Yay for winter paddling in Minnesota!
Today Damo, Aaron, and I went out to the beach to surf for a bit. I was in a borrowed EZ, and the day was beautiful. When we arrived the surf was tiny, but once we got out we caught a few really good sets, head high or better (from a boat). It was a lot of fun, and a great way to spend an afternoon. The water was even warm. Amazing.
Oh, and I've been out to Mangaho again; christ, loops are really fun.
Yesterday I ran the hardest river I've ever attempted.
I piled into Damian's van with Damo, Aaron, and Mike Dawson. We headed up to the Pohangina, winding up a long road and gaining altitude fast. Once we got permission to get to the put-in and found the track, we asked Damian what the hike to the put-in was like.
"Oh, it's just up a hill at the start, across a long flat bit, and then one hill at the end. It's got a nice grass track too."
The track was a bit of a death march, the beginning section steep and covered with mud, and the second section steep and narrow, with low trees and steep slopes. Damian damn near sprinted the whole thing, leaving the three of us huffing and puffing behind. At one point a slip had occured, wiping out the trail and forcing us to rope our boats around it. Finally, we made it to the river.
I was in Damian's Topolino, which I'd never paddled before. We warmed up for maybe a hundred meters until we had to get out and scout. We had a technical Grade V over a few other drops; everyone walked the top bit and Aaron and I walked the bottom. Not fifty meters later we scouted the gorge, a big triple drop hemmed in by rock walls. The top and bottom drop looked pretty flushy, but the middle hole was a huge, stomping monster. Portaging wasn't an option; it was either run the drop or seal-launch into the eddy next to the monster hole and wait for everyone else to run the drop. I wasn't too keen on dropping in between the undercut wall and the big hole, so I opted to run it. I knew the drop was within my ability, but I could only think of all the bad things that could happen if I botched the line. I was really goddamned scared. After summoning up some confidence, I dropped into the water and ferried out into the current.
The first drop was sweet, but I was pushed too far right and ended up backwards in a micro-eddy just above the monster hole. shit. I pulled out into the current and spun around, paddling hard. I dropped into the hole and pulled myself out, then flew through the rest of the drop. Woot! A few more boulder gardens lead to a fun drop, 12 feet or so. It was sweet, as was the fast slide afterwards. The rest of the river was full of fun, technical boulder gardens and excellent lines. When we got to the track leading back to the van we had Damian scurry back to the van as we towed his boat down the rest of the Grade II riffles to the bridge.
Me on the big, steep slide. Fun stuff.
Cartwheels are coming along pretty well too; I'm linking up 4 ends on occasion, which feels cool.
Playboating is fun.
We managed to tow it out and it wasn't damaged, so it wasn't all bad.
After a few warm-ups we got to the crux rapid, this big pushy thing. I was getting used to a lot of new gear, as I was in a borrowed boat, and I had my paddle fixed (yay!) with a new paddle offset and length. I got pushed into one big hole on this rapid and went under/through the hole, but was flipped when resurfacing. When I rolled back up my knee slipped out of my thighbrace and punched out my skirt. I finished the roll though, and finished the rest of the rapid upright, though with a popped skirt.
The rest of the rapids were really fun boulder gardens in a gorgeous canyon. We had a good crew; quite a few people were on the river but the crowds broke up after running the crux. There were a couple swims, but generally things went smoothly. Great rapids further down, really fun slalom-style rock and hole dodging. Unfortunately, there was a big flatwater section at the end of the run, though since it was a relatively high-volume release we had enough water to float the rest of the way to the cars (and their heaters).
This is the main drop on Tree Trunk Falls. The only successful run of the gorge was by an international team last summer during record low flows. Other runs/swims include a guy who swam to the eddy in the upper right hand corner of this photo and was luckily extracted via rope. Everyone else who has entered the canyon has died.
This was the scene at the take-out of Access 14. It's a popular run, and it was nice to hit the run a second time without all of the crowds. It was pretty cool the first time too, since I saw almost all of the kiwi paddlers I knew at one point or another out on the river.
