West coast multi-day trip – Heazlewood, Whyte and Pieman
Date: Sunday, 28 July 2019
Rivers: Heazlewood River, Whyte River, Pieman River.
Water level: High.
The trip to the camp site by the Heazlewood River was uneventful and we set up camp by the last few minutes of sunlight and then headtorches. We got a roaring fire going, which helped cut the general mood of cold and damp brought on by the incessant rain and James cooked us a delicious dinner. After eating we hit the sleeping mat and tried to get some sleep. I was on the most exposed edge of the hootchie and got the odd gust of rain on my face but managed to sleep anyway until some point in the middle of the night when I was woken by a firm slap on my back which was a wave of water gushing over me.
I leaped up, calling out that we’re being flooded. Janina curled up on her near-floating sleeping mat, Will tried to hand me his sleeping bag to keep it dry, noticing a damp spot on the tarp next to him. I explained that I was up to my ankles in water and he agreed that him keeping his sleeping bag was probably for the best. We adjusted the tarp a bit and shuffled up to the dryer end, James moving to the ute to give us space.
The next morning was a bit of a slow start. We got another big fire going, James cooked us brekkie and we got all our camp gear dried. I think we got on river around 11, which is very late but our gear was thankfully dry. The Heazlewood River had a lot of water in it and was moving fast. After getting both rafts on river and getting comfortable in our gear and R2ing we finally looked up and around to see utterly breathtaking surroundings. I had to scrape my jaw of the raft floor. I’m thankful we didn’t have too much technical rafting to do early on because I couldn’t tear my eyes away from my surroundings and focus properly on the river for some time.
The rafting was pretty cruisy but there were still a few rapids and minor logjams to negotiate. Their typical trick was to sound intimidating and reveal just a peek of thrashing white water hiding around a corner then as you approached it turned out to be just one rock. Sneaky. Before I learned this we had probably the only incident of the trip, confusing Janina and getting the raft caught on a large branch. Every movement caused the raft to tip slightly more, every shove got us closer to escape but also closer to being tipped over the log, which neither of us really felt like. James and Will caught an eddy, James ran up the bank and clambered onto the branch and between the three of us we managed to shove off. Phew!
Back into beauty overload. My eyes started to hurt from trying to take it all in as quickly and deeply as possible.
Not long later we passed a side river. I asked James if that was the Whyte, if we’d achieved the day’s minimum requirements to keep us on schedule. “Ha, no, long way yet,” was the reply, “Must be a minor creek, don’t know the name, there’s no way we’re that far yet.”
The rain alternated between drizzle and downpour, which didn’t really bother me in my wet gear and spray jacket thankfully. It was in one particularly intense shower when James said that in a bit we should stop for a quick snack (no time for a cooked lunch) and he’d pull out the GPS to nail down where we were and see how far behind schedule we were running. We passed another creek nobody knew the name of and Janina and I discussed exactly how much of a body of water you need to raft to have “rafted” it. Could we, we pondered, ferry glide against the flow the next time we saw a creek like that and claim it? We eventually decided no.
Stopping for snacks James pulled out the GPS and looked at it. Held it up to talk to more satellites. Looked at it again. Glanced at us.
“Um, sorry guys…” (I’m thinking oh no, we have to keep going until darkness is descending and camp just wherever we can find because we have so much catching up to do.) “We’ve come a lot further than I thought. We’re on the Whyte River.”
“So, that river we asked if it was the Whyte and you said no way?”
“Yep, that was it.”
Upon a quick explore we had in fact eddied out at a 4WD campsite. Bloody convenient. We called that the campsite for the night. James set up some shelter and got food on the way and I did my best to get a fire going, to no avail. Wasn’t so bad once we got some hot Milo into us though, with the evening’s entertainment being watching James cook 2.99 litres of food in 3 litres of pots.
The rain stopped after we finished eating, which was incredibly convenient, letting us change into dry clothes wherever we wanted instead of lying on a tarp under another tarp.
The next day we’d all had a much better sleep and I think it was this happy drowsiness (rain wore itself out in the night so we had dryish ground to walk on) that kept us from getting a quick start. I think we got on river at about 10, which felt late but no matter. First thing we noticed was that the river had dropped about 40cm in the night but that thankfully it still had a nice fast flow which meant we could focus more on the scenery and enjoying ourselves than paddling. This second day is where we got the biggest features of the trip, one pretty intense drop through a gorge then later the large drop that we got photos of. The second one was technically simple but a bit more challenging to do, with a huge powerful recirculation that pulled back water from quite a few metres away from the drop. Was a lot of fun, James and Will blitzed it easy-peasy, possibly because they had just watched Janina and I nearly ride a conveyor belt of recirculating water straight into the flow. Felt close. Quick reactions in putting our weight in the right places and paddling hard pulled us away no problems though.
Don’t forget the unbelievable scenery. It really was indescribable which makes it very difficult for me, from a narrative perspective, to describe how we felt when we hit the Pieman River. It was a whole new level. Both rafts just floated with nobody moving or speaking for who knows how long, just experiencing it. I really hope we have a photo that can go under this paragraph…
We didn’t have to paddle anywhere near as long as we expected before abruptly rounding a corner and seeing our get-out landmark, the barge across the Pieman River to the Corinna Hotel. It felt anticlimactic, relieving and peaceful. I think we’d all had to much to look at the last two days we needed the break to empty our eyes out.
We were able to leave the rafts behind the kayak sheds at the Hotel so we could all squeeze the rest of the gear and ourselves into Janina’s car (my suggestion of tying them to the roof with throwbags being overridden) and head back to our first campsite which was a welcome site and somehow felt like a long time ago. It had only been one night but we had done a lot since then. We lit a campfire which put the previous ones to shame, James cooked us a huge dinner (including an experimental dessert technique which was an excellent success) and we all went for an early night.
We broke up the drive home by having a quick explore of a cave outside Mole Creek which was excellent fun. I’m sure the chunk of scalp I left there is still enjoying it. No, we all really did have a great time, I’d enjoy doing some more caving like it.
A massive thanks to James for organising the trip, it was absolutely incredible. I would jump at the chance to go again.
James: On-River Chef
James: Sleeping Mat Rafting Trip