Avon Descent 2009

Sunday, Aug 02, 2009 at 00:00

TriathlonOz - David

This year I competed, and completed, my first Avon Descent in a single kayak. This is my story!

The Avon Descent is an annual race held in WA during Perth's rainy winter period with competitors challenging the Avon and Swan rivers in either kayaks or powerboats over a two-day time trial covering 134 kilometres of mostly white water rapids from Northam to Ascot. The Avon Descent has all of the ingredients of a highly visual, interactive and spectacular event and a one hour highlights program is telecast on television.

In summary, Day 1 is a 57 kilometre stretch beginning at Northam, 100 kilometres east of Perth. The course proceeds downriver through Toodyay into the upper reaches of the Darling Range escarpment. The half-way point and overnight stop is the Boral Camp-site located at Cobbler Pool 20 kilometres west of Toodyay.

Day 2 is 76 kilometres long contains the hardest section "the valley" which has the major white water obstacles and challenges of the event including Supershoot, Emu Falls, Championship Rapids and Bells Rapids. After the valley run, there is a final marathon of 30 km of flat water to Bayswater on the Swan River.


I have never done any serious paddling events and had actually only starting paddling last year after I decided to give the Great Southern Adventure Race and the Blackwood Marathon Relay event a go as an Ironman, both events had some paddling. So really I do class myself as a bit of a novice but my mates decided I should enter the Avon and when they advised me that we could do it as teams this year it made it sound a whole lot better. So my hand went up and I was in, doing the event with Tony (one of my mates from the Adventure races and various tri's). I really did not do enough training on the boat as I was doing a lot of riding and running training over winter. A few weeks before the event the river started to rise and we headed up for a few practise runs.

Practise run one - I have never done any solo white water paddling ever - 2.5 weeks before the event. We loaded up our cars one Thursday morning and headed up to the river leaving my car at Bells Gorge and getting a lift up to Cobblers pool (this is the overnight camp site for the event). The river was at about 800mm, which is not huge but enough that you can get through. I spent a lot of the day in the water, which is very very cold, but I did start to get a lot better and was even able to pull off most of the rapids including Bells. So this was a good day out and I was feeling better about the event, however I had several lumps and bruises in various part of my body. I have been assured that it is not a good day out without a few bumps and bruises.

Practise run two - The rain was bucketing down for about a week and the river was rising fast we decided to have another run and so Thursday the week before the event we again loaded up and headed to the river. This time it was at about 1800mm, which is huge and fast. When we stopped at Bells to leave a car and head up I was terrified looking at the river. Having seen it the week before at 800mm was one thing but to see it at 1800mm was another completely different and for me a scary experience. My mates reassured me it was easy and I would be fine (that is what mates are for isn't it, put you in over your depth and tell you all will be well) so I put on a brave face and assured myself I could do it. We headed off up the hills to the start of the Ti trees section about 1hr more paddling than the week before (the higher river should make it quicker and easier).

Now for those who paddle you already know what dangers exist but for those that are unaware there is a danger that is worse than rapids and churning water - trees. Tress are a paddlers nightmare as water flows straight through the trees. Picture this - a tree in a dry river (or anywhere for that matter) has a trunk and higher up are smaller branches and leaves... now add 1.8 metres of water... what happens - the trunk goes under and you end up with largish branches going everywhere with leaves. Put yourself in a boat heading towards these trees at speed trying to navigate your way around without getting stuck on one of hundreds of trees. It is hard and dangerous. One of my mates told me do not worry about rapids and rocks - water flows around rocks, just worry about trees - water flows straight though the trees.

He was dead right... no sooner had we hit the water I got stuck on a tree and the boat started to fold around the tree! All that stopped it from folding in half was a few other trees that stopped it from bending past the point of no return. I was in the water 8am on a cold day in cold water saying to myself am I having fun yet? It took me a while to free the boat as the water pressure is so great that trying to get it unstuck was very difficult. Anyway, the boat (now supporting a crease mark - it is plastic) and showing the signs of being partly folded with what I suspect is a broken bone (the bone is an aluminium bar running through the boat from front to back to stiffen it) was flexing in the middle and bouncing a lot more than it should. We had literally only just started so this was not a good start. We continued on and did the full length of the valley in my very flexible boat. I spent a fair bit of time swimming and trying to get through the complex rapids without hurting myself or the boat any more.

