From The Archives: Snowy River Part 2

More old school reporting from the September 2010 kayaking trip…

The Double Drop

The double drop was scarier than it sounded in the book. Two two-metre drops, split by two hundred metres of fast water. Should be pretty serious, but nothing ridiculously deadly.  Our last trip down the Nymboida in a canoe and raft had left us craving bigger drops, tougher rapids and this one was planned as the highlight of our trip. In person, when we arrived at nightfall, to see the river crossing two metre drop and the massive holes of churning water at its bottom and it was a little more intimidating. The guide book listed it as a 3, or maybe a 4 and I’d run grade three rapids in a kayak before. At this water level, twice what it had been a week before, the double drop wasn’t a grade 3. The holes were bigger, the water was faster, the tongues of ‘green’ water to keep our boats in smaller. We scouted that rapid for a good half an hour before it got darker and we made the decision to portage it first thing in the morning. Pulling the gear from the boats, we made camp high on a ledge between the two drops, lulled to sleep by the roar of the water.

At some point in the night Matt said to me, ‘Let’s run it’. I looked back at him and with this little push was pointing out lines we could take. This was why I had brought Matt, I knew he would push me to run harder stuff as a result of his personality.

Getting dressed the morning of the double drop.

We got up earlier than usual, and talking to the guys (none of them wanted to run it still) geared up. They all agreed to run protection for the rapid, which we would attempt in two stages, first the first drop which we would take in a nice tongue of water on the right. After the drop we would brake left as fast as we could for the massive eddy. The right hand side had no eddy, just boulders and then the drop. Matt and I played scissor paper rock to see who would get to run it first. I won (lost?) and got to go first. Kind of hoping I hadn’t. We organised some whistle signals to let the next paddler know when to come down and I took the first drop, paddling as fast as I could to get to the right spot. Hitting it just right, I came over the lip and boofing slightly let the tail of my boat slide down the shoot of water, my nose out in the air. For a brief moment I was weightless, falling through the air and then I hit the water at just the right angle, squirting up and out quickly, my nose in the air. Screaming triumphantly and breaking for river left I made the eddy and staying in my boat, George gave the signal. Matt’s line down the first rapid was perfect too, and we collected our thoughts together while our mates moved to provide safety on the second drop.

This drop needed to be attempted from the far right as well, where a tighter tongue of water was the only spot that could possibly work. Downstream, a massive hole was followed by a wave train of metre high waves breaking in all directions that would require nimble hips to stay up right in. I ferry paddled as hard as I could and took the next drop slightly off of where I wanted, landed a little steep and shot right out of the water quickly, taking the wave train with my nose a little higher than I needed. Making the eddy I was pretty happy with my line, which looked better later on video.

Now matt ran this drop in the dancer, a boat almost twice the length of my short nimble dagger ego.  He took the drop pretty well, but his boat ended up side on and as he approached the wave train I thought he would surely be swimming. Some quick stokes and he was straight again, punching through the waves.

Talking at the bottom of the rapid, me and matt decided we should run it again in the remaining boats to avoid a potentially long and dangerous portage over boulders. It wasn’t 8:30 in the morning yet.

Leaving all of the gear out of the boats again, we set up for a second run, this time in one push.

Matt went first and I watched as he took the first drop to far to the left, touched a rock and rolled over to the right hand side all while going down the drop. It wasn’t unusual in kayaking to do this, but our rolls were terrible and matt didn’t want to swim the next rapid. Taking off a few seconds later I was over the edge. Matt and his boat were between me and the eddy but he was safe. Watching him swim to shore, I readied myself for the next drop before I realised where his boat had washed. The tight tongue of water I had been hoping to hit again had Matts boat jammed across it, half in the hole. It didn’t look too pinned and would probably flush at any minute, but it left the line out. Trying for a boof over the taller left side of the tongue, I hit the water ok, but was thrown over by the edge of the hole. Rolling back up was going to be difficult. I tried twice in the fat wave train before pulling my skirt and swimming out from my boat. Willis was standing on the shore, throw bag in hand and yelled my name. He threw the rope which landed perfectly in my hands. Pulling  me to shore, I jumped into my original boat and went after the two boats now washing downstream. After a minute on the fast but fairly flat water, I had one of the paddles thrown to shore, and one of the boats nudged to shore. The other boat required a kilometre of nudging under the nose of my boat before I could get it up onto a beach. Paddling made more difficult by the extra paddle sitting across my lap.  Dragging both boats up on to the beach, I lay down for a moment, exhausted.

I had all three of our boats,  four paddles and the guys had the other two boats, one paddle and all the gear. I tried to blow my whistle for ten minutes but in this steep box canyon got no reply. When I stopped blowing my whistle,  the foreboding silence of the canyon set in. This was perhaps the most beautiful place I had ever been, the steep granite walls covered in lichen and the occasional boulderbreaking up the the muddy flood waters running between its walls. It was a kind of secret place where people rarely came, in a week on the water we saw none until the last day.

It was also remote, dangerous and I was now a couple of kilometres downstream from my friends with no idea how they were fairing. I had to walk back.


3 thoughts on “From The Archives: Snowy River Part 2

  1. There is a fine line between badass and dumbass, and from everything I’ve heard about, this trip defined that line – in fact I might start calling it the Snowy River Diagonal.

  2. I can’t believe that in 2010 this group were still using a Dancer to paddle white water in. I know this section of the Snowy River and have guided canoes down successfully in lower water. I agree with the above comment and wonder where these guys mindsets were, obviously not skilled or properly equipped to be on the river. Where was the deep water rescue of the kayak, or the tow line for the rescue of equipment. Where was plan B if the shit happened, who was on the water to rescue the paddlers if needed? I’ve unfortunately seen this to many times in the Snowy Mountains and had to be called into do search and rescues for the Police, looking for inexperienced paddlers in remote areas without the proper knowledge or skills to be there. All I can say is before you go paddling WW again, learn to be a better paddler, have a bomber roll, the right gear for the river and learn rescue techniques using proper rescue gear. WW kayaking is a great activity and can take you to the most remote of places on earth, it just annoys me when I hear about this kind of incident as it reminds me of paddlers back 30 yrs ago with epic missions paddling far above their level. We should all aim to be better than they were back then, especially with the benefit of the better instruction and equipment we now have.

    1. I will say the following in our defense… All swimmers were rescued in a very short period of time, like 3 seconds. We had four people running safety for two paddlers with throw bags spread out. We placed a low priority on rescueing gear compared to people. I carried an epirb, GPS, compass and map all in my life jacket, and have a lot of experience hiking and navigating of we needed to retreat. Our paddling skills definately weren’t good enough, but our rescue skills were pretty good. We learnt a lot, and had fun, but we were playing a little close to the line. This post was written ages ago and I’ve just put it up because it seemed a shame not to tell the story. Stupidity of the trip aside.

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