South Pine Whitewater Paddling

by Craig Edwards.

What do you do when it has been raining consistently for quite a while and you have been stuck inside going crazy? – grab a white-water boat, some mates, and head to a swollen creek of course!!!

Which is exactly what we did on the weekend. After hearing glowing reports of the tranquil paddle Liam had on this creek the day before ( river height approx. 1.5m ), we thought it would be a good idea to grab a few mates and do the same thing. ( Liam, myself, Glenn, Trev, Todd, Tim, Mike and another Glenn ), all with a total experience in these sort of situations amounting to close to zero, save Trev who has done quite a bit and was to be our Guide/Safety Co-ordinator.

The alarm bells starting ringing in the bakery at Samford though as we fuelled up on pies and coffee for our ‘fun’ outing ahead. An obvious seasoned veteran of paddling the south pine river informed us that they had been waiting for the river to subside a bit since earlier that morning, where it had risen to 2.2m. ‘Ye olde salty’ paddler told us tales of catching eddies, strainers, hip snaps, etc finishing with how long it takes to get the SES out from town…….not sure why we needed to know that???

Anyway, as most of us hadn’t heard of any of these terms, we obviously thought they musn’t be that important and so thanked ‘ye old salty’ for his words of wisdom, and happily climbed back into the car.

So after unpacking boats, helmets, life jackets etc, we eagerly gathered on the banks of the mighty Zambezi (sorry, South Pine River) to attentively listen to the safety talk. Unfortunately over the roar of the water none of us could actually hear it, and so with unbounded enthusiasm we launched.

(Just a note here: ‘ye olde salty’ was seen hovering on the bridge shaking his head – I now have a fair idea why).

So, we had been going for quite a while (30 seconds at least and travelled probably a good 50m into this epic journey) when we had our first overturn. No worries, all part of the fun. Just float down the creek, enjoy the lush surrounding rainforest, avoid getting your legs smashed by rocks and submerged trees, and others will manage to grab the boat and head to the side where you can then re-enter and try again. All good.

All good except when further downstream about 5 people overturned all at once, with boats, paddles, bodies, everywhere trying to work out what to do next. Once again, all good and we managed to get everyone matched up with their boat and paddles again and off we go. Some minor bruising had occurred during this time, just enough to probably take it a little more cautiously.

So with a Grade 3 rapid fast approaching, that evil doer of no good, ‘Testosterone’ kicked in and before anyone could say’ maybe we should stop and scout this first’, our years of whitewater experience took over, quickly working out which line to take etc and away we went. Needless to say, this apparently isn’t the correct way to approach un-scouted rapids and it was carnage.

In the lead up to the bigger rapid which was part of this set, one bloke had come out of his boat and had become trapped against a rock, underwater and unable to break free. Nor I might add, able to breathe for that matter, a small factor humans tend to rely on. On his third attempt he managed to break free and continue floating down river, having obviously had a very bad experience, to the point he actually thought his time was up!!!

Video of Mike on the South Pine River in Flood

While this was going on, another had come out of his boat through some trees, where it seemed the boat got stuck in. Once again we clambered up the side (while one person continued down trying to catch another upturned boat) and looked in vain for the missing boat. The decision was finally made that it must have floated on down and we should eventually find it caught up somewhere. This wasn’t the case.

This was the last of the bigger rapids and after a couple of hours we arrived at the pull out point, with 1 broken paddle and minus 1 boat.

“ How about we now do it on boogie boards or inflatable air beds” then rung out across this sad and sorry looking bunch.

What can I say. In my mind I saw ‘ye olde salty’ shaking his head profusely, but I quickly dismissed that warning. I mean, we had survived the boating section only missing one boat and a near fatal drowning, that bloke was way too cautious….

Off we go again, and in the 2-3 hours or so turnaround, the level had dropped noticeably. Everything was going okay until the Grade 3 section. Though this time having learnt from our previous mistakes, we took our time and did a good scout of the area first……… not. That was once again what we should have done. Instead we just headed for the correct line again (having amassed 2 hours experience of this white-water business) and suffered the consequences. One bloke ended up with a nice gash to his leg later requiring 5 stitches.

However, having stopped again to search for the missing boat, we managed to spot it still underwater, wedged against a tree. It had doubled back on itself from the power of the water and on seeing that, I think spooked a few as to how powerful the water can be and the consequences of being stuck in the boat………..We managed to pry it out and after a couple of persuasion knocks, it actually popped out good as new.

The remaining float down was a little more subdued, the cold was setting in, everyone had their legs battered and bruised and I think the realisation of what could have gone wrong was evident.

But great fun nonetheless………and you gotta love the outdoors……..

Authors note:

We checked river levels that night, and saw the river had peaked at 2.7m, just after lunchtime, when we had our first run. No wonder ‘ye olde salty’ was shaking his head………..

PS Thanks Trev for the short videos: Saturday’s footage can be found here. Sunday’s footage can be found here.


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