Paddling Pats + Swimming NEsk

Date: Saturday, 17 July 2021
River: North Esk River.
Water level: 3.05.
Participants: 10.

On a trip up north, most of the team rocked up to the sheds, in very efficient time we packed the trailer and got on the road, meeting the rest up north.

Doing the car shuffle, including two get-out options, we got on the water about 12:15 after a good safety briefing from Luke, emphasizing the importance of active swimming and rescue if/when we flipped or ejected people, an ominous warning for a time to come. The water was flowing strongly and we even had some blue skies; needless to say - we were excited.

With two teams of three and one team of four, we were underway. Paddling out in front was Luke's boat ready for scouting. In the middle was the A-team, my boat, guided by the cool Josh. Janina’s boat was safety and running behind.

The start of the river was a game of willow dodge, with Josh skillful dragging us into almost every willow within reach, claiming he as a guide was “warming up”. With the willows fading, we approached the weir. Seeing the weir, Described on paddleabouttas as “been run on the right.”, We eddied out, and elected not to run what could be a deadly weir. Finding the spillway just to the left we elected to float the rafts down this, using the bowlines to walk them along. Many pointed out how it looked as though they were walking dogs, kinda cute.

Having found an easy enough get-in, we hauled, not for the last time that day, the rafts through bush and onto the river, launching over a log, for a spirited entry. Following an hour and 15 minutes of good grade 3 water in we hit the gorge. With our boat not quite leaving enough space for Luke's boat to scout it properly we absolutely smashed it with radical teamwork and hard paddling. We all made it through, punching technical, rocky, big waves, with a fair bit of momentum and speed. Luke was surprised at being thrown into the rapid by Josh's call to not scout it. Janina followed Luke’s ever-reliable line of running it backward, without a hiccup.

At 2 hours and 20 minutes, we came across the confluence and began to paddle the NEsk. The first 3 ish kms were fairly similar, with big fairly pillowy waves, and fun over some increasingly large drops. We admired seeing deer and sheep on the river bank and the company of some loud dirt bikes; classic farming vibes.

Wow, the drops did definitely get bigger.

With Luke's boat, out in front, he gradually made it down the 100+m of continuous rapids before hitting two back-to-back stoppers, flipping on the second, giving everyone a lovely cold swim. But, the ever-faithful Dimsey had the boat righted and one crew member back within what he quotes as “less than 10 seconds.” This showed us which stoppers best to avoid and we made it down, in time to rescue Justin as he was waiting on the bank. Janina had a similar experience, ejecting herself from the boat. In the water, she skillfully guided the boat away from a rock, instead of launching herself at it twisting her knee in the process.

With everyone back in their boats, refreshed and perhaps a little wary; we continued down. It was not long before we found some bigger, not harder, holes for swimming. Unfortunately, Janina’s crew, perhaps underweighted and in a not quite big enough (in her opinion) raft took a lengthy swim. My boat got very close to a flip, but our newly learned high siding skills came in handy, as we ping-ponged down a rocky section. We did ever so slightly lose Talia, but my clever locking of her feet In the boat and Micheals's quick grab of her PFD had her back in no time.

After rescuing Peggy from her lengthy swim, we eddied out before making the hard decision that the river was simply too high for the three blue sotars we had brought.

Here began our walkout.

With a team meeting, we all agreed with Luke’s call that straight up the rather steep and thick bush to the pipeline track was the way to go. Continuing would only mean we would get further from the pipeline and the river got a lot steeper again; clearly stopping where we did was the right call and very sensible for everyone.

The walkout was tough, hauling the boats up troublesome muddy ground with slipping rocks and plenty of undergrowth and fallen trees to conquer on our journey up the incline. Josh acted as our bulldozer, taking great care for the environment and smashing through to make us our very own bush highway; but despite his best efforts and great strength, it was hard going by any means.

With Micheal and Josh up front the hauling followed by the “1, 2, 3 go” system with at least one at the back and one on the bowline at the front. We did all three rafts at once, working at a reasonable pace and only needing to reach for the head torches for the very last section. It was a sweaty affair, that sure did warm us up, get everyone and their outfits all muddy, but one hell of a team bonding exercise. Definitely not something I’ll forget.

With two rafts at the pipeline and one not far away, Micheal Talia Josh and I went to pull the last one up. We had really perfected our throw and pull technique by now, getting it up in no time. While we did this, the others dragged the rafts up towards the main roads where we could bring the cars to come to collect them. With us all meeting back at the third raft, we cracked into a shared can of lemonade (thanks Luke, sorry you didn’t get a sip)

We dragged the third raft to the others and then up the track to the main road. Micheal, Josh, and I had a lovely sing-along as we hauled, lifting our spirits and bringing smiles to our faces. Having reached the road, with all the gear, two brave volunteers hitch-hiked/jogged their way to cars to return tired rafters to their comfort of warm clothing and the heated cars. With Luke volunteering to stay with the gear on the roadside.

The arrival back of vehicles meant shuffling people to cars. Or in some cases, the driving away of cars on the arrival of their passengers… thanks, Josh.

Talia, Janina, Lauren and I stuck were at the get-in, with very little petrol, no phones, and no dry clothes to get into as the others had driven away as we got there, this despite our best effort of flashing our lights and tooting the horn.

We made the call to drive to the closest Launnie petrol station after the car took a good 30 seconds to start. At the petrol station, we kindly asked to use their phone and eventually used the rafting website to find Luke’s number.

Newly sustained with a quick stop at KFC on the way home for our car, we elected to leave the dirty gear in the shed to clean tomorrow as it was late and everyone was very tired. This was successful completed by our team of happy intro trippers the next day, I promise I helped.

All in all - I had one hell of a day and really enjoyed myself, not something I’m likely to forget too soon.

Thanks to Luke for organising; and all those who came - was lovely!

Cheerio!

Ruth

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