While Victoria’s rivers bulged with drought breaking rain, the LUMC X-Treme Creek Team ticked the Darebin Creek (cough cough, “stormwater drain”). Alex, although not a Cave Clan member, has adopted this local creek/ drain as his own. He frequently suggests trips, checks the gauge on the way to work, posts related comments on the Paddle Australia forum, and undertakes related ambassador-like duties such as shopping trolley and truck tire removal, concrete slap polishing and water tasting.
It was inevitable that sooner-or-later Alex would guide us down his run, so one wet, cold and lazy afternoon at the beginning of the mid-year holidays, Claire and I agreed to a quick trip. We donned wetsuits, and under Alex’s tutelage put-in under the Bell Street Bridge where the gauge read 0.75 meters (and rising). We were served our first face-full of water by the little wave beneath the bridge. The rain persisted for most of the trip, and the increased volume of water in the narrow creek channel made for a surprisingly swift run.
We paddled past bemused joggers and cyclists, picked the odd flower from the bank, played polo with a washed-up basketball, ploughed through the wave trains and raced the ducks downstream. Claire scouted from the eddy above an interesting wave and we all filed down until a river-wide clump of willow trees blocked our path. The writhing mass of roots and branches could be negotiated via an almost non-existent trickle at either the extreme left or right bank. Claire and Alex remained in their boats and hauled themselves over the low-lying rocks. Instead, I passed to the right relatively unencumbered, tried waiting for the others, but was washed down the main rapid. Here the gradient dropped significantly (I was surprised), and the course widened. I bounced down a series of sketchy rocks, (concrete slabs?) and signalled to the others who were still struggling upstream. Claire ran the rapid like a pro but came unstuck in an easier section when she failed to anticipate the sturdiness of a shoulder height tree branch. The shallow creek bed preventing her roll, but even after a quick swim in the muck Claire was smiling. A little cold, but not deterred, Claire emptied her boat and set a cracking pace down to our next obstacle.
Concrete steps set into the creek bed allow park users to cross the creek when it is not in flood, and with the onset of rain these have the potential to form waves and holes. Our level was on the low side of runnable, so we faced a number of scrappy narrow rapids. The short, tight, and fast rapids required some interesting navigation and balance. Amongst the concrete obstacles a small footbridge appeared, so we carefully avoided it and after a little more paddling enjoyed two more ‘stepping stone’ rapids.
We were losing light rapidly, and by the time we passed under the towering Hurstbridge train line it was pretty dark. The creek became increasingly narrow and snaked its path at the base of residential properties. An interesting logjam required an unnerving duck under a felled tree, and the creek soon met the Yarra River at the slalom training site.
This run would have more potential at a slightly higher level, but was surprisingly enjoyable due to the fast moving water and unique narrow and turbulent sections of white/ grey/ brown? water. I was most impressed by the narrow one-sided gorge-like sections where a high rock bank accentuated the narrowness of the creek. The speed of the water was similarly impressive.
I always love paddling an unknown section of river. The uncertainty, anticipation and realisation of all this flowing water always provide a surprise or two.
Be sure to ask Alex about his next urban adventure.
Note: Darebin Creek flows past the western boundary of La Trobe Uni. If its raining heavily check the Melbourne Water website and carry your boat over. Putting in at Plenty Road would have you about 3km above the Bell Street put-in described above.