Sept 30/Oct 1
"The Truth" - ignore what you may have heard (unless it involved heroics and deeds of distinction).
Friday night six paddlers (Angus, John, Barry, George, Jonas - a visitor from Montana, and Bob - Leader? and writer) with two drivers (Lane and Kim) headed to the West Coast for, according to the leader, some cruisey paddling - nothing silly because it is still early in the season. Little did any of us know what lay in store!
Bit of rain overnight, not a bad morning, probably low to medium flows. Off to the Kakapotahi, I say - have a look at the Totara on the way (low and clear), so is our river. By the time we reach the put in there is light rain - hardly worth sheltering from.
Level at the put in is low as we head off on the promised "cruisey" paddle. Everyone gets out at the swingbridge (first major rapid). Funny, I thought, flow looks a little higher than I expected. We all decided to portage but on returning to our boats we found one or two were no longer beached (thanks John and Jonas for catching them). By the time we are in position to re-commence the paddle the river is a hell of a lot higher. Then a runaway boat comes racing through the rapid (it belongs to Rolf who is paddling, with Gareth Fryer, a little distance behind us). This commits Barry, Gareth, and me to the river as we choose to chase it, capturing it some distance down. Angus John, Jonas, and George have a decision to make - carry on or carry out. George decides to not paddle, so his story first.
During the portage you cross two side streams. These are raging as George retraces his steps to the swingbridge (he doesn't know this is a bridge to/from nowhere - maybe it is for viewing the rapid). He survives these streams then has to tackle the bush (bush lawyer and all). He abandons his boat in the bush and finds his way to the road after an hour of enjoyable bush rambling (not George's words).
Meanwhile, Angus, John, and Jonas eventually decide to paddle (after convincing Rolf to not swim down to his boat - a very wise decision). By the time they catch up with Barry, Gareth, and me the river is a totally different proposition - very big and fast with large waves and holes. We paddle a little further, including a particularly nasty section in which those of us in RPMs, an Inazone 220, and a canoe have very little control - each of us falling into several holes, but surviving - and where Angus has a swim and loses his boat. John, Jonas, and I decide to abort the paddle - Angus has no option, he has no boat remember. Barry and Gareth, in their Ys, are doing rather better and decide to continue. They do very well and complete the paddle (in 10mins, Barry says - the river was very fast) without serious incident and actually retrieve Angus's boat.
This leaves Angus, John, Jonas, and me fortunately on the "correct" side of the river, but with absolutely no idea of what is ahead of us. The initial objective is to get out of the gorge. This required teamwork and the use of ropes to haul boats up a steep slope through fairly dense bush. This goal achieved we still have no idea where the road is. What follows is a "hellish" six hour bush-bash through rather dense regenerating West Coast bush. Darkness is rapidly approaching and we are resigned to spending a night in the bush when we hear a most wonderful sound - Lane's sweet voice not more than 100m away over the easiest going of the day. Very relieved we are, and only 5min late for the start of the Canty/Otago Shield game.
By the way, we had abandoned our boats sometime earlier in the interests of making better time because no one was keen to spend the night in the bush (forget about finding a nice dry place and sleeping around a fire!). I should also mention that during his swim (a blatant attempt to steal a march on competitors for this season's Choc Fish Award - devastated at missing last year's, he was) Angus lost one bootie, so all his bush-bashing was with one bare foot - how tough are these hog ranchers?
So, the next day dawns and we have the following situation: George's boat is in the bush somewhere near the swingbridge; Rolf's boat is above the waterline (we hope) part-way down the river, on the "wrong" side; three boats are in the bush in the middle of nowhere; and Angus's canoe is retrieved and back at Blue Spur Lodge. No problem though, George and Barry retrieve George's boat and complete a very enjoyable paddle at low flow on a lovely day, Rolf swims/piggybacks with Gareth to his boat and paddles out, and John, Jonas, and I undertake a further two and a half hours bush-bashing to bring our boats out to the road, and Angus reads the Sunday papers back at the Lodge.
For the benefit of others who may, one day, find themselves in a similar situation here is my "debrief":
- We made a wise decision to abort the paddle
- We had plenty of ropes and slings
- We had several 1st Aid Kits
- We stayed together as a group despite differences of opinion on our course-of-action
- There was full and healthy discussion on what we should do, and we always ran with the group decision
- Paddle clothing is good gear for bush-bashing (helmet, PFD, and jacket give excellent protection from the bush)
- We clearly marked (at John's insistence) our trail so we could retrace our steps (and we did a bit of that)
- Nature has a wonderful ability to repair herself after clear felling.
If we had to spend a night in the bush:
- We were probably light on food, although we would have survived that
- We were probably light on spare clothing
- We were definitely light on "emergency blankets"
- A map and compass may have been useful but unless you can identify where you are the map may be of limited value, and unless you know where you are going a compass is only useful for travelling in a straight line (but that is much more difficult than it appears)
- Kayaks are much better suited to paddling than to carrying though dense bush.
All things considered the weekend was certainly an adventure. Barry and George got some paddling, the rest of us perhaps only 15min worth. John thought the whole thing was "an interesting exercise in group dynamics," Angus decided pig farming is not so physically demanding after all, and I decided to not throw out my old booties because they performed admirably well (as did everyone involved). Thanks to those who were not bush-bashing for spending so much time driving up and down the road sounding car horns - they could have left us and gone to the Pub (what is that you say - we should have been left there!?) I have not received any letter bombs or death threats, so the weekend cannot have been a complete disaster - and Canterbury retained the Shield.