Sunday, August 25, 2013

Part 3 of 3: First Descent of the Grand Canyons of the Chimbu - Papua New Guinea

The next morning I woke up full of vigour, success was more than a possbility and I was feeling good. Or was I? After springing out of bed, loading the boats and even stomaching some breakfast I got an all too familiar growling in my stomach. My morning enthusiamsim suddenly slumped and I quickly began to realise that I was still rough. Much better than the day before, but not as well as I would of like to feel. Colesy was feeling better too, but still not at 100%. The show had to go on though, so we clambered onto the trusty Hilux and began our drive back to Banana Market. Barny and me knew what we had instore today, this being the section Barny, Shannon and Myself had somewhat completed two years earlier. Our goal was to reach Sikewage, which mean't we'd have plenty of class V, one 20 minute portage, a grueling 2-3 hour portage around a 'blind' gorge and some more class IV-V down to Sikewage. 

When arrived at Banana Market we quickly got our stuff together and made our way to the river. The people in this area are really friendly but we were still cautious of letting a crowd gather. Once on the river everything seemed right again, sure Matt and I were feeling under the weather but we were back on the mission and we were mobbing! Barny and I sort of knew where we were going, and if we didnt we'd just paddle in like we did anyway. And before long we had made our way down to first portage of the day. We'd entertained the idea of paddling this section but in the end it would of been reckless. Stacked, boxed-in, sievey, class V in the remote highlands of Papua New Guinea. Scratch the last bit and it sounds a lot like New Zealand white-water, but none of us were really that keen to give it a go. So we portaged quickly, well apart from when Barny threw his boat onto his paddle and snapped it and then I fell through a 'salat' bush, which has a stinging effect that feels like a knife cutting you, and had to tear off through the jungle to thoroughly rince my face in the river. No harm done I guess and we continued on our merry way.

 Ari soaking in the landscape (p. Jordy)

Barny the bull-dog (p. Ari Walker)

Good class IV early on (p. Barny)

Getting the first portage out of the way (p. Matt Coles)

More class IV-V for another few kilometres of so down to the next portage, a part of the trip we'd been dreading. This time we did as much as possible to avoid the portage, even managing to find a way into the gorge a bit futher down. But we couldn't confirm what was around the corner in the sheer-walled gorge. It was pretty much flat leading down to the corner but if someone was to commit to it, and there was something bad downstream extracting them would be near the limits of what we could manage. This coupled with the limestone geology of the area, therefore the risk of sump's or even the river going under-ground like it does further downstream, we decided to swallow the pill and set to the portage. As per PNG some fella's emerged from the bush and offered to help us. After our little ordeal 2 years earlier in EXACTLY the same spot, we set the terms of them helping us so they weren't expecting anything more. Sorted. We stripped off and began our climb up and away from the river, into the PNG jungle. With no track, and this time some pretty much clueless help, it was definitely hard going. But that's good, as it distracts you from the idea of what "creepy crawly's" might be near or on you. After about an hour, much faster than I remember it taking in 2011, we had sweated it out and made our way back down to the river. Everyone was taking their time getting ready but I felt awful so quickly donned my gear and put back on the river. 

  The 'Dubious Gorge' upstream, things start
getting steep here (p. Ari Walker)

Barny routing first (p. Ari Walker)

Colesy aka Tigger aka King Coles aka... (p. Barny Young)

Tricky ledge to line up (p.Barny)

Boys chatting with the locals that helped us out, I'm dressed
and pretty much read to go! (p. Jordy)

I think the boys got my vibe and quickly followed suit, with all of us soon making our way down to the mouth of the Sikewage Gorge. Our cut of time for entering the gorge was 12:30pm and it was about 1:20pm, so we were meant to take off and hike up to the village where we had arranged accommodation. This all made sense, except for the fact I was slowly deteriorating as the day went on. So I selfishly convinced the boys into committing to the canyon with me, and everything below it that we had never seen before. This mean't less emphasis on photos, and more on getting down as fast as we could. I called Toni and let him know our plan and then, without too much deliberation, Barny and Colesy paddled into the amazing Sikewage Gorge, soon followed by Ari and myself. We entertained the idea of paddling Barny's rapid from 2011 but with all the new debris downstream due to the road blast, and in the interest of safety I guess, we portaged. Which turned out to get just as dangerous as while on the new slip I tried to take a photo but my boat was struck by a softball sized rock that was dislodged by some kids 200m's above us on the gorge rim. Toni sorted that out though and we continued forward. Then making another portage where the whole river goes underground momentarily.

