On the 21st of February 2015, a group of 9 misfits set off on what has to be one of the best adventures to date, with highs, lows and everything else in between. The mission: to raft 21km down the Colo River over two days, camping overnight, and carrying nothing but what they could fit in inflatable vessels and dry bags. Ross Clayton shares the story.
The Colo River is about as remote a spot you can hope to find 65kms from the Sydney CBD. It starts in the Great Dividing Range before joining up with the Hawkesbury, and is set in the largest wilderness area in NSW – making it the perfect spot to get lost in for the weekend.
No plan survives first contact with the enemy
Given the size of the trip ahead of us, we decided to get an early start on the Saturday morning, with the premise of giving us plenty of time to get there and hit the water by mid-day.
But as is the way with plans, everything went to pieces as soon as we left.
After a combination of food left in fridges, dithering on the part of all involved and spending the best part of an hour trying to find each other by the soon to be mythical wooden bridge, we were finally ready to launch off at 4.00pm, conscious of the fact we hadn’t left ourselves much paddle time before sundown.
The Colo Armada
The assembled fleet was a majestic sight – a ragtag mix of inflatables, with $16 target specials on one end of the scale, and the much more impressive Intex ‘Challenger K1’ at the other.
But in what was a sign of things to come, before we had even set off, one of the team was already having to do some last-minute repairs to make his boat seaworthy.
Don’t go chasing waterfalls
The first stretch of Colo matched it’s Wikipedia description as a ‘perennial stream’, and seemed to set the tone for what looked set to be a much tamer glide down the river than we were hoping for.
But after bumbling along for what must have only been half an hour, we heard a distinctive roar of rapids further down the river, and excitement/anxiety levels went into overdrive.
What followed was some of the best fun you can have with your pants on, with each of us pin balling down the rapids with the inevitable result of rolled inflatables, lost sunglasses and gear floating off downstream.
After navigating what turned out to be the last of the rapids we found a peach of a spot to call home for the night, with the perfect combination of a beach for the tents and trees for the rest of us with hammocks.
Perfect in every way, except for the fact we had only traveled 6km, leaving us with a hefty 15km to make it back to civilisation, or run the risk of camping out another night with no means of letting the outside world know we’d all be late for our 9.00am start on Monday.
Making up for lost time
In spite of the fact we had decided to set off at 9.00am to give us the best chance of making it back before nightfall, by the time we got our act together it was gone 11, and beneath the surface tensions were starting to rise.
The carefree attitude of the afternoon before was replaced with a steely determination to cover as much ground as physically possible, and the wooden bridge once again became the topic of discussion as the endpoint for our journey.
Unfortunately, any forward progress was hindered by the fact that the armada was by now in a state of serious disrepair. One of the boats had no less than 5 holes in, while fully functioning oars were in short supply, and it was only getting worse.
Our plight was not helped by the fact that navigating the river now involved a walk / float combo, and every now and then the heavens opened to drench us to the bone.
The homeward stretch
But by the time we stopped for a late lunch, it was clear we had broken the back of the trip, covering 9km in around 3 hours, and optimism once again returned to the crew.
All that remained was a casual glide down the remaining 6km to see us to the end, and all of us would have completed our water-based trip.
Unfortunately, it ended up being all but one of us, as the boat with all the holes in was fast becoming more of a colander than a ship, so had to be scuttled and packed up on one of the other boats, leaving its captain to walk the remainder of the journey.
We finally made it back to the bridge at around 5.30pm; tired, wet and buzzing about having completed one of our most epic adventures to date.
Thanks again to everyone involved for an awesome trip, can’t wait until the next one.
Aye, Aye, Captain