Paddling the Avon - July 2006

Every now and again the weather shifts from the predominately westerly patterns to that mysterious and magical easterly direction. Typically this upsets the applecart to the extent that it rains a lot in a place with unreliable rainfall at best – deepest, darkest Gippsland.

After experiencing moderate success on the Rubicon the weekend before (the rocks were well lubricated) I was fired up to hit up some (higher) quality, more voluminous water. It just happened that president Mikey was unburdened by his heavy course load on that day and could also come. So we hatched a plan. The plan would involve us driving to the Avon River, roughing it at the put in and paddling down to the Wombat road where a pre-placed bicycle would aid us in returning to Mikey’s van. Luckily I remembered that Monash Bushwalking Club member and all-round carnie (short for carnival-folk) Bron lived in Sale.

On the premise that Bron could come paddling with us if she let us stay at her house, we stayed in Sale that night. Mikey’s snoring was verging on spectacularly annoying before I found an alternative and we finally left Bron’s crib at the leisurely hour of 10am.

After dropping Bron’s four wheel drive beast (Ford Laser) at the Wombat road put out, we headed to Hugget’s crossing (the put in) in Mikey’s slightly less beastly van. With wheels spinning we bounced our way to the put in and got in to some latex and rubber.

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Paul and Alex fit Mikey with a homemade deck

Suited up and ready to go, we were pleased to discover that unlike the weekend before, everyone actually had a full set of gear and we didn’t have to rig up a homemade-poncho-spraydeck. The river took on an initially gentle character, with the odd bit of moving water as the river snaked its way through a channel hemmed in by attractive native vegetation and was generally quite pleasant.

Perhaps thirty minutes in the rapids started to get more interesting, with a fun section of continuous class II for around 500 meters. From my previous adventures I knew we would soon reach the Avon river Channels, the crux of the river and most interesting set of rapids. Without much further ado, we reached the Channels and set about having a look.

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Bron and Mikey on the Avon

The Channels is a 500m long ‘sub-gorge’ of sorts – the river channels (surprise surprise) down in to a mini-gorge that is perhaps five meters wide and boxed in by three meter high rock walls. The four rapids are linked by fast moving water and you would probably not be able to exit the river until you reached the end of the channels if you swam. With this in mind, and having scouted the entire channels, I positioned myself on one side with a camera (and a throwbag) while Mikey and Bron walked back up for a run.

The run was successfully executed, with Mikey and Bron both going deep on the third major rapid. Due to its continuous nature and the need to follow a line, the Channels rapid warrants a class III rating – both Mikey and Bron agreed it was the most fun rapid that they had run.

Buoyed by the success of their run, Bron and Mikey were motivated to carry their boats up the tricky banks for another run with me. This time Mikey was the cameraman (and chief throwbag technician) and followed us down when we had completed our run. Hats of to Bron, who wouldn’t know how to roll if her life depended on it, for successfully running the channels twice without swimming (Luckily Mikey knew how to roll).

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Mikey on the Avon

After the excitement of the channels, everyone was pretty fired up, which in one sense is a shame as it doesn’t get nearly as exciting anywhere else on the river, though there are a bunch of fun class II rapids to contend with to the takeout. One of the nice things about the Avon, as opposed to most other Victorian rivers, is the fact that until the last 30 minutes of the trip there are no blackberry bushes or willow trees – hopefully it will stay this way!

Bron managed a swim on an uneventful rapid, but this was overshadowed by her achievements on the Channels, so we gave her less crap than usual. By this stage, owing to the strange paddling style I engage in (canoe or C1), my knees were fairly fucked and I would have jumped at the chance for an above the knee amputation. To counter this I swapped Mikey’s pleasure cruiser for my mobile torture chamber and had a relaxing, pain free 20 minutes until Mikey wanted to swap back.

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Tim and Bron on the Avon

Three hours after starting out we reached the put out and Bron’s car. Loading the boats on after getting changed, we made the drive back to Hugget’s crossing. Shortly after dumping the boats at the top of the final hill (we didn’t think the laser would make it down with the boats on) we bumped in to a random/space cadet called Kel who, in response to questions about whether or not he thought Mikey’s van would make it up the hill told us the van would “shit it in” and that “it’s grippier in the wet” though he had doubts about the Laser.

As it turned out, the Laser, despite being front wheel drive and having no clearance made it with little trouble. The same could not be said for Mikey’s van. Whilst being rear wheel drive and having lots of clearance is about as close to 4WD as you can get without being 4WD, we had some serious traction issues. After a bit of mucking around, we decided that, given the van was perched precariously on 3 wheels with no hope of driving up the hill, we’d seek some outside assistance.

Bron had a contact in the Sale CFA who would be able to help, but they could not get there for a couple of hours. Luckily we found a farmhouse that had a Toyota Hilux (i.e. Proper 4WD) and they were only too happy to help us out of our little predicament and even provided us with tea and biscuits afterwards which was very civilised.

All in all it was a fun adventure, made more so by the fact that we didn’t roll Mikey’s van and aside from me hitting my head on the Hilux’s door, free of injury…

-Timmy-

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