Sunday, December 11, 2011

NZKS Staff Trip on the Mokihinui

Each summer the staff of the New Zealand Kayak School get on a team mission and undertake some kind of adventure together – this year we had plans in motion for a two day caving trip at Harwood’s Hole in Abel Tasman. In typical New Zealand fashion, the weather changed and we could see (courtesy of a huge weather system with a lot of precipitation, slowly approaching the country. We soon abandoned the caving trip as the team wasn’t really into the prospect of cave diving.

Sure enough it rained. And rained. And rained some more. Someone came up with the idea of getting into the Mokihinui for a two-day trip, which was likely to be fantastic on the back of all this rain. We put the plan together and headed off a day early to paddle something on the way to Seddonville. Having left Murchison, we were turned back at Inangahua as all the main roads were closed because of flooding and slips. All was not lost as we got stellar high water trips on both the Mangles and the Matiri that afternoon.

In a second attempt, the team left early on Tuesday morning for Seddonville: Mick Hopkinson, Soph Mulder, Shannon Mast, Matt Coles, Jared Mulligan, Daan Jimmink and Jess Matheson. The rain had stopped and the roads had reopened. We left a vehicle at the Seddonville pub and drove further north towards the Little Wanganui and start of the Wangapeka track. This made our heli shuttle a lot shorter.

Shannon and Soph waiting for the chopper 

We flew into Johnson Hut in Johnson Creek, which is a tributary of the North Fork of the Mokihinui. Four hours or so on the North Fork saw us at the confluence with the South Fork, which then becomes the Mokihinui proper. We took our overnight gear to stay at the Mokihinui Forks hut.

Stuck in the wilderness, ready for an adventure

Mick leading the way: Johnson Creek was just a trickle at the put-in

From our put in we had a kilometre or two of fun boulder gardens on Johnson Creek down the to the North Fork. Johnson Creek was a little low (it clears up first after rain) which cost the team a bit of skin in places. 

Once in the North Fork, we had a fantastic flow. The weather had cleared up too so not only was the water good but the weather as well. The character of the North Fork is bigger volume boulder gardens with some cool rapids and some sticky holes. The paddling is super fun with a bunch of great boofs and fun moves. The scenery is beautiful. 

Daan on the portage

Jess getting a great line on one of the many clean boofs

Matt getting ready for the boof to meltdown

Jess finding a great line, the bleeding has stopped on the knuckles

Jess keeping it together during a giant surf

Bit of a rest after some entertainment

Five hours later, some good entertainment and a stack of rapids and we were at the Earthquake “Lake”. The 1929 Inangahua Earthquake sent an enormous slip into the river just below the confluence, which blocked the whole river off and created a huge lake as the river back up behind the earthquake slip. The slip has worn down over time and so the river runs through it these days. Above the slip there are huge tree trunks towering out of the middle of rapids, and clusters of tree stumps to navigate through. The river is slowly claiming it’s way back through the debris.

The Forks Hut sits on a second-tier terrace above the river looking out over the confluence. We made ourselves at home and settled in for pots of tea, a yummy dinner (thanks Jared) and a few games of Hearts (Black Bitch, Mariah). The hut toilet sits on the next terrace below and had been victim of recent flood. The river had gotten at least half way up the toilet structure and had left a thick mat of silty goodness over everything. Mick, well educated through his years of international kayak travel and exploration, told us how to get around the silty-problem Asia-style.

 Mick still charging at 63

Bit of a boat scout

Nearing the end of the North Fork of the Mokihinui

We were on the river about 8am and made quick work of the Mokihinui down to Seddonville. The Mokihinui valley is absolutely stunning and even more so as it was shrouded in mist. It was forecast to rain on day two and true it did. As we came out of the last gorge part, the weather really started to pack it in just in time for us to battle it out on the open flats in pissing rain and strong winds.

After an awesome feed at the Seddonville pub, Soph and Shan took off to the do the shuttle while the weather got worse and worse. We sat in front of the fire playing cards until their return. By that stage the river had risen to full flood stage and we were happy to be finished.

The Mokihinui is currently under threat from a hydro scheme that would see an 80m high dam built just upstream of Seddonville that would back up the Mokihinui River to the Forks. This wouldn’t dramatically affect the North Fork but would mean that the section would finish in a lake at the Forks and a long flat paddle out to the dam. The Mokihinui from the Forks down would be completely flooded and lost forever. The area is super rich in flora and fauna including the endangered Whio (Blue Duck) and long-finned eel. It would be a tragedy to see such a special place be drowned. If you get the opportunity to get into the Mokihinui then do, because who knows how long it will last for. 

Jess Matheson

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Upper Cherry Creek

With some time off we made tracks for Cherry Lake to see what the flow was doing. There were a lot of people in the car park who looked like they had been there a while. One of the down sides of kayaking is that the sport involves a lot of speculations: will the weather be good, what are the levels and who has been in there already. These factors sometimes blur judgements. People were saying that the flow was still too high and that it would be at a good flow in three or four days. I wasn't keen to wait and hear from the first crew down as to what the flow was like, so decided to paddle West Cherry Creek (which flows into Upper Cherry Creek) and find out what the flow was for myself. I easily convinced Matt Coles and Shannon Mast to check it out with me. 

