SUBW

Pack Rafting on the Colo

Party: Me, Jimmy (James), Lukas and Leo
Photos: Leo and I

 

Jimmy, Gumbshoe and I awoke around 6, and after some breakfast and final packing started on the 2hr drive to meet Leo. We passed by Lukas’s place to grab his forgotten EpiPen (Epinephrine) and Phenergan (antihistamines). I had been a bit slack organising the trip and when I returned Leo’s missed call I didn’t even have pack rafts ready! Luckily Leo was close to a store and picked up 6 rafts making a total of 7 (3 spares). For our primary rafts we went with the $30 Hydro-Force RX-3000 from Kmart. The extra cost of these proved to be justified due to the better pumps, easy valve release design and perhaps most importantly the redundancy in the multi-compartment outer chambers.

 

Lukas got confirmation that he could get the day off work and came over to join Jimmy and I in packing. Being my first packrafting trip, I still had a lot of work to do and spent several hours reading emails people had sent me so I would have some idea on what we could accomplish. Based on this I figured Wollemi Ck to the Bob Turner’s Track should make a good 4 day trip. With the high water I thought we might finish a little earlier and when making my laminated maps, also added the section down to the Upper Colo Bridge. It was well after midnight when this was all finished, and morning came too soon.

 

We met with Leo on the Putty Rd and after positioning the cars for some shuffle action struggled with laden packs down the distinct track to Wollemi Ck. I had walked here before but only found the track on the walk out last time, it proved very distinct and was so wide there was little risk to the exposed rafts strapped to our packs. The lookout on the way was better than I remembered but the raging waters were a lot higher… what were we getting ourselves into? Last time I had rock hopped up the middle of the creek. This time you couldn’t really see any rocks!

 

We inflated our crafts (raft?) in a pleasant little cove and soon set off in our shiny new rafts. It was smooth sailing – or rather drifting – and after a light rapid, we thought we were doing very well. But as we rounded the corner a roar could be heard… with a grin, Lukas turned and gave the thumbs up and disappeared over the top of the rapids. We all followed. It was very rough. I think at least two people capsized. Jimmy broke a paddle. I got a huge gash in the bottom of my boat and also bruised my foot… it wasn’t the best start. We retreated to the side and after licking out wounds and a late lunch, scouted ahead and decided to portage the next set which looked worse than what we had been down.

We struggled through the scrub, the vines pulling us backwards giving me more time to think on the sensibility of the trip. Since Jimmy’s pack had fallen to pieces we needed to cut a hole through the frame and thread the strap through.
We reinflated our rafts and floated down to the junction with Colo. The water here was also very brown but the river was much wider and seemed much more placid. We reclined in the sun watching the various caves and waterfalls in the clifflines float by. Jimmy was quite impressed by the vegetation growing on the ledges, or floating gardens as Jimmy called them. Perhaps there are more claystone layers in this part of the mountains?

Eddies created by submerged rocks(?) twirled as around allowing us to watch the water dragons and goannas on both banks. There were also some fish which would now and then jump out of the water and birds swooping to catch insects on the surface.

But the water was moving quickly and there were many rapids to test ourselves and our boats. We all capsized many times and many paddles where broken. One of the bad rapids had a horrible back current. I dropped a meter or so into a low spot where I found a capsized Leo trying to escape. I went over the top of him. It looked like he was struggling to stay above water and clinging to the side of my boat I tried pulling him to the side of my boat. He soon went after his boat leaving me to struggle to escape. It felt like I was in there for ages, and I could feel my arms weakening as the water threw me about. Eventually me and my raft broke free and I scrambled back in.
Because of the late time we reached the Colo, we kept going to quite late. However, after pulling over at a terrific beach camp I translated some of the bearings I had been taking onto the map. A west followed by a south placed us somewhere after Pinchgut Ck. We were much further than I had expected. Yay!
After getting a fire going we began unpacking bags and found that nearly everyone had wet gear. Lukas and Jimmy both had dripping sleeping bags and clothes. Leo’s thermals, sleeping mat, down jacket, etc was wet, but luckily the sleeping bag had an extra layer of protection. I was lucky and only had a few damp spots on my sleeping bag.
Funnily enough on my last (and only other) Colo trip, I didn’t have sleeping gear and found that a covered pit-fire works quite well. Sleeping in their wetsuits this is what they did.

We slept in a bit the next morning and awoke to an overcast day. After repairing some boat injuries – Duck Tape worked well – we were back on our boats. It was colder today and we were glad to have wetsuits. We continued downstream passing Canoe Ck. Leo had walked here before on a Northern Three Peaks trip and had some memory of the normal water levels.

Not sure where Jimmy is trying to go!

The cliffs where probably less spectacular at this point, but there was still much to see including Platypus Rock, and some spectacular gums!