Entering Sikewage Gorge (p. Barny)

Such a special and sacred place to be (p. Barny)

Deep in the canyon (p. Barny)

Now we were onto bigger and better things. The gorge walls slightly receded and the gradient of the river stood up. My bodies groans were overwhelmed by the focus needed to get down the  white-water ahead of us. Everything felt right as our crew boldy broken down this section in perfect harmony, making good progress with out the distraction of taking photos/videoing. Powerful hydraulics, pushy rapids and big smiles all round. This is what we'd come for. Two young boys had kept up with us from below Sikewage Gorge, not sure how they got down there, and were adament they'd come to Kundiawa with us and then walk home. After failing to deter then several time I just embrassed it and figured we'd loose them at some stage. They kept pace until the river's ferocity subsided and we reached the flats above Kundiawa. Their cheers slowly faded as we pulled away and I knew we were pretty much done with the hard white-water. I didnt think it'd mean so much to me, and the other boys I am sure, but I was full of exhaltation and admittedly through a cliche fist pump once I realised we had made it. It was just another cheerful 2km of floating and then we were done. We'd completed what we'd started two years earlier, unscathed and even ahead of schedule. The First Descent of the Grand Canyons of the Chimbu. Even sitting here writing this I get an upwelling of emotion just thinking about it, being able to achieve a goal like this with my best friends was, and still is, surreal.

 One of the few things we stopped to take photos of 
below Sikewage (p. Barny)

 The amount of sediment makes it look daunting
but its all good to go (p. Barny)

Barny almost at the end of the steep stuff (p. Matt Coles)

Me and the young fellas watching Barny (p. Ari Walker)

Matt Coles, Barny Young, Myself and Ari Walker... quickly getting a team photo
while no one was around (p. the rock holding the camera).

We made our way back to Mama Josephines and had a celebratory dinner, more back country meals and kau-kau. We stayed up late chatting about what we'd just done, the ups and downs, things we wished we done, things we regret and more importantly where to next. We still had 12 days in country  and were still hungry for more. 

Surely we'd find something else? But where and how? Well, we got a little bit more done but everything couldn't go to plan could it...

Barny Checking in: BC classics and the Stikine!

After arriving in cali late this year I knew the plan would always be to head north towards BC. As always the local cali crew were awesome and it was great to meet up with all the crew ive been lucky to meet in ali over the years. Big shout out to Peacher for picking me up from the Airport! Early on myself and good buddy Will Pruett made plans to head towards BC and after loaded up his dodge ram. After some raging in reno we made way for the North for of the Payette.

 Will in his pride and joy, no more breaking down
on the side of the road now.

 Jah riding shotgun with the boys.

When you havnt been paddling for 2 months this run is great for kicking your ass quickly and getting you back in shape!! After 3 days here we made our way towards BC, here me and Will were lucky enough to bag some of the whistler classics including the Ashlu Box, Callaghan Creek and a 4wd mission into the sick Tatlow creek.

Will entering the Ashlu 'Box'

Barny getting his first lap of Tatlow Creek.

Van enjoying the taste of Tatlow.

On completion of this Will had work commitments in Cali and had to abandon ship early and the tough decision for me was to head back to the cali sunshine or stay in bc?? After a frantic hour of messaging at the Squamish McDonalds I decided the fire in my belly was to strong to head back to the cali sunshine yet and the eastcoast legends Van and Chance offered me a spot in there rig for a few days.  BC it would be! That afternoon we had a sweet low water lap on the Calaghan followed by a whistler bender! For those of you that don't know whistler think Queenstown on steroids.

That night Pete lodge turned on some good kiwi hospitality and introduced me to his friends- Jules and Mathiu - sticking true to the quote "That partying is just as important a part of kayaking as paddling itself" I found out that the boys were heading to the Stikine the next day and the plan was made for them to pick me up of Pete's couch at 8am the next morning. Miraculously after a night of partying Mathiu awoke me at 8am and the stikine mission was on!

