Mangahao release

This article by Timon Walkley describes a Mangahao trip that turned into an epic when a boat was pinned (from NZ Canoeing 99.2, Spring 1999).

It started out on Saturday morning and turned out to be an all weekend affair.
This is how it was.

Saturday morning was all good with the sun shining and a cool breeze in the air. The five of us on the trip (Ben, James, Madeline, Heather, and myself) met at the slalom course below the tailrace of the Mangore stream, and made our way up to the put in. At about 10:30am we were on the move down the river.

Attempted boat extrication on the Mangahao

Album: Attempted boat extrication on the Mangahao

(4 images)

There were a few easy rapids to get warmed up on. What we didn't know was going to be the longest one-day trip we have ever done. We did the compulsory scout of the almighty 'Tree Rapid' just to remind ourselves and show the newcomers what was in store. We saw rafts flip as well as kayakers taking a visit to the green room. However this rapid was done without a hiccup and we were soon deep into the heart of the gorge section.

Time flew by and we were nearly at the lunch spot. There was a wee problem at a waterfall with a tree blocking the usual line, however a line was sorted and most people got down unscathed. The lunch spot was a welcome sight for empty stomachs and cramped-up legs. It also provided some entertainment with rodeo paddlers showing off their skills in the play hole.

After lunch we were nearly out of the gorge with only two or three big rapids to go, when the unthinkable happened. It was by chance that I was sitting in an eddy, and misjudged the line and took a shute that was too shallow. I ended up getting vertically pinned (stuck nose first) between two rocks and the bottom. The boat that I was in was a 3D from Perception, which if you're familiar with, will know how short they are. It wasn't as bad as it perhaps could have been. I had plenty of air and the nose was only about two feet under the water, so I didn't really feel in any immediate danger. At first I tried to simply stay in my boat and push myself forward and free, but it quickly became obvious that this wasn't working.

So I popped my spray deck and managed to climb out of my boat and straight onto one of the rocks that it was pinned between. It was relatively easy to get out because the water pressure on top of me wasn't that great. And having a keyhole sized cockpit was definitely what made it easier to escape because I was able to pull my legs up and stand on the cockpit rim, which had it been any smaller would have been a much harder task. I then tried to free the boat by pushing it forwards, but it would only move sideways.

By then a small crowd had gathered and was more than willing to help. A throw-line was attached to the tail, and also the nose, which wasn't that hard to reach at first. But pulling it from all directions still didn't help, in fact it was now stuck deeper than before. The more we tried to get it out, the deeper it sank. Well, time was ticking by and I still had to think of a way out without a boat.

Just as we were flagging away all attempts to retrieve the boat another group of rescuers joined the operation. These guys were extremely well prepared for situations like this, and were willing to try out their rescuing skills. With pulleys and miles of rope they managed to setup a z-drag combined with a tension pull which was designed to pull the boat straight upstream, the way it had gone in. The pull on the boat was enormous, but with water pressure holding the boat it would not budge. It was time for Plan B.

Plan B: Swim, get towed, walk, run, and rock climb your way to the finish over 8km of river, cliffs, stony banks, and farmlands to the get out point where our parents would be waiting. At around 7:30pm we were just getting changed into dry clothes.

After a massive ordeal on Saturday we still had a boat up river. It was likely it wouldn't flow till later on Sunday morning, so yes we were going to go and get it. On Sunday morning we got up even earlier than Saturday's effort. 5:30 in the morning, we were on a mission. At about 7:30 we were walking back up the river. After walking and swimming up the river for three hours, we had reached the spot. BUT to our great horror, the river started flowing, and in 15 seconds, we were right back to square one, with the boat trapped under water again. After several minutes of cursing and swearing we sat down and waited. And waited. And waited.

And after about two hours we could see signs of the level dropping. This raised our spirits as it continued to drop until the boat slowly became visible. We were soon able to retrieve it and start our long journey home. With the river still slightly higher than it was early that day, we knew it would be a longer, harder, and wetter trip out. Swimming was the only way. After negotiating the steeper rapids for the third time in one weekend it was déjá-vu, but at least we had what we came for (the boat). On the way back we did see evidence of other paddlers striking some problems, with a broken paddle on the riverbank.

We reached the farmhouse at around 4:30pm feeling very cold, wet, sore, tired, and hungry. This was an epic weekend.

The boat came out in remarkably good shape, there was no structural damage. One plastic pillar support was lost when the bolts worked loose overnight. The removable foam seat was pulled out at the time the boat was pinned. The back end loop needed replacing, which is hardly surprising with the amount of strain applied to it.

I would like to thank all those who helped out with efforts to retrieve the boat, even if they were unsuccessful.