Rapid Grading System :
Grade 1 - Easy, gentle flowing river.
Grade 2 – Occassional Manouvering, beginner- intermediate
Grade 3 – Rapids with moderate irregular waves/ strong eddies/ fast moving water
Grade 4 – Intense powerful, complex manouveres, upper limit of touring canoes
Grade 5 – Extremely long/ violent rapids/ only for experienced kayakers or whitewater canoes
Our choice of craft for this kind of trip was our Rosco Chief canoe. This model has been part of our fleet range for more than 5 years and its qualities in this environment are without peer. Royalex is a multi layered laminate and a favorite amongst the world of whitewater canoeists.
What makes it so special is its abilities to absorb impact and recover its original shape. The material is made up of a closed cell foam inner core, ABS substrate and a vinyl exterior. Together these materials are vulcanized and form a material that is light, tough and buoyant.
The afternoon paddle was a mix of gentle pools and swift moving Grade 2 rapids. It had been a long day with our departure from Brisbane at 6am, this meant that a campsite needed to be found. After about 8 km we rounded a gentle bend and
discovered a little grassy bank that sat about 2m above the waterline. It was perfect,
a nice flat carpet of lush grass framed by eucalypt and grevillias.
With the light failing, we quickly unloaded the canoes and set up campsite. With the temperature dropping, we really needed no motivation to get the campsite into a warm & inviting home. For all Ross's skills, his culinary expertise is less than convincing. I knew that if Ross got hold of the stove it would be gameover. I made sure that did not happen, and immediately set about cooking a meal of chicken, veges. & satay chicken. The warm glow of the fire, the sound of the flowing river and the aroma of the satay was a scensory delight.......it felt like heavan.
Sitting back in our chairs we chatted over a delicious dinner . With no city lights, and not a cloud in sight the cosmos turned on a spectacular display of glowing lights. As we sipped on our teas, the silence was broken by a distant rumble. The one thing about mountain terrain, is weather can turn on you in an instant. With tummies full and bodies in power down mode, the proposition of building a shelter for the approaching storm just did not eventuate. Determined to chat a little longer we retreated to dragging a tarp over our heads and mounting a few paddles for supports. To any onlooker it would have looked like a sad sight. But at that little moment in time it was our answer....and it worked !
The next morning greeted us with clear skies. Following a quick breakfast we loaded up the canoes and geared up for a big day. Safety throw bags were mounted next to Ross and I, medical kit strapped to a bar and bailers in both front and rear positions. Today we would run our first Grade 3 rapid and face the menace of a Grade 4.
The first couple of hours was a mix of deep water pools and Grade 2 runs. Megan and I spent most of the day trying to keep up with Marjon and Ross. We were amazed at their pace and how fast they pulled away once we negotiated a rapid ( rapids became good equilizers as time was taken to assess before running). But, once into long deep pools that red canoe just accelerated away . On a couple of occassions we tucked into their slipstream and rode their wake, until they themselves awoke to our devilish ways and started to zig zag and accelerate more. We were then resigned to seeing the back of their heads for most of the trip.
By mid morning we encountered our first Grade 3. The first step in running a larger rapid is to scout the area and make a plan before launching into the whitewater. Paddling a canoe is a team effort and the trick to successful river running is two fold. It requires a good understanding of the working dynamics of a river and clear communication between the two paddlers.
Ross began by asking us all of our opinions as to the best approach. He quizzed us on haystacks, eddies, stoppers & whirlpools. River morphology is an interesting science, so between Megan (a physicist) & Ross we were well educated.
Once a plan was formed, we were set ready to go ! The front paddler is responsible for negotiating the obstacles while the rear paddler must look after setting the craft to make the front paddler's role effective. With our run worked out we methodically moved around the obstacles and cleared our first big set of rapids with ease.
After a few more Grade 2 & 3 runs we pulled over in a quaint little spot and had a well deserved lunch. This also gave us an opportunity to test our NEW Jetboil stoves. These little stoves are an ideal accessory for any canoeist or kayaker. There claim to fame is that they are the worlds
fastest cooking system and all components neatly pack into each other making into very compact...a nice feature for tight spaces.
Following lunch we were set to face our first Grade 4 - named Cunglebung. On this occassion, the falls were higher than on previous trips. When we departed the river level was reading 110cm, 15cm higher than previous trips. However, it can be paddled with as little as 75cm water flow. Anything from 90cm - 120cm is ideal.
Cunglebung was a roaring torrent of foam and is divided into two sections. An upper drop of about 1m with numerous rock obstacles then a two tiered drop of about 2 m in the lower section. Combine this with a funnel of powerful water and you have a dangerous rapid. In a kayak it would be very runnable but in a canoe it was virtually impossible. Our adrenalin was pumping and we desperately wanted to experience the thrill, our hearts were saying go but our minds were saying no ! It would inevitably end with swamped craft. So, the decision was made by Ross to portage around the back. The river height made for an ideal portage down river left.
Portaging is actually a lot of fun, particularly if you have the luxury of water to move your canoe. During our last trip we were restricted to carrying the canoe, a less enjoyable outcome. But with good flow we took ropes in hand and began pushing and sliding our canoes though a maze of rocks and pools.
The best thing about portaging is it gives one an excuse to get wet, it also adds another dimension to the whole canoeing experience.
