Wednesday, 26 September 2012

King River Paddling

The King River is situated in a beautiful little valley that forms the heart of one of Victoria's best wine regions. The river has its beginnings at Mount Buggery on the crest of the Great Dividing Range and flows down to meet the Ovens River near Wangaratta.

As the catchment of the river is mostly within National Park and State Forest its waters are clean and pure. Just before the river emerges from the forest is Lake William Hovell. This dam must be undersized for its catchment as it seems to be perpetually full, and as a result the dam spills frequently, sending water down the valley and turning the river into a favourite destination for white water paddlers.

Our bushwalking club regularly runs rafting trips on the King as it's a great stretch of river to play on. The run downstream of the dam is around 6km in length, taking just over an hour to complete. The car shuffle is short as well and all on sealed roads which makes it possible to have multiple runs in a day. Rapids up to grade 3 standard are spaced along the river and a weir downstream of the put in point is another exciting feature.

Natahl and I headed over to the King a couple of Sundays ago to join the usual crew for a day of paddling on the river. Everyone else had arrived the previous day and completed a couple of runs. It was amusing to hear of their tales of woe; everyone had swam at least once, and on one occasion a rapid managed to empty the raft of all paddlers.

We arrived below the dam wall to meet Richard, Garry, Rechelle and Sam in time for their first run of the morning. As everyone was getting ready Tahl and I wandered over to the spillway, which is always a spectacular sight.

For the first run we took two rafts. Tahl and I paddled side by side, with Sam at the helm. Tahl looked quite the part in her borrowed cag, PFD and oversized helmet.

We ran the weir safely and were proceeding down the rest of the river, when running what we refer to as the "corkscrew rapid". Towards the end of the rapid I was flung out and into the river; first swim for the day! Sam and Tahl were soon able to pull me back in.

The King isn't all rapids; in places is fairly placid.

One of its interesting characteristics of the King is its steady flow. It doesn't have the "pool-drop" nature of some other rivers, such as the Indi (Upper Murray). As a result it is not necessary to do a lot of forward paddling, but on the downside it means that if something goes wrong in a rapid the debris continues down the river. Pools are handy to collect flotsam such as paddles, watercraft and even the odd paddler that may have come adrift.

It was a beautiful day for paddling, with blue skies, reasonable temperatures and little wind. A great first day on the water for Tahl.

Towards the end of the run the gradient flattens out and the river becomes more cruisy. Sam decided it was time to relax at the helm.

We soon arrived at the take out point, piled into the cars and went back up to the dam for lunch.

For the second run we reconfigured ourselves, with Rechelle, Richard, Tahl and Garry in the raft and Sam in his kayak. My weapon of choice was the trusty packraft. I don't have any photos of the packraft on this trip, but here's one from last year's King River trip:-

I got through the first rapid beneath the spillway without any hassles, then we rounded the corner to the weir. We'd noticed on the previous run that there were two standing waves after the weir instead of the usual one. They were both of similar height, but the second one had the actual hydraulic in it. Sam went first in his kayak, shooting for river right. I then followed, but not immediately afterwards, and ended up slightly more central in my line. The first wave was fine, but then I hit the second one. I can remember looking up and seeing the packraft above me with my legs still in it as I did a massive backflip of epic proportions.

I was flung out of the raft fairly quickly, as is usually the case with the packraft. I also lost the paddle somewhere in the commotion. After bobbing up off to the right hand side, where ideally I should have paddled, I saw the others had come through on the raft, and Sam was perched in close to the weir wall on river right. My raft was floating away, but I knew the others would get it. After making my way over to river left the rafters hauled me in; I'll never forget the half horrified, half amused look on Tahl's face! After being in the water for maybe a minute in total the water was starting to chill me off a little, though not enough to make me shiver. Sam had managed to grab my paddle and thrown it into the raft as it went past, and whilst I was swimming over to the main raft he collected my packraft and brought it over. Soon I was back in it paddling away. The interesting thing about the whole ordeal was I didn't have experience the water up the nose & blood rush to the head that usually accompanies such misadventures.

The rest of the paddle was fairly uneventful, and as usual was great fun in the little packraft. It was quite amusing to look across to the raft and see Rechelle and Tahl with matching blue helmets paddling away.

We finished the run and called it a day. The river was running at around 1.05m, and having paddled it at both lower and higher levels I have to say this level was the most interesting, with a good bumpy ride and enough water to avoid scraping. Hopefully next time I don't have to suffer the embarrassment of being the only swimmer for the day - and, to make matters worse, on two separate occasions! Thanks to Sam, Garry, Rechelle, Richard and Natahl for making it a great day.

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