Pack Rafting on the Colo

Party: Felix, Jimmy (James), Lukas and Leo (Photos: Felix and Leo)

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.

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

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.