Monday, June 19, 2006

Beach Weekend

Despite the promising East Gippsland floods, Victoria reverted pretty quickly to it's unusually dry and cold June weather. So with no rivers running it was off to Aireys Inlet to surf, eat chocolate and sit in front of the fire at Jen's beach house.

After the usual disorganisation leaving Melbourne, and the phone call from Nick and Kate that let us know they were there already (unfortunately we had the house keys) we all finally made it down there Friday night and cracked open the Baileys, the Tim Tams and set up Grant's laptop with a good dose of paddling porn. The next morning was a slow one, Dave and Rob were coming down for the day and arrived bright and early while the rest of us were still looking a little bleary eyed. So off to Fairhaven where the waves were a decent size but pretty friendly.

For Jen it was her first ever time in the surf in a kayak, none other than her new boat Ted the Infrared. She cottoned on quickly, caught a few waves in the white wash, did her first ever live rolls before heading out the back to play in the big stuff. It got chilly pretty quickly so it was back to the house for lunch then some more chocolate biscuits then back to the beach. This time only Grant and Jen had the motivation to get cold and wet again, the rest of us played with cameras and video cameras which meant that Jen's carnage was on film - that girl showed her determination though with up to four rolls in a row and several good trashings.
(one of Jen's spectacular trashings)

Finally they got cold and came in and it was dinner time back at barracks... another evening of chocolate and alcohol while watching every last scrap of paddling footage Grant could find on his trusty mac. Timmy and Huw turned up and generally much fun was had, especially when watching the footage of Timmy 4wd-ing and drowning his car in a large puddle.
(The battle for the bed)

Off to bed and the action didn't stop there, Timmy has his sights set on the double bed Jen and I were sharing and so suddenly the pitch black house was pierced by screams as Jen and I were dragged out of bed by our ankles and Timmy claimed the mattress.

The ensuing battle lasted for over an hour as Jen and I attempted to claim back the bed. I do wonder what the neighbours though of the banging and screaming!

In the end we got the bed back but not before I'd committed to cooking bacon and eggs for the offending bed stealer the next morning. Neither Jen nor I slept well that night - half expecting a second attack at any second ;-)

After the bacon and eggs, it was back to the beach. The surf was smaller but cleaner and Timmy styled it in his C1 even nailing a flat spin!

Jen took over the video camera and I had some fun out in the surf getting some serious bounce going. Now I just have to work out what to do with it once the boat is airborne.... might have to pin Mel down for some blunt lessons.
(a beautiful set rolls in behind me)

(bouncey bouncey this thing can fly!)
All in all, a very enjoyable weekend...

Monday, June 05, 2006

First paddle of the Victorian season

Well after numerous summer Penrith trips, beginner bum-scrape trips and surf trips it was pretty exciting to see the rainfall that was falling in far East Gippsland late last week. We were hoping the rain would fall in the alpine catchment and bring the Kiewas or the Mitta area up to paddleable levels but it wasn't to be, it stayed in the far east of the state and by Friday the Bureau of Meterology had issued a flood warning for the Cann and the Genoa rivers.
With the Genoa being a full on two day trip with an epic shuttle we opted for the Cann, no-one we knew had run either river and both are classed grade IV on the online guide however the Cann was slightly closer to Melbourne, a shorter run and a much shorter shuttle (a good thing as at this stage we only had one car on the trip).

Grant and I set about recruiting, none of the girls were free and the usual crew of guys were all busy as well. So it ended up being Emilio, a spanish paddler living in Melbourne, Grant and myself. And then Simon called and said he was up for it - a pretty awesome effort considering that meant a long drive for him from Wodonga by himself (and a sketchy drive over Hotham in snow).

So in the rain at 2am we pulled into Cann River and parked in the servo carpark. Luckily Emilio has an awesome van with a big fold out bed in the back so the three of us climbed into bed only to hear Simon pull up about 20 mins later, he bedded down in the back of his ute and we all tried to get some sleep before Saturday dawned, grey, wet and cold.

After breakfast in the town picnic shelter it was off to the river about 10km south of town. The rain was coming in showers but the large amount of surface water around told us the catchment was absolutely saturated. At the put in we were confronted with a very brown and flooded looking river, we found a gauge which read somewhere around 2.6m and we started to wonder we had too much water. This is where non-paddling girlfriends come in handy, Grant rang Pip to check the internet gauge and we were informed that far from being flooded the gauge read 1.09m - just at minimum level to run the river. The feeling of the group was summed up by Simon turning to me and asking "are you scared too?".

As the online guide had estimated 8-12 hours for the trip and we hadn't run it before, we packed overnight gear in our creekers. This seemed even more relevant as by this stage it was nearing midday, although only Grant had ever paddled with gear in his boat before so that left the rest of us feeling a bit nervous about how our boats would handle.

The grade three rapid right at the put in was a nice warm up, the feel of the river was one of big water - pushy and forming large waves and holes. My boat felt slow with gear in it and more at the mercy of the current than it otherwise would be. Soon we reached a horizon line and jumped out on the right bank to scout. There were some large holes and two possible lines both starting left, Simon made the call to walk the rapid as he was feeling rusty and not 100% happy with his boat control with the extra weight of gear. So it was the three of us in the top eddy and Grant asked me where in the group I wanted to paddle. Instead of opting for the safety of the middle of the group as I think he expected I though "hang on, I'm 100% happy with the line I've picked" and so I said "I want to go first" and ferried out across the current to the river left side. The first part of the rapid went smoothly but the pushy water and heavy boat meant I didn't make the eddy mid-way down but that was ok, I was still online to head right of a large rock down a little tongue to the left of a sticky looking hole. I got pushed a little too far right and caught the edge of the hole but a summer of playboating meant I was ready for it.

