First Ascent of the Snowy River

by admin

Matthew Fallow and a group of tough jet boaters fought rain and sleet, snow and hail to run the Snowy River. Banjo Paterson would have been proud. Before the jet boat was invented, The Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Power Act of 1949 was passed, and an epic sized hydro-electric scheme and water diversion construction began to combat the harsh droughts in Australia. Until the ‘ Three Gorges’ project was recently completed in China, this remained the largest man-made construction on earth and is considered one of the seven wonders of the engineering world.

The Scheme consists of seven power stations, 16 major dams, 145 kilometers of interconnected tunnels blasted through 600 million-year-old rock and 80kilometers of aqueducts. This scheme was the catalyst for Australian multiculturalism, introduced the Land Rover 4×4 and provided the foundation and legend for the Toyota 4WD in Australia and around the world. In its wake, many legendary rivers of the ‘ high country’ of the Great Dividing Range were changed forever.

One such river, and the centre of the great poet Banjo Paterson’ s ‘ The Man From Snowy River’ (youtube search “the man from snowy river banjos poem” if you love the outdoors), would be lost forever. The Snowy River, which drains the snow melt off the high country, had remained devoid of its annual fresh for some 50 years and flowed at just 1% of its natural volume until environmental pressure forced a controlled release to mimic a small part of the annual flow. So until now, this river has seen but two days of sufficient flow to allow a jet boat to navigate upstream.

Men on the Snowy River

A good collection of 5 hardy boaters and crew made the midweek pilgrimage to the area. The softer boaters pulled out given the predicted cold weather! It rained all night and the wind blew as a nasty cold front came in and we awoke to 4 deg weather which would stay all day. The water, at just 11 deg, straight from the bottom of the dam was bracing and not much warmer. With all crews rugged up and prepared for the cold conditions, we set off upstream, the stinging rain making it hard to see, but the determination tobe the first to ascend this river ensured our progress.

We stopped to regroup numerous times as there were countless rock gardens made up of smooth round boulders and rapids to climb. Often the ‘ most’ water was not the way up, and we found ourselves negotiating small steep mazes of water between huge rocks, wondering how we might get back down. I was leading the way up and soon realised I could never remember the way down, as there were so many options and obstacles.

So I decided not to commit any path to memory, but rather navigate ‘ as it presented itself’ on the way down, and just enjoy the trip upstream jet boating… I did not tell anyone else that! One particularly challenging rock garden and a nasty rapid to negotiatepresented itself about 30 mins upstream. The group was divided, some choosing to thaw out and wait, while another group continued up much to the excitement of a local farmer looking on.

Rain & Snow

The weather was bitter now with icy stinging rain and sleet. River conditions seemed to flatten out for a while, making the rocks just below the surface hard to see and resulted in the odd unexpected hit. Flow was obviously increasing as we saw clumps of alpine grass coming down and a hazard to our jet units, a lot less of an issue than weed but a safety worry to consider. Another 30 minutes upstream and the river was steeper again and we regrouped for a chat. At this time, we could see large masses of alpine grass being washed downstream, no doubt the ‘ front’ of an increase in the controlled increased flow let go at the dam many hours earlier.

We decided to turn back and outrun the alpine grass and regroup with the other boaters waiting farther downstream. It was becoming very hard to see now as the weather closed in, the stinging rain and sleet making navigation a little more difficult and those lurking boulders harder to see. Eventually, the weather turned to snowand hail, making progress
quite tough. One boat pulled up at a friendly farmhouse for a chat, they were soon coaxed inside and fed hot coffee. Being cold to the bone we left them there, they later trailered out with the farmers assistance after chatting for a few hours. With the main group back together again we set off downstream for the trailers, only to have an LS1 Corvette V8 engine powering one of the bigger boats overheat. It must have been very determined given the freezing water! Quickly sorted, it was a dash back to our cabins in sour conditions. 

 It was an exciting trip downstream with many boats making their own tracks and all having tales of heroic and skillful driving, as all jet boaters do. The trip was a long time in the planning, the history of the river, the hardy pioneers who lived there, the ‘ Man from Snowy River’ legend and the Snowy Mountains Scheme was all taught at school during history lessons; I never thought I would be jet boating there. It is strange if not disappointing to consider that the following the day, this iconic river would be dry for another year.

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