Leo topping up Lukas’s raft – a slow leak.
Inflating one of our back up boats.
Lukas’s “She’ll be right” thumbs up!
I think that’s me in the middle of the rapid!
We were getting better at negotiating the rapids by now and were experimenting going down the rapids in tandem or even larger groups. We successfully made it down quite a rough rapid by joining together by our sides and riding the rapid down like a snake. My boat had no floor at this point and it was nicknamed the Fred Flinstone boat and required a seating variation involving sitting on the hull.

After the Wollangambe we started to find quite a lot of flotsam. Much of it quite high up in the trees as the river peaked at 8m a few days prior. One thing we carried out was parts of a blue inflatable canoe. There were also a couple of inflatable rafts, a foam roll mat, amongst other things.

A hole already? Unfortunately…
Doing a wheelie in the Flindstone boat!
The rapids where much worse than they look in photos. Here is a series of stills Leo took on one of the smaller rapids.
Some flotsam up quite high in a tree.

We were getting tired by this point but I wanted to push on further past the last serious rapid called “The King”. We joined forces. “It’s a long way down”, “Down there!?” It was said almost as a joke, but as we neared the brink it turned out it *was* a long way down and there was a reason this rapid was named. There was no turning back now. One after one we curved down in a vortex of water. Lukas who was first apparently capsized in this first pool. I was on the other end and didn’t really see this happen. The water pushed me up over a giant boulder, whilst Jimmy was pulled down to the left forcing me to let go. I then plunged down a couple of meters down before impacting with the water and falling through the floor of my boat. I clung to the sides for a few more rapids whacking my bum on a rock before scrambling back aboard. One more rapid and I was through. “The King!” I yelled and received at least one reply. I looked around and saw Leo, a pack and an upturned boat floating by. On my other side I saw Lukas in his boat. Wait! did he make it down? No. He had somehow landed in Leo’s boat. Jimmy was also struggling in the water heading towards a beach. Leo swam passed me a paddle and I grabbed Jimmy’s pack which had a ripped strap where it had been previously been attached. We lost some of the rubbish we had collected.

The King Rapid, and in the foreground, an upturned boat, a pack and one of the roll mats we found.
After reassembling our wounded party we started looking for camping spots. There wasn’t anything great and in the end we navigated to Mailes Cave. After a quick scout I found the fire ring and we slowly hauled all the gear up and got a fire going in the fading light. I have to say I was quite underwhelmed by the spot and the overhang didn’t seem like anything especially notable. Maybe there is something historical behind the spot, or perhaps a good story? – let me know if you know! In the log book there were only two entries for 2015 and one for 2014.

It had been a long day and we all had injuries. Leo and I had sore bums, Lukas had a swollen hand and Jimmy had a sore knee (x2), shin, hip, ankle and but and also proclaimed that he had “broken every bone in his body”. We were close to the original exit point and Jimmy decided he would exit whilst the rest of us would add an extra leg and float down to the Upper Colo Bridge. This would save the rest of us a substantial amount of time so there wasn’t much effort put into talking him out of the idea.

In the morning, we did some more raft repairs and enjoyed our first rapid of the day almost immediately. At Hungryway Ck we collected a whole lot of rubbish (and usable gear!) before leaving Jimmy to walk out with the hungry wild dog that was prowling the picnic area.

Spider eating its catch.
To save carrying Jimmy’s gear out, we created a gear raft which we tied to my boat, and then later tied all our boats together. There were a few rapids after this point but in general the river was very flat and in spots very slow. To finish at a reasonable time we started rowing. It was tiring work and we had many rests in which we retreated beneath helmets and the blades of our paddles to escape the burning sun – foolishly we hadn’t brought any sunscreen.

There cliffs had reduced to mountains and these reduced to hills and we slowly made our way around giant S’s in the river, paddling for 6 k’s to be only 1km from where we had previously been! A couple of canoers past as traveling at least three times our speed – and that was against the current. Soon we were bounded by private property and began seeing buildings and small farms. We stopped to talk to a couple of ladies sitting in the river. They helped settle the debate about what river the Colo flowed into. It turns out the Nepean and the Hawkesbury are the same river. From the confluence of the Grose and Nepean the Hawkesbury is born. And this is where the Colo enters – I think Leo won that one.

We continued down passing many people in the river probably down from the campsite we saw marked on the map. We were all glad to see the bridge I think, and saw Jimmy waving at us from the middle. We passed under before struggling to the side slowly ferrying the gear up my awaiting ute. We had some delicious junk food and then set of to get Leo’s car. This took around an hour and by this time the service station where we were planning to have dinner had closed. 😦

We parted ways and it wasn’t till after midnight that I was relaxing in a comfortable bed. We had all learnt a lot I think. Life jackets and helmets are a must. Sunscreen is more important that any of us thought (we all had sunburnt hands, and faces). And scouting class 4-5 rapids is probably a good idea…
also we need to get better at water proofing!

The End.

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