A season on the Barron
Because all good things must come to an end…
Since leaving India in September of last year I have been living in Cairns, Australia and guiding for “Foaming Fury,” a white water rafting company on the Barron river. The Barron is to Queenslanders what the Tryweryn is to the UK boating community. Fed from a hydro-electric power station, the water releases are predictable, offering a year-round training ground for paddlers in the area. Many Aussie kayakers would have taken their first tentative paddle strokes on Lake Placid, before honing their skills on the rapids above.
The Barron offers 3km of pool drop, boulder garden class 2+ (3) rapids, shrouded by beautiful tropical rainforest along the steep sides of the Barron Gorge. The river is affected both by the size of the release from the dam and by the high amount of rainfall that the area receives during the monsoon season. Usually, the Barron is typical of those found in Far North Queensland – rocky, tight and technical. However, when the big water hits, it steps up a notch with powerful holes forming in long, continuous rapids.
The main event is the “Rooster Tail,” a sloping drop over a pair of spike rocks that give the rapid its name. Kayakers have the option of the right hand chicken chute, or a straight forward auto-boof at all but the lowest of levels. The rafters have it much tougher however – a tricky back-around move, before lining up to ride over the spike rock just perfectly, in order to bounce down the right hand channel. Could this be the most photographed rapid in Queensland?
For a right-handed guide the Rooster Tail offers up a huge sideways flick, which has caught many a rookie unawares. That and the number of different water flows moving through the drop make it a hard rapid to master. For the rafting customers though, it’s one of the highlights of the trip. Stomachs drop as the boat plunges down, before bracing for the hit at the bottom of the drop.
It would be true to say that there were times when things didn’t go quite to plan…
But with plenty of safety cover in place and under the watchful eyes of the senior guides any problems were dealt with quickly.
From the Rooster Tail, the river flows down through numerous other rapids, each with their own cryptic name and certain way of running them. Because the river is so technical in places – shallow, rocky and incredibly tight – many of the lines are totally counter-intuitive. Guides carefully line their boats up to smash into rocks, bouncing themselves off in a different direction to set up for the next move. It took me a while to get used to what felt like a totally alien form of rafting, but somehow… it works.
The river ends with a 2km paddle out along the picturesque Lake Placid. Looking back upstream, the views are simply stunning and I count myself lucky that I was able to work in such a magnificent place. Swimming in the lake is thoroughly discouraged though…
When you work with such a cool bunch of fun-loving crazies, it doesn’t feel much like going to work. Often the clients would pick up on this, saying that it was the guides that really made the trip for them.
If we worked hard, we played harder… I left my kayak in the UK before travelling, but luckily the company own a Dagger RPM that the guides are able to take out on the river on days off. It certainly got some use…
Being out on the river with just guides was a good experience. Everyone knew where all the play spots were, or the best places to stop and swim, to cool off from the heat. More importantly, there was a feeling that we all had each other’s back.
Paddling the RPM brought back memories for me. Originally the boat that I learnt to paddle in nearly a decade ago, it felt so basic and retro compared to more modern offerings. But like they say, “there’s no school like the old school.” It gave me the chance to go back to the older freestyle moves that people don’t seem to be doing so much any more. I’d prowl the river, hunting down spots for the perfect stern squirt, rock spin or pop-out. Paddling never felt better.
Having time on our hands and access to boats allowed some of the other guides the chance to give kayaking a try and to refine their skills. I enjoyed seeing them improve throughout the season, nailing their roll or tackling harder, more challenging rapids.
And then there were the “fun runs….” A chance to let our hair down with no clients around. Pretty much anything that would float, we would paddle.
And fancy dress was to be encouraged…
Just writing this reminds me of why I started guiding – a means to spend as much time on the water as possible. For as long as that motivates me, I’ll keep guiding.
And so what next?
The long journey home. I’ll be heading south to check out the white water scene in Canberra, before catching a flight across to New Zealand to sample the rivers of the north island. A 40 hour journey brings me back to the UK to catch up with family and friends, before moving out to the Swiss Alps for my next adventure.
See you on the water…