Apparently, kayakers in countries of snow-melt are able to paddle in summer!
For Australians, however, we rely almost exclusively on rain (or Hydro releases, such as my recent trip down Cataract Gorge in Tasmania), so at the end of a dry summer many kayakers are chomping at the bit – or, more accurately, are refreshing the BOM every few minutes in the hopes of spotting clouds on the horizon of the future.
So, when rain was predicted, one of the kayakers with the Australian National University Mountaineering Club organised the appropriately titled “Optimistic paddler’s outing.” The Kayak Canberra River Heights chart, along with New South Wales Water Information site showed that not a single river was at a paddleable level, but I was told to have faith, and so we waited for the rains.
And indeed they came.
Thus, Sunday morning saw us with kayaks on the roof and the Hume Freeway beneath the wheels, heading towards Tumut. We were aiming for Goobarragandra River, but we’d left later than was ideal, and hit the water at 1:30pm – hours after it had peaked at 8am. The gauge at Mac’s Crossing said 1.2m, and the Lacmalac gauge said 1.5m – the minimum paddleable level.
Of the four kayakers, I was by far the least experienced and technically competent, and this was my first Grade 3 river in a kayak (since my trips down the Murrumbidgee from Point Hut to Pine Island is really a 2/3). I wasn’t off to a good start either, as the low level meant plenty of rock nudges, and I managed to sidle a rock at the top of a tiny rapid. It wasn’t for nothing that back in Tasmania I’d been awarded the “Rock Magnet” winner for wrapping a raft on the Mersey River in my guide’s course…
Nevertheless, I managed to push myself off it, and hang my head in shame when receiving the lecture about leaning into rocks (high-siding in rafting), and certainly not meeting them sideways.
The rain, which had started trickling down when we’d entered the river at Mac’s Bridge, then decided to come down in earnest. We eddied out and waited out the violent squall, watching the wind and water lash the leaves from a stand of elms by the river. It passed soon enough, and we entered the gorge.
After Cataract, this rather more open and short gorge seemed small by comparison. Yet the Grade 4 water in the former seemed far less intimidating from a raft than the low grade 3 water I could see from my kayak on the Goobarragandra.
Equally, what would have been a small drop in a raft was an exhilarating plunge in a kayak, and I came out grinning. Although far from graceful, I continued making my way down the gorge, scouting out the rapids from the boat or the rocks, and watching the lines others took. I even managed to turn myself around after the very rafting manoeuvre of bouncing off a rock and sliding backwards, rather than just using the kayak to turn hard around a corner.
One particularly impressive rapid (for me, as it was still only a Grade 3, amidst a river that at this level was mostly Grade 2) saw more serious set-up: a safety person with a throw bag, and two cameras, just in case I came out spectacularly. To my own surprise, I made it through completely unscathed, and feeling more confident about my own ability I could appreciate the surroundings more fully.
The gorge was beautiful, all dark trees and rocks in the aftermath of the rain. There were even ripe blackberries lining the river edge, though these were too bloated with water to have much taste. But the gorge soon came to an end, with a very messy rapid that three of the four of us portaged. We then scraped and dragged our way across the low sections of the right side of the river to the get out at Rock Flat Reserve.
It had cleared up and turned into a superb day, and since it was only 3pm I decided to practice my roll.
Turns out that any confidence I’d gained in the gorge had been unfounded: if I had capsized, my roll would have been too poorly executed to have returned me back up.
But, since the rivers have sunk once more, I guess that I can practice till* the next rains.
* Note from my tame linguist: There is some debate as to whether ’til or till is grammatically correct. Proponents of ’til say that it is the correct shortening of until; however, until (a Middle English word, dating from c1200AD) is actually a compound of the Germanic word und and the Old English preposition till (the recorded usage of which dates back to c800AD). While ’til is indeed the shortening of until, its use wasn’t recorded until the 20th century, putting it some eleven hundred years out of contention.