I hooked up with a couple of guys from my neck of the woods; Aiden and Hayden, later meeting up with Steve and Lee, friends of the rest of my paddling crew, and headed up to run the Tongarario releases this past weekend. On Saturday we ran Access 10 (after waiting ages for Lee to show), a fun grade III run with lots (70+) of fun boulder gardens. We had a bit of a mission; Aiden swam on some piddley rapid (his first in 2 years) and was warmed up with soup, then I broke my padde shaft while rolling in a shallow, rocky rapid. I rolled up with my remaining blade, then canoe-ed my way to shore while my mates collected the other blade. We had to saw the shaft down to get the blades in our creeker, but fortunately we had a split paddle along with us. The rest of the run was cruisey, with no major debacles.
We stayed at Steve's girlfriends' parents' house, and were treated to lots of food, a warm living room, and soft beds.
Sunday was Access 14, a grade III+/IV- section of the same river. I was a little nervous before we got to the put-in, as the rest of our team were in creek boats and I was in my little Rad. When we got to the river there were more playboats and I felt better. We did the run twice, the first time with a big group and the second time around with just the four of us. The first run took us two hours or so, while we did the second in just one. Things went pretty smoothly on the first run, bigger rapids, but all fun boulder gardens with nice, flowing lines. The second run brought some excitement when I dropped into a sticky pourover and had my hands full surfing and blasting my way out of it. I had my boat edged at nearly 90 degrees for a bit, but I eventually fought my way out. I was stopped in a couple holes in my little spud boat, but for the most part the rapids went by wonderfully. It was a really fun run overall, and I felt confident in class IV water in a creekboat, which was cool.
The take out of the run is above Tree Trunk Gorge, a big scary ticket straight to the white room; huge drops in a tiny canyon with lots of wood. Make the take-out eddy.
The remains of my paddle are in the shop, another $90 ($65 US) down the tubes. Oh well; at least I get a new carbon shaft and my choice of offset for the run next weekend.
And through the boil that's behind my boat in this photo (bottom of the drop).
The crew, scouting Jeff's Joy.
Our trusty shuttle.
Saturday morning I put on my gear and walked the 100 yards to the ocean and put in. I scoped the surf from my hostel and it looked present but tame. When I was getting my gear together on the beach a huge barrel broke in front of me. Where the hell did that come from? I paddled out but screwed up my timing. a 9ft wave broke right in front of me, and the whitewash picked me up and dumped me back where I started. Crap.
I made it past the break the next time and paddled around the point to Fitzroy beach. I had an offshore wind, which groomed the waves well but also tried to push my fat, slow little boat out into the ocean. Boo. My drainplug wasn't quite tight, so I was shipping water as well until I corrected that little problem. I landed on Fitzroy without much trouble, ducking in past the breakers. The swells were producing huge barrels, and there were maybe two dozen board surfers out. I stayed out of their way, batting maybe 50%, half the time getting trashed, the other half of the time getting some great rides. My skirt imploded three times over the weekend from the force of the waves. Good stuff. I lost a contact lens, which sucked, so I surfed the rest of the day buccaneer-style.
Sunday I missed my tide since some bastard rugby player stole my drytop. "I was cold," was his explanation. I hiked to the beach and had some great rides on little waves before heading out to the big stuff. Batted about 50% again, got bashed around some, then headed back to the smaller waves to finish the day with a good ride. After saying "just one more" a half dozen times, I got flipped end-over-end by a huge breaker that somehow snuck up on me. Unfortunately, the whitewash didn't carry me out of the impact zone, leaving me there for the next two waves to kick the shit out of me, the last one dropping me on my head. It hurt. Figuring enough was enough, I paddled in and headed home.
My brush with stardom.
She's smaller than I expected, but I suppose that's what everyone says about "famous" people (famous in quotes as paddlers are never really famous, only within our own little ingroup). This, combined with my brush with Chris Sharma, equips me with all sorts of name-dropping ability.
