Cairns Kayaking
Cairns Kayaking
Cairns Kayaking
New Years North Johnston River Trip
by Peter Blakey
It was the trip that was on and off more times than Dirk Dickler in a 70's porn movie.

The recent weather had the river too low, then too high, then with only days before most of the team would have to return to work, the river started to drop toward the magical numbers and it was on again.

For three of us, it would be our 1st run down the legendary NJ River. Our 2 trip leaders, Josh and DJ were in fine form, telling stories of woe and generally talking it up.

The river is usually run over two days, but due to time constraints, we would do it in one. My day started at 4.15am and we were on the road by 5.00. The drive took about 2 hours.
In the car shot from left to right.
Dave Wood driving [DJ]
Adrian Sexton [AJ]
Peter Blakey [me, Old Man River]
Christian Botella [Barron River Salmon]
Kristian Weldon [The Joker]
Josh Bond [probe]
We packed our boats and started the 1.5 hour walk in. luckily for us, someone had been through recently and freshly cut the track back and cleared a lot of the "wait a while" vines. The walk in is quite steep in places and wasn't obvious at times if it was us dragging the boats in or the boats dragging us. All the while, the thoughts of paddling a new river with such a status was starting to sink in. Previous reports of "Stinging trees" on the track prompted me to wear a pair of thermal leggings for the walk in. I obviously was mocked by the team in the 35 degree heat, but I thought I would be the one laughing when they all got stung. Well, they all got to carry the joke a little further, when it was me and only me who got stung on the ankle, just below the protection of what was now going to a useless piece of wet clothing I had to carry out later. For any one who has been fortunate enough to not get stung by this hideous pest, the pain is intensified when in contact with cold water, and where were we going? You guessed it!
Finally we reached the river, where we all took a quick cooling off in the slightly soiled waters of the NJ. Above us was huge waterfall that Josh said was not run able and I was glad we were starting down stream of it that's for sure. Even the portage looked like an epic! Slowly, the team went quiet. Us three newbie's were starting to absorb the surroundings and seeing what was above us instilled images of similar rapids below. Really, we had no idea of what was ahead of us.
The river started with some great Grade III, read and run rapids. The 1st rapid we stopped for a look at was "Ski jump". It is usually run, river right over a long granite slab, ending in a jump off into the pool below. As the water was a little low, the river left line was now an option. Josh led then DJ and Kris. Three of us opted to portage. A couple of more rapids that required getting out for a look, we all ran and then "The Berlin Wall". This rapid is totally choked and has no entry, so it was a mandatory walk. Next is "Mineshaft" which looked totally gnarly and once again, it was Josh who was this time the only one confident or stupid enough to run it. At this level it had it all. A bad lead in, 3 large rocks blocking the main right line and some sieve looking rocks river right at the exit if you did get river right. Josh to his credit, ran it perfectly was still with us to probe further rapids still to come.
Directly after "Mineshaft" we entered "Mordor". This is a spectacular gorge, created from huge black basalt formations that have fallen from the gorge walls, forming very tight, black section with lots of drops and very few lines. The rocks a seemingly crystallized into long hexagonal prisms, all stuck together to form these massive river features. You can see where they have fallen from the gorge walls, exposing more of the column like rocks looking like a cathedral type structure. This whole section is full of amazing scenery including 2 waterfalls that cascade into the river right opposite our lunch stop. After lunch, we still had 2 to 3 hours of paddling, but only one notable rapid to negotiate.
"Junction" rapid is just below the confluence of the Beatrice River which entered river right. This was definitely worthy of a look, even after our river probe showed us how easy it was [or looked] we still reserved our decision until DJ ran it. We were nearly convinced after DJ's run, but if Kris could do it, the rest of us would give it a go. [we were looking for any reason to portage it I think]. Kris had a good line, but a not so good boof, which then got him a little backwards and finally over turning him. He was obviously disorientated by the turbulent, foaming after wash and was unable to get himself right side up, and elected to take a little cooling off swim. Unfortunately the cameras were all rolling, and on a closer look at the footage, it was clear that he was well into the flat water when he pulled the deck. A swim that Kris will be reminded about for a long time to come!
With all the difficult rapids out of the way, it was time to read and run our way to the take out. This would have been the case, except both DJ and Josh failed to recognize a river wide stopper until it was too late. 1st DJ dropped into it, followed by Josh and I was too close behind Josh to eddy out, the current was too strong, and I had to perform a quick turn and run at the hole. With both Josh and DJ still in there, there wasn't much room for the 3 of us. So, I went in, knocked Josh out, and proceeded to get worked pretty well. In between getting lots of roller shutter action, I was able to get myself upright a couple of times to admire the predicament I was in, only to be rotated a few times more. As the fun was starting to wear off as it does in such a situation, my deck blew in or I blew out, either way, I was out of there. Upon resurfacing, I found myself heading toward a second drop and another hole. This time I was on my own and while being pushed down deep, I decided to jettison my paddle in order to swim from the recirculation and avoid a 3rd working. I was met by Kris down stream with a grin on his face that only comes from knowing he was now not the only one to have had a swim on the trip. We spent the next 20 minutes recovering bits of my boat and paddle, interlaced with the usual laughter of how every body was reaching for their cameras instead of their throw bags. How the 3 paddlers following me saw me knock Josh out and get stuck, and so opted to avoid knocking me out and saving them selves. The last ¾ to 1 hour was pretty much Grade II and flat water to the take out.
Both AJ and I had been dreading the walk out. Josh and DJ were talking 2 hours trek over a 2.5km track which would have us climb just over 300m of vertical elevation. I was feeling tired and a little off at the start of the day, but after a 1 ½ hour walk and 7 hours of paddling, I was now totally rooted and was not looking forward to a 2 hour climb. Part the way up there is a sign saying "lookout 1.5km". At 1st I thought "1.5, that's not too far" and so I said to AJ [who was still behind me at this stage] that we only had to do 15 x 100m stints. As the incline continued relentlessly and fatigue overtook any last remaining enthusiasm, I had to reassess my math and think about 30 x 50m stints until that to would drop to 50 x 30m, then 100 x 15m and I think the final count was probably 300 x 5m. My good mate Kris came back down the track to tell me I had not far to go and passed me what was left of my Gatorade drink I had stashed in the car. He offered to carry my boat but respected the fact that I wanted to do this. How wrong was he! But I did continue and in my 5m to 10m stints, I topped the climb and then took a few moments to basically collapse on the roadside. My time was about 1.5 hours. This is not a trip to take lightly, Being physically prepared for a big day will make a lot of difference. My kayak and gear weighed in at 34.9kg. Remember, every kg you take in, has to come out!
DJ and Josh returned with the cars from the put in and DJ passed around the beers and cold water while we all sat, laughed and looked down into the gorge from where we had climbed.
The trip home was interrupted with a quick stop in at the Fishery Falls pub where Kris and I brought the drinks as payment for our swims, then back on the road. By this point it was getting on 7.30pm. The trip home from here was quiet after AJ fell asleep and Christian and I knocked back a couple of
Red Bull's and chatted about the day.
What a day!
Thanks guys for the great day out.
But next time, please can we get a helicopter!

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