Ashlu Mine put in

After 30 + hours of driving and a stop on the way to warm up our big water muscles on the clear water we reached the stikine. If you havnt heard of it before the Stikine is considered one of the biggest and burliest runs in the world! Myself Jules, and Mathiu were lucky enough to spend 3 days descending this amazing canyon, The volume of water in the stikine and the intimidating nature of the canyon means the Stikine is considered, for good reason, one of the hardest rivers in the world. Sheer canyon walls line much of the Stikine's 80km length meaning there is only one way out and that's down.

Myself and the boys are heading back in for another lap of this amazing river tomorrow so I didn't have time to write much more but enjoy the photos from our first awesome trip!

We were in the right place.

Classic Stikine-Team shot with Jules and Mathieu.

Calm before the storm. 

Jules and Mathieu commit to the Grand Canyon of the Stikine.

A burly mountain goat making sure those who 
pass are worthy

Big and pushy, something you have to accept if you wish to
pass through safely.

Mandatory, good gear and good scenery!

All 400 cumec of the powerful Stikine constricted to 1.5m
through Tanzilla's slot.

The old faithful sunbathing at our day 2 camp.

Perfect camp site above Site Z

High above Site Zed.

Jules charging hard in the midst of Site Zed

Catching up on those missed classes...

Lining up pass or fail...

... and stoked to Pass!

Mathieu stoked to be getting towards te end of day 2.

Me and Jules high on life!

Mobbing into 'Three Goats' 

A 'Gradient & Water' Calendar hanging in the Stikine,
those things have gone world-wide.

Big Country.

Even some scenic class II in there.

Shuttle sorted.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Part 2 of 3: First Descent of the Grand Canyons of the Chimbu - Papua New Guinea.

The second day of our descent of the Chimbu started with a light sprinkle of rain and much to my delight, no damn roosters! I selfishly waited out the drizzle in my tent and when I finally emerged, the day was spectacular. A small child ushered me to the small thatched hut, where we had chatted away the previous evening, and handed me a perfect cup of tea and honey. I had talked about how much I loved it and Ari even motivated and made Pat one too. Talk about hospitality, this place was awesome. But what wasn't awesome was Matt's stomach. I rounded the corner and found a pretty glum looking Matt... I will let him tell you what was up.

So we made our preparations after some marginal 'tropical meusli' and UHT milk for breakfast, getting ready for another exciting day. As we were putting the last of our gear into the kayaks we heard a faint murmur in the wind, which was coming from the small primary school next door. This is what we seen

After this warming experience it was time to get back to business. Matt was, as aforementioned, feeling ill so we weren't too sure how far we should push him as we figured we might have another 3-5 days on the river. We agreed to take it slow and just stop at our check points and reassess our situation each time. We had 3 road/river intersections in the 20(ish)km's is was down to Banana Market, so plenty of options to take off if Matt further deteriorated. We wanted to complete the trip as a team so if one person needed a days rest we'd all take one.

Good to go (p. Ari)

Barny on round two under the log (p. Matt Coles)

Me following suit (p. Matt Coles)

Things started off well, the stellar section down to Gembogl Station and another amazing reception. This time Barny went for the roll under the log, but pulled off a smooth brace (not going completely over) and avoided the terrible contact with the rocks we met the previous day. Immediately selling it to me and then Ari. Matt, sick, out of his boat taking snaps, over whelmed by children and with the feeling of yesterdays collision still tingling in his shoulder... decided to portage and while doing so was convinced by the local teacher to get us to stop and have a talk to the school and community. Which of course we obliged.

More goods on the Chimbu (p. Barny)

Barny was in his element, being a school teacher after all. We had around 100 kids sitting down soaking up our every word, even if they didn't understand it, with the village adults standing and eagerly listening. We talked to them about how we loved the Chimbu Province, particularly their area, and what we were hoping to achieve. We fielded questions about teaching, aimed at Barny and farming aimed at me, which were hard to answer considering my background was in intensive dairy farming and they are an agrarian type community. I just reiterated that their produce was much healthier and better quality than the sort of produce in the populous western world. And one thing they should strive to keep is that quality. Anyway, after our talk and a MASSIVE game of "duck, duck... goose" set up by Barny, we had to get back on the river and make some downstream movement. That is exactly what we did! Class IV for hours... all read and run, which was definitely to Matt's liking. Our progress was much faster than what we thought, reaching the first rendezvous point in under two hours. We were all happy to keep going, so keep going we did.

