21-23/01/2005 - report - photos
Participants: Tom Brennan, James Bevan, Dave Lee, Andrew Meares
After meeting Andrew and Dave at St Leonards station, we headed to Windsor and met James at Aldo's pizza place, where we had a good feed. As it got dark, we piled into the vehicles and drove to the end of Bob Turner's Track, where we left my car. James drove us all to the car park at the gate on the Grassy Hill Fire Trail, and we left about 10:30pm, for the walk in to Canoe Creek in the dark.
Once we turned off the fire trail, the track was difficult to find, but as one person lost it we quickly fanned out and picked it up again. James and I had walked the track before so knew a few of the key points. We were all carrying single bladed paddles that Dave had supplied, so were using them as walking poles. Just after we hit Canoe Creek for the first time, James' head torch died. It didn't help that mine was a fairly weak LED one, fine for sitting around cooking, but not great for night walking. Heading for the lookout, we all walked straight past a small brown snake that Dave at the back spotted. We could soon see the Colo River snaking through the gorge in the bright moonlight that reflected off the water.
As we started the final descent, we lost the track almost immediately, and it took us several minutes searching to pick it up again. From there I remembered all of the twists and we were soon on the sandbank at the Colo. It was a warm night and we eagerly jumped in the river for a swim. The water was warm, almost unrefreshingly so, and I joked about sleeping in it.
Last time I had slept under an overhang a little way upstream, and we tried to find it again. Heading into the bush, we were confronted by a bunch of full day packs, and half a carton of VB. Obviously some kind of food drop, but beer in the middle of summer?! At the overhang we inflated lilos and hit the sack ready for an earlyish start the next day.
By morning my lilo was completely deflated, the result of a slow leak. Luckily I was able to find it quickly and an application of glue and a patch seemed to fix the problem.
The Colo was a little cooler the next morning, but still a pleasant temperature. The sandbanks and rapids meant regular groundings of the lilos, and there was a fair bit of getting off and pulling, pushing or portaging. There was insufficient water going over most of the rapids to shoot them, although the occasional section gave a good but short ride. Passing below Little Pass, the river got deeper and slower, and the rapids less frequent.
Progress was slow, averaging about 1 1/2km/hr. The single bladed paddles proved difficult to keep the lilos moving in a straight line, and we all devised different ways of making progress. James had the most success with alternating sides. Andrew largely abandoned the paddle, and lay on his front on his pack and swam. I found by leaning a certain way I could paddle on one side while still going straight. Dave mixed it up and did a bit of everything.
We were aiming for lunch at Main Creek, which we finally reached around 2pm. We had lunch in the shade, as the sun was shining fiercely into the gorge. The pillow on my lilo had deflated and I did another patch job. The rumble of thunder heralded the arrival of an approaching storm, but it passed harmlessly downstream and the heat continued. A set of rapids and a big open pool signalled our arrival at Angorawa Creek, but we pushed on. A couple of hours later we rounded a bend and could see our evening's destination in front of us - the mighty Wollangambe River. One long portage down a rocky section and we were in the big pool at the Wollangambe junction, just as another storm hit and the rain started to come down.
James and I reccied upstream a bit looking for a camp cave, but with little success. Just as we got back to the beach, the rain turned to hail, which steadily grew to the size of ice cubes, and was painful when it hit. I stood for twenty minutes with my lilo over my head, watching the ground grow whiter, and listening to the hailstones bounce off the lilo.
The hail finally eased to rain, we finished putting up flies, and James and Dave got a fire going, helped by a bit of inner tube and a lot of somewhat wet kindling. Dinner was a brief affair - the rain got us to bed pretty soon after eating. A long day, with about 14km and 11 hours of paddling.
The next morning dawned grey, but at least the rain had stopped. Thermals was the order of the day, although it was toasty warm in the water. Dave's watch said 29 degrees! I even optimistically put sunscreen on, just in case. The thermals in my case were as much to prevent more sunburn as to keep warm. However, no sooner had we hit the water than the rain came down again. A thunderstorm rumbled on and on further down the valley, and the river was up a bit. The rapids were much better with the extra water, and we were able to shoot most of them with a fair degree of success. The King Rapid just below Blacksmiths Creek was an exception to this, although we had a bit of a run in the bottom section. Everyone had a slow leak in some part of their lilo, but no major blowouts.
Waterfalls started up out of the normally dry creeks on both sides of the river. I suggested to James that we see if we could find Mailes Cave and have a dryish lunch and a fire. Just as we came to the rapids above the final major bend in the river, Dave surprised me by saying that we had company ... and so we did. Two people on lilos a couple of hundred metres below the rapids. We paddled down and said hi - they were fishing from lilos in the pouring rain and had caught a few bass. They had camped in Mailes Cave the night before, and showed us the way, which would have been hard to see from the river. Dad Steve and kids Tara, Ashley and Brett (there were two more kids back near the cave) had all paddled up on lilos the day before - they were about as surprised to see us as we they.