Shannon Mast on West Cherry Creek

The flow in West Cherry was low but as soon as we joined Upper Cherry it had a lot more flow. It was quite a bit higher than when I did Upper Cherry last year. We made good time through the lower gorges, I remembered most of the rapids. I thought that we needed to be going into Upper Cherry Creek the next day or the day after. When we got off the river we tried to rally a few other people.

Cherry Lake in the back ground

The next day was spent with Shannon, Jess and Matt shopping in Groveland, picking up some shirts and doing a bit of emailing. We went back to the lake to do a bit of swimming, packing and carbo loading while we waited for more people to arrive. At 9.30pm Lou Urwin, Tyler Fox and Josh Neilson turned up. We drove up to the put in to wait for Tera Muir and Dave Maurier who were turning up late. 

Early the next morning, six people started walking while three of us did the shuttle. The plan was to start walking at 5.30am but we managed to lose one of the vehicles during the shuttle which cost us an hour. The walk took around five hours this time, which I was happy with. This time the differences were walking fast, eating lots of energy gels and only taking my boat off my back when I needed more water. 

When we arrived at the put-in most people were shattered so we spent a good couple of hours in the sun. At the put we found Taylor Cavin and Tom. The first day was going well, lots of fun whitewater and great boogie water. We camped a bit earlier than we thought, but fading light and a few cold people meant that it was the best thing to do. We camped just above Cherry Bomb Gorge.

Jess on Breakfast slide

Tera on the same rapid with a different line

Matt draining the "Pitonicon"

Looking at our camp site

Boats and gear everywhere

Tyler Fox on Cherry Bomb

Me on Cherry Bomb

After paddling Cherry Bomb Gorge, we decided to stay at the camp just below. Flintstones camp is one of my favorite places in the world, quiet, scenic and it has rapids right there. There happened to be a group of Italian nudists who were camping there as well. When they noticed us heading their way, they did manage to put some clothes on quickly. Lou, Tyler, Josh and David had to get back to work so they kept on going so they could finish that afternoon. We spent the rest of the day doing laps on the Jedi Slides. 

On the morning of the third day Shan and I went back up to run Cherry Bomb Gorge again. We managed to team up for a world class rescue below Cherry Bomb Falls. Someone managed to drop into the weir sideways and have their sprayskirt ripped off. We did a live bait rescue of the swimmer, got him to the side then jumped back in and grabbed his kayak.

Me on the Tea Cups, bottom of the Jedi Slides.

Back at Flintstones, we grabbed the rest of the team and our overnight gear and set off to do the rest of the trip. There is still a lot of white water below Flintstones. 

Matt Coles styling Double Pot Hole

Me on Waterfall Alley (Photo: Kristof Stursa)

Almost at the end of Waterfall Alley (Photo: Kristof Stursa)

Already looking forward to getting back in there next year. Thanks to everyone who I paddled with down there. We were pleased to get out safely.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Three days in the Devils Postpile

After having an awesome time on Upper Cherry Creek (story to come soon) Jess, Matt, Shannon and I headed to Sonora for some well-earned R and R. Checking the flows online at Starbucks it looked like the Devil’s Postpile (Middle Fork of the San Joaquin) was the next big adventure. With a quick call to Taylor Cavin we now had a team of three – Shannon, Taylor and myself. We were still looking for another member to join our team but most people had work or other obligations. While we waited to hear back from other people, we had a daytime mini movie marathon. 

With a good night of sleep behind us, we met up with Taylor in Sonora. We decided to rally to Mammoth in one car after Jess kindly offered to do shuttle. The goal was to put on that evening but with the drive taking longer than expected, Dan Menton (group member #4) rallying straight from UCC and Kevin Smith inviting us to his house for a BBQ in Mammoth Lakes, the put on was delayed until the morning.

Flows still holding steady, we made our way into the Devil’s Postpile National Monument. We put on the Middle San Joaquin just above Rainbow Falls. This was a bad idea because the paddling took roughly three times longer than the walk would have, due to lots of wood in the river. After walking round Rainbow Falls we put back on the river.

A short section of whitewater and one rapid, called Mini Rainbow Falls, we started the biggest portage of the trip. It was about an hour, on river left, before we got back to the river. Once putting back on, the river felt very pushy. It was a tight gorge with boulders sitting on solid bedrock. We made our way down one of the best rapids of the trip – a clean 15 foot drop into a 5 foot drop into a 5 foot drop. The variety of rapids was huge. Small waterfalls, 300 foot slides, chunky holes and tight gorges all with beautiful scenery. 

