto whatever we could we finally crashed into a large tree which cause everyone to again fall out and float through the rest of the rapids.
Having come out the other side of the rapids we eventually found each other and pulled into the side of the riverbank. It was here we discovered a bushwalking path that would lead up to Lady Carrington Dr. Having brought no shoes and the thought of having to bushbash bare foot at night up the side of a mountain carrying an inflated raft, quickly helped us make the decision to bail the river and seek higher ground.
We ventured up the trail again by the guidance of my single head torch as Joel’s torch was either missing or dimmed. It was half way to the road we discovered that we were to become the feast of the night. The leeches were out in their droves. We stopped and started to pull them off only to realise the longer we stopped the more that came. We decided it was best to press onto the road and deal with the bloodsuckers later.
After another 20 itchy minutes we hit the road and began the process of deleeching. Milton held the record for most leeches as it seemed like he had at least 5 between each toes, which we found we could not get out and later burnt and salted them off when they were quite ripe!
We found that we were only a 15 minute walk down the road back to the car. So the four of us, by guidance of one headlight, in wetsuits and me carrying the raft trudged back down the mountain. As luck would have it the first car to come across would be an unmarked police car, whom, struck by the oddness of the picture, could not resist having a yarn about where we had been rafting.
Finally we made it back to the car and took our time getting the last of the leeches off and getting dry. We also found a rather large worm which when prodded would squirt a liquid from its skin which was an irritant.
By the time we were heading home it was about 10:30pm and a little bruised and battered but we were already contemplating the next crazy adventure to be had!