The log book in the cave had registered only seven visits since 2000, so to have two in one day must be a first!! After a fire and lunch, the rain eased a little, and we set off for the final couple of kms while our newfound friends packed up. After a good rapid just below the cave, there was a long pool before the final rapids, about 1km before Hungryway Creek. As fate would have it, my luck in shooting the rapids finally gave out, and I blew a large hole going over a good drop. The pillow was still intact, so I tucked it under my tummy and swam slowly to Bob Turners Track. Luckily there was a longish shallow section that I could walk, and I scrambled on to the bank for the last bit to the beach.
A steady climb took us back to my car, and we retrieved James' 4wd from the end of the Grassy Hill Fire Trail and headed back to Windsor for dinner.
Trip report from James Bevan
Party: Dave Lee, Tom Brennan, Andrew Meares, James Bevan
After meeting for pizza on friday night in Windsor we dropped Tom's car at the Bob Turners Track and headed off in the beast out along the Grassy Hill Fire Trail.
It was 10.30 and pitch black by the time we began walking, paddles in hand, down the canoe creek track. Things were going well until about halfway down my headtorch suddenly decided to stop working (never again will I buy a petzl!). After a bit of rock scrambling in the dark (including walking right next to a brown snake with out realising it) we hit the colo. It was surprisingly warm, even for this time of year. We all had a nice dip then wandered up to an overhang Tom knew for bed.
The next day was to be a big one. Our destination, the Wollangambe River, was 14km away. Not far if ridge walking but liloing was a different story. We got going by 7.30 and after a while spent fishtailing, overbalancing and generally making a fool of ourselves we managed to get the hang of paddling with standard canoe paddles on a lilo with overnight packs.
The first little rapid was completed without hassle and after getting past the first few bouldery sections we began to make reasonable progress. Along the first long pool we attempted "rafting up" whereby all 4 lilos would travel as 1. Of course the catch was those in the middle got to bludge so that didn't last long.
After a few hours things hotted up a bit. We passed the peak of Tambo Crown and entered the true beauty of the colo gorge. I'd only ever been at the top, looking in from Crawfords Lookout or Little Pass. To be in amongst it was something else.
Being eager beavers, we tried to shoot most of the rapids that morning. With the water level not being all that high, most of them involved more hip thrusting than paddling. This had a rather destructive effect on my lilo. By the time we got to Main Creek for lunch sections of canvas had been completely worn away leaving the bare thin layer of rubber to cope on its own. I was a bit more careful from then on.
That afternoon was one of long tranquil pools. The sun was out. It was hot (32 according to Dave's watch + 29 in the water!) and liloing was a pretty nice way to enjoy it.
As we passed Angorawa Creek the sky darkened and huey began to bellow. Dave didn't believe it was thunder (he thought there must have been some traffic passing nearby :> ). As we passed the last few bends before the gambe we knew huey wanted us. Within half an hour of getting to camp the storm hit. It wasn't just any storm. While we were putting the fly up huey started playing brandings. Dave didn't appreciate being hit with hail the diameter of 20c coins.
I'd always wanted to be in the middle of nowhere in a huge storm. This time the others got my wish too. Despite the rain and hail we soon had a fire going and got the billy boiling. It kept raining for most of the night so dinner wasn't all that sociable an affair. After 11 hrs on the water we hit the sack early.
Next morning the rain had stopped. We only had 10ks to do today so we had a more casual 8.30 start. With all the rain the temperature had dropped a bit so most of us donned thermals and hit the water. It began raining immediately and continued for most of the day.
In such weather the water was one of the best places to be (the water was stiil warm compared to a canyon!). We passed several long deep pools and due to the extra water many of the rapids were negotiable. However, the well known "king rapid" (supposedly a grade 4) would have required flood-like conditions for it to be possible to pass anything wider than a toothpick through its boulders.
Soon after Blacksmiths Creek we got a surprise - other people. A local family were out for a weekend of liloing and camping at Mailes Cave. It was about lunchtime so they kindly showed us to the cave where we got out of the rain and warmed up next to the fire. It seems the cave is rarely visited. The log book has been there since 1982 and along with the locals we were the first people to sign it since July '04.
After lunch we encountered some of the best rapids of the trip. We all enjoyed them and were looking to get out without incident until a sharp rock meant the end of Tom's lilo. We were only a k or so from Bob Turners so he managed to use the remaining pillow as flotation to help him swim his way to the end.
We walked back to Tom's car then collected the beast and finished the trip with dinner at Windsor.