From the Archives: Snowy River, September 2010

This is the first part of a piece I wrote straight after one of my formative kayaking trips. The prose is a little over the top and we probably weren’t ever in very much danger after all. It was at the time a big chunk to bite off though, and way over the top for our kayaking experience? Don’t judge me too harshly, i’m a much safer paddler now I swear!

Snowy River Mckillops Bridge to Jackson’s Crossing

September 2010

Part 1: What The Snowy Took From Us

Blair Does Some Swimming

I tied a loop in the end of the slick orange rope and coiling it quickly threw it as far as a I could under hand across the swiftly moving deep water. It snagged, half unfurled and landed in the middle of the river gorge. Pulling it back in quickly and indicating with my hands for Willis to stay put, I tossed the rope again. Again it snagged.

From where I was standing I could see the famed A frame rapid, water churning almost to the top of the gap between the rocks. The left hand side looked like a potential but tight run, but that wasn’t the problem. The previous rapid, and unnamed Grade 2+ that at this flow of water was probably close to a three had flipped Willis and he had wet exited, the kayakers term for going for a swim and ditching your boat.  He’d made it to the shore quickly, and we’d snagged his boat and paddle but on opposite banks. He was on one side, and we were on the other.  From where he was, he couldn’t see the rapid ahead of him, we knew he couldn’t cause we’d already had a close call when George came close to the A frame before pulling into an Eddy, a current flowing backwards from the main current into a calm patch on the river right.  I tossed the rope again, and still no joy.

Taking the loop off of my foot, I took the heavy knot in my gloved hands and tossed it again. The wet, new rope slipped quickly through my neoprene gloves and into the river. The rope washed swiftly down the rapid, wrapped in a tangle quickly. We never saw it again, it’s probably tangled somewhere on the right hand side or tucked up under the A Frame. The river was too wide here for our throw ropes, that’s why we were using our new length of canyoning rope intended for hauling pinned boats out of holes, or for emergency abseils. Trudging upstream, we found a tighter spot and Willis, with me waiting with a throw rope and whistle blown instructions to hug the left hand wall if he got swept into the rapid, swam hard across. His fast freestyle strokes left us all breathless as to what would happen, and then he made the eddy on our bank, ducked behind a rock and a few moments  later was standing on it arms in the air triumphantly.

Blair and George chill out under McKillops bridge

We lined our boats down a small drop on the right hand side that we would have been able to run, but were too tired to think about, and got on with the next few kilometres of paddling.

The rope wasn’t the first bit of gear the river had taken from us, and it wasn’t the last. Before the trip was over we would have lost a camera, A trailer hitch, rear light, plug and chain shackle. My pride as a paddler that hadn’t flipped much on my previous trips, long flatwater epics, or a low water day trip down the barrington. It had taken our body warmth, an old fleece of mine and a brand new video camera. It had taken plastic from the bottoms and the sides of our boats, and almost taken a paddle and boat from us entirely.

All this and more for a holiday.

The trip began with a uni break, a week right as the snow melt should be starting, and a glint in my eye after having driven over Mckillops bridge over the snowy river as a wide eyed child with my father. I remember looking down at the boulder choked, shallow waters and asking dad what river it was and being told that it was the Snowy. The Snowy River that holds a special place for many Australians and not just on the side of their ten dollars notes.

The 200 SX a little outside it’s comfort zone

A rendezvous in Jindabyne on a sunny Monday morning after a weekend of raining sloshy snowy boarding at Thredbo, and frantic work to get ready to go away by some friends got us all together.  Matt’s dad’s rodeo packed to the roof with gear and hauling the University of New South Wales Outdoor clubs trailer loaded with 5 boats and paddles, Matts small Nissan 200 SX, looking out of place streaked with dirt and dust and crammed with more gear. The Five of us, Matt, Willis, George Blair and I packed into the cars and took off from Jindy down towards the river via a roundabout route through the tiny town of delegate. We would have taken the Barry Way down from NSW but heavy rain had left the road unsuitable and boggy for the Nissan and sketchy for the trailer. The Snowy was just about the only river in the state of Victoria that wasn’t in serious flood, due mainly to its damning that prevented the bank busted Thredbo river from pouring its snow melt straight down to the sea.

The road was windy and tight, and a few times we were terrified by the shear drops on the right hand side. The gear was dropped and Willis and Matt begun the task of driving down to the bottom at the Buchan River Confluence. I’m told they braved terrifying fog and kangaroos with a mind to jump up sheer cliffs and into their way on the road.

We slept soundly in the shed next to the bridge, two people sleeping in the car. At dawn we were awake, and finishing the packing. The gear was slowly culled bit by bit to the bare essentials. The break down paddle was a little too long and unwieldy to pack, and was left with the car along with the poles for the bivy bags (the bags were soaked the entire time and never got used anyways) some extra food, the hatchet and everyones hiking boots, the last thing to be culled, and something we would regret.  (We really should have had a four piece break down paddle, or even two, but we didn’t know any better at the time.)

We were already a day late when we left. A slow first day left us nowhere near where we hoped. The first rapids were testing for all of us, tossing both me and blair in our unforgiving playboats into the river twice in the first day. We soon learnt that in our haste to get the boats and get down to the river no one had noticed George’s boat was missing its seat, leaving him with an uncomfortable ridge beneath his thighs. Willis and Minus in the old long perception dancers fared better with the flatwater stretches and the easier rapids, rolling a lot less frequently. We would find these boats simply too long for some rapids later in the trip though.


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