I hooked up with Damian and some mates from Palmy and headed to Napier, in the middle of wine country, to stay at Damian's mom's house. Bright and early on Sunday we headed to the Rangatiki (sp?) to do the Jeff's Joy run. The first drop was pretty easy, but it contained Rocks A and B (inventive Kiwis), both sieves that have killed people before. Apparantly one of the bodies required a helicopter extraction; the river had that much pull. Anyway, the moves were easy, and we moved on to Fantail Falls and Jeff's Joy. Combined, they make up most N. Island boaters' first class IV. A few of the paddlers in the group walked it; I ran it in fine style, with one roll and a sweet line on the bottom drop. The drop was apparantly named after a tire tuber, Jeff, who took a hell of a beating on Fantail and ran the second drop unconscious and underwater. His mates revived him, and then named the drop after him. Long live Jeff.
The rest of the run was a lot of III-II+ boulder garden work; fun stuff, lots of rock dodging and route finding.
Then we crashed with a big group of people at Damian's father's house near Rotoroua. Had a huge dinner and a few drinks and then went off to bed.
Sunday brought the Kaituna. It's a series of not-so-big to really big drops in a short, steep canyon. It's rafted quite a bit, and includes Okre Falls, the highest commercially rafted drop in the southern hemisphere. After scouting the big drops (including the Weir, a munchy looking pourover) and watching a few people run it I was ready. I geared up, warmed up on the slalom course, and followed Aaron and Damian into the canyon.
The first couple drops were cake, III-ish, but I was a bit nervous in my little Rad. Then came the Powerhouse, a 10 footer that dropped into a boiling pool directly above the Weir. We all ran it clean, and Aaron dropped over the Weir. I followed; the line was a hard right and a boof into the river-right eddy. I didn't have quite enough speed, and though I made it to the eddy my tail caught on the pourover. I flipped, and as I set to roll I thought I wonder if it's going to suck me into the hole? Then I got hit from the side with a ton of water. I tried to roll against the grain once or twice, then switched sides and got half a breath before getting pushed back under. I reached for the green water, then set up for a big roll as I was running short on air. Then my knee punched through my skirt.
I resurfaced on the corner of the hole, holding my paddle. Damian yelled "grab my boat" and I made one swipe at his grab loop before the hole grabbed me. It shoved me to the center, and then the green water pushed me deep. Way deep. It was the proverbial green room (someone said the river was way deep at this point, 40ft+). I must have been 20 or 25 feet down. I could dimly hear the drop, but for the most part it was real quiet. I swam towards the surface slowly, realizing that if I tried to get up to fast I could get sucked back in. Eventually I started to panic, running low on air, and I clawed my way to the surface. I broke through and sucked in the sweet, sweet air. "You're alive!" yelled Damian, and ferried me to shore as Aaron corraled my boat. I was reunited with my gear, a bit shaky, but I realized that the Weir was the scariest drop (to me) and that I had made it through the tough stuff.
We then dropped through Okre falls. Things went fast from the lip as the water dropped away. My line wasn't ideal but it was close enough, glancing off the boil and carrying away from the main curtain. I slipped into a seam next to the boil and flipped, but rolled up well downstream of the ugly stuff. We then carried on through the rest of the canyon, mainly class III drops with one scary one, The Abyss. It was an easy-ish move through a hole, but if you stuffed it up you ended up in a gaping, undercut cave. We finished at the Kaituna Hole, a world-class playspot, and then headed out to grab some lunch.
The afternoon featured a trip in a Topo Duo (a 2 person kayak; Damian was practicing to run commercial trips down the river in the summer). I was in front, which was weird, as I had little control over the boat and had to let Damian do most of the paddling and all of the edging. We made it through the canyon in fine style, rolling once (I had to ditch my paddle and grab the boat so he could roll us) and running solid lines. Then it was time to pack up the van and head home.