Some of the highlights of the day were watching my mates (whom are very competent paddlers with over 6 Avon's under their belts) swimming and falling in. We were nearing the end at Bells and for some reason I fell out again and during the process of getting back on the boat hit another large tree and this time folded completely around the tree, it looked like a U bolt. I was almost washed over Bells however managed to get hold of my rudder and pulled myself into the lee of the boat and tree. The water pressure is unbelievable and it took me about 20 mins and some serious engineering to work out how to free the boat, which I managed to do however instead of jumping back on I had to drag it about 400 metres across the bridge and back to where the car was parked. I was not happy and the boat was even less happy. One if my mates said at least now we can fit it in the car easier just fold it in half and put it in the back (ha ha).

So with 1 week to go and a boat that was not looking very happy I went out and purchased some aluminium bar and made plans for how I would fix the boat. The next day (Saturday) I spent about 5 hours with a heat gun, hammers, air-compressor, tape and silicon and a load of other tools from the shed and I did what I still think is a fantastic job - you would almost not know that the boat was fully folded around a tree. So I felt a lot better I now had a boat for the race without having to part with some significant dollars to buy a new one (truth be told I was advised by SWMBO that I was not to spend anymore money on "boys toys").

So onto the race weekend - we (Tony my paddling team mate and Clyde another mate and racing and drink friend) hired a caravan and towed it to the Cobblers Pool camp site (a temp camp site for the race). It would have to be the worst caravan I have ever seen and I am sure it was used for years by a road building crew out in the red dirt, as most of it was still inside. Anyway we slept in it out of the rain on Friday night before our early start heading to Northam for the start.

It was decided that I would do the first part of day one a straight out paddle for 33kms from Northam to Toodyay, Tony would do the second, which included an hour of trees (which I was happy to miss).

The day one paddling was ok. Nothing all that exciting except for two note worthy items. The first being the Northam Weir - a concrete chute that you had to get over and down only a few hundred metres from the start and the second a swim at Glen Avon rapid. Of course Extracts Weir would be worthy but I chickened out and did the portage.

Tony was on the boat for the remainder for the day, a 25km paddle with trees from Toodyay to Cobblers. While he was at it I managed to shower and get back to the camp with the assistance of our second crew (Clyde & Jo) and support person (I must thank the support provided by Rob during the event - well done). We helped the guys back to camp and tucked in to some beer and story telling before heading to town for a meal at the pub.

Day two started with the valley section and I was told I would do it. This is the section I folded the boat in the week before so I was a little apprehensive but keen to get back in the saddle. The worst part is at 6am with the temp outside around 3 deg's to put on a cold wet wetsuit from yesterday and pretend that you were warm and happy. Tony and I were placed 196/487 at this stage and were in start grid 49. So it was my turn to solo through the first section of trees and then down the rapids to the transition at Bells some 46.5kms. It was great! I had a ball. The river on the day was around 700mm so was more like the first training run. Of course I did swim a few times, however I did manage to get through the trees without falling in or getting stuck. ....I am waiting on some photos I have ordered to arrive so that I can post them in here. My only stuff-up was when I arrived at Bells I could not see the transition area and came into the wrong spot and spent a heap of time stuffing around before realising I needed to paddle another 100 metres down the line where Tony was waiting (a 10min waste of time - oh well better luck next time). So I made it and had handed over to Tony to complete the final stage a hard slog paddle with little or no assistance from the river for 30.5km's.

Clyde and I jumped into Tony's car from Bells and headed down river to a few spots to cheer on our partners on the leg to the finish line. We did it, well Tony was always going to do it, but for me as my first experience in a long distance paddle event I was well pleased that I did the sections I had done.

So the results:
Overall Position 201 with a time of 12:39:14 this put us in 16 in Open Male.

Full results and more information can be found on the Avon Descent Website.
If it's not hurting your not tri'ing!
David Martin
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