Mini Rainbow Falls

Me on the first clean 15 footer

Taylor Cavin

Shannon Mast getting ready to keep his nose up

Dan Menton in a tight gorge

Dan still in the tight gorge

Seal launch into Crazy Fan Falls

Looking at the Crazy Fan and Dan

Start of the slide section

More slides

Best for last, the 300 foot slide into boof

While paddling through Waterfalls Gorge, Mexico Gorge and Boof-O-Matic Gorge there was very little portaging. The ones that did need portaging were all at river level and quite short. Once we exited Boof-O-Matic Gorge we arrived at our campsite for the night, just upstream of Fish Creek (a tributary on river left).

Entrence to Waterfalls Gorge

Perfect 20

 Boof-O-Matic from the ramp

One of the many fish caught on the trip, great fishing everywhere

It was a beautiful night, but an hour into my sleep I was awoken by Taylor and Dan when they found a rattlesnake. The snake was quite big and had 14 rings on his rattler. We spent a while chasing it out of camp before we could go back to sleep. 

In the morning we forgot to give Taylor a timeframe so at 10.40am we put on the river. Fish Creek came in quickly adding a lot more water than we hoped. The gorges opened up to a wider valley floor that gave things more of a big water feel. We had paddled about an hour when Barny Young and Blue Eyes Nick caught up to us. They had set off three hours earlier in the hope to catch us. The were trying hard to catch us after Charles King got his boat stuck the day before and they had spent three hours trying to extract it. The boat stayed, so Charles had to hike out which meant that their team was down to two.

An early boof on day two

 The rapids of the day were steep, bouldery and mostly good to go with a few river level portages thrown in there. Just after lunch we arrived at the entrance to The Crucible. The first rapid is a portage on river left requiring team rope work. It took us almost as hour for all six of us to be back in our boats below the portage. On second thought this rapid could have been portaged on river right starting upstream at the Miller Crossing bridge, which would have saved time and not been as risky. 

Team Portage

Looking into the Crucible

We paddled a few more rapids then got to a big one with a log in the middle. We decided to portage on the left. After putting back on we found ourselves stuck in the gorge with no good eddies and all the water going under some downstream boulders. I saw a crack upstream that I knew I could climb out of, but not with my boat. Barny grabbed my boat as I started to climb up the wall. Once at the top of the gorge I attached a rope to a tree for other people to climb out on. I climbed back down to water level and used my sling, attaching to the front of each boat, to hold them in place so each person could climb out and up without losing their boat. 

After a few more tricky portages we were exhausted but managed to find a good campsite. The downside to camping in the middle of The Crucible is that you still have the must-run rapids downstream which can make it hard to sleep.

Day two camp, fish on the hot stone

Learning from the previous morning, we gave Taylor a timeframe. Up at 6am and leaving at 8.30am, in the hopes of being on the water by 9am (we left camp at 8.45am). Within half an hour we were looking into the crux of the run. Barny and I managed to run a sneak chute on river right of the first rapid so that we were able to set up safety for everyone else. The next rapid was Broken Arrow, which had a good line down the middle. With a big pool and no real way to scout the next two rapids, Nick probed the double right line that ended with everyone getting backlooped in the bottom hole. The last rapid of the gorge was a pothole on the left – everyone got a good boof in and then we had made it out of The Crucible. We took a few moments to rejoice and take in the awe of our surroundings - one of the grandest places I’ve ever been

Rapids leading into The Crucible

Looking into the first must-run rapid

High flows, pushy water

 Shannon boofing the left line

Taylor above Broken Arrow

Boofing Broken Arrow

The first blind rapid, we went right

Second blind rapid, right again into back loop

From the bottom of The Crucible to the lake was a mixture of great rapids and obvious portages. The South San Joaquin and other tributaries were still flowing at a good level meaning that the last section was still very pushy. Taylor’s description for the line on one rapid was “Down the right and fight… There will be holes... Go for it, Daan”. Even the last rapid into the lake saw most people get tail-stood. 

 Just after the Crucible, water falls on river right

Taylor fishing

Such a beautiful place

More pushy rapids

Barny on Kidney Breaker

Taylor getting his stomp on

 Once on the lake there was a seven mile paddle out to the boat ramp. Barny spent the first half an hour drafting behind me and talking to everyone on a jet ski. After a few attempts he managed to get us a ride on some jet skis. Getting towed behind a jet ski was more complicated than first thought, so the jet ski drivers took us to their camp and upgraded our ride to a jet boat. The remaining hour and a half paddle out was completed in seven minutes. Shannon, Dan and Taylor weren’t as lucky so they had to paddle the seven miles unassisted. On the brightside, there was cold beer and chips waiting at the boat ramp for them.

The boat ride back

Overall the flow we had was high however it did fill in a few of the nastier holes and it gave a bit of cushion where there would normally be sieves. 

Next year Taylor and I are going to hold the first annual Devil’s Postpile Fishing Classic - a multi-stage competition including largest fish, best cooked fish and the most catch and release in an hour.

Cheers to Jess for the shuttle (a small feat in itself).