Sunday, July 23, 2006

Mitchell River - the joy of sick leave

Well having suffered one of the driest and coldest Junes on record July wasn't shaping up to much better. Then the forecast suddenly looked as if the Kiewas would be up on a Sunday and everyone was on alert, only for the rain to fall too far west. Then the rain swung round and dumped in west gippsland... the Mitchell catchment. Being slow to respond, the Mitchell was set to peak mid-week and oh the joys of sick leave.

Leaving on Wednesday night we drove to Sale, meeting Timmy at a house full of Monash med students. We'd managed to assemble a group of 10 people, not bad for a last minute mid week paddle! We crashed on the living floor of the house in Sale and early the next morning I woke everyone up (despite Timmy's protests) and soon enough we were on the way with one of the med students in tow.

So 11 people, three cars, then we got to the take out and decided to save time by leaving a car there so then it was 11 people in two cars... oh and 11 boats as well. Good thing my roof racks are nice and wide. So we all got changed at the take out, always dangerous when Timmy is around as Jen soon found out! Then with six boats on my car and six people in Grant's it was off to the put in.

The Mitchell is a lovely river, mainly grade 2 with a couple of harder rapids of grade 3 and large pools between rapids making it an ideal river for inexperienced paddlers who are challenged by the harder rapids while enjoying the easier ones.

The first hard rapid is slalom rapid. A long rapid down a section of bedrock, where boat skills are required to avoid rocks and water features. Nick decided to test the temperature of the water here with a swim - the verdict: FREEZING! Jen was styling it - the Mitchell was her first real river (as the Yarra and Goulburn don't really count) and Macca was enjoying his new boat.

With Nick back in his boat we continued down the river's little grade 2 boulder gardens and chutes before stopping for lunch on a sandy beach. So much nicer than sitting behind a desk all day! Lunch was supplemented with the usual plethora of chocolate and even a "reduced to clear" packet of iced doughnuts. We admired Kate's homemade fleece hotpants that made her look like a ribena berry and Timmy tried to dack Jen and carry Bron off into the bushes.

Then it was onwards towards the most challenging rapid of the run - "Amphitheater Rapid". From the pool at the top of this rapid all you can see is a horizon line and the rushing sounds of water over rocks, so we all got out on the left bank to have a look. We discussed the obstacles that we could see and the best lines around them, then Timmy, Grant, Kate W and Jean set up safety and I had the video camera.

First of all came Nick, looking calm and relaxed he skirted the pourover, punched through the little hole and hit the middle of the green tongue. Then he was onto the second part of the rapid which was out of sight for me.

Along came Jen, cool calm and collected she cruised past the pourover and through the hole looking just slightly shakey down the last bit but recovering to head onto the second part.

Bron and Kate came along next, both coming unstuck in the same spot. They both styled it past the pourover - looking extremely relaxed and stylish, then got knocked off balance by the hole and ending up with some upside down action before swimming.
(Bron doing her best to stay upright)

Then I packed up the camera and joined Macca to scoot down the rapid, I was impressed with how everyone had done. It's not an easy rapid and it's long with potential for a freezing swim - everyone had given it a go which was impressive to start with, and then even those that had swum had paddled really well.

(Kate styling the top section of Amphitheater)

Down the bottom, Bron was on the opposite side of the river to her boat, Kate's boat was downstream somewhere with Grant and KateW and everyone else was gathered in an eddy. Timmy and I got Bron to swim down to her boat, however she was tired and cold and missed the eddy which meant that Timmy, Bron and I went down the last bit of Amphitheater in a muddle with Bron managing to grab my boat just at the bottom and we got into the eddy.

After regrouping, we pulled out the warm dry gear and Timmy took great pleasure in telling Bron to take her gear off ;-) we dressed her up in mountains of fleece and thermals that made her look like Michelin man then it was onwards through more little rapids and increasing amounts of flat water to the take out.

Everyone was tired by the time the take out came into view, and then it was the half hour up hill track to the cars. Up first I dumped my gear and headed back to help the others only to hear that Ruthy had headed off into the unknown on a different track! In the dimming light I called her name and finally got an answer, she'd been hoping for a short cut but had been forced to turn back. So soon enough everyone was back at the car and Nick, Grant and I headed off to do the shuttle.

Then it was the long drive home, the stop at Gypsy Pizza in Moe for dinner and back to Melbourne at 1am. At least I had an excuse for looking like crap at work the next day - I'd been sick of course!