Shoalhaven River Whitewater
Oallen Ford to Powerlines
14 March 2020
By STEVE MOLINO
The Shoalhaven had been too high the previous weekend and was steadily dropping but by mid-week the gauge indicated it was bone dry. Not possible!
A close look at the readings and I was convinced there was a fault with the gauge as it has dropped 1.5m overnight. Liaising with my contacts at BoM, we established it was faulty (and had displayed similar behaviour after the February rainfall event before suddenly rebounding) but the actual level could only be estimated by extrapolating the hydrograph from when the gauge was working. By my reckoning that would put it at about 1.1m on Saturday and would be enough to paddle. Surprisingly, ten other paddlers believed me.
Six were glad they followed through and came along and the other four were disappointed they could not make it, particularly Caroline Houghton who had been advised by her doctor to rest the shoulder she injured the previous Sunday. All but one of us had rendezvoused at Oallen Ford by 8am so we started the car shuttle and for the cost of a case of beer we had cars parked above the pull out point 12km by river from the start.
Once we got ourselves on the water the first few kilometres were an easy warm up at a cruisy water level. I led the way as I was the only one in the group who had paddled that section previously but since it was eight years previously I certainly wasn’t going to trust my memory for lines on the major rapids. This meant we bank scouted about half a dozen rapids and Ben helped the young’uns read the water and pick their lines.
At this level all the rapids were shootable with some being quite technical without being too pushy. Aaron took the award for hardest lines and Max for the coolest head with a roll half way down a multi-drop zig zagging rapid with consequences for wrong lines. They were also both quick off the mark to offer Dave a T-rescue on his second capsize only to have him opt for a second swim instead.
John Ward, Aaron’s dad, chose not to paddle but kindly walked down to the river so we didn’t miss the pull out. He then carried our paddles back to the top while we all struggled to climb a loose shale scree slope on which we kept slipping down the hard won metres we had just climbed. Ropes and team work turned out to be a better option than individually shouldering our boats.
We were back at the cars by 4pm with everyone pumped after a great day’s paddle but shattered after a cruel walk out.