Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Mungo - New Zealands Best River Trip

I have finally bagged it! After living on the coast and paddling for the past five years, I have heard whispers about the Mungo River. Every thing I heard was about committing, being very remote and gorge after gorge... well the rumors were true its just that people neglected to talk about the feeling of exaltation that only a trip like the Mungo can produce. Well here is our story...

As is logistics on the coast, all the local players had been waiting for an extended period of good weather that would allow the high alpine runs to come in. A period of high rainfall over the xmas break, topped up by regular rainfall in the Westland Ranges had been keeping flows just above the 'good' level. But this would eventually dissipate and it was those who had the free time when it happened that would be on our trip. Barny and myself were always going to be there, joined by Zak Shaw, Daan Jimmink and the man himself, Justin Venable. Plans were made, Dando was called and we locked it in... mission on.

A relatively relaxed 10.30am pick-up started off our day with Zak flying up solo with Dando, a flight that we thought was going to include some thorough scouting of the gorges, then Daan and I flew up followed by Barny and JV. After waving off Dando we all began the usual verbal breakdown of what we seen from the helicopter... a lot... but little detail. Something that we all noticed, or thought we noticed, was that Frisco Canyon had changed for the better since the recent floods. Another more concerning feature we all faintly noticed was that there was some wood in the second drop of the Upper Mungo Gorge. Nevertheless, we had a lot of paddling to do so we quickly got on the river and began bombing our way down.

Zak getting it right very early on (p. Barny)

Mungo River - not a place to compromise safety. (p. Barny)

After an hour or so of read and run, or follow Barny Young, class IV+ we made our way down to the Upper Mungo Gorge. Barny routed Justin and I down the first 10 foot boof into an eddy. From here it was a tentative class II ferry into the last chance eddy, above the drop with the wood in it. It was now that I was getting my first true introduction to the commitment facet of the Mungo River. The scenario was this, a gorged out boxed in drop that was blocked on the right by a couple of logs and branches that you could put in behind but you would only get two strokes in before trying to get over a very nasty hole with a cave on the right, the left had a rock that would momentarily come out of the water from time to time and a slot against the left wall we could hardly see and we couldnt protect either! After five or so minutes of deliberation Barny and I were pretty keen to charge the left and work out the res from the inside. Zak and Daan, however, felt inclined to have a quick peak from the gorge rim to try and see what was downstream. After 20 minutes, and our own small attempt to have a little look, the boys came back looking a little more settled. "Is it all good?". "Yeah, I think we can see more from the eddy down on the right.... I think". Well with that reliable beta Barny sacked up and probed the left side, followed by JV and then the rest of us. We were locked in.

Zak making THAT eddy. (p. Barny)

The next two drops were all good and then we found our way into that eddy on the right... right above a very serious portage. This is where there used to be a class II+ ferry into a must catch eddy, now it was a class IV ferry with several moves into a must catch eddy. Commitment moment number two. I think all of us were looking for bankside options, and there was a possibility of making it work on river left. Barny, however, had other ideas, giving me the nod before sacking up and going for the eddy. After making the moves in true 'Bulldog' fashion Barny gleefully pulled into the eddy looking back at us to say, "Well I made it boys, your turn!". Again, we all had to strap on our big set and commit. This would have to be the most intimidating moment I have ever had in my kayak or even my life, never before had I been so focused on everything I was doing. We all made it without a hitch and began our short portage. Three more tight stacked drops down the right and we had made out of the gorge, exaltation moment number one. Although we had a lot more river to go, there was a definite sign of relief in the group once we were through.

Daan charging off the first of the three down the right. (p. Barny)

Me fitting right in on the Mungo, so sick!!! (p. Zak Shaw)

From then down to the famous Gateway Gorge we were treated with some classic New Zealand class V boulder gardens and clean boofs up to 15 or so feet. Pretty much the business. Although I had seen pictures of Gateway Gorge before, they do nothing to show the true beauty of this amazing sight. Exaltation moment number two. The photo of me below paddling into Gateway Gorge is amazing, thanks Zak, but it cannot, nor can I in words, capture or portray its real beauty. This something you will have to go see for yourself.

This is me entering Gateway (p. Zak Shaw)

JV entering paradise. (p. Barny)

After Gateway there is still a fair amount of white-water to be had, with Barny sacking up to run the rarely paddled entrance to Frisco Canyon. There were rapids in Frisco and below, but there is only so much white-water I can commit to memory. Just know it was good all the way to Serpentine Hut. After picking up our food bags from the middle of the river, cheers Dando, we clambered up a barely recognisable track to our creek side accommodation. Literally. The duly named 'Sweetfruit Chutney Creek' (from the Hut Book), has eroded away the area next to the hut where Dando used to land, so far that in the foreseeable future the Hut itself maybe taken too. Over the next 16 hours, we devoured a ridiculous amount of food and even slept in past 9am! Gone are the days of extreme white-water enthusiasts, we just forgot the damn goon!

Me just soaking it all in on the veranda (p. Barny)

The big American Grizzly (JV), eating some more food. (p. Jordy)

Day two was short but sweet, with the extra water keeping things interesting. After the first boulder garden, what used to be Viagra I think, we were down at Breakthrough Gorge heralded by the 20 foot entrance waterfall on river right. This time JV thought he would take the lead, firing off the unscoutable 20footer. I followed, then Zak, then Daan and then Barny. All pretty much doing the same thing, back loop... roll up... smile!

Following in JV's footsteps, me running the waterfall. (p. Barny)

Barny getting a sick line off the waterfall. (p. Daan Jimmick)

After portaging Mikey's drop we noticed a substantial change in the rapids in the gorge below. We werent able to see much from within the sheer-walled gorge but Barny seen enough to give'er and we all followed. Sound like too many gorges to be true? Well there is another two! Just down river, after a rare portage for this trip, we entered what I call Gates Gorge (not sure of its real name). This had yet another must run entrance rapid with 3 or 4 stack moves. JV, again, stepped up to the plate and paddled this first, getting to where we all wanted to go on the left and then deciding to paddle down the right which was the meat line. All was well, as to was our lines and then we see it... the Gates of Argonath. Again, like Gateway Gorge, a picture or a description doesnt do this sight any justice. You have to see it! After this we routed down the (now) much easier 'fat lady must sing' rapid before bombing out the Lower Hokitika run in a crazy 16minutes.

Barny floating towards the Gates. (p. Daan Jimmink)

Classic Gates shot, so amazing. (p. Barny)

Although you know the rapids are all over, it is not until you are at the confluence with the Whitcombe River do you really feel the river trip is complete. Even though it sounds gay, I really do feel privilaged to have paddled the Mungo River. There are less than 30 kayakers names in the Serpentine Hut Book, and I plan on getting mine in there a couple more times when the opportunity next arises.


Hetro Boater said...

What sounds really gay is doing the Mungo with Barny. High chance of penetration there.

kerry hoglund said...

Nice one boys! Looks like you had a high-level flow? I'm coming over in 3 weeks (spending 1 week in Hoki) so I hope the flow is still good to go on the Mungo, and the Kokatahi, and Morgans?

E.G. said...

sick shots of that river man! see yall soon you crazy fuckers