As we headed home I reflected on the fact that I started paddling a year ago this month. I've come quite a ways from learning to surf on the Vermillion at 50 cfs with Dennis to running a 23 footer (by far my biggest drop to date) in New Zealand.
Paddling is fun.
Last weekend was a lot of fun. I hooked up with the Hutt Valley and Ruiahene clubs for a trip up to King Country. I packed into a van with six other people on Friday night and drove to Witomo, which is the caving center of the north island. It's a huge limestone area, and we stayed in a caver's lodge. Great place; not a lock in the place, everything is on the honor system. We stayed in these huge beds and cooked in the full kitchen, hung out in the lodge; it was great. On Saturday we paddled the Tawarau, a fairly small-volume III+. We had a huge crew; 20 people on the river, but for the most part we spaced things out nicely. We had a few portages, but as you can see, the scenery was great.
There were a few big drops that merited scouting, including this one, Bob's falls.
We had good lines for the most part; a few swims but nobody was hurt and nobody lost gear.
After we got back to the cars a few of us ran a technical rock garden, which was a lot of fun. Real tight moves and route-finding. One guy swam and so we had a 20 minute rescue (that's him getting into his boat in the background). It was a great rapid though; I would have loved a few more kilometers of the stuff.
On Sunday we ran the Mokau, a big water III+. The scenery wasn't nearly as good, but the rapids were a lot better. Generally more technical, pushier, and more fun. I got tossed around in my little rad a bit, but it wasn't too bad.
This is the first major rapid, Little Huka. Lots of fun.
Later, this is me rolling back up in what's maybe the most consequential rapid. I got my tail caught on the first pourover and back-endered. The rocks to the right of my boat are undercut; a swim could have been ugly. Everything was pushing through pretty well though, and I hit my roll and continued on. The last major rapid had a big hole that we had to punch; I hit it well but I saw one guy in an Inazone get a major working. He swam, but he earned it.
We then headed home, taking a wrong turn which lead us past the ocean. That was fine by me, it allowed me to see more of the island. I wanted to get out and suf, but most of the rest of the crew had creekboats so they weren't so keen. Maybe in a few weeks.
Backsurfing. See how my tail is sitting low? I probably get back-endered and flushed in the following few seconds when my tail catches the green water. Gotta work on that. My head isn't looking upstream either. Boo.
Dropping into the feature hole; looks like I'm trying to lift my nose over the foam pile. I think it worked.
Me setting up in the hole. Quite a different feeling in such a small boat.
Dropping the nose to try and get a cartwheel in the feature hole.
An inadvertant donkey flip. It turns out using your face to paddle out of the foampile is only marginally effective.
Getting a couple ends in the feature hole. Then I probably dug in and got trashed; hard to say.
I'll have some more photos for you later.
As for my own playboating, I've been cartwheeling and getting 2 ends pretty consistantly, but I'm having trouble with the 3rd. The other day I almost stuck a back loop in the feature hole, which was pretty fun. Hopefully things will keep improving.
This weekend it's off on a trip to a couple rivers on the west coast of the north island; should be a good time.
When I arrived in New Zealand I had no boat. Clearly, this was going to be problematic. So I decided to head to Bliss Stick's factory outside of Tiahape, about an hour and a half out of Palmerston North, where I'm going to school. I caught a ride with some friends who were going skiing. As it turns out, the factory isn't "just outside" Taihape. It's like 15 or 20 miles away. As my new friends were driving farther and farther out of their way they were getting more and more impatient. Lots of sighing and looking around. Eventually one of them said "this is getting rediculious." I agreed. Eventually they hit some road construction and dumped me off, and I hiked the rest of the way to the factory. I met the owner of Bliss Stick, Charles Sage, and he gave me the full tour, then got me outfitted with a boat, a Super Rad 180. It was a demo boat with a bit of oilcanning, but that also meant I could afford it. Sweet as.
I caught a ride home with one of the shapers, Phillip, the next day after crashing on his couch. All in all, it was a pretty successful expedition. Over the next week I found myself a paddle and borrowed a PFD and I was ready to get out on the water.