WHILE much of Perth was shivering through one of its coldest and wettest winter weekends of the year to date, Avon Descent veteran John Hilton gleefully welcomed the rain.
In fact, nothing would please Hilton more than another couple of cold fronts battering Perth between now and the start of his 19th Avon this weekend.
The Leeming resident’s fastest ever finish to the 124km course was just over nine hours in 2008 – when water levels were at their highest point in more than two decades.
The 2017 version of the Avon Descent is unlikely to take place on water anywhere near that high or that quick but the late downpours have gone some way to raising expectations for the event.
“Water levels had been really awful until last week and now it’s a bit less awful,” Hilton said.
“It’s still not great but it’s going to be alright – I think we were all a bit surprised by this last week’s rain and it has been a bit of a saviour.”
Hilton grew up in Mt Pleasant, learning to swim at Deepwater Point, and has spent a big chunk of his life either sailing or paddling on the Swan River.
He now works as a GP in Rockingham but can still be found paddling on the river near his parents’ home at least six times a week.
While he competes in a variety of flat water marathons throughout the year, he said the Avon Descent remained the jewel in the crown.
“The Avon is really the one that you hang out for,” he said.
“It’s a real test of endurance. You’re on the water for up to 11 or 12 hours and you’ve got rapids and shallows to contend with and all you can rely on is yourself and your skills to get through.”
Dr Hilton paddled part of the course shortly after a torrential downpour in mid-February but is expecting very different conditions this weekend.
“When the water level is high you get pushed along a lot faster and it certainly makes the distance feel a bit shorter,” he said.
“One of the best parts of the Avon is that the personality of the river changes with every incremental rise or drop in water.
“One year you’ll have exposed rocks and the next they’re underwater and become whirlpools or eddies; it’s just always a bit different.”
The Avon Descent takes place over two days beginning on Saturday.