Grant followed, taking the left line at the bottom and getting backlooped before rolling up and joining me in the eddy. Emilio took the same line as me and saved himself with support stroke as he hit the edge of the hole. Soon Simon joined us and we were off downstream again.
Several solid grade 3 to 3+ rapids followed, we boat scouted these dodging holes and bouncing over waves.

Then ahead we saw a large amount of spray hanging in the air and large horizon line. Jumping out on river right we were confronted with the "waterfall". The river widened to 50-70m across and cascaded down a rocky series of drops totalling about 15m in height. The far right line was definitely runnable but the lead in was a little tricky and an error would have had serious (rocky) consequences. Although I thought I could run the line, I wasn't 100% sure and with gear in my boat, the remoteness of the run and it being the first creek boat run of the season I decided that perhaps it was time to err on the side of caution.

Grant walked the lead in and paddled the rest while the rest of us hauled our heavy boats up a mongrel of a hill and sweated our way round on dry land. That took some time but soon enough we were all back on the water.

The river flattened right out after that excitement and we floated along wondering when we would be encountering the "gorge". A few small class II and III rapids indicated we were picking up gradient again and soon the walls of the valley narrowed and river turned a rocky bend. I jumped out to scout on the left while the rest of the group stayed right, it turned out to be a straightforward rapid but we felt it was the beginning of the gorge.

Just round the corner we were confronted with something larger, from the river left bank we could see a large rapid stretching for a couple of hundred meters. Grant grabbed the video camera and Simon and Emilio went back up to run it. I watched from a rock near my boat waiting for Grant so we could run it in pairs. Emilio set off and got pushed off line early on, after a few seconds stuck on a rock he regained control and headed on down. A quick smile and wave for the camera then he had to make a quick decision - right or left of a big rock with a pillow wave forming on it. Hestiating for too long he went right, but not far enough righ, hit a hole and flipped. His first roll failed him and as he attempted his second his boat was slammed against a rock, he pulled the plug and washed down the rest of the rapid with his boat following.

Grant was signalling frantically and I yelled at Simon to paddle down because Emilio was swimming, then I jumped into my own boat and pulled on my deck. Taking a different lead in line to Emilio I found myself more in control, I eddied out opposite Grant and he yelled at me to go left where Emilio had gone right. Misjudging the water's strength I had to work hard to get left and only just made it skirting round the pillow wave, then a second rock and pillow wave appeared and just made it to the left of that one as well before the rapid calmed a bit and paddled down to the bottom where I could see Emilio standing on the left bank but Simon was no where to be seen.

Realising Emilio's boat had the tent in it, and also the remoteness would mean a bugger of a walk out if we lost a boat, I knew I had to follow Simon and the wayward boat. Another horizon line appeared in front of me and yelled at Emilio asking him the line. He misunderstood and thought I was asking about Simon and I realised it was going to have to be read and run - luckily it was a large bouncy wave train and I was soon in flat water at the bottom. Simon had caught the boat and was in one of the many eddies in amongst the trees on the bank.

Soon Grant joined us, he had videoed the goings on then paddled the rapid, losing a fair amount of skin off his knuckles as he failed to make the left line and managed to park himself upsidedown on a rock. Emilio swam down to us and boat and paddler were reunited. The call was made that we should look for a camping spot as people had had enough for one day so we paddled on keeping an eye for flat and clear spots... which proved to be a rarity on the river.

Suddenly we saw what seemed to be an island up ahead, from the topo map Grant and I knew what that meant: the end of the gorge which signalled the end of the major rapids. Armed with that knowledge we pushed on and took the right channel round the island. Suddenly we were dodging trees which became thicker and thicker until Emilio, who was up front, yelled to stop and Grant and I eddied out on the left losing sight of the other two. After some sketchy ferries and bush bashing we were reunited but the whole thing was pretty dangerous. Emilio had taken another swim but this one was a proactive decision while he was upright to avoid heading into a log jam in his boat.

After the island the river widened back up and the trees ceased to be an issue. The river was flat and we knew from the guide that this is the way it'd stay until the take out which was very close to the sea. However the guide lead us to believe that there was several hours of flat stuff and with the light fading we found a spot to camp and put up the tent - all piling in for our first real food since breakfast.

The rain came in showers during the night and with three in a two man tent it wasn't the best sleep but soon enough the dawn chorus of birds started up. I lay there listening to the multitude of different calls until it stuck me that the calls were all coming from the same direction and weren't overlapping - we were being to treated to a lyrebird's repertoir. I poked my head out of the tent and saw a lyrebird in one of the nearby trees although the calls were coming from across the river.

Luckily the rain held off and we packed up and were on the water nice and early and were suprised when we reached out take out only 50 minutes later after cruising past coastal wetlands and pelicans and hearing lots of bellbirds. So then it was back to the Cann River picnic shelter for coffee, stale donuts and then an early drive back to Melbourne.