DANGER: Extreme paddlers conquer Rainbow Falls at Gorge
WARNING: This is an extremely dangerous stunt. These are professional stunt paddlers, and this in no way should be attempted by others.
A GROUP of four Extreme kayakers known as the Paddle Dogs made the 5+ hour journey from around Australia as far south as Tasmania to the upper sections of the Clarence River to conquer the Rainbow falls which they had seen in trail running photos on Facebook.
The group made up of Alex Mcintyre, Daniel Watkins, Allen Garda and Andre Hemmerle are all very skilled paddlers in freestyle and extreme kayaking with Alex part of the winning teams at several Extreme races around Australia and several first descents and countless waterfalls between them.
Alex has had his eye on the Clarence River waterfall for some time, but it was after his brother tagged him in an Adventurethon run photo at the Gorge that he put the steps in motion to start the extreme feat, gathering up additional paddlers, river intelligence and safety craft over the last couple of months.
"We were going to go ahead with this a few weeks ago but due to unsafe water levels we had to put the plans on hold until water levels returned to a more manageable level," Alex said.
"There were a number of risk factors at play with the drop itself being a factor, how much aeration in the water for the landing and how soft is it going to be?" Alex said.
"Are there any obstructions to the line in or the exit of the falls and of course, having a good crew for possible rescues? If things go bad in the worst situation you would be to be pinned under the waterfall which is a very real possibility if things go wrong so we had a few extra safety people in place ready to rescue from multiple angles."
There have been numerous deaths in the area before, there was a kayaker go over the falls many years ago who died so there was a lot of fear over if it was a good idea the paddlers went over and the repercussions of a possible copy cat thinking this means it is safe to do another time.
"Even my dad who is a very accomplished paddler said I was stupid to shoot the falls as there had been deaths in the past, we got into a fight about it when I first mentioned I wanted to do it," Alex said.
Andre who has been paddling white water for well over 20 years and has worked around the world as a guide gives this advice to kayakers: "Don't jump in the deep end, learn your skills properly, get out there practice , step by step."
"If you are a surfer you start with small waves and not straight to big wave surfing and if you are a motorbike rider you don't start with jumping 60ft," he said.
"Start small work your way up and be safe."
Daniel Watkins got the title of first descent as the four paddlers did a game of rock paper scissors to select who would be the first to descend the falls.
Daniel's descent was a great start with a shallow entry and quick bob out using the "45ing" technique to avoid nose diving too deep and keeping the landing soft
Allan and Andre's first runs weren't as smooth with more nose drop than they wanted but still a successful landing. Andre was able to correct it for his second attempt. Allan landed a little harder than he wanted and decided to call it quits at one drop. Alex showed a masterclass with the cleanest exit and a real style.
These extreme paddle dogs insist they aren't all excess risk and crazy behaviour.
"We looked at all of the waterfalls along river left (the left side when paddling down with the flow of the river) where there are a series of around seven other falls but all of them were too dangerous in the current conditions," Alex said.
"It is very important to scout all of the rapids you ever want to run on any river, especially anything new to you, some of the waterfalls on river left would look inviting from the top but the landing was right onto a bunch of rocks and is just impossible to shoot it safely," Dan said.
"Another waterfall looked like it may have been doable but the water below was very turbulent and would have been a likely below weir type scenario with a good chance of getting stuck in the recirculating water."
The paddlers said they would like to campaign for some really obvious signage from above the falls to warn any unsuspecting day trippers to ensure they portage (get out of the water and walk) around the dangers as its very easy to not see the falls until it is too late.
This is standard practice overseas in Europe for similar or even lesser falls they said.
The next group of crazy athletes to descend on the Clarence Valley Region will be the running paddling and Mountain Biking as part of the Adventurethon stage race event this December 1-2 (across three very different locations). For more information, visit www.adventurethon.com.au