Jungle overlapping the edges, the jungle is scary... (p. Ari)

Checking out the scenery (p. Barny)

By the time we reached the second point, some 3 hours later, Matt was definitely feeling it. Barny and I had several chat's about whether we should just stop before even reaching the next intersection but Matt assured us he was good enough to keep going. Toni and some locals told us it wasn't far to Banana Market from here. Ha, we'd heard this one before, and I wasn't prepared to push Matt any further. But after several questions, it was sounding like it was actually only about 1-2km downstream. Walking time 15-20 minutes, driving time only like 5 minutes and it is very close... Barny and I, as always, thought we should try push it out as we had plenty of daylight left but in the end it was entirely up to Matt. He went over the usual questions to ensure that the distance to Banana Market was what they were saying it was. Eventually he was also convinced so we set out on the last 'short' leg down to Banana Market. It was as short as they said, but we forgot to ask what the character of the river was like. Turns out this would be one of the more full on sections we would paddle on the Chimbu.

 A clear illustration of the 'angry locals' we'd encounter (p. Jordy)

Pretty much as we rounded the next corner the river steepened up and it stayed like this all the way to Banana Market. Each horizon line we came to we figured was the last so we kept pushing on, all with poor old Matt getting dragged down by the boys. He held it together though, styling pretty much everything we can too but just with a little less 'wild-bill' vigor. It all went well until pretty much the last rapid above Banana Market. Barny over-committed to what was the biggest rapid of the day and being the good friend I am, I paddled in straight behind him. Definitely more than we bargained for but it all worked out pretty well, for us anyway. We immediately eddied out down stream and set safety for the boys. Ari the Curry had a quick browse on his and Matt's behalf and then the boys bombed in. Ari cant of looked to well because he immediately lead Matt down a wrong chute and then got pinned on river right, fortunately Matt kept on line and got passed. Ari was caught in a funny position, for one he was pinned which was bad enough but then he had 3 locals that were making their way into the violent waters to 'rescue him'. For those who aren't so PNG savvy, if something happened to one of those locals while trying to 'rescue' Ari there would be a retribution... and it would be severe. Fortunately Barny sprang into action and whipped up the river to Ari's aid and was able to get a bag to him and pull him off to the safety of the bank. Once we regrouped I, with permission, whipped through a villages garden to scout out the next series of rapids. Much to our delight I could see the Banana Market bridge downstream. This news lit up the boys eyes and we all had good lines through the last set of rapids, even if my description of the rapid was a little brief.

Ari mobbing into a step section (p. Barny)

The few km's above Banana Market had some 
solid class IV - V (p. Barny)

Barny and me probing into another steep section, much
to Matt's delight (p. Matt Coles)

Toni's ever present grin and wave greeted us at our take out and we all jumped out of our boats stoked with what we'd achieved that day, most of all that Matt was able to battle through with us. Barny's coarse banter immediately begin, and poor old Ari had to suffer it. We quickly loaded the truck without getting changed and began to drive towards Toni's cousin's place. Even though he toughed it out, Matt was still worse for wear so we discussed the idea of going down to Kundiawa for a night. The idea of a bed, safe water and a somewhat more relaxed mental space sounded good to all of us and would do wonders for Matt. Not to hard of a decision really, so we made our way back to Kundiawa to recharge for a night and would return the next day to take on the hardest sections of the river. Or so we thought.

The volume increased as we went, making things much more pushy 
the further we made it down the Chimbu (p. Matt Coles)
After another night on the Back Country meals complemented by extra rice, kau kau (kumara or sweet potato) and some bottled water, we all went to bed nice and early with the intention of leaving around 7am the next day. Karma was about to get me for not getting sick during our 2011 expedition, and it got me pretty damn good. Just before the witching hour I was woken up by a terrible pain in my stomach, not too uncommon of a feeling in PNG. I made my way to the bathroom, but that wouldn't fix it. Nothing would. Five hours, and say 15 trips to the bathroom later, I was a shivering mess. Broken from no sleep and must of been close to dehydration, I tried to rally but my heart and soul wasn't in it. Matt was back to about 80% but I was hovering at like 60%... not a good combination for what could be a really long day with a brutal portage. Not wanting to put ourselves at any extra risk, we made the decision to give ourselves one more days rest. We would be returning to finish the Chimbu the next day, whether some one missed out or not....

 The two sicko's just hanging out (p. Ari)

 Our $100 NZD a night accommodation... and boy did I appreciate it! (p. Matt Coles)