Crazy Danger Crew & The Colo Crusade
Words by Damian McDermott, pictures by Damian McDermott & Chris Byrne
For our summer adventure we are back in the glorious Wollemi National Park and the Colo River. After a rainy couple of summers the river has been off limits, but this year conditions are perfect for a lilo adventure.
Our plan is to spend two nights on the river, with a whole day on lilos and rafts floating downstream to the Colo Meroo campground, the location of our first Summer adventure back in 2017. The Crazy Danger Crew have reunited again and we’re loaded up with the best air mattresses K-Mart has to offer and a couple of inflatable boats to carry the gear.
DAY 1 - MOUNTAIN LAGOON TO COLO RIVER
This is a great trip to do if you start in the afternoon, because the first day’s walk is only a couple of hours, but there’s some logistics to take care of first. We’re starting with a car shuffle, leaving the Bongo Van (with extra gear and an esky of cold drinks and food) at the locked gate at the end of Upper Colo Road. Then we all load into Chris’s car with our packs, rafts and lilos and drive up to Mountain Lagoon, following Sams Way to the track head of the T3 Track.
The T3 track is a winding undulating fire trail through beautiful eucalyptus forests and ends at a small peak. There’s a sandy parking area where we leave the car and load up packs. It’s already 3:45 By the time we’re ready to hit the track.
Mary and Chris with the view West
Descending the spur
We take the footpad that follows the ridge roughly North East. Climbing the little rocky knoll at first. The views of Wollemi National Park to the west are vast and beautiful. We continue along the spur for about 3.5km, descending around 500 meters. It’s a technically difficult hike with rock scrambles and steep switchbacks as we descend the escarpment towards Tootie Creek. The kids have a competition to guess what time we will arrive at the river, 10 year old Mary is spot on with her guess of 5.52pm.
After a hot hike, the river beckons and a swim is the first item on the agenda. Followed by gathering firewood and setting up camp on the sandy bank. We inflate our lilos and rafts, eat dinner and settle in for a dreamy night under the stars, lulled by the sounds of the river.
DAY 2 - TOOTIE CREEK JUNCTION TO COLO MEROO
It’s stunning cool clear morning and we take our time packing up camp and loading the rafts. Ava, Daisy and Chris are all riding camping mattresses, bought from K-Mart for about $10. Rory and I each have inflatable boats, I have a decent quality Intex boat from BCF and Rory has a smaller K-Mart version. Mary - our youngest and littlest adventurer - has a cheap “fashion lounge” lilo, complete with see-through window so she can view the underwater world as she drifts down stream.
Our hardy vessels, ready for white water
It’s around 10.30am when we disembark, with about 9km of river between us and our destination., Colo Meroo campground. The water is as low as five inches deep over the sand-bars, with some deeper pools along the way. Occasionally we need to step out of our vessels to prevent them dragging and puncturing in the shallow water and it’s not long before the river strikes its first blow, when my feet sink a meter deep into quicksand. After struggling to free myself I release a foot, but my sandal is buried deep in the river sand. My other leg is still trapped and Chris helps dig me out while trying not to get trapped himself. After minutes of digging, both legs are free, but my keen sandal is lost to the river forever - some may consider this a victory for fashion.
20 minutes later we hit the next challenge, the rapids. After inspecting the white water Chris goes first, managing to navigate with his K-Mark airbed unscathed, Ava is also successful. Rory and I make it through in the boats, but Mary isn’t so lucky. Her slippery fashion lounge capsizes immediately and Chris fishes her out of the water. Daisy heads through next and makes it almost all of the way but gets stuck on a rock and capsizes just before the end. Both girls are shaken but okay.
Video - Rory, Damo and Daisy tackle the Colo rapids (2min)
Later, when we hit another set of rapids, Rory and Chris make it through but Ava falls off her air-mattress halfway down, stranded on a rock. Daisy - deciding to walk instead - sends her lilo down the rapids towards Ava who jumps off her rock, onto the passing lilo and safely navigates through the remaining white water. Mary decides against riding her “fashion lounge” and joins me in the boat, safely passing through to the other side.
Both rapids pushed the limits of our ability and took a lot of time to regroup, so we’re happy when we realise there are no more to come.
Stopping for lunch and running repairs
At around 2pm we stop for lunch and discover that our billy can was lost while navigating the rapids. We try to repair Rory’s boat with duct tape - both boats have punctures in the floor, causing them to sag at the bottom - but the main chambers are holding air and keeping them afloat. The K-Mart air mattresses - and more surprisingly - the fashion lounge are holding together well.
COLO MEROO CAMPGROUND
After another two hours of drifting, we see figures up ahead, it’s our friends Frank and Viv - from our first Colo Meroo trip - we’ve made it 9.5km of drifting, paddling, quick sand and rapids to our destination, six hours after we started and we are ready for terra firma.
Chris and I take a leisurely 4km return stroll to the Bongo Van and return to camp with provisions, including an esky full of beer, sausages and soft drink. Frank cooks up a delicious pasta and we enjoy a relaxing evening by the fire.
Chris, Frank and Damo, with cold beers from the esky
DAY 3 - COLO MEROO TO CURRAJONG
A steady rain sets in overnight and we wake wishing we’d secured some firewood under Colo Meroo’s ample picnic shelter. We are really thankful for the shelter which provides us with plenty of space to make breakfast and pack up our wet tents and gear. By late morning we have one last swim in the river and get ready to depart.
The Crazy Danger Crew head back the 2kms to the Bongo Van to pick up Chris’s car at Mountain Lagoon, while Frank helps a solo kayaker we met get back to his RV point, he had underestimated the travel time and arranged a pickup with his wife way down stream. And by lunchtime we all meet back at the Archibald Hotel in nearby Kurrajong, for a delicious pub feed and a cold beer.
The Crew departing Colo Meroo Campground
Our route recorded in Terra Maps
THE WRAP UP
This was an extremely enjoyable trip, with just enough danger to make it a real adventure. I got most of my information from the Bushwalk Australia forum - including advice that we wouldn't require PFD's and/ or helmets for the rapids. We had two young girls capsize in the first set of rapids and although they were fine, I wouldn't discourage bringing PFD's and helmets if you have safety concerns.
The Colo River is a pristine natural environment and you should take all your rubbish with you and try to keep items secured so they don't end up as rubbish (like our billy and my sandal).
Water is plentiful in the river, but it's best to treat it. Composting toilets and fireplaces are available at Colo Meroo Campground. But please obey all fire restrictions and be sure to check in with the National Parks office before you visit.
Check Out Bushwalking NSW for info on the route to the river from Mountain Lagoon
For a full video of the adventure, click on the vimeo link below:
The author would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land featured in this article.
The Wiradjuri, Dharug, Wanaruah and Darkinjung people who have a strong and ongoing cultural association with their traditional lands and waters.