Esdale to Taemus Bridge
4 December 2015
By TRACY HUDSON
In early December, Tracy Hudson and Gary Luke set off on an expedition to retrace the Murrumbidgee River from Esdale to Taemus Bridge.
According to the Canoeing Guide to NSW, Esdale to Taemus Bridge is “…the river flattens out, widens and is chiefly, meandering pools down to Taemus Bridge…”. And with that in mind, Gary and I set off in our 4.5 metre compact sea kayaks with no decks, no helmets and no expectations of anything but a pleasant three hour paddle along a—new for us—section of river.
How wrong we were! It took us six hours to paddle the 15.4 kilometres from the bridge at Esdale to our pull out three kilometres up from Taemus Bridge. That’s not to say we didn’t have fun—dodging the rocks in races, running rapids and positioning and launching a sea kayak through a narrow chute with a one plus metre drop, sure put a smile on our dials. But dragging, shoving and pushing kayaks over slippery rocks at the three portages could have been done without.
So what did we find? Overall, there were lots of small—and not so small—races which we had no trouble negotiating, although without the manoeuvrability and compact size of a whitewater boat we did hit a few (a fair few!) more rocks than we’d otherwise have.
Then there were the main features of the river—these being major races, rapids or those damned portages. These were logged on Gary’s GPS and from memory the features of each are:
1.3 km: It looked like a rapid on river left and we initially tried to find our way down on the right but fortunately with no luck. So we had a closer look at what we thought was a Grade Two rapid on river left. With an inspection we worked out it was Grade One rapid/complex race approximately 100 metres long. So we ran it and what a hoot! In fact we debated dragging our boats back up and doing it again.
3.5 km: On river left there was a good water flow but an approximately 75 metre rock garden—so many they looked like tombstones in an old cemetery—followed by a pool then a 20 metre Grade One rapid. It was impassable for us so we decided to portage on river right as it looked like there was an anabranch which would get us back to the main channel. We were wrong and ended up dragging our boats over slippery rocks, dodging under a fallen tree and floating them through shallow ponds for about 200 metres in total. Getting back on the main channel and looking upstream we realised it would have been much shorter if we’d gone down the left hand river bank.
5.0 km: A series of complex races which we ran by starting around the river centre progressively moved towards river left. About midway down it became more of a Grade One rapid with a narrow gap in the rocks flowed by a 1 plus metre drop. Not that heading through this type of river terrain is the thing for our compact sea kayaks, but we were here so we ran it! And both landed okay and wended our way to the end of the rapid/complex race.
6.0 km: Another portage over slippery rocks, but fortunately not a long one. The rapid, while short, was too big for us to attempt in our boats so we dragged and floated them down river right.
6.8 km: For this we ran river right in what could be described as a complex race/Grade One rapid. Not particularly difficult, but by then we were approaching expert for this days river conditions.
7.4 km: There was a fairly strongly running channel on river right with willows overhanging, definitely not sea kayak territory as it was too tight to run. So we started by picking our way through rocks on river left and moving mid-river negotiated a simple race until out path was blocked. There was no way through so we portaged the last half of the rapid. Looking back one could see that the river drops approximately 3 metres plus over about 50 metres.
9.8 km: At the last major set of rapids and races we ran down on river left. This was a bit like #5 but a lot longer with a mix of complex races and Grade One rapids—one morphing into the other then back again so we had to keep our wits about us.
From this point there were many more races, some complex and others easy, until about the 12 kilometre mark when the river flattened out and started meandering its way to Burrinjuck Dam, about 20 kilometres away.
Aside from enjoying the river there was the countryside! The terrain had an almost sensual voluptuousness with Jane Russell-like curvy hills, sheep flocks scattering scared of a couple of distant kayaks, smooth dirt roads snaking over roller-coaster wavy hills, and the neat placement of homesteads. It was wonderful.
Now the DISCLAIMER! The day we paddled this section the Halls (gauge 410777) was reading 1.23 metres with Mount McDonald (gauge 410738), further upstream, reading 1.05 metres. And there is also the matter of what impact dam level can have as it would cause the water to back up. On this occasion it was only 66% so it only impacted from around Taemus Bridge. With hindsight, and a bit of internet research which Gary did post (Men in Skirts http://4meninskirts.blogspot.com.au/2012/03/cavan-to-taemas-bridge-novem…) we’d have known that we’d encounter races and rapids, and that the river level was low and at higher levels the character of the river will change, possibly dramatically.