As you penetrate deeper into the river system the scenery just gets better and better. The towering mountains are crested with spectacular granite outcrops and the river becomes more intimate and beautiful. The twisted hull of a plastic canoe stood as a sobering reminder that fate can change in an instant. I was aware that the Nymodia had claimed it's share of craft and unfortunately some paddlers as well. This canoe had a story and I was curious to know the outcome of it's crew given we were a long way from any exit points.
It had been a terrific day and we had covered a good 24km. Our campsite would be the interchange where the Nymboida river becomes the Mann River. It is at this point that the river grows in size once again. We found a nice little spot tucked away in a corner below a ridge. With a little renovation of the site we went about setting up for our second night. As the the late afternoon light began fading the mist and cloud once again rolled in.
This time however, the campsite would receive a complete new look with shelte
r as the main priority. An afternoon storm had wet all the foliage and timber was soaked from the previous nights of heavy rains. All of us looked a little dismayed at the prospect of a night without fire, however Ross was convinced that this was a job for him and that he would deliver fire (come hell or high water!).
I must admit that I was a little pesimistic at the chances of making fire and proceeded to have a $100 wager that Ross would not get a fire started. Armed with that motivation Ross went to work
and for the next 1 hr toiled away, while we looked on with cups of warm coffee. Normally I would have helped but given I had $ 100 on the occassion I desperately wanted him to fail. I even resorted to hiding any possible combustion assistants and made it quite clear that no flammable liquids could be used in the attempt.
Suffice to say, determination and a little ingenuity paid off......but not for me! The girls were impressed and I must admit I was too, just a little poorer for the occasion.
That night we chatted and reminisced about the terrific day of canoeing. We looked back and analysed each run and, as with all reflective moments, realised that we could have done some things better. But all in all it had been a very successful day. Marjon was quiet for most of the evening. She is a very deep thinking person and I think that she was happy to relax and listen to the banter of the other three. We slept well that night, somethng about a hard days paddling, fresh air, a warm tent and that soothing sound of flowing water- hypnotic.
Morning once again greeted us with blue skies and a rising mist off the water. Our last day would be about 16km of paddling and take us through two Grade 4 rapids and then eventually out of the valley and into open farmland.
The morning chill meant we started the day with our Hydraulic paddling tops. These garments are a mix of wool and spandex that are light on, relatively quick drying and keep one nice and warm with minimal layers required. After a breakfast of pancakes it was down to business.
The opening scene did not disappoint; 100m downstream was our first Grade 4 rapid called Junction. This rapid is more intricate than Cunglebung as it is a long and complex maze of rocks and drops. Once again we made the executive decision to portage this leg of the river. On river left there is a good portage section with a drop at the bottom into a calm pool.
This portage was slightly more entertaining than the last. The bottom was a jumble of slippery rocks, so staying upright became the trick. Marjon was the first to fall, she then fell again, a third time and so on. Our saving grace was the fact that we were behind, so we took necessary steps to avoid the same steps. I have learnt it is always good to follow and be patient, it always works out better in the end.
The final phase was the drop into the large pool at the base. This was a tricky line manoeuvre to gently usher the craft over a waterfall and into the
pool below (see picture below). This is an elegant way of manoeuvering a canoe and is particularly effective in many circumstances.
Before facing our final Grade 4 we passed through numerous Grade 3 rapids, some more tricky than others. On one run things went a little wrong. Our intuition had meant a quicker analysis of the rapid. We were getting a little cocky and this is where things broke down, but it also gave us a wake up call. Megan and I went first and, in a communication error, paddled head on into a rock and got wedged on top. Like a pendulum we rocked back and forth until finally cascading over the back and into the drink. It was a rough and bumpy ride down and we let the canoe find its own path while we speared down the rapids feet first and swam off the the river right bank.
Next to go was Ross and Marjon. They took a better line and manoeuvered beautifully between the rocks and plunged into the standing waves. Marjon used a mix of draw strokes to usher the bow around rocks, whilst Ross set the canoe and provided a mix of high and low braces.All was going well until the last section where their canoe was pushed sideways onto a rock. This is a dangerous situation and one where many people have drowned. Marjon swam free of the canoe, whilst ross managed to pry the craft off the rock just in time before the mighty waters claimed another canoe.
The final grade 4 rapid is NZ falls. After a closer examination it was decided that we would run the first upper part of the rapid but not the lower falls as it would have definitely ended in a swamped canoe.
Lining up the run, we dropped down the small waterfall and did a quick manoeuver to pull our canoes out of the main flow. Only 5 metres beyond our exit was the main falls, a 2 metre plunge into a very inhospitable stopper ( this is a dangerous section of rotating water that pulls the object under and can hold it down for long periods). This was also a major point in the expedition. From here on we left the valley and entered open farmland. Jackadgery was now only 4km away.
As we glided down the final part of river we could see the bridge that marked our final point. With the paddling all but over it was time to get wet. We jumped over the side of the canoes and floated on our backs down the river. I put my head back and closed my eyes, it had been a perfect 3 days. I silently wished that we could go back and start all again. Our skills as a group had improved in that short 3 days and we had enjoyed the beauty that this land has in trumps.
I was prompted out of my dream by a shadow of the bridge drifting over my face, marking the finish of our adventure.
Before leaving we took a late afternoon lunch at the Jackadgerry Caravan Park. The sadness was only slightly quenched by the delicious burger and cool drink. But already the next adventure was starting to emerge in conversation........I am not sure we can all wait another 12 months !
WARNING: Paddling this stretch of the Nymodia/ Mann river can be dangerous. If planning an expedition we recommend all persons be reasonably skilled at canoeing and take the appropriate safety gear.